The Pickled Priest Takes On....The Kiss Solo Albums
In the second installment of The Priest Takes On..., I dig deep into my distant past once again for a look at the ill-fated and polarizing 1978 Kiss solo albums. Yes, it's another Kiss-related post. My team of psychologists recommended I continue to work on coming to terms with some of the more damaging moments from my childhood and this is where I've chosen to start.
I fondly wrote about my first rock concert earlier this year. It was Kiss at Chicago Stadium, January 15, 1978. I was 12 years-old. At the time of the concert, Kiss was my everything. Every inch of wall space in my bedroom was filled with Kiss posters, photos, and magazine clippings. I dressed up as Peter Criss for two straight Halloweens (my friend took Ace, but his mom said Gene's makeup was too difficult, so I ended up with Peter, although Ace's makeup is more complex than Gene's so I assume she was just too tired at that point; Paul's is the easiest, arguably, but I was never really the Paul type, to be honest). Until recently, I hadn't pieced together the exact moment my proud membership in the Kiss Army became compromised. I assumed it was just because I was a kid slowly realizing my rock and roll world could be larger than just one band. But then I remembered the Kiss solo albums. Is that what did it? I distinctly remembered having a budget crisis at the time. I simply couldn't afford them all. Then, when I previewed a couple in my friend's basement, I was baffled. The records didn't sound like Kiss at all. So I made the wise decision not to waste my money. Which means Kiss Alive II, released in late-1977, would go down as the last Kiss album I would ever buy. Man, that's cold, isn't it? How could I make such a major shift in such a short span of time? In retrospect, the answers are obvious. One, I was growing up. I was starting to realize bands didn't have to be cartoon characters to be cool. Two, the solo Kiss albums sucked ass and everybody knew it. The band's aura of invincibility was pierced. I will never lose my love for those early Kiss albums, but for me this was the end of my Kisstory. Recently, however, I began wondering. Was mu twelve-year-old self too hasty in my reaction to the solo albums? There is only one way to find out, of course. It was time for one last reassessment for the records.
I know this much is true: the records are widely considered to this day to be one of the worst decisions in the history of Kiss (perhaps in the history of music itself). So why did they happen at all? The short answer is that it was to save the band from splitting up, so at odds were they with each other at the time. With Peter and Ace starting to implode from a combination of excessive partying and the dictatorship rule of Gene and Paul, they threatened to leave the band to make solo albums. Instead, Gene and Paul proposed that they all do solo albums and release them at the same time. This would give some creative freedom to each member, not to mention some crucial time apart to decompress. If any band had egos massive enough to release four solo albums simultaneously, it was Kiss. Nobody at the time was going to limit the amount of Kiss product in stores. They were an absolute goldmine at the time. So on September 18, 1978, while still at the height of their fame, four color-coded solo albums overwhelmed the marketplace. And ALL of them tanked commercially (more on that later), especially in comparison to the band's previous five albums (from Alive! to Alive II and points in between). If you want to know more, you can read the full story in Gene, Ace, Peter, & Paul: A Detailed Exploration of the 1978 Kiss Solo Albums, a 545-page book (it says "detailed" right there in the title) by Julian Gill. (I'm interested, but not that interested.) Here at Pickled Priest, we felt it was our civic duty as lapsed Kiss Army members to reassess these solo albums. With over forty years of perspective behind us now, it seems the right time to settle this once and for all. Are they as bad as I thought or was I too quick to dismiss them and heartlessly abandon the band cold turkey back in 1978?
In order to find out, I'll first rank the 39 total songs released on the four records in descending order of preference. Then we'll rank the solo albums in toto as well. This is important and serious work and we'll attempt to take a non-scholarly and non-scientific approach to it. No masks required, unless it's Halloween again. I consider this project to be a form of personal musical archaeology. I, once and for all, am going to close a chapter in my early musical development. It's a total and complete waste of time, of course, which makes the urgency of the project all the more compelling. Let's get to it.
RANKING THE SONGS
39 "Kiss the Girl Goodbye" | PETER CRISS
If you had to place a bet, prior to their 1978 release, on which Kiss solo album would be the best of the four, on whom would you have placed your hard-earned cash? Gene or Paul would surely get the most action on a prop bet in Vegas. They are the main attractions, after all, one being the bombastic frontman, the other the sub-human spectacle. Perhaps those who also pick George Harrison as their favorite Beatle might pick Ace as a dark horse (pardon the pun). But the odds of Peter’s solo outing getting any love would be minimal, let’s be honest. But why is that, exactly? Wasn’t he responsible for the band’s biggest hit, “Beth,” which for all intents and purposes was a solo track? Plus, we know he can sing, too, as “Black Diamond” proved on their debut album and “Hard Luck Woman” did on Rock and Roll Over. His vocal resume at this point was certainly more impressive than Ace’s ("Shock Me" his one contribution to date). Is there a chance, perhaps, that we’ve underestimated the feline timekeeper behind the hottest band in the land? That threadbare hypothesis was all but shattered by the string of neutered tracks (to his defense, he is a cat) he delivered on his shockingly tame solo LP (perhaps a catnip overdose is to blame). In truth, “Kiss the Girl Goodbye” and several others from the record (stay tuned), are not outright offensive or even embarrassing. In the right context by the right person, they could be considered downright pretty, especially if you’re feeling vulnerable at the time. But let’s not forget that these records were marketed as KISS solo albums. The band’s name was prominently branded top-left on each cover with each member's name top-right. The covers featured them in full makeup, too, so the implication was that these records were still Kiss albums, albeit from four different angles. But with one listen to this 99-pound weakling of a track you’ll see definitively why the simultaneous release of four Kiss-related albums, literally the most bankable band in the world at the time, went up in flames like the Hindenburg in 1937. Someone justifiably assumed that anything branded with the Kiss logo would sell millions, but it’s a tribute to the masses that these albums flopped commercially. Kiss is a vehicle that is best not sold for parts and to me, this song is indicative of the problem with the Kiss solo experiment. Kiss apologists, and there are many, will tell you they love this song, but I don’t agree. It’s the worst example of the ruse perpetrated on the American record buying public by Casablanca Records in 1978. And to make matters worse, it also used “Kiss” in its title, only reminding us that we got suckered into parting with our money in exchange for a shlocky, gauzy, pasty song like this.
