Kiss Album Focus - Love Gun
KISS’ “classic” era didn’t last long – it included just three studio albums: “Destroyer,” “Rock And Roll Over,” and “Love Gun.” The latter of these albums epitomizes the classic era of the band. It took the classic “KISS” sound as far as it would go. Not only would the album define the “classic era,” but the band’s costumes and stage show would be the representation of the band at their height of popularity. By 1977 the KISS business machine was in full swing with merchandising becoming more and more an integral part of the organization. At the same time the music reached a limit in terms of creativity, and band members factionalized, enjoying the benefits of their fame with a variety of vices, chemical and other.
The merchandising was quickly starting to supersede the music with the band becoming more of a brand name than a musical entity. Entertainment was one thing, but branding seemed to take on whole new meaning with the band’s corporate arm seemingly unable to say “no” to any suggestion of an item that could carry the band’s name, or better yet, highly recognizable logo.
In early April 1977 KISS returned from their successful “Sneak Attack” tour of Japan, and decided not to release the live album that had been recorded and mixed during that tour. The release of the single LP “Rock And Roll Party In Tokyo” has generally been considered to have been only planned for the Japanese market. Regardless of how far along any concrete plans were, it was felt that it might be better to do a proper live album without the repetition of material that had been released on the original “Alive!” Plans for a new live album were postponed until the band had additional live material from the tour which would follow their next studio album. Rather than taking an extended break to get away from music and each other, the band instead continued their break-neck career pace.
In early May the band headed back into the studio with Eddie Kramer as co-producer to record a new album, “Love Gun.” This album didn’t break any new ground in terms of sound or songs; it was merely an extension of the previous studio effort with a bit of polished production work. In some ways “Love Gun” was the culmination of the band’s sonic style to this point, though it was recorded in just three weeks and work on the album was completed by early June. Where “KISS” and “Hotter Than Hell” are twins, in terms of production and construction, “Love Gun,” is a twin of “Rock and Roll Over” albeit without the emotion of a recording done live in a theatre. “Love Gun” was not devoid of experimentation, Paul started to experiment with the e-bow on some of his songs.
According to Gene, the band didn’t want to stray too much from the sound that had established them in the musical market. What is interesting to the whole of KISStory is that “Love Gun” was the final KISS album of the classic original era recorded by all of the band members on the majority of tracks, though there would also be un-credited “additional” players. More importantly, it was also the first KISS album to include all of the original members on lead vocals. Because of the planned live record to follow the album, “Love Gun” was an album that was twinned with a second live album from day one.
The band had plenty of material by the time they were ready to record “Love Gun” at the Record Plant Studio in New York City. Peter brought “Hooligan” and “Love Bite” to the sessions, both from jazz/funk-infused demos that he’d worked on with long-time friend Stan Penridge. Peter’s musical style by 1977 was very much evident with the sorts of songs he presented to the band. “Hooligan” would be included on the album, but with the album’s direction already decided it was decided that “Love Bite” would not fit in on the album. Peter’s demo writing was always very much connected with Stan Penridge, whom he’d been musically involved with since 1970. In fact it was usually the case that Stan was the primary creative focal point, though Peter’s jazz influences introduced a unique vibe.
The demos of “Love Bite” and “Hooligan” were recorded at the Record Plant in early 1977. “Hooligan” was almost autobiographical for Peter, recounting situations similar to those he’d experienced in his youth. In contrast to the material Peter had brought to the KISS album sessions previously (which had been revamped and rearranged), these songs would be his first true collaborative effort with Penridge. According to Stan, “That actually began in the studio in the midst of a conversation. Peter was talking about his grandmother. Can’t remember about what – but I remember him saying that she called him a ‘Hooligan.’ Five minutes later we were laying down rhythm tracks. I played bass and guitar. Peter sang and played drums. He was really playing that night. We left the Record Plant with two songs that evening” (Lynn I. Swanger).
