KISS – Part 2: A short musical history

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What is left to write about KISS that hasn’t been written before?...  I have grouped the KISS discography (minus some of the later-day compilations) into the 6 “musical phases of KISS” – as I see them, this is an entirely subjective and personal grouping – and for each album, listed and rated my personal favorite tracks:

I finish off with my recommendations for newbies and a video playlist from the KISS VEVO channel…

Classics in the making (1974-75)

The first 3 KISS albums were released in close succession within a mere 13-month period, and while they did not initially meet success on their release, they included an astounding number of what would become classic songs, which still form the core of any KISS concert set list to this day. 

During this period, the band toured relentlessly and to capitalize on their growing reputation as a live act, released the double-live album Alive!  This is when “Rock and Roll All Night” became a hit and the band’s recording career exploded.


KISS (Feb 1974)
SuperCool-Guy Rating: 9/10

-       Strutter (10/10) (Stanley/Simmons – Vocals: Stanley)
-       Nothin’ to Lose (9/10) (Simmons – Vocals: Simmons/Criss)
-       Firehouse (10/10) (Stanley – Vocals: Stanley/Simmons)
-       Cold Gin (10/10) (Frehley – Vocals: Simmons)
-       Deuce (10/10) (Simmons)
-       100,000 Years (9/10) (Stanley/Simmons – Vocals: Stanley)
-       Black Diamond (9/10) (Stanley – Criss/Stanley) 


Hotter than Hell (Oct 1974)
SuperCool-Guy Rating: 8/10

-       Got to Choose (9/10) (Stanley)
-       Parasite (10/10) (Frehley – Vocals: Simmons)
-       Goin’ Blind (9/10) (Simmons/Coronel – Vocals: Simmons)
-       Hotter Than Hell (10/10) (Stanley)
-       Let Me Go, Rock ‘n’ Roll (8/10) (Stanley/Simmons – Vocals: Simmons)
-       Strange Ways (8/10) (Frehley – Vocals: Criss)


Dressed to Kill (March 1975)
SuperCool-Guy Rating: 9/10

-       Room Service (9/10) (Stanley)
-       Two Timer (8/10) (Simmons)
-       Getaway (9/10) (Frehley – Vocals: Criss)
-       Rock Bottom (10/10) (Frehley/Stanley – Vocals: Stanley)
-       C’mon and Love Me (10/10) (Stanley)
-       Love Her All I Can (9/10) (Stanley)
-       Rock and Roll All Night (10/10) (Simmons/Stanley – Vocals: Simmons)


Alive! (September 1975)
SuperCool-Guy Rating: 10/10

-       100,000 Years (10/10) (feat. Peter Criss drum solo & Paul Stanley rap)

The hottest band in the world (1976-78)

Hot on the heels of “Alive!”, KISS released 3 more studio albums, again in close succession over a mere 15-month period, again bookmarking the era with a double-live album (“Alive II”, which also included 5 new studio tracks), and the “Double Platinum” compilation. 

“Destroyer”, produced by Bob Ezrin, was the most ambitious, peppered with choir, orchestral elements and very slick production throughout.  “Rock and Roll Over” was back-to-basics and “Love Gun” perfected the KISS formula (the title track is one of my all-time favorites). 

By 1978, KISS was at the height of its popularity in America and lived up to its tagline of “hottest band in the world”.


Destroyer (March 1976)
SuperCool-Guy Rating: 10/10

-       Detroit Rock City (10/10) (Stanley/Ezrin – Vocals: Stanley)
-       God of Thunder (10/10) (Stanley – Vocals: Simmons)
-       Shout It Out Loud (10/10) (Stanley/Simmons/Ezrin – Vocals: Stanley/Simmons)
-       Do You Love Me (10/10) (Stanley/Ezrin/Fowley – Vocals: Stanley)


Rock and Roll Over (November 1976)
SuperCool-Guy Rating: 7/10

-       I Want You (10/10) (Stanley)
-       Calling Dr. Love (9/10) (Simmons)
-       Ladies Room (9/10) (Simmons)
-       Hard Luck Woman (8/10) (Stanley – Vocals: Criss)


Love Gun (June 1977)
SuperCool-Guy Rating: 10/10

-       I Stole Your Love (9/10) (Stanley)
-       Christine Sixteen (10/10) (Simmons)
-       Shock Me (9/10) (Frehley)
-       Love Gun (10/10) (Stanley – Vocals: Stanley)
-       Plaster Caster (10/10) (Simmons)


Alive II (October 1977)
SuperCool-Guy Rating: 10/10

-       God of Thunder (10/10) (incl. Peter Criss drum solo)
-       I Want You (10/10) (incl. audience participation)
-       Rocket Ride (10/10) (Frehley/Delaney – Vocals: Frehley)


Double Platinum (April 1978)
SuperCool-Guy Rating: 10/10

-       Strutter ’78 (10/10) (Stanley/Simmons – Vocals: Stanley)

Exploring new sounds (1978-82)

The four solo records gave each member the freedom to pursue their own musings and prove their worth as individual songwriters, singers and musicians.  Paul Stanley’s was the best in my opinion, closely followed by Ace Frehley’s.  They were also the closest to what one would expect from members of KISS.  Gene Simmons’ was the most eclectic and playful.  Peter Criss’ was great too, but its blend of soft rock/R&B/ballads was at the antipodes of the KISS sound.