38 "When You Wish Upon a Star" | GENE SIMMONS
One thing is clear to me after listening to four Kiss solo albums consecutively: Casablanca, if they were interested in truth in advertising (they weren’t), should’ve, at the very least, marketed these solo albums as superhero “origin stories” and not as real Kiss albums. That way, we might’ve been better prepared for the songs included, which are often light years away from their Kiss counterparts. The label was already packaging the band as comic book characters anyway (they even had their own comic book with real Kiss blood mixed into the ink!)—especially on Destroyer, Rock and Roll Over, and Love Gun, the three studio records that preceded the solo album debacle—so it was the perfect time to do a prequel to those records. The Comicon crowd (not to mention the Kiss Army where I remain enlisted, albeit dishonorably) loves a good origin story. Origin stories show where superheroes came from, what they were influenced by, and provide insights into their evolution as super human beings. Along the way, we see the awkward moments as they struggle to master their super powers—that's a major part of the story arc. At one point, in most cases, they were normal people just like us. Then they got trapped in a time machine with a spider or a bathtub full of nuclear waste or joined a zany New York City rock band. That approach would've allowed lots of latitude musically as well. These songs tell us something about our beloved heroes even if they might not be what you expect them to be. It would've been a built-in excuse for anything that didn't work. What a cool concept that would’ve been!
But they didn’t go that way. They put out four pretty lame records in an epic cash grab and it blew up in their faces. Shortly after their release, you couldn’t flip through a dollar record bin without running into an endless supply of cut-out Kiss solo albums (unsold LPs returned to the label). The joke was that if they gave awards for returned records, each of the solo albums would’ve gone gold by the end of 1978. Instead, we got Gene Simmons singing Disney’s Pinocchio classic, “When You Wish Upon a Star,” with a straight face, completely out of context. As a kid, I didn’t know what the fuck I was hearing. Why, Gene, why!!!??? But if this had been sold as an “origin story,” I might’ve understood that Gene learned English from watching such fantasy movies (after moving here from Israel with the name Chaim Witz) and that they inspired him to dream big and use his imagination to achieve his wildest dreams. Which he inarguably did, regardless of your opinion of his band. The story goes that you can hear the fire-breathing, blood-spitting, tongue-flicking, groupie-Polaroiding “Demon” crying while he sings the song tenderly and without affectation if you listen closely to the recording. If that isn’t a cool building block for an origin story, I don’t know what is. His version is actually more unnecessary than bad. In fact, it is quite tolerable. Just not something you’ll need to hear more than once, maybe twice, which is why it is so far down on this list. I think it would’ve been pretty cool if he sang the song in the voice of his demon character. The song could use a little ironic menace. Perhaps Disney wouldn’t let him at it if that was his intent.
*Note: “When You Wish Upon a Star” would’ve been the perfect hidden bonus track had the album been released in the CD age. A little novelty not suited for the album, meant to amuse/surprise the unaware long after the proper record had come to an end. You can get away with almost anything when you bury it as an unlisted "bonus" track.
37 "Hold Me, Touch Me (Think of Me When We’re Apart)" | PAUL STANLEY
Our goodbyes go on forever
And with all that we may say
Till tomorrow comes
We’ll dream of yesterday
Paul is, by far, the cheesiest member of Kiss. It’s almost like he read a book called Rock and Roll Stage Banter for Beginners and never got past Chapter Two. It can be painful at times. But no more painful than this song, the musical equivalent of a sticky bottle of iHop boysenberry syrup, which confirms one key fact about the Starchild—he either doesn’t realize when he’s being an over-the-top cliché or he knows it and doesn’t care. I will contend that he’s a fabulous and underrated rock vocalist (listen to his latest Soul Station album for proof), but good old Paul is an unabashed, hairy-chested, chunk of cheddar at his core. He’s got his own origin story that explains why, too. It involves being born with an ear deformity that made him shy and self-conscious for much of his early life (discussed in some detail during the recent Gene/Paul-centric A&E Kiss documentary, KISStory) and rock & roll allowed him to break free from his social awkwardness. Which doesn’t mean he was fully formed from the get-go. Some skills took time to develop and some never did. Let’s just say his tendency to overcompensate worked out for him pretty well and in the end he's had the last laugh.
“Hold Me, Touch Me (Think of Me When We’re Apart)” is a song Steve Perry and Journey could’ve crushed if given the opportunity back in the late 70s. Instead, we get this ball of cotton candy straight from the bunny hutch, featuring Paul slowly breaking out of a Marzipan shell with his heart on his sleeve, falsetto waiting stage left for its triumphant reveal. (What is it about the solo album that prompts artists to break out their falsetto? Discuss.) Oddly, this was the first single released from Paul’s album, and it is easily the schmaltziest in the whole bunch, capable of causing your teeth to rot at twenty paces.
