I used to be a die-hard KISS fan. Through the 80’s they were my go to band. My obsession. I had their images all over my walls from around age 5 to 9. After that I stayed a fan, but I would discover other bands and other styles of music. Even though I grew up in the non-make-up years of KISS, I was always much more obsessed with the make-up years of the 70’s (and early 80’s of course). The reason is obvious right?
Through the years KISS has always had a place in my heart and I’ve kept up with the lives and careers of all the original members. I’ve read the books, watched the DVDs, and am always curious when I hear that they have a new album. The latter usually ends in disappointment, which is why I really can’t call myself a die-hard fan anymore, but I’m still a fan nonetheless.
In all honesty, I don’t think KISS has released a ‘all-killer-no-filler’ album since Lick It Up. That was almost 30 fucking years ago! Sure they had a few good songs after that (Unholy, Tears Are Falling, Heaven’s On Fire, etc.), but not one solid album. As far as the reunion? Psycho Circus was just sad, Sonic Boom was even sadder, and Monster is, well there is a pattern here.
This album cover screams ‘don’t buy me!’
So what happened? How does a band go from being a righteous rock and roll juggernaut to this shell of a band that we have today? Greed? Well duh, but I would like to dig a bit deeper than that. Sure Gene Simmons is a greedy whore and Paul Stanley comes across as an apathetic player in KISS 2.0. (3.0? 4.0? Whatever) So I ask again, what happened? If you are as steeped in KISS’s history (or Kisstory if you’re a douche bag) as much as I, the answer is a clear as the light of day: Ace Frehley.
Ace Frehley? Shall I elaborate? Well ok. While most fans are aware that Paul and Gene were and are the leaders and the driving force of KISS, only some may know that Ace Frehley was the goddamn backbone of the band. He didn’t start out that may mind you, but by 1977 he had grown into that position. Frehley started off as the timid lead guitarist that hid behind the large shroud of Gene and Paul’s massive egos. But as fame grew for the band and for each member, Frehely eventually came around and started to make his presence known in the band. He was never really happy with the sound of his singing voice and for the first 5 studio albums he let other guys in the band do vocal duties on the songs he wrote (Gold Gin had Gene on vocals, Strange Ways had Peter and so on). To be totally honest, Ace doesn't have the greatest singing voice, but he sang with passion and conviction, which worked for him. So by the time Love Gun came out in 1977, Ace was ready to be the 4th front man of the group (all four members sang lead vocals just in case you were not aware).
In 1977 Kiss was at the peak of their fame. They were gods. They were leaping into every aspect of pop culture. 1978 would bring more of the same…then something happened. Ace and Peter were just not ready for the onslaught of fame that would stampede through their lives. While Paul and Gene were made for it, Ace and Peter found happiness in drugs and alcohol. This is nothing knew in the world of rock ‘n’ roll, but for KISS (that being Paul, Gene, Peter and Ace) it would be beginning of the end. Gene and Paul were not into that whole scene and pretty soon it was Ace and Peter vs. Gene and Paul and if you are wondering who won…
Two things in this picture are wrong…wonder what they could be?
Tensions mounted and the band did something, which at the time, probably seemed like a good idea. Instead of breaking up all together, all four members released solo albums. I’ll get into those in a minute. After the solo ventures, the band reformed and did three more studio albums (two with Peter featured as the drummer…at least on some tracks), but the writing was on the wall. It was over between the 4 original members. First Peter would split, and then Ace followed shortly after. KISS with new members; Eric Carr on drums and Vinny Vincent on lead guitar would release two solid albums (Creatures of the Night and Lick It Up) and then, well it was all downhill from there. KISS lived on, but the magic that made them what they once were was snuffed out forever.
This all leads me to the whole damn point of this article. Yes I do have a point. Lets all be little Doc Browns for a moment hop in our DeLoreans and go back in time. Back to 1977!
KISS was on top of the world. Love Gun is on store shelves. Christine Sixteen is blasting out of car stereos in El Caminos and Trans Ams nationwide. KISS were all over TV and soon about to leap in the world of comic books. They would also release their second live album; the follow up the very successful Alive! (1975). Here is where I will be making the Zack Morris-style time stop. First off, let’s start with Alive 2…aside from the 4th side (we’re talking vinyl here people) of studio tracks--it was a complete waste of time! While the original Alive! featured beefed up versions of songs from the first 3 albums, Alive 2 featured songs from the next 3 albums…which pretty much sounded just like the studio versions (with the exception of the up tempo version of God of Thunder and Ace’s solo on Shock Me). So if I were going to change history, the first thing I would do is change Alive 2…it will still be a waste of vinyl, but fuck it. First lets make side 3 of the album side 4. Now remove the studio tracks and add more live cuts to side 3 (how about live versions of: "Flaming Youth", "See You In Your Dreams Tonight", "Do You Love Me?" and "Then She Kissed Me"....yeah, that works). But what about the studio tracks? I have plans for those.
