By 1981, KISS was on the ropes. Due to a number of factors, including the release of two pop-oriented albums, the group had alienated much of the KISS Army. In an attempt to revitalize their carrier, the decision was made to go big with the type of LP that would impress both critics and rock fans: a concept album. There was the belief amongst some in the KISS camp that the record would be a critical success and a commercial blockbuster. But it was ultimately neither—it bombed. Years later, long after the failure of what’s remembered as KISS’s weirdest album, something surprising happened: an ambitious musical based on the LP was staged by an American high school.
KISS should be given some credit for at least trying something different with their 1981 concept album, Music From ‘The Elder’, but those who pushed for the band to go in this direction—Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, and producer Bob Ezrin—didn’t go far enough. It was shortsighted and naïve to think that the record’s formulaic story of a “hero’s journey,” which was half-assed in execution, was going to both win over a press that had consistently dismissed KISS, and appeal to those who bought that recent blockbuster concept album Pink Floyd’s The Wall (which Ezrin produced). To make matters worse, the powers that be at KISS’s label, Polygram, didn’t believe in the project. The suits insisted that the two tracks they thought would have the most impact in the singles market (“The Oath,” and “A World Without Heroes”) be moved to start each side of the LP, which KISS agreed to. With those changes, an album that was already hard to follow was made effectively impenetrable.
When Music From ‘The Elder’ was released in November 1981, all it really did was confuse everyone. Most critics, remaining KISS fans, and those in the general public still paying attention, couldn’t understand why KISS would release such a record. The album sold poorly, and the band abandoned the project by March 1982 or so. Guitarist Ace Frehley was against the concept album idea from the beginning, and was so frustrated by the entire Elder endeavor, that it contributed to his eventual departure from KISS.
Japanese picture sleeve.
Initially, a lavish tour was planned, as well as subsequent albums continuing the concept. The three principals had such blind faith in the The Elder, that the record’s success was considered a foregone conclusion. When Music From ‘The Elder’ ends, there is the implication that what you have just heard is only “part one” of the story, and even the title of the LP alludes to the eventuality of a film. This makes the failure of the project that much greater, as there obviously was the belief that Music From ‘The Elder’ was only the beginning.
Over the years, Simmons and Stanley have dissed the album, stating that it was the completely wrong approach for KISS, and admitting that their egos got in the way. They have seemed embarrassed by the album and its commercial bombing, and given the impression that they wish the record would just disappear from their discography.
Italian picture sleeve.
Surprisingly, a cult surrounding Music From ‘The Elder’ has grown over the years. While many fans of the group either don’t like the album or are simply unaware of its existence, there is a portion of their fanbase that delights in the oddity of the record. Simmons and Stanley first appeared to warm to The Elder during their acoustic tour of KISS conventions in 1995. “A World Without Heroes” was consistently a part of their set and was included on the Unplugged album. When convention audiences shouted out requests for Elder songs, the band would often attempt to play the material, seemingly bemused by the overwhelming positive responses.
Much more after the jump…