“Dynasty” and “Unmasked” saw KISS shift to a more “mainstream” pop-rock sound, that I personally really liked, but alienated the core fan base.  Two very strong records, for those who can appreciate other things than hard rock and heavy metal.

“Music from “The Elder”” saw the return of Bob Ezrin on production.  This was a very ambitious, occasionally brilliant but ultimately misguided “concept album” that developed an ardent cult following, but finished alienating the rest of the fan base.  It’s got some great tracks in it and outstanding vocals from Paul Stanley.

This phase in KISS’ musical history – considered within the context of their entire career – gives the band some added depth and is one of my personal favorites.  How boring if all 20 studio albums had sounded the same! 

The “Killers” compilation album – with four new tracks from Paul Stanley – makes a bridge to the next phase of KISS…


Ace Frehley (September 1978)
SuperCool-Guy Rating: 8/10

-       Rip It Out (10/10) (Frehley/Kelly/Kelly)
-       Wiped-Out (9/10) (Frehley/Fig)
-       Fractured Mirror (9/10) (Frehley)


Gene Simmons (September 1978)
SuperCool-Guy Rating: 8/10

-       Radioactive (8/10) (Simmons)
-       See You Tonite (10/10) (Simmons)
-       Living in Sin (9/10) (Simmons/Delaney/Marks)
-       Mr. Make Believe (8/10) (Simmons)


Paul Stanley (September 1978)
SuperCool-Guy Rating: 9/10

-       Tonight You Belong To Me (10/10) (Stanley)
-       Move On (9/10) (Stanley/Japp)
-       Wouldn’t You Like to Know Me (10/10) (Stanley)


Peter Criss (September 1978)
SuperCool-Guy Rating: 7/10

-       You Matter To Me (8/10) (Poncia/Morgan/Vastano)
-       Tossin’ and Turnin (9/10) (Adams/Rene)
-       Easy Thing (9/10) (Criss/Penridge)


Dynasty (May 1979)
SuperCool-Guy Rating: 9/10

-       I Was Made For Lovin’ You (10/10) (Stanley/Poncia/Child – Vocals: Stanley)
-       Sure Know Something (10/10) (Stanley/Poncia – Vocals: Stanley)
-       Magic Touch (10/10) (Stanley)
-       Hard Times (10/10) (Frehley)
-       X-Ray Eyes (10/10) (Simmons)


Unmasked (May 1980)
SuperCool-Guy Rating: 10/10

-       Is That You? (10/10) (McMahon – Vocals: Stanley)
-       Shandi (8/10) (Stanley/Poncia – Vocals: Stanley)
-       Talk to Me (8/10) (Frehley)
-       Naked City (10/10) (Simmons/Poncia/Bob Kulickl/Castro – Vocals: Simmons)
-       She’s So European (10/10) (Simmons/Poncia – Vocals: Simmons)
-       Torpedo Girl (9/10) (Frehley/Poncia – Vocals: Frehley)


Music from “The Elder” (October 1981)
SuperCool-Guy Rating: 8/10

-       The Oath (9/10) (Stanley/Ezrin/Powers – Vocals: Stanley)
-       Just a Boy (9/10) (Stanley/Ezrin – Vocals: Stanley)
-       Dark Light (9/10) (Frehley/Simmons/Fig/Reed – Vocals: Frehley)
-       Only You (9/10) (Simmons – Vocals: Simmons/Stanley)
-       Odyssey (8/10) (Powers – Vocals: Stanley)


Killers (June 1982)
SuperCool-Guy Rating: 8/10

-       Nowhere to Run (10/10) (Stanley)

80s Metal and Unmasked (1982-97)

“Creatures of the Night” was KISS getting back to a powerful, focused and heavy sound.  It is in my opinion one of their best records, but by then the fan base had largely moved on and the record didn’t meet the success it deserved.  It features heaviest, most powerful drum sound on any record – it hasn’t been beaten before or since.

With “Lick It Up”, KISS unmasked and started a long road back to prominence.  KISS produced some solid 80s metal records over the following 10-year period, with “Lick It Up”, “Crazy Nights” and “Revenge” also among my favorites. 

