Just 10 more spots to reach the top!—-C. Kasem
10) Creatures of The Night (1982) If a band makes a triumphant comeback in the woods and no one hears it, is it truly a comeback? Not too many folks noticed at the time that Kiss had returned to their down-and-dirty heavy metal style in late 1982 after spending the better part of five years in the Rock wilderness making solo albums and lightweight Pop/Rock albums and a weird concept album. Even I had all but written the band off at this point, having turned my attention to other hard Rock acts like Ozzy Osbourne, Rush, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Scorpions, et al, so I was quite pleased to hear that Kiss had re-grown its collective scrotum. The title track charges right out of the gate to open the record with some thunder in Eric Carr’s drums that let everyone know they were done fucking around. While not a success, sales-wise, COTN was a solid return to form in spite of the inner turmoil caused by Ace Frehley’s departure and the reluctant 11th-hour inclusion of Vinnie Vincent in his place. Even though Frehley’s mug graces the final make-up era album jacket (one of the cooler ones in Kisstory, by the way, right up there with Destroyer and Love Gun), he didn’t play a note on the record, near as anyone can tell, and the lead guitar parts were performed by any number of people, including Vincent and future Kiss guitarist Bruce Kulick. Even with the lack of an actual solo during its lead break, “I Love It Loud” wound up being the album’s centerpiece and one of the first Kiss videos to break through on the fledgling MTV thing. Paul’s “Keep Me Comin’” and “Danger” were a welcome return to the old Kiss groove, and while his almost-mournful “I Still Love You” was a bit of a departure, it wound up being a surprisingly durable concert favorite over the years. The rest of Gene’s cuts were quite sturdy as well. “Rock ‘N’ Roll Hell” (co-written by Bryan Adams) is the cautionary tale of a veteran Rocker whose star is fading, while “Killer” lives up to its name and the closing track “War Machine” may well have been the best song on the record. It took about ten years for Creatures to be recognized for the true behemoth it was, and even though the make-up thing had run its course by that time, it certainly saved this band from the Rock ‘N’ Roll scrap heap.
My grade: B
9) Revenge (1992) What do comedian Bill Cosby and Kiss have in common? They both have albums entitled Revenge. And both were quite good, too. Work had already begun on the Kiss Revenge when drummer Eric Carr was stricken with a rare form of heart cancer in 1991, so the band decided to bring in Eric Singer on a temporary basis in the hope that Carr would eventually recover, but sadly, he didn’t, rest his soul. Young master Singer, the first-ever blonde member of Kiss, was every bit as capable on the skins, having previously worked with the likes of Alice Cooper, The Cult, Jake E. Lee’s Badlands and Black Sabbath (check the boy out on Eternal Idol if you get a chance), as well as Paul Stanley on his 1989 solo club tour. Also returning to the fold fully-motivated was our favorite fire-breathing Demon, Gene Simmons, who had the Riot Act read to him by Paul Stanley about all his extracurricular activities that were affecting the quality of the band’s work more or less ever since they took off the make-up in 1983. The result was an excellent in-your-face balls-to-the-wall record, and easily the heaviest Kiss album since 1982’s Creatures Of The Night. And in a “He’s baaaaaack” sort of maneuver, Simmons even sang lead on the opening track (“Unholy”) for the first time ever on a Kiss studio album, which heretofore had been strictly Paul Stanley’s realm. Gene was certifiably born-again hard on Revenge, contributing his strongest tracks in years, especially “Unholy”, “Spit”, “Domino”, and my personal favorite, “Thou Shalt Not”, a not-so-subtle middle finger up the ass of sanctimonious religious zealots everywhere: “Kindly reconsider the sins of your past/I said ‘Mister, you can kindly kiss my ass!’”. Stanley’s songs didn’t suck here, either, including titty-bar tribute “Take It Off” and his nifty piece of verbal sleight-of-hand (sleight-of mouth?), “I Just Wanna (FUH-get you!)”. A couple tracks fall flat for me like Paul’s “Heart Of Chrome” and Gene’s “Paralyzed”, as well as the remake of Argent’s “God Gave Rock ‘N’ Roll To You II”, which for some reason, I’ve never much cared for, even though it was a fair-sized hit. Revenge also contains a final tribute to their fallen comrade on “Carr Jam 1981”, which features a rare studio drum solo in the middle of a track Eric co-wrote that was in the works during the time of Music From The Elder, which eventually morphed into the Frehley’s Comet tune “Breakout” in 1987. Damn good album, Revenge is, so why in blue blazes didn’t Kiss stick to this winning formula instead of lurching into the the major brain fart that was Carnival Of Souls?
