August 1977. A small boy is on vacation in the Big City with his family — once a year they make the eight-hour drive, to buy new corduroy pants and wide-striped shirts. But that’s not what is exciting the boy today in the shopping mall. He spent the summer picking bottles in the alleyways of his hometown and managed to save up seven dollars. And now he was in a record store, staring at a display on the wall that he could hardly get over. He knew he was looking at a record — after all, his parents had plenty of albums, from Neil Young to Engelbert Humperdinck — but he had never seen one that also looked like a comic book. And the price on it was $6.98: he had to have this.
In case you haven’t figured it out, the boy was me (seven years old at the time), and the record was Love Gun, from Kiss. That was the day my musical life changed. Up until that point, the turntable my older brother and I shared only played my copy of “Mickey and the Beanstalk” and my brother’s Bay City Rollers albums. The thunderous start to “I Stole Your Love” – the overdriven riff (first time I’d heard that sort of guitar), the rolling toms, Paul Stanley’s aggressive “Awrite!” — launched a song I’ve heard probably a thousand times now. “Ah thtole yo’ love!” is a refrain etched into my very being, and was my favourite album opener until 1982 when Iron Maiden’s “Invaders” usurped the throne. The energy and aggression of the song were undeniable, especially to a little kid already enraptured by stuff like The Hobbit.
There’re plenty more great songs here. “Love Gun,” of course, has been played at pretty much every Kiss concert the past 40 years. “Shock Me” was Ace Frehley’s first vocal foray, and a fan favorite, while “Tomorrow and Tonight” was a slightly more tepid take on the “Rock N Roll All Nite” and “Makin’ Love” template. Was Kiss the greatest band ever? Of course not. They didn’t reek of talent, and I’ve heard corpses play with more feel. They were a gimmick band, to be sure, but in these early years they did write some great songs, and Love Gun has its share.
Not only was the music something else, the entire package kicked ass. The cover art was amazing, and inside was a cardboard “Love Gun” that required assembly. I wish I still had that. As well, the inner sleeve featured the word “Kiss” written in blood on green-black marble. My brother assured me it was real blood — after all (according to him), Kiss were known to sacrifice girls onstage during concerts. Wow. And of course, being Kiss, there was an insert for ordering merchandise and joining the Kiss Army, which I promptly did, writing extensive letters to all four band members.
To be sure, there’s plenty of goofy stuff on Love Gun. “Plaster Caster” is about a groupie who liked to make casts of rock star’s dicks, while “Then She Kissed Me,” the last song on the album, is a silly gender-bender cover of the 60’s hit by The Crystals. The worst song though, especially 40 years later, is “Christine Sixteen,” which when I listened to this as a teenager was pretty cool, but thinking about an octogenarian Gene Simmons singing “She’s been around, but she’s young and clean” about a 16-year old, it’s beyond cringeworthy. They should rerecord it as “Christine Sixty.”
Despite the handful of hackneyed songs, most of Love Gun still gets its time in the Huck N’ Roll household. I still have the original LP, although it only plays to about 26 minutes of its 33-minute runtime due to the dozens of skips and scratches (most caused by sibling wrestling matches that wound up crashing into the stereo). When I added the CD years ago, I couldn’t sing the songs anymore, I was so used to singing through the skips. Despite the present-day irrelevance of the band, Love Gun was a kick-ass album that deserves inclusion in our hallowed YMIO halls, and I’m sure glad this was my first album ever purchased. I feel bad for anyone whose first was, say, LuLu.
So, what’s your story?