“Love Bite” was not used due to the song’s rather strong subject matter and conflict with another song starting with “Love...” “Love Gun” would be slightly more subtle, in an Aerosmith “Walk This Way” manner, than “Love Bite” with lyrics that went: “I’ve been bit everywhere / But I’ve never been bit by a woman there // Love bite / Feels oh so right / Love bite / Leave your scar on me / Tonight! // Kiss me here, kiss me there / You can kiss me anywhere” etc. With KISS’ fan demographics changing to the under-12 crowd, it is highly likely that as the band transformed its public perception from shock rock to family entertainment that the song was somewhat too rude to be used! Stan stated that the song was rejected simply, “because it was too raunchy for their taste” (DS - BD1).
Paul also probably had cause to not want it included on the album with the title being too similar to the title of one of his songs. Sean Delaney would probably argue that point because it is he who insists that he co-wrote that particular song with Paul. However, Peter would at least get one of his own songs on the album, a song that would be released as a single B-side and performed live on the “Love Gun/Alive II” Tour. That was something which for the time being was better than nothing, though that situation would rapidly change.
Gene, as usual, had a plethora of new music ready to be tried out, be it actually new or material from the past which had been reworked. While some was undoubtedly extensions of some unused demos from the last few albums, Gene had worked with the then-unknown Van Halen brothers, Eddie and Alex, on demos for “Christine Sixteen” “Have Love Will Travel” (which would become “Got Love For Sale”), and “Tunnel Of Love.” One day in Los Angeles Gene had requested that the two join him on the songs he was recording for demos at Larrabee Studios in Hollywood. Gene recalled, “I would usually go in and play all the instruments myself, but on this occasion I decided to call up the Van Halen brothers and ask them to come down and play. So both Alex and Eddie came down and played on cut ‘Christine Sixteen,’ ‘Got Love For Sale,’ and ‘Tunnel Of Love,’ which later wound up on my solo record. We cut it live as a trio and Eddie came up with some solos afterwards. I liked his solo for ‘Christine Sixteen’ so much that when the band recorded it for ‘Love Gun,’ Ace pretty much copied Eddie’s solo note-for-note” (KISStory).
The “Love Gun” demos, unfortunately, have never surfaced in collector’s circles and according to Gene will never see the light of day until the Van Halen brothers give their permission for their release. It has also been suggested that Gene’s interest in Van Halen went somewhat further, with his being interested in adding Eddie to the KISS lineup as Ace became more difficult to work with as addictions started to have more of an effect on the band. Gene has denied having any interest in Eddie joining the band in 1977.
“Have Love Will Travel,” was a case of recycling parts of the original lyrics from “Man Of 1,000 Faces” (in its 1975 form). The first verse for that song had gone: “Condition’s red and you can’t get to bed / Your eyes are full of tears / Headache, heartache, a pain you can’t take / That’s not the end to all your fears.” This was ‘changed to the familiar “Your condition’s red, you can’t get to bed / Your eyes are full of tears / You’ve got headache, heartache, a pain you can’t take / I am who you have to fear.” Part of the second verse would be changed from the “Man Of 1,000 Faces” second verse: “I know you need me, I know you want me / ‘Cause I’m a living cross you bear / You’ve got to have me, can’t live without me / ‘Cause I’m the one and only, yes I am” became “You know you need me, I know you want me / ‘Cause I’m a living cross your heart bears / You’ve got to have me, can’t live without me / ‘Cause I’m the one and only, yes I am.”
“Christine Sixteen” was Gene’ revenge on Paul for stealing his “Black Diamond” song title in 1974. However, in its early stages the song was very different to the more sedate version that would be recorded for the album. Essentially, the lyrics of the song’s verses and chorus would be transformed and refined: “I know what you’re doin’ / I know what you do with your hands / You like to practice / You’re waitin’ for the promised lands // Christine Sixteen / Christine, you’re young and sleek / Christine, you’ll find what you seek // You like them fancy / We musicians come and go / You’ve got your knickers / Take them off when the lights are low // And / Christine Sixteen, Christine / Magic in your mouth / Christine Sixteen, Christine / North and South.” Gene would play some rhythm guitar on the KISS studio recording, and the piano part, though Eddie Kramer would try his hand at the part – Gene thought he played it too well.
