All KISS fans have a favourite era or line up of the band. For me, everything up to and including Ace & Paul’s solo albums was gold. After that, not so much. I first heard KISS when the make up came off but it was only when I dug into the back catalogue that I discovered the ‘real’ KISS. My journey to mega-fandom, though, was during the non make up era of KISS and as such I enjoyed it as it was happening. As much as I prefer the early albums, there were some great tracks released once the make up came off and Ace & Peter were no longer involved. Here are the good, the not so good and one stinker…
Kriss Lane presents his PlanetMosh Playlist:
KISS & No Make Up
Not For The Innocent (Lick It Up – 1983)
Kicking off with, in my opinion, Gene’s best song of the ‘80’s. Why Lick It Up was the a-side of the single and this relegated to a mere b-side will always remain a mystery. Trademark Gene sneered vocals and a sinister riff hit home what was lacking in subsequent releases as the ‘80’s went on.
All Hell’s Breaking Lose (Lick It Up – 1983)
The first ever rock/rap song? Could be! Tasty little riff and take no nonsense lyrics make this Paul Stanley oddity a welcome addition to an album of no nonsense, straight ahead rock.
A Million To One (Lick It Up – 1983)
I’m not the biggest fan of ballads but Paul Stanley’s are always an exception. This is a pretty simple effort but the melody makes it special. Vinnie Vincent turns in an usually restrained solo and the song’s all the better for it.
I’ve Had Enough (Animalize – 1984)
The first of the trio of albums I find it hard to listen to now, followed by Animalize and Crazy Nights, opens with a punch and some great drumming from Eric Carr. The first and only album to feature Mark St. John on lead guitar was short on highlights but this is easily the best of them.
Thrills In The Night (Animalize – 1984)
Another Paul gem with a killer chorus. St. John’s solo in the intro gives way to a simple riff that subtly changes as the song goes on, before changing completely in the third verse. An unusual move but effective none the less. A song that should have stayed in the live set a lot longer than just the American leg of the tour to support the album.
Under The Gun (Animalize – 1984)
Staying with Paul’s songs, a faster than the usual KISS fare all out rocker that, like Thrills In The Night, was dropped from the live set far too soon. Some great riffage and the occasional Mark St. John dive bomb make this a head and shoulders stand out track.
King of the Mountain (Asylum – 1985)
By 1985 Gene was mostly AWOL pursuing other interests and so it was down to Paul to keep the ship afloat. The opening track starts with thunderous drum part from Eric Carr and the sets the mood for the song, if not the whole album. An up-tempo fist pumper of a song.
Who Wants To Be Lonely (Asylum – 1985)
Not quite a ballad but a great mid-tempo softie. An excellent Kulick solo coupled with a sing along chorus make this another stand out Stanley track of the era. Just don’t watch the video, you can’t unsee those outfits.
Fight Hell To Hold You (Crazy Nights – 1987)
For me, Crazy Nights is the absolute nadir of the KISS catalogue. I loathe this album, apart from two tracks. This is another Stanley mid-tempo soppy fest with a Kulick lead guitar intro and a rousing chorus. But if it ain’t broke, right? Stanley’s falsetto warbling was getting a bit out of control and listening back this now it does make you wince a little. Still, a great song in a sea of over produced lameness.
No No No (Crazy Nights – (1987)
What’s that? A song starting with a Kulick lead solo? We seem to have a theme forming. A rare return to form for Gene on this barnstormer of a song. It’s no God of Thunder but it’s relentless and a welcome whiff of actual rock.
My Way (Crazy Nights – 1987)
I’m just gonna say this – you can barely hear any guitars in the intro because they’re drowned out by keyboards. Need I go on?
(You Make Me) Rock Hard – (Smashes, Thrashes & Hits – 1988)
It became popular in the ‘80’s, and since, to include a couple of new tracks on compilation albums. And as KISS release a best of every two weeks, possibly, it’s usually a welcome addition (see 1982’s Killers for some top notch exclusive tracks). I say usually because the two offered up for this release were in keeping with time period, as in not very good. This is the better of the two but it’s still sub-standard. As you can probably tell from the title, the lyrics are extremely poor.
King of Hearts (Hot in the Shade – 1989)
After a brief run of substandard albums KISS were back on track with Hot In The Shade. Gene had got the Hollywood distraction out of his system and the band was back to full strength. This effort from Paul Stanley is a stand out track on an album with many. A great riff reminiscent of the Twlight Zone theme gives way to a great Paul vocal and someone fine harmonies on the chorus. A lesser known gem.
Betrayed (Hot in the Shade- 1989)
A taster of what Gene could do when he came back from his wilderness years which he took further on the follow up, Revenge. Now the glitz and slickness of Asylum and Crazy Nights had been stripped back, KISS concentrated on writing great songs again with a harder edge. And this is a shining example.
Unholy (Revenge -1992)
The first Gene penned single a-side in 10 years goes to show he was back firing on all cylinders. Not only one of the best KISS songs of this era but one of the all time great KISS songs. Great riff, frantic solo, killer chorus, nicely snarled lyrics. A great opener to a great album.
I Just Wanna (Revenge – 1992)
Paul in a playful mood with a song so completely the opposite of Unholy it reminds you why you loved KISS in the first place, you get the best of both worlds. An unexpected vocal harmony section in the middle of a fist pumping party song is so out of place it’s genius. Stop playing I Was Made For Lovin’ You live and get this in the set.
Paralysed (Revenge – 1992)
A slide down the bass neck gives way to, you guessed it, a Kulick intro solo. Yet more proof that Simmons was back to his sinister best with a song that wouldn’t be out of place on the album that followed Revenge.
Childhood’s End (Carnival of Souls – 1997)
Recorded before the reunion of the original line up in 1996 but released a year later, Carnival of Souls is up there with The Elder as an album that divides opinion among KISS fans. Personally, I think it’s a great album but can understand why it’s so reviled. Basically, it doesn’t sound like KISS, but then neither did Crazy Nights and that sold a trillion copies so what do I know? It’s a great album, just not a great KISS album. Still, there are a lot of quality songs to be had and Childhood’s End is one of the best.
I Will Be There (Carnival of Souls – 1997)
Layers of acoustic guitars make this a joy to listen to. Paul’s ode to his son make this a welcome change from the loved and lost lyrics that usually accompany acoustic guitars in rock songs. Lyrically and vocally, it’s up there as one of Stanley’s best.
Hate (Carnival of Souls – 1997)
Play this to anybody and they’ll not believe you when you say it’s KISS. A total departure but a welcome one, depending where you stand on this album. A nippy, palm muted riff and angrier than thou vocals make this the most surprising KISS album opener of their career. We’ll never know what might have been with the Stanley/Simmons/Kulick/Singer line up but if this is anything to go by then the late ‘90’s would have been an interesting period.