Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons Recall KISS’ Failed ‘Wacky’ Concept Album ‘Music From ‘The Elder’: ‘We Sold Six Copies’

1981 was a difficult year of transition for KISS, after original drummer Peter Criss was replaced by Eric Carr, so the hard rock titans decided to take a bold new direction with progressive rock orchestral opera, Music from “The Elder”. The risque concept album was based on a fairy tale between good versus evil, light versus dark originally scribbled on Beverly Hills Hotel stationery by the band’s Gene Simmons – a coming of age story adult about a starry-eyed protagonist known as “The Boy”, who is recruited by the Council of Elders into a heroic freedom-fighting troupe called the Order of the Rose, then mentored by a wise old guardian named Morpheus.

Damn, what could go wrong?

Well, at the time, it looked like a parcel could go right. Wool reunited KISS with the legendary Destructive producer Bob Ezrin (a seemingly exciting development for old-school fans who had been put off by KISS’s previous two pop/disco albums, Dynasty and Unmasked), and it featured lyrics by none other than Lou Reed on “Mr. Blackwell”, “Dark Light”, and “A World Without Heroes”. It was even intended to be a fantasy feature featuring the moment Meatballs/my bodyguard teen actor Chris Makepeace as the boy and possibly Patrick Stewart as Morpheus, according to Simmons. But the album, KISS’ ninth, was not at all what fans expected of the band, and it completely blew up when it was released on November 10, 1981.

KISS did not turn Music from “The Elder” – the first KISS album not to go gold in the US – and they rarely performed any of its tracks in the years that followed, apart from a memorable “A World Without Heroes” on MTV unplugged in 1995. Original guitarist Ace Frehley, who reportedly released a tape of the Elder against a wall after his solos were edited out of the final mix, left the lineup shortly after the record failed. And needless to say Elder the movie never happened. Make peace did record spoken dialogue for the album, but his contributions also fell short, and all he got was a mysterious “thank you” in the cover credits.

While Music from “The Elder” was a disaster at the time, the band rose again, and the undeniably ambitious undertaking has since enjoyed a mild critical toll, with classic rock magazine even included the record on its list of “20 Most Underrated Classic Rock Albums of All Time”. But judging by this new Yahoo Entertainment interview, Simmons and KISS’s Paul Stanley haven’t grown more fond of this flop venture in the past 40 years. Here they discuss exactly what happened in 1981, with their usual frankness and a surprising amount of self-awareness and self-deprecating humor.

Yahoo Entertainment: I hope you make me happy, because this year marks the 40th anniversary of a record that I think was not critically understood at the time, but has kind of had a rebirth. . And it’s Music from ‘The Elder.’ classic rock the magazine named it one of the “20 Most Underrated Classic Rock Albums of All Time” list. I know it was sort of in the middle of a transition phase for KISS. What was the state of mind of such an ambitious project which represented a big risk at the time?

Paul Stanley: We were lost. We were under the illusion. We had become complacent and a bit ungrateful for the success we had and what it was based on. So, we were lazy, and I think we all got very comfortable with a wealthy lifestyle, so to speak, and became more concerned with how our contemporaries perceived us rather than our fans. And I think the fans were let down. We couldn’t make a rock album. We had no teeth. We were scrub at the moment.

Gene Simmons: When you do something, you want authenticity and honesty. It was a dishonest record. … Wool was misdirected. We were very popular and played in stadiums and everything. And when we had a change in the composition – [Peter Criss] succumbed to certain clichés and rock ‘n’ roll, and all of us, Ace, Paul and myself, voted to have him kicked out of the band. So we have a new guy, Eric [Carr], God bless him, who sadly passed away. And we had free time. And I was at the Beverly Hills Hotel, of all places, because I started having fun with movies and meeting these kinds of people – going to Paramount, all that. And eventually, I ended up doing a few films and producing a few, but that wasn’t the real thing for me. And I started to write. And the first thing I wrote was on the Beverly Hills Hotel stationery: “The Elder, when the Earth was young, it was already old. It started with a story treatment that I wanted to turn into a movie – a Tolkien-like thing, inspired by The Observer from Marvel and so on. … We brought back Bob Ezrin, who might have produced our best record, Destructive, until there. … It was Bob Ezrin who said, “Let’s do a concept album. Gene, I like your story. Let’s create songs based on your story.