According to Gene, “As an afterthought, I again suggested putting in a Jerry Lee Lewis style keyboard part with a triad voicing, a simple one-handed pump. Again it was met with some negative comments; but once the keyboard part was put on it felt right. In the second chorus, I don’t know why it felt right, but I started talking over it. In a sense the guy sees the girl coming out of school and he’s obviously very anxious to have a go at her. After the song was mixed I played a version to Ace who didn’t react well to it at all” (Box Set liners). Gene admitted in another interview that he saw “that guy” as himself.
In the spring of 1977 the KISS Army Newsletter reported songs like “Sincerely,” “Tunnel Of Love,” and “Have Love Will Travel,” these would eventually have their titles changed or be dropped from the recording. “Tunnel Of Love” would eventually be used on Gene’s solo album, yet the newsletter reported, “The album’s about getting down and getting it on and titles of the completed songs should help you take aim on that: ‘Have Love Will Travel,’ ‘Sincerely,’ ‘I Stole Your Love,’ ‘Christine Sixteen,’ ‘Tunnel of Love,’ and the planned single and title cut, ‘Love Gun’” (KISS Army Newsletter, Spring 1977). Completing Gene’s contribution to the album was the thunderous “Almost Human” and the somewhat amusing “Plaster Caster.” Gene played some guitar on both of these recordings.
“Plaster Caster” was a song about the famed groupie act of preserving band member’s “members” for posterity! Cynthia Albritton was more than just a groupie, and her fetish for the male appendage had resulted from her being both an art student, with an assignment to make a cast of something solid, and a young woman interested in losing her virginity and exploring her sexuality. However, the members of KISS (literally and figuratively) were never immortalized in this manner, with Cynthia recalling, “They wanted people to believe they were in my collection. No way! I had to tell them at the time and Gene [Simmons] just kind of scowled at me. They had no idea that I felt that way before they wrote the song, believe me” (Mary Wisniewski – “Triple-fastaction,” Velocity, Issue 1.2). Only in the 1970s, “bay-bee”! From the Beatles to Zappa, Gene wasn’t concerned about taking an amusing idea and turning it into a song. “Almost Human,” on the other hand, would tie in nicely with Gene’s manufactured persona through “God Of Thunder,” and followed a similar vein to other horror inspired material such as “Man of 1,000 Faces.” Legendary session musician Jimmy Maelen would play congas on this track.
Paul brought a demo of “Love Gun” to the sessions, which he had recorded during one of his Electric Lady demo sessions, complete with the female backing vocalists. Very little of this song actually changed from demo to album format, though Paul apparently played bass on the released version. Drumming on the demo track was one Steve Korff, who had been a member of the Planets, one of the club bands that KISS had played with during their club days. There is a certain amount of controversy about this song, with Sean Delaney claiming that he actually co-wrote it: “Actually, I co-wrote ‘Love Gun’ (in front of witnesses). After I came up with the chorus line in the second verse, Paul says ‘I’m not going to give you credit on this one!’ And I said, “Fine Paul, whatever.’ Richie Fontana, who was the drummer for Billy Squier, who lives in New York, was there” (Steve Stierwalt, Jr., Sean Delaney Interview).
