Part 26: You Wanted the Best, You Got the Best…

My Amazon reviewing buddy Tommy Morais suggested that we talk a bit about 80’s Kiss.  And why not?  I think 80’s Kiss is an under appreciated era.  Sure, some of those albums are under par.  But some of those albums are also among the best that Kiss have ever done.

It’s a good suggestion, so I’ll go with it.  Here ya go, Tommy.  80’s Kiss.  My take. In the order I got heard the music.

80’s KISS

I grew up in the 80’s.  While I knew “Rock and Roll All Nite”, my real introduction to Kiss was essentially “Heaven’s On Fire” and “Thrill’s in the Night”.  I saw the videos on Much and was surprised to discover that Kiss were not wearing makeup anymore.  And the songs were rocking and good.  Later on, a buddy brought over Lick It Up, and played, “And On The 8th Day”.  I said, “That doesn’t sound like the same guy singing,” and they said it wasn’t; they explained it was Gene Simmons (the scary looking one).

I was curious and started taping the music videos. 

Asylum (1985)

This wasn’t my first Kiss album, but it was my first 80’s Kiss album.  I had already acquired Hotter Than Hell and Alive (See Part 3: My First Kiss.)

My dad bought it for me at HiWay Market, in Kitchener, where the Zehrs is now.  It didn’t come with lyrics so I had to try and figure out what they were singing, a task I found very difficult. 

I knew “Tears Are Falling” already from the video, and very quickly my next favourite song became “Uh! All Night”.  I thought that the title was embarassingly bad even then, but the riff was so damn catchy.  Much to my surprise, “Uh! All Night” became the next video, loaded with girls.  I had no problem with that.  My next favourite song, “Who Wants to Be Lonely” became the next video.  I realized I had a knack for predicting the next Kiss singles, something I did without fail for the next three albums in a row.

The other two strongest songs on this album are Paul’s “King of the Mountain”, with Eric Carr’s thunderous drum intro, and Gene’s “Secretly Cruel”.  The rest of the songs are in my opinion pretty much filler, although “Radar for Love” isn’t bad.

Animalize (1984)

I taped Animalize off George, next door.  I taped it on a crappy 120 minute Scotch, it was all I had.  It sounded awful, and I think that might be part of the reason why I consider Animalize to be Kiss’ weakest. 

I love the two singles, “Heaven’s on Fire”, and especially “Thrills in the Night”.  My next favourite song is “Get All You Can Take”.  (I had no idea as a kid that the chorus went, “What fucking difference does it make?”  Like I said, I couldn’t really make out Kiss lyrics that well, and I had no lyric sheets.)  I think the rest of the album is very weak, especially when it comes to Gene songs.  “Let me put my log in your fireplace.”  Yow!

Lick It Up (1983)

This was the next 80’s Kiss album I acquired, on cassette, for Christmas of 1985.  My parents bought me a brand new duel tape deck, a Sanyo, and this was the first thing played in it.  I loved Lick It Up.  By now, I knew a lot of these songs from the Kiss Animalize Live Uncensored home video that I taped off George.  Yes this was my first time hearing the studio versions of “Young and Wasted” and “Fits Like A Glove”.   I quickly grew to love “Dance All Over Your Face” and of course “And On The 8th Day”.  Unlike the previous two 80’s Kiss albums, this one was loaded with excellent Gene material.  Finally, I grew to love two Paul songs:  “Exciter” and “A Million To One”.  Only the filler song “Gimme More” really fails to excite me today.

Lick It Up is the first Kiss album featuring their bare faces, played up by Kiss appearing on the front cover in just their every day street clothes of jeans and jackets.  The guitars are performed by Vinnie Vincent, a brilliant player.  When Vinnie is restrained, like he was with Kiss, his tones and solos are absolutely stunning and perfect.  When left to his own devices, he comes up with stuff like Vinnie Vincent Invasion.

This is, to me, tied for best Kiss album of the 80’s.  It is tied with.,.

Creatures of the Night (1982)

I taped this one off George as well.  It swiftly became a favourite.  Chock full of solid rockers, I swiftly found myself drawn to “War Machine” and “Rock and Roll Hell”, both angry and rebellious Gene songs.  There are really no weak tracks off this one.  I think “I Love It Loud” gets pretty boring after a while, but it’s still a classic Kiss song.  The drum sound on the original mix of this album is insane.  If you have the CD with the non-makeup cover, then you have a remixed version.  The drums are toned down.  The original is the superior version, and the one to own (if you only own one.  I don’t, I have both).

Although Ace Frehley was on the original album cover and in the video, we all knew that Ace was essentially out of the band by this time and didn’t play on Creatures. 

Unmasked (1980)

This, the second of the “Kissco” albums, is not particularly one of my favourites.  Even as kids, we found it pretty poppy, with not enough rock and roll.  We liked “Is That You?”, “Talk To Me”, and “Torpedo Girl”, but we found the rest of the album to be incredibly weak.  Much like Creatures, we knew that Peter Criss did not play on Unmasked, even though he was in the video.  The drums are ably performed by Anton Fig, who had previously played on Ace Frehley and Dynasty.