36 "That’s the Kind of Sugar Papa Likes" | PETER CRISS
Peter Criss doesn’t fare well on this list and the reasons for that will now be demonstrated over the next five consecutive songs. I loved Peter as a kid and love drummers in general, so it brings me no joy to slag on him. The fact is, his whole record, with a couple exceptions, could be dumped in the trash like months-old kitty litter and nobody would miss it. Here, fresh from Paul’s candy store excursion, we find a creepy Peter (his name doesn’t help matters) pulling the full Lolita with a song Humbert Humbert himself could’ve sung in the lounge of the Enchanted Hunters Hotel. Quite frankly, he doesn’t have the stones to pull off a song like this. David Lee Roth, perhaps. Peter Criss? Nuh-uh. His greatest fortune, and this could be said for all Kiss members with the exception of Paul, is that he joined a band that covered their faces with full makeup, never to be seen without it (at least for a while). He just doesn’t have the swagger, the style, or the looks, to pull this off. He tries hard, but the song simply goes limp in the gate and never recovers, all the while begging for someone to slap it in the ass. Even Steve Lukather’s fine guitar work can’t revive it. Ken Mills, host of the Podkisst podcast, once opined that the songs on Peter’s album, if done by Bob Seger, would all be well known rock classics today. That’s a serious stretch, of course, but he may be right here. Bob could pull this off (and actually did in a way, with his AOR favorite “Come to Poppa”), but Peter just can't get it up.
35 "Rock Me, Baby" | PETER CRISS
Peter has a pleasing, raspy voice. It’s what made “Beth” work so well. When he sings that song, it seems to be from the heart, rough but genuine. People fell in love with it because it rang true—rock stars aren’t home much so those who love them have to deal with a lot of loneliness, sometimes all night, sometimes for months at a time. But let’s face it, Peter is a Little League version of Rod Stewart. Rod’s the real deal, a major league rock star in every way. Peter? He smacked a few home runs back in the day, but never got hot again. “Rock Me, Baby” is wallpaper rock, gussied up with barrelhouse piano and female background singers, but that’s not enough to fuel the barroom explosion it clearly hopes to achieve. This was a leftover from Gene’s LP, given to Peter to fill-out his album, and if there’s one axiom in rock and roll lore that still holds water it’s “Don’t take Gene’s sloppy seconds.”
34 "You Matter to Me" | PETER CRISS
Kiss fans will claim this is a great song, but don’t you believe them. Just because Peter’s version tops Joey Travolta’s (released shortly after Peter’s) doesn’t mean it’s a good song. Just because it sounds like a light synth-pop song from the 80s two years prior to the start of that decade doesn’t mean it’s a good song. The song is offensive in its inoffensiveness. On its own, it’s passable elevator music, but from a member of Kiss, a band on top of the world at the time, it’s inexcusable. No wonder I jumped ship just nine months after seeing them in concert for the first time. They didn't matter to me anymore.
33 "Don’t You Let Me Down" | PETER CRISS
Peter’s prior band to Kiss was called Lips. Coincidence? This was one of a few of that band’s songs repurposed for this record. It’s perfectly fine, toothless 70s AM radio lite, and it has some nice moments. He “wrote” it with the same guy he “wrote” “Beth” with (Stan Penridge, who many say did all the writing and Peter just slapped his name on them because he could), but the magic isn’t recreated here at all. Mainly because it doesn’t pack the punch of identification like “Beth” did. It doesn’t sound real. It’s another factory-produced love song that could've been written by anyone at anytime with little trouble. I do think it's kind of funny that Peter has such a taste for sweet little pop songs when he’s not at his day job, but the novelty wears off mighty fast.
32 "Tossin’ and Turnin’" | PETER CRISS
Peter is the oldest member of Kiss, so it makes sense that his influences go back just a smidge farther than those of his band mates. If this is his origin story, then I’m happy to listen in once or twice (but no more). There's nothing wrong with loving yourself some vintage R&B. In fact, I'd have no problem with Peter cutting a whole record of old R&B gems if he wants to, just not under the Kiss banner. When Paul did a recent album of soul covers, he had the courtesy of calling his band Soul Station so fans knew what to expect. But this version of the Bobby Lewis classic is decent karaoke at best, suitable for a drunken wedding or a barroom’s back room. His voice is pretty good, his backing band is solid, and it’s not a total hatchet job. But you have to ask yourself this one important question: Do you need or want to hear the drummer of Kiss covering soul classics? If you do, you’re in the chips. But if you’re smart, you’ll forget this ever happened.
31 "I’m in Need of Love" | ACE FREHLEY
Here’s the first Ace track on the list. The prevailing opinion of Kiss fans and critics is that Ace’s solo record is by far the best album of the bunch. Why? Mainly because Kiss fans like to rock and this is easily the most rocking of the four albums. But does that alone really make it the best? Even if we stipulate the claim, the title of best Kiss solo album is not necessarily a major accomplishment, let’s face it. I’m not going to tip my hand yet, but let’s just say that Ace’s album is not, as some exaggerate it to be, one of the great Kiss albums. Not even close. Is it better than people expected? Sure. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Let’s do the accounting work first and see how the ledger balances out.
“I’m in Need of Love” doesn’t help Ace’s case. Ace should be very thankful that people will often gloss over insipid lyrics as long as some loud guitar riffs are thrown in with the deal. Or at least that was once the way of the world when wamma lamma lamma lamma rock & roll was king. Kiss was never known for their deep lyrics either, so criticizing Ace for following suit on his solo album seems unfair. That said, “I’m in Need of Love” sounds like it was originally written on stone walls by cavemen circa 500 BC. “I’m in need of love / And I’m hopin’ you’re in need of me.” Wince. It’s not one of his better vocals either, and Ace is an acquired taste vocally on his best day. Some claim to like his vocal imperfections and I am one of those people—but a whole album of Ace’s warbling? I'm not in need of that.
30 "Take Me Away (Together As One)" | PAUL STANLEY
It’s never a good sign when you see the title of a song and cannot remember one note of it, nor one word. And I last played is yesterday! This song is basically a bad romance novel set to music. Paul croons tenderly for two full stanzas of the song (90 excruciatingly painful seconds), that his eyes still burn with memories of last night’s synchronous fuckfest, “She wore white, and in the night, we made love / Together, I remember, together as one.” Not separate as one. Together as one. A big difference. Sounds memorable. Barry White he is not. In fact, this song sounds like a dozen Harlequin romance novels got shredded in a Cuisinart and were then taped together by a bunch of sixth-grade boys. The only redeeming part of the song is guest drummer Carmen Appice, who likely Liquid-Papered this cameo off his resume the moment he left the studio.
