Hard rock fans rejoiced last month when Kiss was announced as one of the latest inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. As the band has long been derided by critics as all style and no substance, this achievement was vindication for millions — not all of them card-carrying members of the Kiss Army — who could care less what Rolling Stone or anyone else thinks as long as the music’s loud and the riffs are catchy. If you crave big dumb rock fronted by outsized personalities and served with more pyrotechnics than a Super Bowl halftime show, for four decades the self-styled “hottest band in the world” has had no compunctions about accommodating your desires.
Kiss’ entire being, be it its bombastic rockers or its superhero makeup personas or its dismissal of the Rock Hall as an irrelevant institution due to its refusal to recognize the band’s impact, is predicated on its populist appeal. This is an outfit that knows exactly what its audience wants, and delivers. Therefore it’s perfectly understandable that Kiss fans tend to be very possessive of the band. However, the relationship hasn’t always been a happy one, primarily instances when the group has tried to reinvent itself. Though it has since become an object of grudging respect, 1979’s “I Was Made for Loving You” was one of those flashpoint occasions which riled up the fanbase: the moment when — shock of all horrors — Kiss went disco.
When “I Was Made for Loving You” first came out, its mere existence was a betrayal to the rock populace and added fuel for the simmering “Disco sucks!” backlash that would boil over come the turn of the decade. Here were the authors of veritable odes-to-rockism “Rock and Roll All Nite” and “Detroit Rock City” laying down a mechanoid disco beat and singing helium-voiced harmonies. Sacrilege! Now that time has given us distance and disco has gone through various phases of retrospective reappraisal, it’s possible to consider this song on its own merits, divorced from the expectations of its authors and the rigid social dividing lines that turned separate musical genres into rival factions. It turns out, it’s actually a pretty awesome tune, and arguably one of the better singles Kiss put out.
I absolutely love “I Was Made for Loving You” — I find it more enjoyable than old Kiss warhorses like “Roll and Roll All Nite” and “Strutter”, even. Kiss could be criticized for latching onto a fad to make a quick buck — though if you find fault with that, I would guess you’ve probably never bought any of the endless permutations of Kiss memorabilia available for purchase — but the band cannot be charged with not committing when it came to the execution. Kiss went into a studio intent on making a big dancey disco number, and by God did it pull it off. That monolithic 16th-note groove that runs through the song is propulsive and insistent, and though “I Was Made for Loving You” is ostensibly a song to dance to, it is as rock-hard as any of the group’s more familiar fist-pumpers. Hear also those “Doo-doo-doo” harmonies that float throughout, acting as the main hooks in lieu of Kiss’ standard guitar riffage. They’re as goofy as they are indelible.
“I Was Made for Loving You” glitters like gold; listening to the song, it’s apparent that the marriage of Kiss’ showbiz schtick and disco’s shiny surfaces is more natural that kneejerk rockist prejudices would assume. True, hearing singer Paul Stanley doing his best disco diva turn for the first time is a head-spinner. Yet I urge you, diehard rockers, to give him a chance here, and brace yourself for the bridge section, where his voice climbs ever higher into a ringing falsetto that would made the Bee Gees jealous. It all culminates with the one moment above all I anticipate whenever I put the track on, where Stanley peaks at the very top of his range and is promptly answered in quick succession with chugging electric guitar, a showy tom fill from drummer Peter Criss, and finally a downright sick beat drop that takes the listener into the final portion of the song.
For rock fans scornful of dance music, the tendency might be to like “I Was Made for Loving You” ironically, if at all. Certainly, it’s a hoot hearing the face-painted arena monsters sing polyester soul over a sexy butt-bumping beat. But just because it’s ridiculous or unconventional of the band doesn’t make it a musical misstep, even if upon its original release it was arguably a career one. Here’s to you, you brazen stylistic detour you, a tune that makes me smile every time I hear it — partly due to it incongruity, and partly because it’s so darn good.