Thursday, June 23, 2016

Track of the Week: Ace Frehley, "New York Groove"

In 1978 Kiss was riding on top of the world. Their mix of catchy hard rock, shock horror/sci-fi tropes, theatricality, and clown makeup was like a tactical pop cultural ICBM aimed right at the sweet spot of suburban 70s adolescence. Late in 1978, perhaps consumed by hubris, each member of the band put out their own solo record simultaneously. If they had done a double album with each member getting a side it may have worked, but not too many people were going to plop down full price to hear a Peter Criss solo album.

While Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley have always been the core creative force of the band, the best song to come from those records by far was Ace Frehley's "New York Groove." In fact, I think I like it better than any of Kiss's songs. It has a glam rock stomp that betrays its origins: the song was originally performed by minor Brit glam band Hello in 1975. Frehley himself was the product of the Bronx, and he gives the song a bit more of the local swagger. It's skanky rhythm and funky feel instantly put me in the mind of New York City in the late 70s: a place simultaneously collapsing and acting as a cultural supernova. I'm not sure if I would have liked living there, but its contradictions and the amazing things it produced still fascinate me.

I hear in this song a kind of New York that's now been practically gentrified out of existence. "New York Groove" personifies the city as a swaggering street hustler with drugs and a roll of bills in his pockets and a bulge in his pants just living for today. A more accurate song today would personify the city as a financial analyst getting some cash from a Bank of America ATM and walking to get a cold brew at Starbucks while checking stock prices on his smartphone. I heard the song this week at a Mets game. The team broke a losing streak, and as fans filtered out of the stadium, the PA played "New York Groove," an almost perfect choice. New York doesn't have the same groove today, but this song still does.

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