Released on June 30, 1977 (Columbia Records)
To say that I’ve been in love with music since birth would be an understatement. Blessed to travel the world while soaking in the music of Johnny Cash and Chuck Berry from my dad’s Mississippi side of the family and getting an early rock education filled with Deep Purple and David Bowie from my uncle in Italy, I was pretty much set up to become a rock and roll junkie. Having a transistor radio pretty much attached to me through half the ’70s only fueled my growing addiction. But it was nabbing my mom’s small portable AM/FM-cassette recorder that sealed my fate for good and in a roundabout way, pushed me ears first into the KISS Army.
In the summer of 1976, I arrived in Ft. Riley, Kansas after a four-year stay in Germany and immediately set out to take advantage of rolling hills and the weather on my bike with my tiny transistor radio tied to the handlebar. By now, I, like most people, knew who KISS was but I didn’t KNOW who KISS was. At the time, they were just crazy characters that seemed to be everywhere. But I heard this song on my little radio and in an attempt to catch a deejay saying who the band was, I borrowed mom’s cassette recorder and proceeded to record the song on a blank tape every time I heard it on the radio. But the deejay never seemed to say who it was! So while I had a cassette with this one song taped over and over and over, I gave up until at my first Boy Scout meeting with my new troop, a kid asked me, “Do you like KISS?” to which I revealed that I hadn’t heard them. Then kinda like Damone explaining Cheap Trick in the movie Fast Times at Ridgemont High, he started referring to songs like “Rock & Roll All Nite”, “Shout it Out Loud”, and “Beth.” In response to the latter, I loudly asked “THAT’S KISS?!?!?!?!” Yeah, that song from my cassette was “Beth.” In all reality, what clueless kid would have expected this pretty tune to be from this crazy looking band? But anyway, this kid became my new best bud and over the next month I would rush home after school and grab my bike to fly over and glare at the amazing covers of Destroyer and Alive!, while enveloping this amazing sound coming out of the speakers. Watching the Paul Lynde Halloween special shortly after was my equivalent of kids experiencing The Beatles on Ed Sullivan over a decade earlier.
Fast-forward a year and I am now a transformed KISS fanatic with every cassette I can get my hands on. My bedroom filled with rock magazines littered with missing pages that had been relocated to my walls. KISS had only been around four years but were about to release their seventh album (eighth if you count The Originals in 1976) and later the same year would put out Alive II making for nine albums between 1974 and 1977. Bands these days would suffer nervous breakdowns if presented with the task of creating two albums a year while touring tirelessly. In 1977, I was still trying to wrap Rock And Roll Over around my teen head when KISS unleashed Love Gun just in time to make it part of that year’s summer soundtrack. And what a sunny 1977 rock & roll blast it was.
Clocking in just a tad over 30 minutes, Love Gun is a master stroke of genius with Eddie Kramer working with the band to create ten short and to the point rock and roll songs that not only showcase each of the group’s four personalities, but also manage to never feel too short OR too long. With songs barely averaging over three minutes in length, the influence of label head honcho Neil Bogart (who built his early career pushing three-minute bubblegum pop classics for the Buddah record label) is as prevalent as any time in the band’s career. An influence perhaps only eclipsed by the influence of KISS on popular culture and a whole slew of kids who would eventually become future rock stars themselves.
For my eleventh birthday, I was gifted my first turntable, a stack of 45 records, and a talk from my father letting me know that the time had come for me to start earning a weekly allowance — the idea I guess being to learn appreciation for the things I owned by doing the work it took to get them. For me that usually meant taking out the trash to make a few bucks which I would use to buy things like comic books and more forty-fives. But that summer it also meant buying my first full length record — Love Gun.
With that first punch of “I Stole Your Love,” I was nearly blown on my back. Sitting cross-legged on the floor of my room held down by only the huge earphones on my head and both hands firmly grasping the album jacket of Love Gun remains to this day a very impactful memory. If a moment was ever responsible for completely covering my body in goosebumps, this would qualify. With one Paul Stanley “AWWWRIGHT!!!!”, I was suddenly on my feet bouncing around my room. Thank God for that long curly headphone chord! I still can’t listen to this song without getting excited and doing the whole air guitar thing. When I started my own musical journey a couple years later, I would imagine myself onstage belting out “I Stole Your Love” to a whole front row of Christine Sixteens. Not really sure when you’re starting to come into your own as a guy discovering the opposite sex for the first time, if KISS is the best teacher but one thing was certain — in my mind, I had become as girl-obsessed as Gene and Paul.
“Christine Sixteen” was cool because it’s not only one catchy tune, but one that a pubescent American male in 1977 could relate to. Even if I wasn’t 100% sure what all the excitement down south was all about, I knew it was cool cuz KISS said it was cool. Third track “Got Love For Sale” keeps the Gene Simmons love fest going and while I’ve always dug the song, it’s the classic Ace Frehley guitar solo in the middle of it that truly made me fall in love with it. This solo, like many of Ace’s solos, fits the composition so perfect and contains enough moving parts for a kid to rear back and rip the most emotion-inducing air guitar solo. Man, I’m getting goosebumps now just thinking about it.
Now if Ace’s solo on “Got Love For Sale” wasn’t bad ass enough, his debut singing a KISS song was a whole other kind of bad ass. Space Ace had penned KISS classics in the past but “Shock Me” to this day stands as the pivotal Frehley moment. As fans would come to find out, “Shock Me” would come to typify what an Ace song would sound like. Aside from perhaps “Rocket Ride” and a few faster tunes from 1978’s Frehley solo album, most Ace originals (and covers) would be just a tad over mid-tempo, catchy, and complete with the perfect building solo.