29 "Goodbye" | PAUL STANLEY
Yes, it’s the last song on the album. Paul does very little that’s not 100% predictable. And that’s why songs like “Take Me Away” and “Goodbye” suffer. They do benefit from having the lead singer of Kiss singing them, but at the end of the day, they are both paint-by-numbers rock songs aspiring to be much more, then failing miserably in the process. “Goodbye” proves that Paul has very little to say as a songwriter on this album. We know he’s got to leave his baby, but he promises to come back (“I swear it somehow!”). Generic themes built on simple rhymes (away/stay; chance/dance; lose/use, etc.) is no way to go through life, Paul. There’s just enough flashy additives to make you forget how little effort was put into the songwriting. The Kiss mantra in a nutshell.
28 "Tunnel of Love" | GENE SIMMONS
Bruce Springsteen’s “Tunnel of Love” used an actual Tunnel of Love as a metaphor for the complexities of modern relationships, but if you think Gene Simmons is talking about anything but an actual vagina in his “Tunnel of Love” you’ve clearly not seen his 5,000-strong collection of backstage groupie Polaroids. “Tunnel of Love” is basically a very bad retread of his equally libidinous, but far more effective calling card, “Calling Dr. Love” from Rock and Roll Over. If any “lady” is still possibly interested in bedding Gene after hearing his solo album, I have no sympathy for her. After all, a clear warning is right there in the lyrics: You wanted my disease / You’ll have to do as I please.
27 "Snow Blind" | ACE FREHLEY
This song should be subtitled “How to Get Kicked out of Kiss” by Ace Frehley.* It chronicles a life of non-stop touring, crippling loneliness, and spaceships full of cocaine. The only way it could be more fitting is if it was a duet with Peter Criss, his partner in decadent crime. Any way you slice it, it’s a recipe for disaster, especially for those with low willpower like Ace. It’s not a bad cut, with plenty of Ace riffs (the great redeemer) to bail it out, and shockingly the lyrics, for once, don’t make you want to slit your throat. I did, however, have to dock it five places for including the virtually unanswerable question: Am I ever gonna get to where I’m gonna go home? As Steve Martin would say: Some people have a way with words. Other people not have way.
*Kiss fans will surely balk at this title, citing the fact that Ace wasn't kicked out of Kiss, he left Kiss. But if you think he wasn't on the road to getting booted out of Kiss at the time, you're delusional. Gene and Paul were very frustrated with both Peter and Ace for their drug and alcohol abuse. Peter was gone first, so Ace became more valuable to the band as a result, but he was on a fast train to Frehley's Comet already even if he didn't know it yet. He just beat them to the punch. You can't fire me....I quit!
26 "I Can’t Stop the Rain" | PETER CRISS
Fourteen songs into this list and half of them belong to Peter. Not a good sign. The funny thing is that his record is actually better than I remember. I think that’s because at the time I was a kid who wanted songs that sounded like Kiss, or at least Peter's Kiss songs. Now a much older teenager, I’m more open to cheesy love songs with adult contemporary sentiments. The Peter Criss defense team, when asked for their closing arguments at Peter’s musical murder trial, will likely site “I Can’t Stop the Rain” as the reason to grant a stay of execution for Catman’s solo effort. It’s a big ballad which many believe is one of his greatest moments. And it certainly is a big production. It’s not Bob Ezrin big like “Beth,” but it has delusions of grandeur. Too bad it sounds like one of those generic monster radio hits Diane Warren could write on the toilet (think Aerosmith’s “Don’t Want to Miss a Thing”). Do we need any more songs like that, I ask?
25 "Mr. Make Believe"| GENE SIMMONS
I think it’s safe to say that Gene’s album tells us more about the real Gene than any of his band mate’s albums do about them. Are you surprised? Gene is Gene's favorite subject, after all. The world did then, and still does, revolve around the world’s most narcissistic demon (unless Trump qualifies as a Demon, and he just might). Gene’s album tells us he loves sex (which everyone already knew), it tells us he loved the Beatles (which is cool), it tells us about his youth, and it also gives us a window into his resting mindset. And he also tells us that a song should be about 70% chorus. Repeat early and often. “Mr. Make Believe” is a relatively pretty little pop song that pays homage to the Beatles. (Simmons tried to get McCartney and Lennon to guest on the album, but they smartly declined; instead he settled for a few members of Beatlemania! who were a well-known tribute act at the time, and they ended up guesting on a few of the album’s songs). Gene got his boyhood wish and then some. He created a character that gets to live in a land of make believe and he’s succeeded beyond even his own wildest dreams. There’s heart on this track at the very least, even though in my opinion it doesn’t quite come together perfectly.
24 "What’s On Your Mind?" | ACE FREHLEY
As I’ve said, Ace’s album rocks harder than the others, but this is one song that deviates from his usual formula. This is basically a power-pop song that has a pretty catchy chorus. The vocal is iffy—I’m not sure this is Ace’s best style—but I appreciate the diversity. Now we’re starting to get somewhere.
