The International Writers Magazine: REVIEW
Shout It Out Loud
The Story of KISS’s DESTROYER and the Making of an American Icon
by James Campion
Backbeat Books $24.99p
Published October 13th 2015
Sam Hawksmoor review
A brilliant forensic insight into the making of KISS and Destroyer
My first thoughts on seeing ‘Shout It Out Loud – The Story of KISS’s DESTROYER and the Making of an American Icon’ was why James Campion, why? KISS were never more than an artificial, in your face, money-making machine with lesser skills than most other rock and roll bands in the 70’s. Their first two albums were abysmal; the recording quality dire and glam rock was so surely over when they started who was ever going to take them seriously as musicians. I was living in New York when they launched and everyone knew it was a joke. People knew they were fake, except the 14 year old boys they were pandering to I guess, all of who became devoted to KISS despite the mockery and as an act of rebellion began to think of themselves as the KISS Army, kept well supplied with merchandising. And guess what, those 14 year-olds grew up and one of them wrote this book.
Rather like taking a good book and making a lousy movie with it, James Campion has taken a mediocre band and written something amazing with it. He has given the making of their double-platinum album a forensic examination. He combines the dedication of a fan with the meticulous research that reaches into the very heart of the making of an album with such energy and exhausting detail you actually feel that you were there in that studio for a whole month. Nothing and no one is left out. (Except perhaps the janitor whose miserable job it was to clear out the coke debris and wipe clean the deleterious from Simmonds liaisons with hookers in the studio. Can’t believe you didn’t find the janitor, Campion).
This then is the story of Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, Peter Criss and Ace Frehley who were, on their own admission, in the last chance saloon with the record buying public and their label Casablanca, who were going to make a fortune with Donna Summer rather than these New York boys who thought they were good enough to be another New York Dolls (in their dreams). We get the beginning, the smell of desperation, the attempts to change labels, the egos, the endless lack of money, the sheer desperation of their manager Bill Aucoin who was stretched financially to keep The Act on the road. We can see the shoddy special effects on the live shows slowly becoming more accomplished and then enter stage left when the album Alive was just taking off.
Simmonds was desperate to capture the loudness of their stage act that drew big crowds but failed to sell their albums, which just didn’t reflect the noise they were making. Radio ignored them. What was keeping them alive was the devotion of the fans, but touring was expensive and crippled finances. The Alive album was a halfway house to success – barely live, studio enhanced with over –dubbing, but it did at least play LOUD. And as luck would have it, began to sell. That all important fact gave Casablanca and the man who saw the potential in KISS, Bill Aucoin the courage to spend the money on getting a first class producer on board for the next album and who better than Bob Ezrin who had made a star out of Alice Cooper? Better yet Ezrin had heard some material that he thought would make a good KISS song and was interested in working with them.
The curious thing about Campion’s detailed build-up into the making of what would become DESTROYER, is that although I care nothing for the music, the layering of every little detail matters. We get the lives and motives of the engineers Corky Stasiak, Jay Messina (whose names would crop up on amazing albums through the next decades), the nitty-gritty on finance, the brilliance of Bob Ezrin and his dog whistle in disciplining the ‘four wild men from Borneo’ as their first ever critic had labelled them. It is an incredibly fascinating page-turner in fact.
Day by day, hour by hour, we get the pressure as each song on the album is teased out, the drama, the strops, the sex and drugs (Simmonds and Stanley were against drugs, but Ezrin and Criss were into it and Frehley, in particular, was so wasted by coke and booze, his guitar was replaced on at least four songs by Dick Wagner, who was available, sober and on call in Manhattan where they made this album at Record Plant studio.
When the album finally came out in 1976, it sold well, then began to tank. No one knew why, although there must have been a clue in the harsh critical comments in the media. Bob Ezrin was fired from producing the next album. But one song, the one that Ezrin had laboured long and hard over with Peter Criss, the song that was unlike any KISS song, a ballad, took off. Campion details just how important the hiring of PR man Scott Shannon was to KISS and Casablanca. He instinctively knew ‘Beth’ was a hit but Casablanca were trying to bury it on a b-side. Hated the song, as did the rest of KISS because it had nothing to do with them and had an orchestra on it for christ’s sake. How ‘Beth’ became their biggest success and the roots of that song in something called ‘Beck’ by Stanley Penridge is just extraordinary research and writing. How KISS finally conquered AM and AOR radio is all down to Shannon and the KISS Army who demanded the radio stations play their band.
More than anything this is a pean to Bob Ezrin who guided the sound and feel of the album and is credited on at least seven of the songs on Destroyer. I loved the detail on the all-important album cover and how they finally found the artist Ken Kelly and rescued him from comic horror book hell. To be honest, the comic hero cover on Destroyer is possibly the single most important element of the album’s success.
‘Shout it Out Loud’ by James Campion is more than a record of a moment in rock and roll history, it is a brilliant apprentice handbook on how to handle a rock-band, build a recording career, create a particular sound and all the necessary elements that are needed to do that. You are there in the studio, at the control board, fiddling with the amps, placing the microphones, hunting for a calliope, dealing with massive egos… And by the end you know exactly why he has a 382 page book, because that it what it takes to get it all down, every last nuance, every fact checked in the making of an iconic album. Just think of what Campion could do with Pet Sounds…
Shout it Out Loud comes complete with two 8-page photo inserts of all the protagonists
© Sam Hawksmoor Oct 13th 2015
Editor - Hackwriters.com
Author of Another Place to Die: Endtime Chronicles