It isn’t just Simmons and Stanley. This is a game everyone in the band could play. (Well, Ace Frehley seemed to have his shit sorted out, as it were; “Parasite,” for instance, is a weirdly very sexy song, with a kick-ass guitar riff to boot.) Not so much the case for “Baby Driver,” by drummer Peter “Yes, I’m to Blame for ‘Beth’” Criss (also on Rock and Roll Over). “Go, baby driver/Been driving on down the road/Oh, what a rider/Carrying such a heavy load/Don’t ever need to know direction/Don’t need no tow, food, gas, no more.” The first question, obviously, is what the hell is he talking about? No, seriously. What the hell? And the second thing is, Jesus Christ, what is going on with this sexual metaphor? It is a sexual metaphor, that much is clear. Even if we leave aside the confusing lyrics (in fact, let’s do that, please), what on earth is going on with “go, baby driver”? There’s a fine tradition in ’70s rock of calling the groupies or what have you “baby,” and presumably that’s what Mr. Criss had in mind, but this strikes me as a sort of terrifying misstep.
And Kiss fans know from missteps. I’m going to limit myself to some of the high points from the first six albums because, frankly, I don’t want to hear any of the other albums again, ever. (Well, that doesn’t include the four solo albums released in 1978, of course. They are troubled, troubled records, but I have a completely indefensible yet persistent sentimental weakness for Paul’s solo album, and I might also argue, if cornered, that there are actually some songs worth listening to on Ace’s. Peter’s album is pretty much crap from end to end, and I’ve never actually listened to Gene’s, and I don’t intend to. If you try to make me, I shall be cross.) Here are some of my favorite flubs:
- “Flaming Youth” (Destroyer, by Gene, Paul, Ace, and Bob Ezrin – I think Ace was drugged and kidnapped and forced to participate in this one) – “Flaming youth will set the world on fire.” That one doesn’t mean to be sexual, but come on.
- “Room Service” (Dressed to Kill, by Paul) – “Baby I could use a meal.” Oh, my god.
- “Goin’ Blind” (Hotter than Hell, by Gene) – “Little lady, can’t you see/You’re so young and so much different than I/I’m 93 and you’re 16/and I think I’m going blind.” This song, in which Larry King tells his girlfriend that they can’t be together any more, has always cracked me up. The premise is supposed to be amusing (and it is), but I’m not sure Mr. Simmons knew what he was doing with the going blind metaphor.
- “Hotter than Hell” (Hotter than Hell, by Paul, who sounds like Jerry Lewis when he sings “Lady, oh lady,” something that I, not being French, find uniquely repulsive) – “Hot, hot, hotter than hell/You know she’s gonna leave you well done.” Am I the only one who gets unpleasant and not-sexy burn unit images from this? This song also features an earlier and inarguably more successful – if not exactly successful, per se – exploration of the Mr. Speed theme, with “I’ll take you all around this whole wide world before the evening is through.”
- “Mainline” (Hotter than Hell, by Paul) –“ You needed some loving/I’m hot like an oven.” Ah, the merciless overlord of the exact rhyme. The thing is, Mr. Stanley really wanted a phallic reference here, not a yonic one. I’m sure of this.
Ah, good times. Now, I assume Mr. Simmons’ response to all this would be to unzip, pull out his big old bank ledger, and wave it in my face. Which is part of the fun, probably. I don’t care what he thinks, and he doesn’t care what I think. That’s called détente. Go, baby driver.