23 "See You in Your Dreams" | GENE SIMMONS
We’ve discussed the “origin story” concept a few times already and clearly that’s the approach Gene took when assembling his material. But what could his album have been? How great would it have been if he had made a super dark, macabre, gurgling tarpit of an album? He could’ve taken his monster persona into the seventh layer of Dante’s hell and come back with songs to chronicle his journey. It would’ve been amazing. At the very least, it would match the blood-dripping caricature on his album’s cover. Instead, the demon wrote some pretty darn good pop songs instead. Not what I wanted, but the more I listen to it, the more I appreciate the artistic leap. He had to know playing it safe, and staying in character, would net him far greater commercial success, didn’t he? His album shows us a completely different, very real, persona. I’m not sure it becomes him in the end, but it does add some depth, and if anyone needs some more depth, it's Gene Simmons. “See You in Your Dreams,” ironically, was originally a Kiss song and appeared on Rock and Roll Over. Gene apparently never liked that version so he took a stab at doing it right this time. Not surprisingly, it sounds like a Kiss song as a result. It has a little demon in the vocal, which is welcome. It also has some good lyrics, about a lonely, outcast girl fantasizing about Gene in her bedroom at the end of the night. If we know one thing, it’s that Gene is not very discriminating. In this case, he’s showing rare discretion. He’s coming to you in your dreams, like Freddy Krueger. Now that’s the kind of darkness papa likes.
22 "Ozone" | ACE FREHLEY
I’m the kind of guy who likes feelin’ high / Getting high and dry and I do it all the time
Like we really needed this to be clarified. Here we find Ace going on again about his love of living up to his space cadet persona. It’s not poetry, but it gets the point across. Ace likes to live in the clouds, if not literally, then figuratively. One listen to this song and I immediately thought how vastly improved it would be if it was mostly instrumental. Just Ace shredding with the “Ozone, ozone, ozone” refrain as a verbal hook. As a matter of fact, why not just release a whole album of guitar pyrotechnics? Really show the world who is responsible for making Kiss rock like they do. Instead, yet another homage to drugs and alcohol. I imagine the combination of “Snowblind” and “Ozone” really frosted the Simmons/Stanley power axis at the time. Which is yet another redeeming quality of the song.
21 "Always Near You/Nowhere to Hide" | GENE SIMMONS
Gene brought the kitchen sink along to the recording studio when putting together his solo effort. This one sounds a little proggy at the beginning, adds female backing vocals, a choir, strings, a little gospel, and the Beatlemania guys make another appearance. Mid-song, there’s even a little “Spanish Stroll” (Mink DeVille) influence for good measure. Gene logs in with a capable vocal with the mandatory falsetto appearance. There’s no demon menace anywhere, but the coda is cool and the whole thing somehow works despite its many odd touches. At least he keeps you on your toes.
20 "True Confessions" | GENE SIMMONS
This campy glam rock number sounds like a leftover from the Rocky Horror Picture Show soundtrack. Again, Gene brings out his Rolodex (for you kids, it’s an old-fashioned contacts list, but on tiny cards). He enlists the Azusa Citrus College Singers to add backing vocals and none other than Helen Reddy of “I Am Woman” fame makes an appearance. You read that correctly. The singer of one of the great early feminist anthems found her way onto a record by Gene Simmons, one of rock and roll’s most legendary womanizers. I wonder how Helen got beyond lyrics like, “Well baby, the truth is you’re in my possession tonight”?
19 "Easy Thing" | PETER CRISS
Hey everybody, Peter’s back! He’s had his share of clunkers so far, but there were also a few tracks that worked on his album. This is one of them. It’s a simple premise. Love is so hard to find, but it’s an easy thing to lose. It’s sappy, but by keeping it simple both melodically and lyrically, it taps into the heart of just about anyone who has loved and lost. I’m not sure Peter is the best choice to tackle this—many other singers could’ve done it better and the production needs an intervention—but it’s a pleasant little slice of 70s AM radio and there ain’t nothin’ wrong with that.
18 "I’m Gonna Love You" | PETER CRISS
Give the drummer some! Peter is on a winning streak suddenly. An unexpected development. Or, a testament to how mediocre the Kiss solo albums were. But put that aside for the moment. “I’m Gonna Love You” is another song from his previous band, Lips. It’s a choppy affair with horns, backing vocals, and a nice sentiment (I’ll always be here when you’re ready for me, rain or come shine) and a nice little chorus, too. It’s the first track on the album and when I heard it again for the first time in about forty years, I briefly was wondering if maybe, just maybe, Peter’s album was actually good. It isn’t, as it turns out, but it ain’t all bad. Here’s proof.
17 "Tonight You Belong to Me" | PAUL STANLEY
Paul loves to start off soft and then build to a dramatic crescendo. Many cite this as the best song on Paul’s solo effort, but for me this is B-grade Kiss. I don’t fault Paul for having the most Kiss-like solo album because he’s the frontman and a key songwriter, so that makes establishing a completely new identity even more difficult. Apologists (loyal and delusional, all of them) love this song for that very same reason, but if this was performed during a Kiss concert, the bathrooms would be packed. That said, while overrated, B-grade Kiss is also a lot better than many of the other stinkers on this list.
16 "Hooked on Rock ‘N’ Roll" | PETER CRISS
The final Peter song on the list logs in the late-teens. On one hand, this could be a major success. On the other hand, the fifteen remaining songs are split between his other band mates. From that standpoint, kind of a sad result. This is yet another number from Lips, his pre-Kiss band. He must’ve been really hurting for material in 1978 to dig into his archives so frequently. Remember when I mentioned the guy who said many songs on this album, if done by Bob Seger, could’ve been hits? This is probably the best example to support that flawed argument. This is right in Bob’s wheelhouse and includes some good old-time rock and roll, too. The kind of music that soothes the soul. I assume this has a little biographical element as well. Peter loves that classic early rock and roll and it shows. No, it’s nowhere close to Seger, but he does seem to be enjoying himself on this track. It’s about a young drummer addicted to rock and roll. A “Peter B. Goode” if you will, with some great lyrics like, It’s like a fever that won’t cool down / I’ve been addicted since I heard that sound / I was vaccinated with a Victrola needle / And I’m hooked on rock and roll. Maybe a little goofy, but I go for that rock and roll music, any old way you choose it. Even if it's Peter Criss at the helm.
