Ginger’s Secret History Of Rock’n’Roll (Pt 19)
Kix had more zip, pow, whiz, chutzpah and pizzazz than 90 per cent of their hair-metal mates combined…
1981 – Atlantic Records
Every trend and popular style, while breaking fresh new talent, will, inevitably, drag established artists into the public eye. The good news is that truly great bands and artists will survive the lifespan of a trend, be it Elvis Costello outliving punk, David Bowie maintaining legs way beyond 70s glam, or even Slipknot eclipsing their nu-metal restrictions.
In the case of Kix, unfairly promoted, amongst a flotilla of tuneless waste, within the hair metal stable, this would sadly backfire, leaving another classic American band to languish as a footnote to the merciless excess of the 80s.
Shame, then, that in a predominantly humourless genre Kix had more zip, pow, whiz, chutzpah and pizzazz than 90 per cent of their genre mates combined.
A creative outlet for huge songwriting talent and uber-manic bass madman Donnie Purnell, Kix came about organically, first with ultra stylish guitar player Ronnie ’10/10′ Younkins, then followed by helium-larynxed frontman Steve Whiteman, charisma-soaked guitarist Brian ‘Damage’ Forsythe and golden-voiced, powerhouse drummer Jimmy ‘Chocolate’ Chalfant. This winning formula of musicians played in and around their home base of Maryland, blissfully unaware that they were already heads and shoulders in front of their Californian counterparts. In fact it would be later noted that Poison copied their entire shtick from Kix, and merely added women’s clothing, poor musicianship and lame songs. The simple truth is that Kix had a special ‘something’ that, at the time, was so unique in rock music that the world remained in wholesale confusion.
Could a band, looking like a clash of of Aerosmith, Ramones and Hanoi Rocks and sounding like a mash up of AC/DC, The Cars and 70s bubblegum pop, actually be cool? Regardless of their obvious charms Kix confounded an audience that would have been happier had they simply chosen one style and stuck with it. Once again, having the bravery to mix styles, and this time to awesome effect, another great party-tape band distanced themselves from fans of each genre successfully being spliced.
I still remember thrilling to the sound of this unique record while visually digesting the cover shot of the band, and loving the paradox of a raggy-haired group dressed in bike jackets, ripped jeans and sneakers sounding like Angus & Co playing My Sharona. All elements which I dearly loved already, I just hadn’t seen them so lovingly put together.
Rendered rather sonically flat due to a workmanlike production, courtesy of UK heavy metal producer Tom Allom, this unflattering handling of the band’s debut actually works in Kix’s favour, showcasing more of the tightness of the band and the sheer ingenuity of the guitar work that maybe a more lush mix could have painted over.
Great songs played by a great band and sang by a great singer will shine through any production niggles, every single time.
‘Atomic Bombs’, apparently the first song that Kix ever wrote, suffers most of all nine songs with the band fighting against a mix that would benefit a run of the mill heavy metal band yet does the subtleties here very little in the way of favours. Still, it’s impossible not to be sucked into the joyous delivery of a band so obviously loving who they are. Whiteman’s voice honours enough Bon Scott-isms to be instantly endearing but there is a bratty charm present that is all his own. In fact one of the many lasting impressions from this album that has stayed with me since first hearing it is the youthful mob element to the vocals where choruses come loaded with flick combs instead of knives.
‘Love At First Sight’ changes direction slightly, steering the drive into more pop/cartoon backstreets with almost XTC-style jerky guitars creating an unlikely backdrop for Steve Whiteman’s comically high-pitched vocals, uniting in an implausibly cool interface that acts as the paradox on which the whole album works.
‘Heartache’ is pure early 80s pop before the tanks came in flattening everything with keyboards and electronic drum kits. Slick melody rubs shoulders with The Knack style staccato guitar riffing with amazing restraint and awesome effect. Tongue-in-cheek and unfiltered, this is pure joy – it is Alfred E Newman wearing a smiley face badge.
And if that makes sense I think you’ll love this album.
‘Poison’ has a more speedy but no less full-colour, 3D character, carrying with it an American pop badge of honour. Punchy and driving it still engages you like that song you occasionally hear played on the radio while you’re driving, the one that takes you back to THAT party, THAT girl/guy and the way music used to make you feel before time cast responsibility into your story.