My grade: B+
8) Asylum (1985) It pisses me off no end whenever Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley do retrospectives on the band’s history how they sometimes try to act like the ‘80s never happened and tend to dismiss the music they made during the non-make-up era. Unlike some fans, I generally don’t favor only the original foursome over other Kiss lineups, and I would even counter that a lot of Kiss’ ‘80s output holds up better than some of their ‘70s stuff does. Asylum, one of my favorite Kiss albums and easily their most underrated, is a good example. While it only yielded one hit, “Tears Are Falling”, the rest of the album consistently rocked out and even Simmons was a little more attentive this time than he was on Animalize from the previous year. Gene was full of his usual lascivious macho bravado lyrics throughout on tracks like “Any Way You Slice It” (“You know you ain’t your mother’s little daughter anymore…”), “Secretly Cruel” (“She was all over me like a cheap suit…”) and “Love’s A Deadly Weapon” (“…and murder’s on my mind…”). Paul Stanley opens the record with the triumphant “King Of The Mountain”, which dove-tailed nicely for me as a celebratory tune when the Royals won the World Serious just weeks after Asylum came out in ’85. Stanley’s “Who Wants To Be Lonely” seemed tailor-made to be an MTV hit, but never quite made it, for whatever reason. His other two cuts (“I’m Alive” and “Radar For Love”) were fairly average, but he made up for them with “Tears” and my favorite track on (and video from) the album, the closer “UH! All Night”. I think we all know what “UH!” means! Asylum was Bruce Kulick’s first credited work with Kiss (having already played on various tracks on Animalize and Creatures Of The Night), and he made the best of what little room Gene and Paul gave him to flex his muscles, especially on “Deadly Weapon” and “Any Way You Slice It”. Asylum doesn’t even rate that highly with the band members, but I’ve always really liked it, hence its Top 10 finish here, and I’d take it any day over the (somewhat) overrated Animalize, too.
My grade: B+
7) Kiss (1974) Oh, what might’ve been! If the legendary Eddie Kramer had been available at the time to produce the first Kiss album, we might be talking about this record in the same vein as other classic debut records like Van Halen, Boston, Guns ‘N’ Roses’ Appetite For Destruction and the Jimi Hendrix Experience’s Are You Experienced?. While the material here is first-rate—seven out of the ten tracks made it to Alive! in '75, and all seven remain Kiss concert staples to this day—the piss-poor recording by producers Kenny Kerner and Richie Wise all but sucked the life right out of the songs here. Even though they’re a little ragged in places, I don’t see why Kiss didn’t just use the demos for “Strutter”, “Firehouse”, “100,000 Years”, etc., (which you can hear on the Kiss box set) instead—they sounded so much fresher and energetic than the draggy neutered recordings here. “Cold Gin” sounds particularly slow, compared with how it’s played live, and “Deuce” just doesn’t have that extra kick you hear in concert. Of those tracks, “Nothin’ To Lose” sounds fairly good in its studio incarnation, complete with piano on the backing track and Peter Criss yowling away during the choruses, and the deliberate slow-down at the end of “Black Diamond” to close out the album is kinda cool, otherwise, those “Magnificent Seven” tracks came across so much better on Alive!. Meanwhile, the other three songs all have interesting stories behind them. “Kissin’ Time” wasn’t even part of the original album upon its release, but Casablanca Records boss man, the late Neil Bogart, could never pass up a great gimmick when it stared him in the face, so he enlisted the band to cover Bobby Rydell’s 1959 hit (with re-worked lyrics to include cities that were Kiss concert strongholds at the time) to coincide with a kissing contest to draw attention to the band. If you happen to own a pressing of Kiss without “Kissin’ Time” on it, it’s worth some money—there aren’t very many copies in captivity, evidently. “Love Theme From Kiss”—the first-ever Kiss instrumental—was originally known as “Acrobat”, which was part of the pre-historic Kiss live act that morphed into another section called “Much Too Young”. Other than “All Hell’s Breakin’ Loose” from Lick It Up, “Love Theme” is the only Kiss song credited to all four members who were with the band at the time. “Let Me Know” was originally called “Sunday Driver”, and it features the nifty jam section romp at the end that was later transplanted to the end of “She” and stretched out in concert to allow Ace Frehley to show off a little.
