KISS @ 40
American hard rock legends Kiss celebrate their fortieth anniversary this month and have marked the occasion by reminding us of this: Paul Stanley, Gene Simmons and Peter Criss auditioned lead guitarist Ace Frehley in a New York City loft way back in 1973 and thus, Kiss was born. Love ‘em or hate ‘em you can’t deny the impact of Kiss and the legendary status that sees them continue to sell out large venues around the globe, even with half their original members replaced. For the purpose of this retrospective you need to know that I fall into the ‘love ‘em’ camp and I’m saying so up front just so we’re clear. What follows is gleaned from nearly 40 years of both loving and, at times, hating the band Kiss.
Like much of the world I didn’t become acquainted with the band until after the release of Kiss Alive in 1975 when the live version of Rock n Roll All Nite was blasting out of A.M. transistor radios everywhere. My American step-dad loved to smoke weed and get mellow to James Taylor and while I can and did appreciate the finer points of that he was not reciprocally open minded about my love for Kiss, an outrageously attired band in make-up who liked to blow stuff up, set things on fire and spit blood. In short he thought that Kiss was disgusting and for a rebellious, long-haired teen with a bad attitude, that was a recipe for unbridled joy.
This then is one writer’s opinion with respect to ten hidden gems that all but the most ardent of Kiss fans may have missed, an opinion formed through decades of being a Kiss fan and observer. I’ve organized these gems by release date in order to avoid a debate about how these songs would appear in a ‘top ten’ format. I have listed them this way as a purposeful construct, the idea being that each tune is worthy in and of itself to be included in the list without regard for how it stacks up against its brethren.
So, let’s proceed…
10. Goin' Blind/Hotter Than Hell, 1974
This Gene Simmons penned tune ranks among my fav’s for several reasons. Musically the track is the darkest, densest and most complex of Kiss’ early work. It features beautifully melodic guitar play between Stanley and Frehley as well as some of the latter’s best lead guitar soloing anywhere.
A mid-tempo heavy chord progression that leans toward the slow side carries the song which, incidentally, features a lyric that exists as a reminder that there was a pre- “G” rated, over-marketed Kiss that enjoyed some fairly twisted ideas. “I’m ninety-three and you’re sixteen” kind of says it all… is that even legal?
09. Strange Ways/Hotter Than Hell, 1974
If we accept the premise that Metal would soon to be birthed from an unholy melding of 60’s psychedelic/acid rock with early ‘70’s glam and hard rock then we need look no further than this track as a great example of proto-metal in the womb. The tune is penned by Frehley who lacked the confidence to do his own singing in the early days of Kiss so Peter Criss is featured on vocals a fact that is not nearly as annoying as it would prove to be later on in the decade. The brief moments of brilliance displayed by Frehley during his post-Kiss solo career are definitely foreshadowed here.
08. Room Service/Dressed To Kill, 1975
This high-energy opener to the album features a great repeating riff (during the chorus) and the walking bass-line style of Gene Simmons that featured so prominently on early Kiss albums. At this point in their career Kiss was a barely noticed NY phenomenon, a fact reflected in poor sales of their first three albums. Had the forthcoming Kiss Alive not catapulted them to fame it is more than likely that they would have been cast into rock’s rotting compost heap of almost made-its. The lyric is a typical Paul Stanley love-in that tells the tale of a rock star getting some, you guessed it… room service. Hilarious.
Check out the rest of the seven selections here.