If Gene Simmons could pick any Van Halen demo track for an official release it would most definitely be the band’s original 1976 recording of “House of Pain”.
“The original version is like a locomotive that doesn’t stop. Your jaw would drop,” Simmons said during a recent appearance on The Jeremy White Podcast which can be viewed above.
Simmons has a personal connection to that recording since he himself produced it. After spotting Van Halen playing the Sunset Strip club circuit in 1976 Simmons offered to produce the band’s demo and sign them to his company Man of 1,000 Faces. After some sessions in Los Angeles, he flew the band to New York to continue work at Electric Lady Studios.
No one else in the KISS organization saw what Simmons was so excited about, however, so he eventually let Van Halen out of its contract. Not too long afterwards Van Halen would be discovered by producer Ted Templeman and the rest is Van Halen and rock and roll history.
But those Gene Simmons demos were far from forgotten. Although the recordings that emerged from the 24-track sessions were never officially released they’ve been widely bootlegged and posted online under the title “Zero Demos.”
Among the tracks Simmons recorded was an early version of “House of Pain”, a song that would eventually end up on the band’s sixth studio album ‘1984’. The demo version of “House of Pain” features different lyrics along with the iconic multiple car horn sound effect that would later be included on “Runnin’ With The Devil” from the band’s 1978 self-titled debut album.
“House of Pain” – Gene Simmons Demo Version (1976):
“House of Pain” – ‘1984’ Album Version:
“The ‘House of Pain’ that was recorded by them [for the ‘1984’ album] is tame compared to what [the ’76 version] is,” said Simmons, who added: “I would say there’s some material on [the ’76 demo] that’s better than anything that’s been on Van Halen records specifically ‘House of Pain’.”
Although he had the rights to officially release the demos Simmons never did saying it was out of respect for Eddie and Alex Van Halen.
“I’ve never released it and I gave the 24-track original to the guys and the management and all that before Edward passed so that they wouldn’t think I’d ever put it out,” he said. “Neither of the brothers wanted it to go out. They actually, I guess didn’t think much of it.”
Gene Simmons “Zero” Demos (Complete):
Simmons said, although he was responsible for recording Van Halen’s demo, he takes no credit for their eventual success.
“The major role was played by their mom and dad,” he said. “After that you’re born with a clean slate and life is what you make it. If anybody deserves credit for doing anything it’s the brothers Alex and Edward.”
“Dave completely [took] the frontman to the Nth level,” he added. “At that time Dave WAS..THE..KING. There was nobody [else]. Mick Jagger stood next to him [and] it would be like, ya know, a sixth grader. He really took it all the way. The whole band [did]. The musicianship, the songwriting. But when Edward would get in front of that stage and start tapping and stuff which I’d never seen before. Apparently it had been done by jazz musicians and everything, your jaw drops. Clearly no one since Hendrix had that kind of impact.”
On Eddie & Alex’s “Christeen Sixteen” Recording:
Simmons also talked about the three Gene Simmons demo songs both Alex and Eddie performed on back in April of 1977. Those three songs titled “Tunnel of Love”, “Got Love For Sale” and “Christine Sixteen” would end up on his 2017 box set “Vault”.
“When KISS came back from Japan in the late 70s, for some reason in the middle of the night I couldn’t get to sleep – jet lag and stuff – so I wound up sketching out three songs,” said Simmons. “Often I’d go in and play all the instruments but it would take forever cuz I’m not a great drummer, [I can] just barely get by. I’d play the guitars and the background vocals and all that but I didn’t have the time. The next day we had to do stuff so I called the guys. Both Alex and Edward showed up at the studio late at night, early morning and we cut those three songs.”
Simmons said Eddie’s solo on “Christine Sixteen” was so good he decided not to change a note when the track was eventually recorded for the 1977 KISS album ‘Love Gun’.
“Christine Sixteen” – Demo Version Featuring Eddie & Alex Van Halen:
“Edward did a solo on ‘Christine Sixteen’ that was so good I forced Ace [Frehley] to do that solo note for note,” said Simmons. “So the solo that you hear on the ‘Christine Sixteen’ song that eventually came out and became somewhat of a hit is note for note the Eddie Van Halen solo from the demo.”
“Christine Sixteen” – KISS ‘Love Gun’ Version:
Main image photo of Van Halen courtesy of Neil Zlozower