‘The Itch’ follows a similar path, only this time with more dynamics as a broody and temperate verse builds into a snappy, bratty chorus complete with handclaps and harmonies. This is the sound of a party where there are 3 girls for every boy and the parents are away for the weekend.
Side two kicks off in delirious fashion with the unhinged ‘Kix Are For Kids’. Try to listen to this one and not imagine Angus duck walking across the stage. Donnie Purnell (surely the second most erratic stage presence next to Mr Young?) wears his ‘Let There Be Rock’ flag with pride as the band tear it up in grand style, Whiteman screaming like the studios on fire and coming off like the bridge between Fist’s Keith Satchfield and Axl Rose.
Oh yes, Axl definitely has this album in the box marked ‘personal’.
Just listen to ‘Kix Are For Kids’ and try to tell me you don’t want to leave the house. I dare you. See? Can’t be done. This is the song I urge you to listen before passing on this awesome band. Just listen to those guitars! Who on earth has two lead guitar players with such incredible rhythm guitar abilities? No one, that’s who. And on ‘Kix Are For Kids’ Ronnie Younkins and Brian Forsythe tear it up like starving pit bulls let off the leash in an abattoir. Exhilarating stuff, even after all these years.
‘Contrary Mary’, with its cheeky variation on the ‘Day Tripper’ riff, is wonderful pop rock set to the, now, familiar AC/DC backbone of four-on-the-floor drums and choppy guitars, with their trademark backing vocals carrying this most simple of catchy stompers.This is Kix hitting their stride and it’s a beautiful thing.
Next is ‘The Kid’ and, okay, confession time. I’ve tried to copy the riff of ‘The Kid’ more times than probably any song since Cheap Trick’s ‘Dream Police’. It is, admittedly, in itself, The Kinks ‘Where Have All The Good Times Gone’, another band that Kix share a distinct sense of style and dry humour with. In fact I wouldn’t be surprised if The Kinks were one of the main original influences of this classic band.
Hey, I was conceived after a Kinks gig, I love Kix, if Kix love The Kinks then the circle is complete!
As ‘The Kid’ steamrolls its way towards the end of the album it’s hard to ignore a definite influence on ‘Appetite For Destruction’, the constantly diverting arrangements, the intermeshed guitar work and, most significantly the vocal tones and inflections, and the offbeat throwaway remarks, seemingly ad-libbed at random intervals. Guns N’ Roses, I suspect, owe a substantial debt to this band, and, more particularly, to this song.
Closing track ‘Yeah, Yeah, Yeah’ comes in sounding like a sure inspiration for R.E.M’s ‘Pretty Persuasion’ until it sheds such refinement and lays down the proverbial Kix template with guitars chugging, drums driving and gang backing vocals spinning in and out of Steve Whitemans howling inflections. Culminating in the semi-legendary live rap towards the songs climax Whiteman tells the tale of the young female object of his dubious desires who, after imbibing the requisite amount of booze and pills to get her in the mood she responds to said advances by throwing up all over the floor of his van. True story or not this is exactly why Kix are streets ahead of the make up and posturing bands that they have undoubtedly inspired. Kix are aware that nothing is sexier than just being damned funny.
Their second album, ‘Cool Kids’ (1983), is every bit as infectious as this one, albeit with a far clearer leaning towards straight up pop. That isn’t to say that ‘Cool Kids’ doesn’t rock, it does (check out ‘Cool Kids’ and ‘Mighty Mouth’), the only difference is that their second album sounds like it was made with the charts in mind. Their debut sounds like it was made with the party in mind.
By their third album, the frequently amazing ‘Midnite Dynamite’ (1985), they had tired of the melodic overtones that infused their first two albums and were already heading into a straight AC/DC tribute sound that would dominate their remaining three albums ‘Blow My Fuse’ (1988), ‘Hot Wire’ (1991) and ‘Show Business’ (1995), bringing in scant chart success and increasingly less character impact. They still managed to inject a healthy amount of melody in every album, but none as willfully as their debut, where the sound was created from a natural drive to simply make music.
Kix can still be seen playing shows and various festivals around US, sadly minus Donnie Purnell their bass playing dynamo, who apparently still allows the band 100% freedom to play his songs (how refreshingly un-metal).
They still put on a great, energetic show, laced with some of the finest songs you’ll ever hear.
But for the real story listen to where it all started from.
Every now an again a near perfect band is formed somewhere deep in the United States, and every now and again they make albums that capture their true essence. This is one of those moments.