15 "Fractured Mirror" | ACE FREHLEY
An all-instrumental Ace track! Just what I wanted! And a pretty good one, too. Not a great one, but any time you can lose Ace’s horrible lyrics, I consider it a victory. I only wish he’d let his axe have the stage alone more throughout the record.
14 "Speedin’ Back to My Baby"| ACE FREHLEY
This fan-favorite still hasn’t fully won me over, but it’s good enough to be near the top of the heap in diminished company like this. It’s my fault—I didn’t follow Kiss Rule #1, which is: ”Do NOT under any circumstances dissect the lyrics.” Too late. There’s no going back at this point. Ace bothers not with a rhyming dictionary; he goes straight to the most basic third-grade rhyme scheme possible in all situations. Exhibit A: “I’m speedin’ back to my baby / And I don’t mean maybe!” Exhibit B: “I’m feelin’ kinda down ‘cos I left her with a frown.” (Maybe he can blame that one on his then wife, who has a songwriting credit on the track.) The song also cribs shamelessly from “Detroit Rock City,” too. From DRC: Movin’ fast, doin’ ninety-five / Hit top speed but I’m still movin’ much too slow / I feel so good, I’m so alive / I hear my song playin’ on the radio. From “Speedin’”: I’m drivin’ down the road, doing 95 miles per hour, oh yeah / My radio’s blastin’ and I’m passin’ cars faster and faster. Does a bell not go off at some point? One that tells you “Hey, Ace, you play that song every single night on tour!” Apparently not. Anyway, it’s saved by the riff once again and the chorus is just catchy enough if you don’t pay close attention. And I stress that point once again for your own safety and sanity: DO NOT PAY CLOSE ATTENTION TO THE LYRICS!
13 "Rip It Out" | ACE FREHLEY
"Rip It Out" is packed with killer riffs and amazing drum fills (supplied by the consistently awesome Anton Fig) and that’s what’s most important. Lyrically, this one is a no-brainer—no brain required to write it. The fact this is one of the album’s best cuts only furthers the concept that as long as you rock, people don’t care what you’re saying. It’s a song about getting your heart ripped out of your chest by a woman. That’s enough for me to hang my hat on. Ace isn’t a strong vocalist in the same way that Alice Cooper isn’t (and he kinda sounds like him at times). In the end, that just doesn’t matter as long as you’ve got the hang of that six-string thang.
12 "Move On" | PAUL STANLEY
When I became of age my mother called me to her side
She said, son, you’re growing up now, pretty soon you’ll take a bride
And then she said, just because you’ve become a young man now
There’s still some things that you don’t understand now
Before you ask some girl for her hand now
Keep your freedom for as long as you can now
My mama told me, you better shop around
—The Miracles, “Shop Around”
“Move On” is Paul’s shameless re-write of Smokey Robinson’s classic Motown hit from 1960. See if you can spot the similarities from the first verse:
When I was just a baby, mama sat me on her knee
She told me, boy, you listen there’s a lot you oughta see
A lot of pretty women gonna try to tie you down
You don’t know what you’re missin’ if you never look around
Move on, that’s what she told me
I suppose there’s always room for another song about a mom advising their son to shag as many women as possible before settling down. It’s not the kind of advice you’d expect from a mom—it’s stereotypically the dad’s role to give such hedonistic advice. For example, Cliff Richard’s dad told him in 1963’s “Bachelor Boy,” “Son you are a bachelor boy and that’s the way to stay.” I don’t mean to be sexist, but facts is facts. So an extra dozen roses for the moms in these two songs on Mother’s Day for dispensing some progressive advice to their boys. There’s no use debating which song is better, of course—Smokey will win that battle of the songwriters every time—but Paul’s rocks, really brings it in the chorus (Kiss 101), and has a distinct Norman Bates feel at times, too (“You’re every inch a lady and you’ll always have my love / You listen you can hear her voice, is calling from above.”) Tip: You may not want to shower prior to your first date with Mr. Stanley, especially if mother is over for a visit.
11 "Burning Up With Fever" | GENE SIMMONS
Let’s face it. There aren’t many winners on these four albums. This one is no different. At least it fits with Gene’s demon persona, one that emerges from flames for his day of reckoning, one that literally breathes fire for his adoring fans. It comes close to a Kiss track as a result. If it weren’t for the female backing vocals (notably featuring Casablanca label mate Donna Summer) it could easily have found a home on the backside of Love Gun or Rock and Roll Over. What helps Gene’s album in general is a sense of “anything goes” whimsy. He’s not afraid to get weird and wild, he’s not afraid to go soft and sweet. You never know what you’re getting from one moment to the next. Even if a song doesn’t work as a whole, there are always moments I love. The way he counts off the song with a Ramones-esque “One Two Three Four” and them shifts into a light acoustic intro instead of a wailing guitar solo. And then, right after the acoustic intro, he responds “Lovely” in his demon voice. Shortly after, a riffs kick in and the song moves in on the kill. From there, it’s Gene being Gene, hot and ready to fuck, and he “won’t stand in line for your love.”
10 "Wiped-Out" | ACE FREHLEY
You might find this shocking, but this is yet another song featuring life-of-the-party Ace either getting high or getting shit-faced drunk. At least he follows the old songwriting axiom, “Write about what you know.” Kiss fans might not like to see this song ranked over other favorites from the album, but I have a sweet spot for it. No, check that, it sounds like the band Sweet to me at times. Yes, the same band who gave us “Ballroom Blitz” and other power-pop classics back in the 70s. "Wiped-Out" has a similar reckless abandon to it, with Ace taking us on an extended Goodfellas-esque tracking shot through a New York loft party, adding inebriated narration of his ill-fated escapades along the way (when the wine runs out, your switch to rum—everybody knows that). I like that the song is completely different from anything else on his album. I also like the inspired homage to the Surfaris surf-rock classic “Wipeout” in the intro to the song, complete with maniacal laugh. The song benefits from its almost rap-like cadence (you heard that right) which doesn’t require Ace to sing so much as it requires him to be himself at a wild party. It’s convincing, utterly stupid, and somehow, someway, inspired in a demented way.
