Friday, 03 August 2012 10:52
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Raised on a thoroughbred horse farm in Bourbon County, Kentucky, Thomas Scott McKenzie received a master's degree in creative writing from the University of Mississippi. His nonfiction has appeared in Tin House, Paste, Premier Guitar, InSync, Stuff, and many more.
In the late seventies, parents with nightmares of Gene Simmons’ legendary tongue and their unsullied daughters could not imagine KISS collaborating with vanilla pop musicians.
But that’s what happened as the masked rockers sought to escape legends of being in Satan’s service to achieve chart success. By the mid-eighties, KISS would record songs written by the guy who got his first real six string at the Five-and-Dime and another dude with luscious locks who wondered how he’s supposed to live without you.
This kind of strange connection is one of the reasons I wrote Power Chord: One Man’s Ear-Splitting Quest to Find His Guitar Heroes. While eighties metal (or hair metal if you prefer) is derided by music snobs, the fact is that the genre provides a rich view of larger eighties cultural history.
Such as KISS teaming up with Bryan Adams and Michael Bolton.
In the early eighties, KISS determined that Creatures of the Night should be a return to their hard-rocking roots. They were introduced to the songwriting team of Jim Vallance and a then-unknown Canadian singer named Bryan Adams.
When Creatures was released in late 1982, it featured two Vallance-Adams tunes. There was “Rock and Roll Hell,” a coming of age tale similar to Foreigner’s “Juke Box Hero.”
And there was “War Machine,” a song that’s been in and out of the KISS set list for decades. With lyrics such as “Armageddon’s just a mater of time,” the tune fit perfectly with post-apocalyptic Road Warrior concepts.
KISS was egalitarian in doing what’s best for a song. Session musicians were frequently used, lead vocals traded around, and outside writers like Bryan Adams employed. Which led to working with Michael Bolton on their 1989 album Hot in the Shade.
The long-haired crooner was riding the success of “How Am I Supposed to Live Without You?”. He worked on an acoustic ballad for KISS entitled “Forever” with the starchild Paul Stanley. The final result was a tune that hit #8 on the Billboard charts and is commonly performed at KISS concerts to this day.
Hard rock and hair metal wasn’t an isolated fad that existed only in a vacuum. The genre boasted connections throughout pop culture. As did KISS. There are band connections and recording allegiances with Liza Minelli, Diana Ross, Donna Summer, the Village People, Miami Vice, and much more. These odd pairings and cultural coincidences were an fascinating part of writing Power Chord.
--Thomas Scott McKenzie
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Raised on a thoroughbred horse farm in Bourbon County, Kentucky, Thomas Scott McKenzie received a master's degree in creative writing from the University of Mississippi. His nonfiction...
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