One of my favorite podcasts, ROCK AND OR ROLL SHOW, just did an episode on KISS in the 80′s. In that episode they went over each KISS album from that decade, talking about each album plus all the band happenings. At the end of the episode, the two hosts chose their Top 10 songs from that decade of KISS. Me being a sucker of music lists, got inspired and decided to do one of my own. Please listen to the podcast as it’s very well done and has oodles of KISS trivia.
I grew up with KISS, they are my band. The band that no matter what they do you still like them. Even when you don’t. I remember my Uncle Brian giving me his copy of The Originals and being entranced. I watched the dreadful KISS Meets the Phantom Of The Park and loved it. Still do today but on another level. The big turn for me was the release of Dynasty. When my Dad said he liked a couple songs I knew something was wrong. Then the 80′s hit and my favorite band was just another act. When I looked at the cover for Unmasked and the comic has someone saying “They Stink” on it, it was telling. Line-up changes and dwindling sales turned KISS from being the “biggest band in the world” to just another rock act. So I re-listened to the albums from Unmasked through Hot In The Shade. Ironically the biggest selling album of the decade was Smashes, Thrashes, & Hits, a compilation with 2 new tracks neither I wanted to remember.
The aforementioned Unmasked was released in 1980. It would be drummer Peter Criss’ last official album as he had one foot out the door. Like all of the 80′s albums, it is very hit or miss. The productions is way off. I don’t know if it’s because they just did the disco album or if producer Vini Poncia felt just like Peter.”Shandi” was the single and I bought the 45, it’s around here somewhere. In hindsight it is a very lackluster love song and I still have not met anyone named Shandi. Got to say I’m a little disappointed by that. My pre-teen mind did not understand but was still fascinated by some of the odd song titles, “Torpedo Girl” & “She’s So European”. That and the opening line of , cats drooling on the bar stool, from “Is That You” still makes me smile to this day. Although it took me years to realize he didn’t mean a feline when referencing cat. There are two songs from this album I still like. “Is That You” and “Tomorrow”. Both Paul songs with the second one being just a perfect pop rock gem.
Next is the very odd Music From “The Elder”. This concept album was supposed to be the catalyst for a movie. Never happened and after listening you know why. Poor Eric Carr gets his big break in joining KISS and this is what happen. Also, over hyped and glorified one hit wonder Lou Reed did some writing with them insuring that this would be KISS” worst LP. I remember staying up late to watch them on the show Fridays. They did “World Without Heroes” a ballad where Gene literally sheds a tear and “The Oath”. The only song I really like is “I”. Very upbeat, uplifting rocker that is a motivational poster in audio. Plus having Paul and Gene both sings lead is pretty cool too.
1982 ushered in another change for KISS. Guitarist Ace Frehley and his car lost a fight with a tree and he exits. Even though he is on the cover of Creatures Of The Night, he doesn’t play on it. Most of it is done by his replacement Vinnie Vincent who also co-wrote a bunch of songs. This album is a welcome return to the bands hard rock roots. “I Love It Loud” was all over MTV and “War Machine” became a staple of entrance themes for pro wrestlers. Watching Humongous use it coming to the ring back in the Mid-South days.
The standout track is the title track a full on metal song and one of the heaviest for the band.
That was supposed to be a comeback album for KISS but it did not sell well. I guess The Elder put a stench on the band that could not be washed away so quickly. KISS ditched the makeup and released Lick It Up. The not too subtle named album was a big seller and had two big videos from it. The title track and “All Hell’s Breaking Loose”. Both featured a post-apocalyptic world that was in vogue back then.
Thank you The Road Warrior.
Lots of people, including the podcast, do not like “Breaking Loose” but I love it. Paul’s rap is so Paul that I don’t see how you could not like it. Plus it has an infectious guitar riff.
During this decade Gene started dabbling in other things and his songs really took a backseat. However, his sexual innuendo laden “Fits Like A Glove” I really like. Now it might be due to hearing this as I was going through puberty.