While this period was on the whole the band’s heaviest, with 1987’s “Crazy Nights”, the band once again shifted to a more mainstream, very polished 80s pop/rock sound, produced by Ron Nevison (Jefferson Starship, Heart, Chicago, etc.).

“Carnival of Souls” is by far my least-favorite KISS record – this was an attempt by KISS to update their sound to the post-grunge 90s (also known as the “musical decade that sucked”) and that wasn’t going to get them anywhere… But by the time of its belated release, the band had already moved on to better and bigger things…


Creatures of the Night (October 1982)
SuperCool-Guy Rating: 10/10

-       Creatures of the Night (10/10) (Stanley/Mitchell – Vocals: Stanley)
-       Keep Me Coming’ (10/10) (Stanley/Mitchell – Vocals: Stanley)
-       I Love It Loud (10/10) (Simmons/Vincent – Vocals: Simmons)
-       I Still Love You (9/10) (Stanley/Vincent – Vocals: Stanley)
-       Killer (9/10) (Simmons/Vincent – Vocals: Simmons)
-       War Machine (10/10) (Simmons/Adams/Vallance – Vocals: Simmons)


Lick It Up (September 1983)
SuperCool-Guy Rating: 9/10

-       Exciter (10/10) (Stanley/Vincent – Vocals: Stanley)
-       Not for the Innocent (10/10) (Simmons/Vincent – Vocals: Simmons)
-       Lick It Up (8/10) (Stanley/Vincent – Vocals: Stanley)
-       Young and Wasted (9/10) (Simmons/Vincent – Vocals: Simmons)
-       Gimme More (9/10) (Stanley/Vincent – Vocals: Stanley)
-       A Million to One (9/10) (Stanley/Vincent – Vocals: Stanley)
-       Fits Like a Glove (10/10) (Simmons)


Animalize (September 1984)
SuperCool-Guy Rating: 7/10

-       Heaven’s on Fire (9/10) (Stanley/Child – Vocals: Stanley)
-       Thrills in the Night (9/10) (Stanley/Beauvoir – Vocals: Stanley)


Asylum (September 1985)
SuperCool-Guy Rating: 7/10

-       Any Way You Slice It (8/10) (Simmons/Rice – Vocals: Simmons)
-       Tears Are Falling (9/10) (Stanley)
-       Uh! All Night (8/10) (Stanley/Child/Beauvoir – Vocals: Stanley)


Exposed [Video album/mockumentary] (May 1987)
SuperCool-Guy Rating: 10/10


Crazy Nights (September 1987)
SuperCool-Guy Rating: 9/10

-       Crazy Crazy Nights (9/10) (Stanley/Mitchell – Vocals: Stanley)
-       My Way (10/10) (Stanley/Child/Turgon – Vocals: Stanley)
-       Reason To Live (10/10) (Stanley/Child – Vocals: Stanley)
-       Turn On The Night (9/10) (Stanley/Warren – Vocals: Stanley)


Smashes, Thrashes & Hits (November 1988)
SuperCool-Guy Rating: 7/10

-       (You Make Me) Rock Hard (9/10) (Stanley/Child/Warren – Vocals: Stanley)


Hot in the Shade (October 1989)
SuperCool-Guy Rating: 8/10

-       Rise to It (8/10) (Stanley/Halligan Jr. – Vocals: Stanley)
-       Hide Your Heart (8/10) (Stanley/Child/Knight – Vocals: Stanley)
-       Forever (10/10) (Stanley/Bolton – Vocals: Stanley)


Revenge (May 1992)
SuperCool-Guy Rating: 9/10

-       Unholy (10/10) (Simmons/Vincent – Vocals: Simmons)
-       God Gave Rock ‘N’ Roll to You II (9/10) (Ballard/Stanley/Simmons/Ezrin – Vocals: Stanley/Simmons)
-       Domino (8/10) (Simmons)
-       Every Time I Look at You (9/10) (Stanley/Ezrin – Vocals: Stanley)
-       I Just Wanna (10/10) (Stanley/Vincent – Vocals: Stanley)
-       Carr Jam 1981 (10/10) (Carr)


Alive III (May 1993)
SuperCool-Guy Rating: 8/10


Kiss My Ass: Classic Kiss Regrooved (June 1994)
SuperCool-Guy Rating: 7/10

-       Hard Luck Woman (9/10) (by Garth Brooks)
-       Black Diamond (8/10) (orchestral version by Yoshiki)


Carnival of Souls: The Final Sessions (October 1997)
SuperCool-Guy Rating: 5/10

-       Jungle (9/10) (Stanley/Kulick/Cuomo – Vocals: Stanley)

The second coming (1995-2008)

The “second coming” of KISS started with the “Konvention” tour of 1995, which was a celebration of the band’s heritage and fandom, featuring an acoustic set with the band in its final “unmasked” line-up (with Bruce Kulick and Eric Singer).  It was also the occasion of reunions with the long-lost brothers… Ace and Peter.

