Decades before Loutallica, there was KISS’s Music from “The Elder,” “the best concept album ever” (Julian Cope). There are a lot of strange things about Music from “The Elder”: recorded with an orchestra and a choir, collecting triumphant songs that sound more like the Who than KISS, the album is the soundtrack to an imaginary movie. Also, three of its songs boast lyrics by Lou Reed.
KISS recorded Elder with big-time 70s rock producer Bob Ezrin, who had produced a number of superb Alice Cooper records, along with KISS’s own Destroyer, Pink Floyd’s The Wall, and Reed’s Berlin. (It’s always fun to compare the strings on Reed’s “Sad Song” with those on Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb.”) In the words of the “official authorized biography” KISS: Behind the Mask:
In a last-ditch effort to regain their popularity and break new artistic ground, KISS reunited with Destroyer producer Bob Ezrin for 1981’s Music from “The Elder.” The concept, initiated by Gene Simmons, centered upon a young boy’s rite of passage, a heroic life’s journey through personal discovery, doubt, and ultimate self-realization.
At some point during the lengthy sessions for Elder, a phone call was placed to the King of New York. This upbeat quote from Paul Stanley doesn’t make it sound like Lou’s contribution to the project was, shall we say, labor-intensive:
Lou was so into our “Elder” project, that when we called and explained it over the phone to him, he said, “I’ll get back to you in an hour”. And he called back an hour later with good basic lyrics to “Mr Blackwell”, “World Without Heroes”, and a lot of other stuff that hasn’t been used yet.
I think the finest of the album’s three Lou songs is “Dark Light,” which wound up on the B-side of the first single, but then I’m partial to Ace Frehley. The A-side of the first single was reserved for “A World Without Heroes.” Now, if Lou Reed spent more than ten minutes writing this turkey, I’ll be a monkey’s uncle. Below, KISS humiliate themselves on the ABC cult comedy series Fridays.