Written by Eric Carr, Gene Simmons and Adam Mitchell
Lead vocal: Gene Simmons
From the album Hot in the Shade, 1989
Produced by Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley at The Fortress, California
In a nutshell: Hail Caesar!
Review: At the end of the 1931 film Little Caesar, the gangster Rico Bandello (played by the legendary Edward G. Robinson) is finally gunned down in the street by police after a reign of terror that has seen him rise to the top ranks of the criminal underworld. When he is shot he falls into the gutter and as the police watch, he dies asking, “mother of mercy… is this end of Rico?”
Today’s song makes me say something similar. Not in disbelief at my own fate like Rico but with delight that the fifteen track slog that is Hot in the Shade is finally approaching the end. Little Caesar is track fourteen and a genuine high point of the of the record, coming between the unremarkable Somewhere Between (Heaven and Hell) and the hamfisted attempt at speed metal Boomerang. “Mother of mercy… is this the end of Hot in the Shade?”
Oh, and it’s also the only original song in the KISS discography that features Eric Carr on lead vocals.
Before we talk about the song, let’s look at the circumstances that led to its creation. If you bought the KISS Box Set you’ll have heard the song Ain’t That Peculiar. Ain’t That Peculiar is more or less the same as Little Caesar, with one important and very odd difference. Rather than the lyrics we now associate with the song, it used the lyrics of a Marvin Gaye song, also called Ain’t That Peculiar. Weird, right? You could even say it’s… peculiar. Anyway, of the three demos presented by Eric to the band for Hot in the Shade, Gene felt that Ain’t That Peculiar was the strongest. Eric wrote a second set of lyrics, but still Gene felt like something was missing – his name on the credits. A new set of lyrics courtesy of the Demon and Adam Mitchell were written and, finally, Eric was set.
This is another of those songs that I have no doubt would’ve been a massive hit had Warrant released it. A perfect little slice of late 80s pop metal, all the stars just seemed to align on this track and everyone involved (but especially Eric) brought their A game.
After a nice strummy intro, a cool syncopated riff kicks in and Eric starts to sing. And, honestly, he sounds great. He had a strong rock voice, gritty without sounding strained and more than capable of hitting the high notes. A decent songwriter in his own right, listening to Little Caesar makes me wish Eric had been contributing songs and singing lead since Creatures of the Night. At least one Eric-led song on each album from Creatures to Hot in the Shade would’ve been very welcome. But then, Paul was not about to let anyone take his spotlight, something Eric could’ve very easily done given his talent, looks and popularity with the fans.
At the risk of making an already long write up even longer, I must mention the bridge that leads to the guitar solo. Instead of just singing, Eric speaks the lyrics while he also sings them in the background. The magic of editing. It’s a really nice effect and hearing Eric’s speaking voice is actually strangely poignant.
Little Caesar was rehearsed for the Hot in the Shade Tour but other than a single performance on the opening night of the tour it was never played live and Eric instead sang Black Diamond as he had on previous tours. The reasons for this are unknown; perhaps the band felt too many songs from Hot in the Shade were being featured (unlikely) or perhaps a certain member of the band felt that Eric singing a song he wrote was just too much shine, but whatever the reason, the song was dropped. Luckily, we have both the rehearsal tapes and a recording of the one show it was played at to enjoy, even if the speed of the rehearsal tape is a bit wonky.
On an early episode of the KISSFAQ podcast, host, writer and creator of the place sometimes referred to (affectionately or otherwise) as The Cesspool Julian Gill commented that it was a shame that Eric wasn’t allowed to sing one of his own songs and instead was given Little Caesar to sing. As much as I respect Julian’s opinions on all things KISS, I can’t agree with this one. Little Caesar is a great song and one of the very few tracks on Hot in the Shade that I’m prepared to say that about. More than worthy of Eric’s towering talents, the song – named, incidentally, in tribute to Gene’s nickname for the rather short Eric – is a great signature tune for Eric and provides the perfect way for fans to remember him.
In the Book of Mark, we are told that Jesus said “render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s.” And who am I to argue with no less a personage than the saviour of mankind? So let’s render undo Little Caesar the things that are undoubtedly his – our respect, our admiration and our love for the man behind the kit from 1980 to 1991. Hey, Little Caesar – nobody messed with you.
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