9 "See You Tonite" | GENE SIMMONS
Another Beatles-inspired pop song. But guess what? Gene pulls this off in my opinion. It’s a sweet little number, nothing more nothing less. Charming even. I wonder what people would think about it if they didn’t know it was Gene Simmons on lead vocals. In one review of the album I stumbled on the guy referred to him as Gene Cinnamons (Cinnabons would’ve been funnier) and I kind of like sweet Gene. I did the smart thing and didn’t read into the lyrics very deeply, but I really really hope against hope that he’s not talking about his cock.
8 "It’s Alright" | PAUL STANLEY
Paul is so transparent. He’s pulling the birds and he’s up for anything. We get it. But he also can pull it off—or get reasonably close. He’s a sex symbol and he knows it, so an invitation to stay the night is implied and accepted, if not offered. Would breakfast in bed in the morning sweeten the pot for you? Of course it would. This dumb song is saved once again by its big, catchy chorus, a Paul staple, plus it sounds a lot like a Kiss B-side, and that’s all there is to it. But at this point, isn’t that enough?
7 "Love in Chains" | PAUL STANLEY
Initially, I wrote off “It’s Alright” and “Love in Chains” as cookie-cutter Paul songs. Empty vessels gussied up with big hair, makeup, lipstick, and high heels, but nothing more than skin deep. That may even be the case with “It’s Alright,” but “Love in Chains” might be the most well-written song on the album. It’s rare for Paul to write about someone else, but that’s what he does here and it’s refreshing. And a little mysterious, too. You want to know why the girl in the song won’t let her heart out of its chains. What happened? What’s her story? Will she let her heart free for the sexy and charming Paul Stanley perhaps? A guy who will make her breakfast in the morning? As it turns out, nobody can break those chains. Oh, and if you thought there wouldn’t be a big chorus that’s repeated about a thousand times, you were wrong again.
6 "Man of 1,000 Faces" | GENE SIMMONS
This rejected Destroyer demo didn’t make the big show, but I’m glad it found its way out of the depths somehow. It’s certainly worthy and is another one of those “origin story” tracks, clearly titled in homage to the legendary silent movie horror actor Lon “Man of a 1,000 Faces” Chaney, who, I’m inferring here, Gene identifies with. How could he not? They both based their careers on becoming someone they aren’t in real life (I hope). There isn’t a more autobiographical song than this one either, For years I’ve lived inside my dreams / Somehow I’ve made them real it seems. It’s triumphant stuff, an American success story. Strangely, the song is pretty sedate, especially when you recall it was originally intended for the Destroyer album. I wonder how much it changed from inception to the solo album we hear now. I think it could work with a little heaviness and a lot more menace to it, but instead Gene opts for strings and horns and—what’s this?—restraint. And it has quickly become one of my favorites from the solo albums as a result. Surprisingly, it turns out that Gene has more than two faces after all.
5 "Ain’t Quite Right" | PAUL STANLEY
There is never going to be a Paul song that doesn’t have that Paul over-the-top panache, but this one comes pretty damn close. When I listen to this track, I immediately think that if the Allman Brothers had cut it, Greg Allman providing his soulful Southern pipes from behind his Hammond organ, it might be a classic. As it is, Paul is pretty effective on vocals and Bob Kulick’s guitar work adds just the perfect amount of swampy atmosphere. This is Paul showing another side of himself and it’s a major highlight. This should be on the radio regularly.
4 "Wouldn’t You Like to Know Me?" | PAUL STANLEY
I gravitate to the songs where the fellas go outside of their comfort zone and this is one of those Paul tracks that I had originally glossed over back in the late-70s only to rediscover it over 40 years later. It’s 100% power-pop that could’ve been slipped on an early Raspberries album without anyone really noticing. It’s that good. I’ve been playing it constantly over the last few weeks and the hook is glorious.
3 "Living in Sin" | GENE SIMMONS
This is nothing short of madcap heaven. Gene brought in everything in his arsenal for this song and there’s nothing left on the cutting room floor. Yep, that’s Bob Seger on backing vocals. And his girlfriend Cher (with daughter cameo) makes an appearance. There’s an ooga-chaka background chant similar to Blue Swede’s #1 smash from 1974, “Hooked on a Feeling” and even a nod to The Big Bopper’s 1958 #1 novelty classic “Chantilly Lace” as well. And we haven’t even gotten to the meat of the song yet, which hangs its hat on a goofy “We’re living in sin at the Holiday Inn” chorus. It shouldn’t work, but its unabashed, unapologetic stupidity makes it all delirious, creepy fun. Oh, I’ve got to warn you about the spoken word intro, where Gene, in full heavy-breathing pervert mode, tells us: “I know you write me sexy letters / And you send your pictures for my wall…” which leads us to the proudly stated fact that his female admirers will always find the hotel in which he’s staying. Let the wild rumpus start!
2 "Radioactive" | GENE SIMMONS
The fact this is one of the few songs Kiss actually put into their live set tells you something. It tells you it’s a real Kiss song and sounds like one. Two, it has a fabulous chorus that’s easy to sing. Three, it has cameos from Aerosmith’s Joe Perry and Bob Seger, which gives it a welcome rock and roll turbo boost. Yes, the lyrics are beyond stupid, but as long as it features Gene stalking and trying to bed a wild woman, you know his fans will eat it up. It’s hard not to get caught up in the toxicity of it all. Plus, this is the Gene we know and love and it’s always good to have him around. Unless you’re female of course.