Side one of Love Gun (yes kiddies, albums used to have sides) ends with catchy sing-a-long track “Tomorrow And Tonight”, a song meant to recapture the anthem magic of the band’s own “Rock And Roll All Nite.” While not quite on the same level as the latter, “Tomorrow And Tonight” was a near perfect fit for 1977, a time when teen idols such as Shaun Cassidy, Leif Garrett and the Bay City Rollers broke through by reintroducing mainstream America to classic fifties and sixties songs filled with catchy hooks and over-the-top sing-a-long choruses. It would not be last time on Love Gun that KISS would take a page from the likes of the classic girl groups of early rock & roll.
If KISS had hit the right button starting off side one, then kicking off the second side with the title track was the band not just hitting the right button, but pounding the living crap out of it. With its shotgun snare and guitars going off in tandem, “Love Gun” fires off like the perfect KISS Army anthem. It’s everything a KISS anthem should be — loud, aggressive, sexy, catchy, fist raising, and full of sing-a-long fury. The snare break into the lead solo to finish off the song underneath the ending chorus section remains a classic moment in KISSstory and is responsible for at least a few of the six-string gunslingers who took up the rock & roll cause in the ’80s. For me, it was just another excuse to switch back and forth between air guitar AND air drums!
While “Hooligan” might not be the most popular of the band’s songs among KISS fans, it represented in some ways what I wanted to be — loud, brash, and my own kind of teen rebel. To be honest, at the time when Peter Criss sang about going down to the candy store, my first thought was “Yeah Imma, eat all the sugar I want!!!!!” Well of course it was only a short while later that I figured out that Peter wasn’t looking to pick up a Hersheys bar and while he might have been looking for some sugar, it was definitely not the kind you’d pick up to put in your coffee .
If there is a strange tune on Love Gun (and one that connects in any way to KISS’ early days) it has to be “Almost Human.” With its droning guitar on the choruses, it is every bit a Gene song complete with innuendo and nods to Simmons’ fascination with horror films. Exhibiting the Demon’s taste for “flesh”, it almost could be considered his stalker song. But if this is considered an odd ditty, the next one could be considered downright weird to those clueless to the inspiration behind it.
Influenced by groupie Cynthia Plaster Caster, who in 1968 began making casts of the erect penises of rock stars starting with Jimi Hendrix, “Plaster Caster” is not so much a song about sex as it is a proclamation by Simmons that the groupie seeks to recruit him as a model for the perfect rock hard “tool” to use any time she so desires. While this certainly is fitting topic for KISS superhero / rock star expression, one has to wonder if a) Cynthia ever actually cast Simmons, b) if she was actually impressed, and c) if out of all the shlongs she made casts of, she would truly pick Simmons’ as the go-to for her personal pleasure over all the rest. As a teenage boy, all I could think of at the time was if any of the girls in my school were looking for subjects to experiment on in my class!
Well typically girls like to at least exchange a few kisses before venturing any further so I have long thought it funny that KISS would take a cover by the Crystals and turn it into album closer “Then She Kissed Me” following right being Gene’s ultimate hard-on tune. While catchy, the song isn’t exactly what I would call “going out with a bang.” One has to wonder if this album wasn’t looked at as an attempt to duplicate sides — both sides start off blaring, settle down to a good groove, then finish up with a music nod to early rock and roll. Oddly enough, while such a set wouldn’t have probably gone over as well in the hard rocking ’80s, for 1977, the balance of KISS’ early American pop and later English rock influences blend very well making for a good listen even years later.
While rock historians (and to a lesser extent critics) will never confuse Love Gun when discussing groundbreaking rock albums, it certainly has to be argued that Love Gun sits among a handful of albums cementing KISS’ place as one of the most influential bands of all time. It’s hard to imagine the hair metal / glam rock explosion of the ’80s happening without KISS coming before it. While not the only influence on the rock of the ’80s, KISS is perhaps responsible for the most diverse strand of musical offspring to come from a single band and a lot of that can be attributed directly to Love Gun. From the album cover to the music contained within its grooves, to the outfits the band wore on photos on everything from notebooks to bubblegum cards, 1977 is the ultimate peak in the fantastic story of KISS and Love Gun the last time the original band would be completely featured on an entire album. Aside from all four solo albums the following year, it would also be the last time KISS put out multiple “new” releases within the same year.
For me, it would mark the beginning of taking years of musical addiction and turning it into the start of what would become my own music history. KISS took the many styles of early rock and roll turning it into their own sound and in the process taught me to devour as much different music as I could. Eventually the band fell out popular fashion but by that time had engrained in me a belief in sticking to what you love regardless of public opinion which is why to this day I still love albums like Dynasty, Unmasked and The Elder. It is why within my own music can be found not only traces of KISS but also artists like Marvin Gaye, Johnny Cash, The Faces, and more.
It is why to this day, even at the age of 51, I can still put on Love Gun and for 30 minutes jump up and play air guitar.
01. I Stole Your Love
02. Christine Sixteen
03. Got Love for Sale
04. Shock Me
05. Tomorrow and Tonight
06. Love Gun
08. Almost Human
09. Plaster Caster
10. Then She Kissed Me
Paul Stanley – vocals, rhythm guitar, bass (6), co-lead guitar (1)
Ace Frehley – lead guitar, vocals, rhythm guitar (1)
Gene Simmons – bass guitar, rhythm guitar (3), vocals
Peter Criss – drums, percussion, vocals
Eddie Kramer – piano (2)
Produced by Eddie Kramer
Engineered by Corky Stasiak
Reviewed by John Stoney Cannon for Sleaze Roxx, June 2017
KISS‘ Love Gun TV Commercial Rare 1977:
Kiss Rare commercial TV ADD Promo Love Gun 1977