My grade: B+ for the material, D+ for the recording thereof
6) Paul Stanley (1978) As one might have expected, Paul’s solo album sounded the most like a regular Kiss album, since he does the majority of the singing and songwriting. What one might not have expected was how much the Starchild had matured as a vocalist. Even though he’s a naturally-gifted singer, it took Paul a few years to truly find his vocal range and really learn how to properly sing, and this album was proof that he’d come a long way since “Strutter” and “100,000 Years”. The album opens with Stanley’s trademark slow/soft beginning followed by loud/hard finish on “Tonight You Belong To Me” (shades of “Black Diamond” and “I Want You” before it), and keeps the groove going with “Move On”. If you want to see something funny, watch him try to do this one live on the concert video from the Dynasty tour—Paul gets so wrapped up in dancing and jumping around that he forgets to inhale and loses his breath halfway through the second verse! “Wouldn’t You Like To Know Me?” is another fine track, in spite of the asinine line that goes, “You got the key, but babe, I locked the gate.” Uhhh, dude, the fact remains that your girl STILL HAS THE KEY! Unless she’s a total airhead and can’t figure out how to work the lock—oh, never mind! Working with erstwhile Kansas producer Jeff Glixman, Paul deviated from the Kiss playbook in a couple places here, like on “Take Me Away (Together As One)”, “Ain’t Quite Right” and the Barry Manilow-esque “Hold Me, Touch Me”, but not to the album’s detriment. Other standout tracks include “It’s Alright”, “Love In Chains” and the natural closer, “Goodbye”. Overall, a sterling effort by Mistah Stanley.
My grade: B+
5) Lick It Up (1983) I personally think Kiss waited one album too long to ditch the make-up and the platform boots. They should’ve left them in the ‘70s where they belonged, but the band certainly benefitted from the bounce they got from exposing themselves (facially, anyway) on Lick It Up. If you need proof that Kiss was just as good without the war paint, after seeing the “Lick It Up” video on MTV, a guy I worked with at the time said to me, “Man, I really liked the song, but didn’t have a clue who they were until Gene stuck his tongue out!” Thanks in part to the curiosity factor, LIU outsold Creatures Of The Night by leaps and bounds, even though the quality of the two was comparable and in spite of Vinnie Vincent’s unimaginative guitar work throughout. Fortunately, Vincenzo wasn’t a total liability, as his songwriting skills were far superior to his one-dimensional guitar playing, and he contributed mightily to the excellent mix of songs here—VV co-wrote the title track and eight out of the ten tunes, overall. Even though Gene Simmons wound up like a fish out of water and eventually lost his way without his Demon persona make-up, he had some killer tunes and did some of his best singing on this album. “Fits Like A Glove” and “Young And Wasted” are two of my all-time favorite Kiss tunes ever (regardless of era) and I loved the fuck-you attitude of his “Dance All Over Your Face”. “Not For The Innocent” and “And On The 8th Day” didn’t suck either. Paul Stanley scored a slam dunk with the title track, but had a bit of an airball by trying to be Gaspasser Flash by doing a little Rappin’ on “All Hell’s Breakin’ Loose”—don’t quit yer day job, there, Starchild! However, if you can get past the Rappin’, the rest of the song ain’t bad. He makes up for it, though, on “Exciter”, “A Million To One” and especially “Gimme More”. As for Lick It Up as a whole: No make-up? No problem!
My grade: A-minus
And now I'm going to be a douche like Casey Kasem and make you wait for the rest of the countdown—mostly because I haven't written the rest of it, yet!