Now lets get back to those pesky solo albums. Before I get into this I will admit proudly that I love all 4 solo albums. They are all great in their own way. That being said, as individual albums they got to go. Lets examine each album for a moment…
Lets start with Peter Criss’s solo record. I love this album. I really do. It’s not a KISS album by a long shot. Peter Criss’s album is an R&B album, which tinges of soulful pop. Again, not KISS. Peter’s album goes bye-bye…but it will return in the future when Peter eventually goes solo. The fact that “I Can’t Stop The Rain” wasn’t a massive hit is crime and a shame. Peter releases this album in 1982 which sets off an incredible solo career…you’re welcome Pete.
Next up: Gene’s solo record. A great album, full of great pop songs with smatterings of R&B, funk and…Disney(?). A great fucking album, but not a KISS album…with one exception that I will come back to. Gene’s album goes bye-bye—for the most part.
So far it’s not looking good for the solo efforts. Next up: Paul’s. Now we are getting into something sounding a lot more like KISS—a lot more. Here’s the catch: It sounds like KISS music in the future, meaning where KISS’s music is heading. Paul’s album sounds a hell of a lot like the music on Dynasty, Unmasked and so on. Paul’s solo album represents the future of KISS where as…
Ace’s solo album represents KISS’s past—and present (remember we are in 1978 now). Ace’s solo album is a KISS album. It sounds like KISS, but with Ace doing all the vocals. Now lets stop and think about this. Gene and Paul are the leaders of the band, yet their albums sound nothing like the past 6 studio albums. Hmmmm, very interesting. Are you starting to grasp my whole ‘Ace is the backbone of the group’ thing?
Ok so lets butterfly effect this baby even more. Lets say KISS pulls their heads out of their collective asses and decide to NOT do solo albums and instead release a 7th studio album. While this is an exercise in fantasy, I want it to be known I’m relying on actual reality to shape the fantasy. So what songs would be featured on this mythical 7th studio album? I’m so glad you asked….no really I am. It’s kind of the whole point of this article. Well remember we have some left over songs from Alive 2 that are hanging out in limbo now. All 5 studio tracks (with exception to the so-so Dave Clark 5 cover) are absolute gems. Lets start with those. Next lets use some tracks from Ace and Paul’s solo albums and voila!
What we have now is KISS’s 7th studio album, Rockin’ In The U.S.A. (the title taken from the Gene Simmons track of the same name) Now understand, for this to have ever happened—and here is when we get into real stuff of fantasy, Gene and Paul would have to swallow some pride and let Ace step up as leader in the studio. (cue laughter)
Ok, all laughter aside, lets assume this happens. Lets take a look at the album track by track.
(Keep in mind the track order was given much consideration and not just thrown in random order. I’d love to go into my ‘A Beautiful Mind’ style process, but I will spare you.)
1. Rockin’ In The U.S.A (2:44)
I decided to make this the album opener after much debate in my own head. I thought it would also make a good album title seeing as the band’s fame in America was at its peak. As far as the song I would only change one thing—it now has duel vocals with Gene and Peter both sharing singing duties on separate verses. Why add Peter? I love when the songs where the guys share vocals and Peter’s vocals would sound good mixed with Gene’s on this one.
2. Snowblind (3:54)
From Ace’s solo album, left just as it is.
3. Rip It Out (3:39)
Another Ace penned song, but with Paul on vocals. WHAT?! Yes, look there are quite a few Ace penned songs on this album and knowing what I know about KISS—Ace wouldn’t be singing them all. For one, going by history, I don’t think Ace would have wanted to sing almost all the songs and Gene and Paul—even if they did let Ace contribute more writing duties, would not have let him completely take over the band. I said I was using reality to paint this fantasy and this is a perfect example. Plus Paul's voice would sound fucking awesome on this song. Just trust me on this.
4. Larger Than Life (3:55)
From side 4 of Alive 2. No changes here.
5. All American Man (3:31)
Also from Alive 2. No changes. It keeps with the USA theme of the album, which I like.
6. Rocket Ride (4:07)
Ace gets to open up side two with one of his signature tunes. No changes.
7. It’s Alright (3:31)
From Paul’s solo album. A little taste of the sound of KISS to come. A great track.
8. Ozone (4:41)
Another Ace solo tune. Gene would do vocals on this one. Listen to the song--it's as if Ace wrote it for Gene to sing. It fits his voice perfectly.
9. Speedin’ Back To My Baby (3:35)
The 2nd song on Ace’s solo album. So far Peter’s vocals have been absent—lets correct that. This song is incredibly suited for Peter’s singing style—and his over all style in general. Of all the transferring of singing duties I’m most happy with this choice.
10. New York Groove (3:01)
An awesome closing track from Ace’s solo album. Also keeping with the U.S.A. theme and with the duel vocals—Ace and Paul would do singing on this one. Come on, tell me you can’t hear Paul singing “Who cares about tomorrow? So baby, you better believe…” In that androgynous New York accent of his. Perfection.
And that would be it. KISS doesn’t separate; they get back in the studio, work as a team and give us a 7th studio album—as it should have been. New York Groove would have still been the hit it was. The album would have sold millions. History is corrected. But wait…if memory serves me right (and it does) KISS’s next studio album would be…
Dynasty, while being a solid album in my opinion, breeds much contention among fans and really was a step in the wrong direction for the band. Now I didn’t just change history for the band to fall flat on its face a year later…what would be the point? Yup, Dynasty will have to be reborn as well.
