End of the Road
As Kiss embark on their End of the Road (honestly!) Tour it seems a pertinent time to delve into their catalog and check out some of the tracks that have passed us by but need our belated attention.
Kiss, I think, more than most bands have a set of fans’ favorites almost cast in stone. From “Detroit Rock City” to “Love Gun” and “Black Diamond” to “Rock and Roll All Nite” the setlist almost writes itself, as you can see from the tour.
My task here, though, is to re-awaken interest in long-forgotten songs so let me take you on a journey from first studio album to last.
The Classic Years
Kicking off is “Let Me Know” from their self-titled 1974 debut album. Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley share the vocals on this Stanley penned track which is clearly influenced by The Beatles. Very melodic and toe-tapping with Simmons impressing on bass and Ace Frehley producing a simple but effective solo, it’s a song which cannot be ignored.
Also from 1974 came Hotter Than Hell and the track to check out is “All the Way”, written by Simmons. Another catchy number albeit with the simplest of simple riffs, but remember, it’s still only 1974 and the band is finding its feet.
There was no change to the feel, or production, on 1975’s “Dressed to Kill”, it was all basic stuff. Ace Frehley was also still reluctant to sing his own compositions which is why Peter Criss sings on “Getaway”. It’s a good punchy track with Criss’s raspy vocals adding to the attitude and another short but effective Frehley solo completes the job.
After the phenomenal success of Alive the band gained a new found confidence and with the addition of Bob Ezrin as producer, the music became more layered, atmospheric and bombastic on Destroyer in 1976. This is highlighted none more so than on “Great Expectations” with its use of keyboards and choir. Not a typical Kiss track but one to check out, definitely.
Surprisingly, Ezrin was not recalled for Rock and Roll Over and therefore lacks some of its predecessor’s grandiose feel but is still chock full of quality rock. “Take Me”, co-written by Paul Stanley and Sean Delaney, is all cock-rock and could sit comfortably on any of the first three albums, due to its rough riffs and simplicity, but it is catchy as hell.
Love Gun, released in 1977, is a Kiss classic and it is tricky finding a ‘deep cut’ as most of the tracks are, rightly, to be found on the upcoming Alive II album. However, I’m opting for “Almost Human”, written and sung by Gene Simmons. It’s Simmons at his sleazy best and it’s hard to imagine how he managed to get the vocals done with his tongue hanging out lasciviously all the time.
It was shortly after the release of Alive II that the band began to wobble. The four solo albums under the Kiss banner were not as successful as anticipated and then the band were accused of releasing a disco album in 1979, chasing the current trend. Well, in my probably unpopular opinion, Dynasty is not a disco album. OK, so Paul Stanley has admitted that “I Was Made For Lovin’ You” was inspired by disco, but one song does not a whole album make. Frehley’s penned and sung “Hard Times” is a gritty autobiographical track which was most definitely not inspired by disco.
It was around 1979/80 that the wheels were coming off the Kiss wagon but on they plowed, albeit without Peter Criss who was unofficially out of the band since Dynasty. Unmasked from 1980 always gets overlooked but is a criminally underrated album. There are numerous highlights but “Talk to Me” gets my vote if only because it is one of the two songs not written with outside collaboration. Both songs (“Two Sides of the Coin” being the other) are written and performed by Ace Frehley. He doesn’t reinvent the wheel but he has his own distinct style with choppy riffs and choppier solos.
Things were getting desperate for Kiss now and in 1981 desperate times called for desperate measures. Bob Ezrin returned for the concept album, Music From The Elder, but if the wheels were coming off in 1980, they were all over the road by now. This album has had a million critiques over the years, none of them positive, but if you look closely enough there may be the odd song worth noting. “The Oath” is a decent track, getting as close to sword and sorcery as the band would ever get. At least it’s not dick puns for a change.
Kiss finally pulled themselves together in 1982 with the release of Creatures of the Night, a collection of the heaviest tracks they’d done to date, with new skinsman Eric Carr the man behind the power. The choice cut here is “Danger”, penned by Stanley and Adam Mitchell. It’s like a typical Kiss track but on steroids. The sound is beefed up beyond measure, and not before time either.
Another landmark was just around the corner with the band finally unmasking in 1983, revealing why Simmons, Stanley, Carr and new guitarist Vinnie Vincent had chosen to wear makeup in the first place. Check out the video below of “Lick It Up” for visual proof.
Looking past their new ‘image’, Lick It Up is one of the best of the Kiss canon. Much as I’d like to choose “Fits Like a Glove”, with Simmons’ lyrics following the same innuendo as suggested in the title, I’m going for “And on the 8th Day”. Once again Simmons sings this rockin’ track which has a great tagline. A top rocker indeed.
More changes afoot in 1984 with Mark St John replacing Vincent on the Animalize album. After the quality of Lick It Up, this album is a disappointing, trudging affair but again, look closely enough and you can find a track like “I’ve Had Enough (Into the Fire)”, a decent pop-rocker, mainly attributed to Desmond Child’s hitmaker sensibilities.
1985’s Asylum came and went, notable only for the introduction of Bruce Kulick to replace the ill St John and to be brutally honest, even I can’t find a hidden gem in there.
Amazingly, things took a turn for the better both musically and commercially with the release of Crazy Nights in 1987. From the drought of Asylum to the agony of choice of this album; in my eyes, it’s got to be “My Way”, a real uplifting, sock-it-to-’em anthem, unsurprisingly written by Stanley and Child, plus Bruce Turgon.
The game seemed to be back on, that is until the arrival of Hot in the Shade in 1989 and apart from the singles “Hide Your Heart” and “Forever” there are no redeeming features for me.
Following the sad death of Eric Carr, more personnel changes were required for 1992’s Revenge album and we hear Eric Singer (officially) for the first time. Revenge was an album designed to align with, rather than challenge, the rise of grunge. It succeeded commercially and gave us “Spit” as my deep cut to check out. More of a departure than any other Kiss track it’s full of attitude and threat with both Simmons and Stanley sharing vocal duties. It’s very rare that the band keeps songwriting in-house now and this track is no exception, with Simmons, Stanley and Scott van Zan credited.
Carnival of Souls was released in 1997 and Paul Stanley has openly admitted to not liking the album. I can see why and again I draw a blank.
Onto a somehow resurgent Psycho Circus from 1998, where all four original members reformed, and in makeup too. It’s great to hear Ace Frehley on vocals once again and “Into the Void” is a Frehley treat. It’s like he’s never been away.
After 11 years of thumb-twiddling and some touring, Kiss returned in 2008 with Sonic Boom, recorded with the current lineup of Stanley, Simmons, Singer, and Tommy Thayer. For the first time in forever, all songwriting duties are taken care of by the band. Simmons and Stanley wrote “All for the Glory” but Eric Singer takes on lead vocals. Singer’s vocals are good enough but the star of the show is Thayer’s excellent solo.
Finally, to possibly the last studio album Kiss will ever release, but if there’s cash to be had you never know do you? Monster was released in 2012 and the best track for me here is “Outta This World” sung by Tommy Thayer unleashing his inner Frehley. He seems to have more enthusiasm than the others somehow.
To call their career a rollercoaster would be an understatement, but you can’t help but admire the two main protagonists’ faith and determination, especially Paul Stanley. Not many bands can remain in the public’s consciousness for over 45 years and you can’t deny that they have, by hook or by crook.
I know it’s not quite a shortlist of Kiss tracks but I do urge you to check out as many as you can to feel the unheard underbelly of the self-proclaimed “hottest band in the world”.