The reunion was immortalized in MTV’s “Kiss Unplugged” (get it on video for the behind-the-scenes chronicle of the reunion).  The magic was back, and from that point on, a full-blown reunion with the classic make-up and stage antics became possible.  I can’t overstate how momentous an event this was for the fans, who had given up on seeing the re-united original lineup in make-up ever again!  It had been 15 years...

The reunion was documented in the home video “The Second Coming”.

After the reunion tour, the next logical step was to re-unite the original lineup in the studio.  The result was “Psycho Circus”, a solid update on the classic KISS formula.

However, the fans wanted “classic KISS”, the band knew it and was all too happy to oblige.  For the 10 years that followed “Psycho Circus”, KISS became a “heritage band” – i.e. highly successful with concert tours, compilation albums and merchandising, on the back of their existing catalog and fan base, but did not release any new music and during this period did not express the need to make a new musical statement in the studio.

The tours gave old fans the chance to relive their youth and new fans the chance to witness first hand what the fuss was all about and “how the big boys do it”. 


MTV Unplugged [Also available as a video live album] (March 1996)
SuperCool-Guy Rating: 10/10

-       Comin’ Home (10/10) (Frehley/Stanley – Vocals: Stanley)
-       Sure Know Something (10/10) (Stanley/Poncia – Vocals: Stanley)
-       See You Tonight (10/10) (Simmons)
-       Every Time I Look at You (9/10) (Stanley/Ezrin – Vocals: Stanley)
-       Beth (9/10) (Criss/Ezrin/Penridge – Vocals: Criss)


The Second Coming [Video album/documentary] (November 1998)
SuperCool-Guy Rating: 10/10


Psycho Circus (September 1998)
SuperCool-Guy Rating: 8/10

-       Psycho Circus (9/10) (Stanley/Cuomo – Vocals: Stanley)
-       Into the Void (9/10) (Frehley/Cochran – Vocals: Frehley)
-       I Finally Found My Way (9/10) (Stanley/Ezrin – Vocals: Criss)


Detroit Rock City (Music from the Motion Picture) (August 1999)
SuperCool-Guy Rating: 8/10

-       Strutter (9/10) (by the Donnas)
-       Nothing Can Keep Me From You (8/10) (Warren – Vocals: Stanley)


The Box Set (November 2001)
SuperCool-Guy Rating: 8/10

Previously-unreleased gem “It’s My Life” should have been released as a single, and should have been a hit – I am amazed that it wasn’t.  The song was originally given to Wendy O. Williams (previously of the Plasmatics) and released as part of her 1984 Simmons-produced album “WOW”.

-       It’s My Life (10/10) (Simmons/Stanley – Vocals: Simmons)


Kiss Symphony: Alive IV [Also available as a video live album] (July 2003)
SuperCool-Guy Rating: 8/10

-       Great Expectations (feat. The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and Australian Children’s Choir) (10/10) (Simmons/Ezrin – Vocals: Simmons)

Twenty-First Century Kiss (2009-Present)

There are only so many reunion tours, farewell tours and anniversary tours a band can make until the excitement starts to wear off.  In 2009, KISS ended its 10-year recording hiatus with a great new album, “Sonic Boom”. 

The band seems to have found a great balance and dynamics in its latest incarnation, with Eric Singer on drums, Tommy Thayer on lead guitars and Paul Stanley taking on the role of “musical director”.  They’ve retained the original spirit of what makes great KISS songs, and brought it up-to-date with the bigger sound of the new century.

Almost 40 years on, KISS is still on a roll and showing no sign of mellowing down.  The next studio album is expected for June 2012…


Sonic Boom (October 2009)
SuperCool-Guy Rating: 9/10

-       Modern Day Delilah (10/10) (Stanley)
-       All for the Glory (9/10) (Stanley/Simmons – Vocals: Singer)
-       I’m an Animal (8/10) (Simmons/Stanley/Thayer – Vocals: Simmons)
-       When Lightning Strikes (9/10) (Thayer/Stanley – Vocals: Thayer)
-       Say Yeah (10/10) (Stanley – Vocals: Thayer)


Monster (TBR June 2012)

My recommendations for newbies

There’s no shortage of KISS compilations to start with, but actually I would recommend starting with the latest record “Sonic Boom”.  Not only it’s a great album, but it also includes a 2nd CD with a re-release of “Jigoku-Retsuden” (15 classic KISS tracks re-recorded with the sound of the 2000s) and a live DVD – so a great 3-in-1 introduction to the band.

Next, I would go with “Double Platinum” which is a compilation of the first 6 studio records – the golden age of KISS.

Hopefully by then you’ll want to dig deeper and the rest of this blog might provide a helpful guide.

Oh… and finally: if you like KISS, you might also enjoy this… ;-)

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