1 "New York Groove" | ACE FREHLEY
The most memorable song from the four Kiss solo albums without a doubt. To this day, it’s the only song you hear on the radio regularly. I give credit for well-chosen covers, and this one isn’t an obvious choice at all, so kudos all around. It takes some savvy to pluck this from all the possible tracks out there. How many even knew the original version from relatively unknown British band named Hello? How many of you have their 1975 album Keep Us Off the Streets in your collection? The song was written by accomplished songwriter Russ Ballard (of Argent fame, known mainly as singer of the band’s enduring AOR staple “Hold Your Head Up”*), and it's a perfect track for Ace vocally and thematically. Ace is a guy who is perpetually yearning to get back to his New York home while on the road drugged and drunk out of his mind to dull the pain. That said, as much as I love Ace’s version of the song, he didn’t really change very much from the original. Judge for yourself below. I do think having a real New Yorker singing the track, and not a Brit, helps matters and Ace brings some swagger to the track lacking in the original. I also like his “It’s New Yawk, yo” opening which adds some local street cred. In the end, it’s an instant classic for your “Songs About New York” mixtape (which I’ve made) and there’s no denying its unique and starling presence on Ace’s otherwise straightforward, rocking, drug and booze fueled solo album.
*Ballard’s resume also includes “You Can Do Magic” by America, “I Know There’s Something Going On” by Frida, and better yet, one of my all-time favorite pop songs, Santana’s “Winning” from the band's Zebop! LP.
RANKING THE ALBUMS
Each solo album will be assessed by four different measures:
Original 12-Year-Old Ranking: How 1978 me would've ranked the album
Song Grade Point Average (GPA): Grades above converted to an average
Song Ranking Average (RA): Rankings above converted to an average
Top 5 Songs Ranking Average (5RA): Realistically, I will never play any of these albums in their entirety ever again, so only my favorite songs will get into the rotation once in a while. Which album has the most songs I'll want to hear again someday?
4 PETER CRISS
Original 12-Year-Old Ranking: 4th
Song Grade Point Average: 1.77
Song Ranking Average: 28.0
Top 5 Songs Ranking Average: 22.2
The numbers don't lie. Straddling the C-/D+ axis overall with the ranking of all ten songs averaging out at 28 when there are only 39 total songs on the list. Is that even possible? Can I get an accountant to check my math? Peter's album has been the litter box since 1978 and there's no kind way to put it: it totally sucked when I was 12 and it's not much better now. Perhaps there is more to it than I remembered, with a few charming ballads and a couple nostalgic rockers of note, and the whole thing is certainly more suited to a mellowing 50+ year-old than a rocking pre-teen, but it still finishes several laps behind the other albums. He didn't outright embarrass himself, but nobody in their right mind can consider this anything but a sleeping pussycat of a record.
3 ACE FREHLEY
Original 12-Year-Old Ranking: 1st
Song Grade Point Average: 2.61
Song Ranking Average: 17.4
Top 5 Song Ranking Average: 10.6
This ranking is a shocker even to me. All conventional thinking puts Ace's record atop the Kiss solo album heap. Fans and critics and the 12-year-old Pickled Priest generally agree that Ace won the solo album head-to-head battle. His album rocked and also had the best song of the bunch. And you'll notice also that his GPA is the highest of the four records. So why is he ranked a preposterous third? First, statistics can be deceptive. While his GPA is a solid B- overall, with the exception of "New York Groove," the rest of his songs mostly fall somewhere in the meaty part of the bell curve—neither terrible or amazing. As a kid, I loved the riffs and didn't care about the lyrics, but as an adult, I had a difficult time giving his lack of lyrical acumen a pass. And the riffs didn't seem as impressive to me years later either. The key reason for his ranking here is his 5RA score, which is the tell-tale sign that this a two or three song album for me at best. The rest has been replaced by bands that rock harder and write better songs. Maybe a line of cocaine and a bottle of rum (once the wine runs out) would improve his ranking, but I doubt it. The record is overrated, plain and simple.
2 PAUL STANLEY
Original 12-Year-Old Ranking: 2nd
Song Grade Point Average: 2.44
Song Ranking Average: 16.5
Top 5 Songs Ranking Average: 7.2
Paul's record was the most Kiss-like, so it's no surprise his album appealed to a 7th grade kid. Amazingly, the record still maintains that position with me, but for a different set of reasons. You may call foul since his GPA is well below Ace's, but look instead at his 5RA average, which is surprisingly low. These days, I'm mainly interested in the cream-of-the-crop from these albums. I don't care so much about consistency anymore, at least in this department. I'd rather have four or five cool songs and have the rest be crap than have one great song and eight just decent ones (as is the case on Ace's record). Amazingly, I've discovered that my favorite Paul songs are totally different now than they were 40 years ago. There's a lot of classic Paul on his record, for better and often worse, but if you dismantle it for parts, you can find some real diversity in the material.
1 GENE SIMMONS
Original 12-Year-Old Ranking: 3rd
Song Grade Point Average: 2.45
Song Ranking Average: 16.9
Top 5 Songs Ranking Average: 6.2
Gene always seems to win, doesn't he? How does he do it? I loved Gene the most as a kid, but I was simply not ready yet to hear his origin story album back then (although it was not presented that way as noted above). He ranks pretty close to Paul in GPA and SRA, but the telling statistic is his 5RA, a staggering 6.2! As I listen to his album, there are plenty of moments that make me cringe, but in the end I was surprised at how much of himself he revealed on the record and how many of the songs really impressed me. He's a historically hard worker and he clearly put a lot of effort into the record. He brought in a slew of guest stars, added a lot of adventurous touches that don't need to be there, and gave us a little insight into where he came from and what made him who he is today. And he seemed to have a lot of fun doing it. Plus, his regular voice is surprisingly effective. The cover screams menace ahead, but the songs do not. While it's still not the album I wanted from Gene, the one I got has turned out to have the most staying power for me.
OK, that's the last Kiss for 2021. I promise. Next week, we'll get back to something a little more contemporary and far more useful. I know, I know, impossible you say.