Best song: Mmm, that’s tough. “Calling Dr. Love” or “Makin’ Love”.
Worst song: “Baby Driver”, but “Mr. Speed” gets a dishonorable mention.
Scholars could argue for months at least as to which album cover from the Second Trilogy is the most iconic. Ken Kelly’s vivid depictions of Kiss-as-Four-Horsemen on Destroyer and Kiss-as-Lords-of-the-Harem on Love Gun are fantastic, and yet Michael Doret’s cover for Rock and Roll Over, to my mind, is the epitome of Kiss cover art.
The band has just conquered the world with the one-two punch of Alive! and Destroyer. Just a few weeks before Rock and Roll Over released, Kiss appeared on the Paul Lynde Halloween Special, introduced to the King of Camp by the Wicked Witch of the West herself, Margaret Hamilton. They did several of their songs, notably “Detroit Rock City.” Now what?
“I Want You” followed by “Take Me” has to be one of the best song title pairings ever put back-to-back on an album. The former is probably the album’s high point; should have saved it for Side Two, lads! The guitar work is some of the best yet, both in the riffs and in the solo. The urgency Paul puts into the vocals. The buildup, then descent back to the gentle opening riff, then that ring-modulated guitar-and-drum tantrum before the final chorus of “I want yous”. This is superb. If this had been on Destroyer in place of “Beth”, that album would have been one of the greatest ever not made by someone from Liverpool.
“Take Me” was not a hit, and I can’t figure out why. It’s got big energy and big crunchiness. It starts with the most hilarious opening line in the catalogue, bar none (“Put your hand in my pocket, grab onto my rocket” … come to think of it, that might have been a little too explicit for a big hit in 1976). The band is having fun. Gene’s doing little bass things. Ace and Paul are bringing riffs. Peter is abusing the hell out of that hi-hat.
The story has it that “Calling Dr. Love” was inspired by Gene seeing that one Three Stooges short in which they’re in a hospital and the person on the PA system says “Calling Dr. Howard, Dr. Fine, Dr. Howard.” That’s silly enough to be true. This song is immortal. It’s not musically as great as “I Want You” but it’s a slightly more enduring hit. The riffs are unrelenting. The one word which gets overused in a review of a good Kiss album has to be “fun”, and here it is again.
Then “Ladies Room” [sic]. I don’t get it. He’s meeting her in the ladies’ room? Why? Well, I guess he’d like more women to walk in while he’s meeting her or something. This was enough of a hit to make it to Alive II; I would have rather had “Take Me”. It’s all right, I suppose, weird premise aside. (Seriously, how do you say “maybe it’s time for romance” and then meet her in the ladies’ room?)
“Baby Driver”. Ugh. Peter wrote the worst song on Destroyer (“Beth”), so I guess it’s fitting that he do the same on this album too. There’s a trace of groove here, but mostly it feels kinda sleazy (immediately after a song called “Ladies Room” and before “Love ‘Em and Leave ‘Em”, I’ll remind you) without the knowing wink Gene often seems to sing with. It just drags. And even his voice, which I have praised on other pieces, isn’t doing so hot here.
“Love ‘Em and Leave ‘Em” has two virtues: one, it’s got a good driving beat and energy, and two, there’s that knowing Gene wink: “I’ve got a stiff proposition, yeah …” Simmons, you magnificent bastard. You have no right to make me tap my foot to this, but there I go. Oh, it has a third virtue: it’s not “Baby Driver.”
“Mr. Speed” however is dangerously close to being as bad as Peter’s contribution. Only the fact that the band has got better production (thank you, Eddie Kramer) elevates this above the filler on Dressed to Kill. Those little descending multitracked bits at the end of the verses (“Cry-iyi-yi”, “See me-ee-ee”) are about as “oldies” in vibe as “Anything for My Baby”. Not your best work, Paul.
“See You in Your Dreams” is sort of Gene’s more romantic flipside to “… Leave ‘Em”. It’s in that middle range between highlight and mere filler. Gene will revisit this song, re-recording it on his solo album a couple years later, but this version feels more real and raw. The later version will be slickly overproduced (but then, everything on that album will prove to be so).
Sigh. “Hard Luck Woman”. Go back to my Destroyer review. I said I forgot “Beth” when I typed the track list the first time? Guess what I forgot this time! Guess who sings both songs! The difference is that Paul wrote this one … although he was hoping Rod Stewart would sing it. Gene told him they ought to have Peter do it. I mean, yes, it’s better than most songs on the original trilogy. Gene’s bass line, yet again, is a little undermixed and a lot underrated. I wish Paul had sung this himself; Peter’s rasp is nice here (nicer than on “Baby Driver” by a few parsecs) but Paul’s theatricality might make this more memorable. Still, I’m the odd man out here; it was a decent hit (Top 20). I prefer it to “Beth” any day. At least it feels like it belongs on this album (especially given “I Want You”, which at least begins as gently as this).
We cleanse the palate after that with “Makin’ Love”. I actually feel like this is the dry run for “Love Gun” the way “Let Me Go, Rock ‘n’ Roll” was for “Rock and Roll All Nite”. They’re both by Paul and sung by Paul. They both have a good crunchy riff that relies heavily on rhythmic picking. They both have Ace doing a really spiffy solo which doesn’t end but rather continues when Paul’s singing returns. That final “Aaaaaaaaahhhhowwwww!” at 2:20 is simultaneously bloodcurdling, badass, and (here I go again) fun. Really. Listen to this and “Love Gun” back to back and tell me you don’t hear it. Now “Love Gun” is magical, possibly the best straightforward rocker Kiss has ever done, but “Makin’ Love” is damn good. (It will be a little more cringey on Alive II, but we’re not there yet.) And that’s a wrap!
Rock and Roll Over beats the tar out of any of the original trilogy of albums. Its chief failing is in not being Destroyer or Love Gun, and that’s praising with faint damn. Its highest points (“Calling”, “I Want You”, “Makin’ Love”, and “Hard Luck Woman” if you must) are on Double Platinum, but “Take Me” is good dirty fun as well. At the risk of sounding too much like Paul, grab it.