The subject matter of the song is very obvious, though there are some interesting similarities between Paul’s song and the Al Jackson Jr., Booker T. Jones, Donald “Duck” Dunn, Steve Cropper, and Carl Wells composition “The Hunter.” That song has a repetitive verse structure which contains the lyric: “I got my love gun loaded / Loaded with a-huggin’ and kissin’ / And when I pull the trigger / There ain’t gonna be no missin’ / Ain’t no use to hide / No there ain’t no use to run / Cause I got you in the sights of my.... / My love gun, my love gun, my love gun.” The music is dissimilar, though the song would be recorded by the likes of Albert King (whom Paul was a fan of, and whose V guitar Paul loved), Blue Cheer, Ike & Tina Turner, and, most notably in the context of Paul’s influences, Free. Between this song and Paul Stanley there is yet another connection: Eddie Kramer was an engineer on Blue Cheer’s 1968 album “Outside Inside,” which included the song. Paul also brought “I Stole Your Love” (which like “Love Gun” barely varies from Paul’s original demo), which he and Ace shared lead guitar duties on during the solo, and “Tomorrow And Tonight.” The latter of these songs attempted to continue the anthem-like format of song so popular with manager Bill Aucoin and label boss Neil Bogart. While this seemed to come so naturally to Paul, “Tomorrow And Tonight” was a rather obvious rewriting of “Rock And Roll All Nite.”
The most notable song included on the “Love Gun” album was the long-awaited Ace Frehley vocal debut on “Shock Me.” The song had been inspired by Ace’s on-stage electrocution in Lakeland, Florida, in December 1976. Ace is famed to have recorded the vocals lying on his back in a darkened studio. Ace recalled, “I didn’t lie on my back to hit high notes – I did it because I was nervous and I didn’t want anybody to see me sing. I made Eddie Kramer lower the lights and I laid down so he couldn’t see me through the glass” (Guitar World Legends #14, 1992).
While the song was written and credited solely to Ace, it has long been rumored that Gene and Paul helped clean up the song in terms of arrangement. Gene has contradicted this rumor by stating: “When Ace brought ‘Shock Me’ into the band, he did that all on his own – we had nothing to do with the arrangements, and we knew immediately that it was a terrific song” (KISStory). Ace was not particularly impressed by his vocal effort in retrospect.
The final song on the album was the band’s seemingly unnecessary cover of “Then She Kissed Me.” The song had originally been recorded by the famed Brooklyn female vocal group The Crystals. It was released as a single, in its original form of “Then He Kissed Me” in August 1963 on Phil Spector’s Phillie label. KISS had to rework the lyrics to change the gender perspective of the song. KISS joined the Beach Boys as artists who have covered this song. It marked their second cover of other act’s material (excluding the re-recording of the Wicked Lester material). On some proof copies of the full “Love Gun” cover an enigmatic track title of “See You Baby” appears in place of what would later be “Then She Kissed Me.”
While the recording sessions went smoothly and quickly it has been reported that one major problem did surface when Eddie Kramer suggested that Peter sing some of Paul’s songs. Apparently, Paul was less than pleased with this suggestion and refused to consider it, suggesting that if Peter did try some of his songs that Eddie would prefer those versions and Paul would be cut out of singing his own material. Ego and personalities were starting to become more important than the music, which is the definite basis of any band and the signs of how the demos were developed independently of the band and then replicated by the band. The members were drifting apart. However, in fairness to Paul, he did only have three songs on the album, the fewest he’d had on a KISS album to that point. Stylistically, it would seem likely that Peter’s vocals would have only worked well on “Tomorrow And Tonight,” unless Paul had other unused songs at the time.
Released on June 17, 1977, “Love Gun” stormed up the album charts and within a month had reached position #4. This was the highest chart position attained by any KISS album, a status that would be maintained for over 20 years, until the 1998 studio reunion album beat it by one place (briefly). The cover was designed by Dennis Woloch, with artwork provided by Ken Kelly, who’d been responsible for the cover illustrations on “The Originals” and “Destroyer” (cover painting also by Ken Kelly). The album shipped Gold and Platinum certified by the RIAA and remained on the album charts until December, though it would not chart for as long as some earlier albums.