1984 had the band replacing another member. Out went Vinnie Vincent and in came Mark St. John. Animalize is his only appearance as Reiter’s Syndrome forced him out of playing. “Heaven’s On Fire” was the hit but it was “too simple” for me. I did like “Thrills In The Night” but the album as a whole was kind of boring. They really missed having Vinnie Vincent as a writer. If KISS would have recorded some of the songs from his Invasion album…..
The year of 1985 was same song, different day for KISS. Guitarist Mark St. John was out and Bruce Kulick was in. He had been touring in place of St. John but Asylum was his recording debut. The videos for this album are hideous. Bright colors, fringe, and volcanoes, just ewwww. Unfortunately those images are what people remember and not the songs. “Tears Are Falling” was the lead video and warning image. Nice song that featured curtains being ripped down which somehow became a staple in the 80′s.
Asylum was a showcase for Paul’s songwriting. The standout track for me was “Who Wants To Be Lonely?”. He just knows how to write a catchy love song.
Thankfully, with Gene dabbling in acting Paul made sure we did not go without a sex song. The working for the weekend anthem got turned on it’s literal back for “UH All Night”. The sex sells idea of the 80′s was on full display here. However I think this is where the “Paul Is Gay” rumors start. That captains hat paired with his open chest was a curious choice.
Crazy Nights broke the revolving guitarist streak. The album reflected the band actually having a steady lineup. Still Simmons was off doing things so Kulick got more writing time. They even let him do some shredding on the lone good Gene track “No No No”. KISS also brought in Desmond Child and Dianne Warren. Yes that Dianne Warren, she of the Aerosmith ballad lame, I mean fame. The host of the podcast, BJ, loved her track “Turn On the Night” but I found it too Bon Jovi with its keyboard popness.
The title track was interesting since the video had Gene and Paul putting the makeup back on. It was a pretty good song too even though the standing up for yourself lyrics had grown tired by then.
The other notable song is “Reason To Believe”. Paul and Desmond created a terrific ballad that is right in Paul’s wheelhouse. It fit in with the 80′s hard rock at the time but it was still KISS.
Next up was the Smashes, Thrashes, & Hits compilation. For a greatest hits collection it was alright, it did touch on all their history. But it also had Eric Carr re-record “Beth” which he, and the fans, were not too fond of. Paul wrote both of the new tracks and they were as subtle as a pool party at the Hustler mansion. “(You Make Me) Rock Hard” and “Let’s Put The X in Sex” try way too hard and would have been better off left on the demo pile.
The Eighties finished up with Hot In The Shade. Rolling Stone magazine made a list of Top 10 KISS records and they had this #10. To be fair there is some good stuff but is weighed down with 15 songs, about 5 too many. It has “Hide Your Heart”which former KISS guitarist Ace Frehley covered and was on his solo album that came out a week before KISS’. It is a Stanley/Child song that did not make it on Crazy Nights and was offered to other artists, but still. I do like KISS’ version a lot.
Paul’s love for ballads had him co-write a song with future white man of soul Michael Bolton on “Forever”. Another great ballad from Paul and it was a big hit for the band, even landing in the Top 10.
Interestingly, there are two Gene tracks that he co-wrote with future KISS guitarist Tommy Thayer. Neither are worth writing home about. Eric Carr finally got the chance to sing on “Little Caesar”. It has a nice chorus but the riff is kind of generic. Shame he didn’t get a chance to sing more.
So there was the overview on the 80′s KISS albums. After sorting through them, warts and all, here is my….
Top 10 KISS tracks of the 80′s
10)-Fits Like A Glove
9)-Uh! All Night
8)-Is That You?
7)-All Hell’s Breaking Loose
6)-Who Wants To Be Lonely
1)-Creatures Of The Night
I’ve switched these around several times in the past day. If you asked my next week I might have a different list.
What do you think?