The most important change to the tracks of Dynasty would be (and this will either make you happy or piss you off) “I Was Made For Loving You” would not be included. BUT---and here's a big BUT, it will be released as a single-only track. Or more than likely featured on the soundtrack of the film Roller Boogie (hey, why not?)
So here is the new track listing for Dynasty—oh and yes, I have changed the album cover. While there is nothing wrong with the original album cover, I can’t see the excellent artwork from the solo albums going to waist.
1. Radioactive (3:50)
See, I told you Gene’s solo album wouldn't completely go to waist. Radioactive is the only song on Gene’s solo album that sounds remotely like KISS. So here it is in all it’s glory with the ominous ‘descent into hell’ intro left unchanged. A perfect opener.
2. 2,000 Man (4:54)
Ace’s classic cover of a Stone’s classic left as is.
3. I’m In Need of Love (4:36)
From Ace’s solo album, but with Gene on lead vocals. Why Gene? Just listen to it and imagine Gene’s deep sleazy & moany vocals. Yup, it works.
4. Hard Times (3:30)
No changes from original.
5. Dirty Livin’ (4:19)
No changes from original.
6. Tonight You Belong To Me (4:39)
From Paul’s solo album. A killer opening for side two.
7. Save Your Love (4:41)
Original the closing track for Dynasty, moved to make way for a more appropriate closer.
8. Charisma (4:25)
Gene’s love letter to himself. No changes from the original.
9. Take Me Away (Together As One)
Paul’s epic masterpiece from his solo album. Carmine Appice played drums originally and brought the thunder…could Peter have done the same? Now we'd have the answer.
There…I like that. You may be asking, “What about ‘Magic Touch' and ‘Sure Know Something’” and my response would be…what about them? I’m trying to recreate a history of KISS that rocks, not one that sucks a fat donky cock.
Ok…are we good? Wait I forgot about…
Right off the bat, lets just get rid of the Music From The Elder—and I actually like that album! But it was a mistake. It was Bob Ezrin’s coked out fever dream and while that works for Pink Floyd (The Wall) and Alice Cooper (Da Da), for KISS it did not. Only the last track “I” will find a home.
Which just leaves Unmasked. If Dynasty was a step in the wrong direction, Unmasked was the destination of the wrong step. The album has parts that work and parts that really do not. Lets get rid of the ones that don’t and see what else we can come up with. I should also mention that Unmasked gets pushed from a 1980 release to and 1981 release. Peter leaves the band just like in reality and Eric Carr ends up playing all drums on this version of Unmasked instead of Music From The Elder.
1. I (3:54)
The best moment from The Elder and a perfect opener for a version of Unmasked that rocks instead of sucks. No changes from the original.
2. Torpedo Girl (3:31)
Need more proof that Ace was the backbone of KISS? He single-handedly saves Unmasked from being a complete turd. Here he is doing what he does best…rockin!
3. Tomorrow (3:18)
Say what you want about this one, but it is finely crafted pop-rock tune and fit with the era. It stays.
4. Partners In Crime (3:45)
From the greatest hits album, Killers. Killers also featured 4 great original studio tracks from Paul (and various co-writers). They certainly rock harder than anything released on Unmasked. Given they were written in this time frame ('81), why not add them to this new, 1981 version of Unmasked?
5. Talk To Me (4:00)
Ace’s best moment on the albums stays as is.
6. I’m A Legend Tonight (3:59)
Another Killers track. A great side 2 opener.
7. X-Ray Eyes (3:46)
A leftover from Dynasty that I feel fits much better on this album.
8. Nowhere to Run (4:32)
From Killers. Such a shame these songs mostly went to waste. Not in this reality, baby!
9. Naked City (3:49)
Another survivor from the original Unmasked. Gene’s vocals are great on this one.
10. Breakout (3:38)
What the? Never heard of this one? Breakout was a song written by Ace and Eric that never made it onto a KISS album. Ace recorded a version of it on his first Frehley’s Comet album and KISS released a jam of it at some point (memory strays). Here I envision it making its way to fruition with Eric on vocal duties. A great song and Eric’s voice would have suited it well.
So that’s that. Unfortunately in this fantasy Ace still needs to leave the band, sober up and find his own path. Vinny Vincent would still take over and Creatures of The Night and Lick It Up would still be released and kick ass. All I did was remove the speed bump in KISS’s original path. Now, I’d like to envision a future where Vinny V stays on and KISS keeps the make-up on and they rule the 80’s with a mighty fist! But that is a fantasy for another time.
"New York Groove" / "Any Way You Want It" (Dave Clark 5 cover)
"All American Man" / "Speedin' Back To My Baby"
"I Was Made For Loving You" / "What's On Your Mind"
"Radioactive" / "Hard Times"
"Dirty Livin' / "Charisma"
"I" / "X-Ray Eyes"
"Tomorrow" / "Is That You?"
"Talk To Me" / "Naked City"