Supporting the album was the late June release of “Christine Sixteen” b/w “Shock Me,” which managed to attain a reasonable #25 on the singles charts, during a 12-week run. The follow-up single, issued in September, was the completely radio-unfriendly and far too obvious “Love Gun” (backed with “Hooligan”). It is hardly surprising that this single only managed to reach a disappointing #61 during a short seven weeks on the charts. Undoubtedly, the sexual connotations of the song were a bit too much for some radio stations and listeners who were more used to the subtlety of rudeness as presented by other artists like Aerosmith (“Walk This Way,” c’mon, they got away with murder on that one, which was about a subtle as a raging elephant in a china shop!). This time the single didn’t have a friendly B-side to fall back on either. The interesting note of the singles from the album is that they did at least represent all four personalities, songwriters, and singers in the band.
“Love Gun” was not the only KISS album on the charts in July 1977. In early May, KISS’ trilogy repackaging of the first three studio albums was reissued as a second printing. “The Originals” entered the charts on May 14 and stayed for over a month, eventually reaching #125. The week after it dropped out of the charts, “Love Gun” entered the charts where it joined the company of “Alive!” (#152), “Destroyer” (#129), and “Rock And Roll Over” (#89). The first two of these albums actually started to climb the charts again as a result of the activity in the KISS camp. This was the second time the band had had four albums on the charts simultaneously, a feat which would leave many other acts gagging.
The packaging of the album continued Casablanca’s practice of including premiums with the releases, with the inclusion of a fold-out paper gun and printed inner dust sleeve printed with a blood-styled KISS logo on green marbled background. Now standard with any KISS release was a merchandise order form and the new one which featured an ad for the Marvel comic book. Some copies of the album apparently have a misspelling of Ace’s surname. At the same time as the release of the album, KISS’ Marvel comic was finally published using the blood ink that had been drawn from the members earlier in the year.
Billboard’s July 2 spotlight review of the album: “Rock’s outrageous foursome has completed its most flawlessly produced and written album yet. This LP is loaded with a collection of nine original tunes and a cover of Phil Spector’s “Then She Kissed Me” that represents a new high in quality and performance for a group riding the crest of four platinum discs, international acclaim and an admirable public relations effort that includes a special Marvel Comic devoted to them. This should all add up to making this LP one of the group’s hottest. Plenty of single material here, played full tilt with crystal clear vocals and catchy instrumental work throughout. Hard core rock, all of it. Best cuts: “Love Gun,” “Christine Sixteen,” “Shock Me,” “Tomorrow and Tonight,” “Plaster Caster,” “Hooligan,” “Almost Human.” Dealers: Expect plenty of label support and know this group’s fans range from pre-teen onward.”
On July 8 KISS kicked of their “1977 Can-Am” tour in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. They used the new stage that had been designed, built, and debuted on the Japanese Tour earlier in the year. This stage was enormous with extremely large risers, stairs, masses of lightings, and a drum riser that was more like an elevator than anything else. Pyro was used in copious quantities, cementing the fact that a KISS show was more than just music. It was a musical war that would leave the fan blinded, numbed, deafened, but totally satisfied. Even more pre-1975 material was dropped from the set list with the following songs being performed during the tour: “Beth,” “Black Diamond,” “Calling Dr. Love,” “Christine Sixteen,” “Detroit Rock City,” “Firehouse,” “God Of Thunder,” “Hooligan,” “I Want You,” “I Stole Your Love,” “Ladies Room,” “Love Gun,” “Makin’ Love,” “Rock And Roll All Nite,” “Shock Me,” “Shout It Out Loud,” and “Take Me.”
The band was also to be seen wearing new costumes, which built on the themes previously used. By early August (4th - Salt Lake City) the band was touring America proper and the band was deemed rehearsed enough to be recorded for the long-planned second live album. On August 16 KISS performed at San Francisco’s Cow Palace when the death of the King, Elvis Presley, was announced, and at that night’s show Paul dedicated “Rock And Roll All Nite” to the fallen star. During a three-night stand at Los Angeles’ Forum, starting on August 26, the band recorded the majority of material that would be used on “Alive II,” including some recorded at the daily rehearsals.
