When Kiss and Lou Reed Created ‘A World Without Heroes’
Music From "The Elder," Kiss' great creative gaffe, was short on shining moments. But the single "A World Without Heroes" did eke its way into the Top 50 on both sides of the pond and has retained a small glimmer of notoriety thanks to some unlikely sources: the late Lou Reed, who cowrote the song, and Cher, who covered it a decade later for her Love Hurts album.
The track, an airy and gentle ballad, started life as a Paul Stanley song called "Every Little Bit of Your Heart." The Elder producer Bob Ezrin, returning to the Kiss fold five years after helming Destroyer, thought it could fit within Gene Simmons' fantasy coming-of-age tale.
"It is part of the storyline," Ezrin tells UCR. "And in a way is meant to be in the [character of the] Boy's voice. But it also is a statement of some personal meaning to all three of the writers - Gene, Lou and me." Reed, in fact, contributed the line "a world without heroes is like a world without sun," which gave the track its new title. It was Ezrin who recruited Reed for the project.
"Lou was my dear friend from the time we did Berlin together in 1973 until he died 40 years later," the producer explains. "I think he was one of the most brilliant lyricists of all time. Occasionally, I would ask him to step out if his sweet spot and write lyrics for other artists. And the story of The Elder appealed to him. So he came up to my farm in King City, Ontario, to do some writing on the project. He had just taken a new path in life and had started studying tai chi, and I remember the then very odd scene of Lou out on the lawn by our pond in the misty early morning, practicing Parting the Horse's Mane."
Reed also collaborated on two other Elder tracks, "Dark Light" and "Mr. Blackwell."
"A World Without Heroes" is sung by Simmons and is one of two tracks Ace Frehley did not play on. Instead it was Stanley who delivered the guitar solo, which fit the song's markedly different soundscape.
"The whole track was uncharacteristically architected for Kiss," Ezrin says. "But then so was 'Beth.' In this case, having Gene sing the 'romantic lead' and Paul be the guitar god, plus having Lou write these innocent, yearning lyrics, was an intentional change of normal roles to get an unusual effect. Unfortunately, this was not quite the song that 'Beth' was nor was the time right for it. But Gene sings it beautifully, and Paul played a fantastic, dramatic solo."
Listen to Kiss' 'A World Without Heroes'
The Elder project was Kiss' great jump-the-shark moment. With new drummer Eric Carr on board, its concept and grand sonic ambitions (producer Ezrin was not far removed from his work on Pink Floyd's The Wall) fell flat with the Kiss Army. The album made it to only No.75 on the Billboard 200 - 40 spots below its predecessor, Unmasked - and was the first Kiss album not to be certified gold or platinum. Reviews, never Kiss' sweet spot, were particularly savage. Frehley dismissed it at the time, and Stanley and Simmons have both acknowledged the album as massive misstep.
All these years later, Ezrin says The Elder "was ambitious, has moments of real musical majesty but was fundamentally ill conceived, and the wrong thing for Kiss to do. They needed another Destroyer, and instead I got seduced by the mirage of a dramatically different idea and steered the ship in the wrong direction. As we've all said many times before: Ace was right. Still there's some pretty amazing music on it in places."
Kiss would retrench with the Killers best-of the following year and cranked things up again a few months later for 1982's Creatures of the Night, their last album before a 13-year break from wearing their signature makeup. Kiss did resurrect "A World Without Heroes" in 1995, at the request of Kiss convention fans, for acoustic performances. They also included the song in their 1995 MTV Unplugged episode and on the companion album that followed.