Stanley: When we got together with Bob Ezrin, I really hope he helps us save the ship, so to speak. We all jumped at this idea of ​​”Well, let’s show people!” We’ll show them how smart and musical we are! It really came to go, “Well, we can not at the moment – we cannot rock.” …You can’t get away from Bob’s discography and credits, if it really shaped Alice [Cooper] and the band into what they were. I mean, I saw that firsthand when we worked together on Destructive. …Bob was intrinsic and so important, certainly to Alice. And, The walltestifies to his genius, and Destructive was a real training camp for us. Honestly, I think we were all hoping to do something big. And when you fall, and you fall off eight inch heels, you fall hard.

Yahoo Entertainment: I’ve always wondered about this, because around the same time elder music the album came out, there had been The wall film, and Bob Ezrin had worked on The wall. So I always wondered if Pink Floyd The wallwas it an inspiration for you to have your own Wall?

Simon: Well the real story behind Woolwas this kind of notion of self-delusion: “Hey, the Who had tommy! let’s have ours tommy!” And why do you need this? You know, it’s like Zeppelin didn’t have tommy. And they did well.

Stanley: It was madness.

Yahoo Entertainment: You worked with Lou Reed on Wool, however, which is pretty cool. I mean, a lot of rock bands would be pretty happy to say that.

Stanley: Well, Lou came to some of the rehearsals, and Lou also lived across from me, and Bob lived across from them as well. So, you know, it was a neighborhood project.

Simon: So, [Ezrin] brought Lou Reed in for a day and we started having fun with the lyrics, and it was written on the side of one of Lou’s papers: “A world without heroes”. And immediately, we all said, “That’s a cool title. It’s awesome. What about a world without heroes? A world without heroes is no place to be. etc So the song wrote itself, based on some of the stuff that Paul had, which was, “Every little bit of your heart…” Paul was writing more romantic stuff. …that’s what you [women] wants to hear.

Stanley: What came out was, I don’t think particularly, very good; sometimes it’s hammy. Most of my vocals there. If you have already seen the Little rascalshow Alfalfa would sing in a pseudo-operatic voice, or try to.

A promo for KISS’ ‘Music From “The Elder”‘ (Photo: Casablanca Records)

Yahoo Entertainment: So, has been was it ever really intended to be a stage production or a movie?

Simon: Yes. We actually had Chris Makepeace. He was an actor at the time who had just come out my bodyguard. …and he actually got cast in the lead role and we started casting him. I don’t remember if Patrick Stewart was involved as Morpheus; he could have been. But, he started to have legs. And we were going to make a movie, but like most movies now, over 95% never get made, even though there are scripts and stuff. So we had treatment based on – I mean, my treatment – ​​but it stopped there and we kind of gave up.

Stanley: This is how delusional we were. We might as well be talking about launching a rocket to Mars, you know. I mean you can to speak about that, but actually, there’s so many things that come into play. And quite honestly, if you were going to send a rocket to Mars, you need a rocket and fuel. And as long as Wool, I don’t think we had either. … It was forced, and I think the songs weren’t great. And we were full of ourselves.

Simon: There are a few songs that I like. I like “I”, which was semi-autobiographical about my stance against drugs: “I believe in myself”. Why would I hurt my body and my mind? I believe in me. There were some good songs on it. But what was missing was honesty. It was a misdirected album.

Stanley: There were a lot of problems within the band, and Bob had his share of problems, and it was an album that for me was just a picture of a group of people who were lost. You had to be there to know how difficult it was to go all the way. And it wasn’t anyone’s fault in particular. It was all of us. It was just symptomatic of the fact that we weren’t all in the right place.

Yahoo Entertainment: Well, I appreciate it for what it was.

Stanley: And that doesn’t mean your opinion isn’t as valid as mine! … So if classic rock or someone wants to think it’s underrated, God bless them. This means that we have sold six copies.

Learn more about Yahoo Entertainment:

Paul Stanley on Soul Station, masculinity and the importance of wearing masks: “Not being able to voice my opinion actually feels un-American”

Gene Simmons recalls producing early Van Halen demos – and why he broke their contract: ‘They don’t owe me anything’

KISS revisits “Phantom of the Park”, 40 years later – “Wow, that was weird”

KISS’s Gene Simmons talks about COVID vaccinations: ‘I strongly believe it should be law’

#NoMakeupSunday: When KISS showed off their faces on MTV

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— Video produced by Jen Kucsak, editing by John Santo

About Elizabeth J. Swartz

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