The recording there had been long planned, and commemorative badges were prepared and issued stating “I Was There” for the occasion. With the “Love Gun” Tour concluding in September, KISS immediately headed back in to the studios to work on the live album and the necessary clean-up work associated with the project. Contrary to popular belief, there was no KISS show at the Forum on August 25 and only three shows took place. Several songs from “Love Gun” would get used on the band’s set list including “Christine Sixteen,” “Hooligan,” “I Stole Your Love,” “Love Gun,” and “Shock Me.” Cheap Trick would be the opening act for the tour though Styx would open the final few dates on the tour schedule.
Work at Electric Lady Studios included not only the clean-up work required for a live album, but also an opportunity to record new studio songs for the album. This had been the originally intended format for 1975’s “Alive!,” but at that time the band had neither the material nor time to record new songs. Also, considering the band and label’s position at the time, it is unlikely that either party wanted to squander (or pay for) new material while they were already working on a new studio release. The situation in 1977 was different and both the band and label were in secure positions. KISS’ contract clearly stated that 25 minutes was enough to classify a release as an album for meeting the criteria for fulfilling their obligations to the label. This was not the whole reason, for the band had wanted to avoid putting any songs on the album that had already been released in a live format.
“Love Gun” marked the end of the classic era of KISS. From that point on the band rapidly started splintering and all members would no longer appear on all of the tracks released on studio albums. Yet the album marks the era fittingly being the masterpiece in terms of packaging and musical content that concludes the original KISS era. However, while the album was an ending of sorts, the tour managed to break some new ground with the stage and show being bigger, better, and louder, making the somewhat extravagant “Destroyer” stage look more like a parking lot. The music stands the test of time with several of the tracks remaining mainstays in the KISS set list throughout the years. At the turn of the century it would be impossible to conceive of a KISS set without gems such as “Love Gun” or “Shock Me,” and “I Stole Your Love” occasionally crops up.
In terms of collectibility, copies of “Love Gun” either with the misprint (which apparently has Ace’s surname misspelled) or with the unassembled paper gun are premium in terms of desirability. Some complete and usually still sealed copies of “Love Gun” currently sell in the $30-$40 range. The US release record has the band illustration, without the background and girls, printed on the paper center-ring of the album. This was also used in 1977 in the UK when Pye reissued the whole KISS catalogue on both regular and varying shades of mostly red vinyl (they range from orange/light red to almost deep burgundy). Like some other issues the Japanese version was released with a gatefold cover, and if it still has its obi, this copy will sometimes fetch a fair amount of money (usually around $50).
Singles were issued in many countries, and most follow the American release model. Japan did both “Christine Sixteen” and “Love Gun,” both with the usual paper cover overlays. The sell for around $35-$50 for the regular release versions and $50+ for the white label promotional versions. The UK only released a 12” EP including “Then She Kissed Me,” “Flaming Youth,” and “Hooligan” which usually sells for around $25. It did not come with a picture sleeve. Germany issued “Christine Sixteen” and “Love Gun” backed with “The She Kissed Me.” These were issued on the Bellaphon label with picture sleeves using the regular KISS logo. Both sell for around $35.
Australia issued the most singles from this album, releasing both “Christine Sixteen” and “Love Gun,” but also “Then She Kissed Me” backed with “Almost Human.” The first two of these singles are reasonably common, selling for under $20, though the third is somewhat more obscure, selling for a bit more. Mexico issued a rare single of “Love Gun” b/w “Christine Sixteen” on the Gamma label. Several other countries also issued singles, notably France and Italy for which both countries have picture sleeve singles available for “Christine Sixteen.” But there are plenty of other singles from other countries that the avid collector can attempt to collect.