KISS Vs. Rock Critics: The Never-Ending Battle

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KISS circa 2000 (George De Sota/Getty Images)

KISS circa 2000 (George De Sota/Getty Images)

Last year, the news that KISS would be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame came as a surprise to many: they’d been eligible and overlooked for over a decade, with Rock Hall nominating committee member Dave Marsh going on record, telling MTV that “KISS is not a great band, KISS was never a great band, KISS never will be a great band, and I have done my share to keep them off the ballot.”

Marsh elaborated on that statement via a post on his Rock and Rap Confidential titled “Why KISS Ain’t On Our List” (you can read the full post here). Marsh claims to have been the first journalist ever to write about KISS, for a piece on New York rock bands published by Long Island’s Newsday in the fall of 1973. And while his first impression of them wasn’t terrible, he soon soured on the self-named “hottest band in the world.”

“Musically, I was done with them before I ever turned the first album over to the second side. KISS had an extraordinary aptitude for adopting every cliché in hard rock history, and a complete absence of any ability to create so much as a hint of a new one. (I suppose maybe they were the model for Motley Crue?) The most interesting of their studio albums is Destroyer, and it’s not all that interesting, except as an example of the highly professional output of producer Bob Ezrin and guitarist Dick Wagner during the mid-‘70s,” he said, referring to the guitarist from Alice Cooper’s band who played, uncredited, on the album. “On their own, they were not clever at coming up with riffs, the beats are as repetitious as punk but without the energy, and their most interesting lyric is ‘Beth’ which is nothing more than third-rate Bob Seger blended with second-rate Billy Joel, or maybe ‘Detroit Rock City’ which is a clumsy J. Geils swipe.”

He did nod — sort of — to the band’s immense influence on musicians who followed them, saying, “And yeah, KISS  inspired a lot of kids to want to be in bands. So did half a dozen girls (and boys!) in every high school graduating class.” He does not mention that most high school graduates are not cited as an influence by artists including Nirvana, Pantera, Garth Brooks, Lenny Kravitz, the Donnas the Replacements and recent GRAMMY winners Daft Punk.

Marsh’s dislike for KISS extends to its loudest member, Gene Simmons. “Alas, Simmons also has politics, of a sort, though I’d sure he would deny anything of the kind because that might alienate part of the audience—although since he views the rest of the species as essentially a chain of ATMs, maybe not…Then there are his sexual politics, which amount to ‘Bend over, meat.'”

He concludes, “Why shouldn’t KISS be in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame? Because they have added not the slightest musical value to rock, which is why they were not especially huge record sellers. And because, so far, in one way or another, the Hall has avoided honoring the music at its most mercantile and shallow.” The Rock and Rap Confidential staff helpfully provide a list of 50 other artists who they feel are more deserving of induction, with Cheap Trick, Deep Purple, Judas Priest and Motorhead in particular called out. But the list also includes Krokus, Molly Hatchet and the Time.

Paul Stanley addressed Marsh’s article via his twitter feed, tweeting, “Just to answer all of you. DAVE MARSH IS A POMPOUS ASS WHO IS PART OF THE RRHOF. THE NY BANDS IN THE 70”S HE LOVED ALL SUCKED. AN OLD FOOL.”  In another tweet, he addressed the bands that Marsh favored, saying “LONG FORGOTTEN.”

Some of the New York bands Stanley mentions, per Marsh’s article, include  the New York Dolls, Elliott Murphy, Wayne County and the Miamis. So, while the New York Dolls are still around and considered as much more influential than their record sales would have you believe, he has a strong argument. Certainly the Miamis are rarely part of the pop culture conversation in 2014.

For his part, Gene Simmons merely retweeted a fans’ tweet that compared a photo of Marsh to one of Danny DeVito’s Penguin from 1992’s Batman Returns.

In related news, KISS will appear on the cover of the next issue of Rolling Stone magazine; RS founder Jann Wenner is also a co-founder of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It’s long been believed that he doesn’t like KISS; however maybe the roaring response that Rush got at last year’s induction softened his stance on bands that have traditionally been ignored by the magazine and the Hall of Fame.

KISS has just announced a co-headlining tour with Def Leppard, which kicks off June 23 in Utah.

Brian Ives, Radio.com

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