I loved the cover.  I know Gene and Paul don’t think much of the cover now, but you have to get this one on vinyl.  Playing off their comic book excesses, the cover are panels from a comic book, involving Kiss finally unmasking.  (Get it?)  And then they remove their masks, only to reveal that underneath, they still look exactly the same!  Which played into the face that although fans were begging to see Kiss’ faces, they weren’t going to take off the makeup just yet.

Music From “The Elder” (1981)

As the Kiss collection started to complete itself, I realized I eventually needed The Elder.  George dutifully taped Bob and I both copies.  He wrote the titles on virtually illegibly, and we ended up phoning him to ask him what the hell the songs were called!  “George, what does this say?  ‘Escape from the Ish’?  What is that?!”  And why did he write the album title as Music From?

George straightened us out, it was a concept album and that was the title on the actual cover.  “Escape From the Island” was an Ace Frehley instrumental and one of the only songs we liked.  We found the album pretty weak, but there were songs we kept coming back to, such as “The Oath”.  It was a pretty weird sounding album, then and now.  I mean, not too many three chord rock bands make ambitious concept albums, and the result is a blocky, awkward but intriguing mess of songs.  Yet I love this album!  Weird, eh?  Hated it then, though!

Incidentally, if you owned this album, and the concept made no sense, there’s a possible reason:  On the original American releases, the songs are in the wrong order.  The record company felt you needed to start with a rocker like “The Oath”, but the “correct” tracklisting (now available remastered) has “Fanfare” and “Just A Boy” as the start of the story.

Killers (1982)

Bob brought this German LP with the backwards “KIZZ” logo back with him from his summer vacation in 1986.  He returned with Killers and Alive II, which I recorded from him.  I eventually bought his copy of Killers, so this very copy I’m talking about is the one I own today.

Killers was a Europeans hits disc, pink cover, with the band in their Elder-era outfits, headbands andf ponytails.  However it represents a return to the rocking Kiss sounds of old, as it contained four new songs, all sung by Paul:  “I’m a Legend Tonight” (love it!), “Partners In Crime” (meh), “Nowhere To Run” (fave!), and “Down On Your Knees” (pretty decent uptempo Paul rocker). 

Bob and I especially loved “I’m A Legend Tonight”, but “Nowhere To Run” became a close second, and eventually overtook it. 

As a compilation, it’s a good one.  It has all the hits, including the live version of “Rock N’ Roll All Nite” from Alive!  The CD I have is from Japan, and has two extra songs not on the European one:  “Shandi” and “Escape From The Island”, which was edited off their version of The Elder.


Crazy Nights (1987)

For the first time, there was a two-year gap between Kiss albums.  Crazy Nights was a unique album experience for me.  It was the first time I had waited patiently for a Kiss album.  Asylum, which had come out in 1985, was already out when I first started seriously getting into Kiss.  George kept me up to date on all the Kiss news.  That summer, he told me that the album title was Crazy Nights, and that Paul had been writing on keyboards.  Keyboards, in Kiss?

The day the album came out, George got it on LP, and I recorded it as usual.  We listened to it at his place.  I wasn’t sure what to think.  These were all new songs and it didn’t really sound great.  The title track and first single was a lot more pop, we noticed.  Some of the Gene songs were just awful, and some Paul songs, not better.  “I’ll Fight Hell To Hold You” is one that I felt never sounded quite right. 

Little did I know as a fan that Gene Simmons had pretty much clocked out by this time.  He had gone Hollywood and Paul was steering the ship.  As a result, Crazy Nights is pretty Paul heavy, with only a couple decent Gene songs.  “Good Girl Gone Bad” is the best one, a slow burner about a young girl that Gene claims is the “best love I ever had”.  “No No No” is…well, I won’t go as far as to call it a good song, but it was one of the few fast rockers, and featured a smoking hot solo from Bruce.

Once again I predicted the next single, the ballad “Reason To Live”.  Ballads were huge at the time, but that one was not.  It failed to rocket up the charts, maybe because it was too light.  Too many keyboards.  Paul was no longer playing his guitar in videos, he was just wearing it.  This bugged me to no end.  It really, really bugged me.  Not to mention Kiss’ new outfits were anything but cool. 

For the first time, there was a third video, the much better “Turn On The Night”, a Bon Jovi-esque pop rocker with a very catchy chorus and Bruce solo.  Paul wore his guitar again in the video, but at least it was a rocker.  And my favourite song on the album.

Smashes, Thrashes & Hits (1988)

Rumours of breakup swirled in 1988, after the less-than-successful Crazy Nights tour and album.  I hoped and prayed for Kiss to return to rock.  Then, Gene Simmons co-hosted the Pepsi Power Hour in 1988.  He talked mostly about his new label, Simmons Records.  He was promoting his first two singings:  A “funk-urban” singer name Laz Netto (sp?) and a rock band from the ashes of Giuffria and Quiet Riot called House of Lords.  This worried me.  Clearly, Gene’s focus was not on Kiss.

He also announced the forthcoming release of a new hits album called Smashes, Thrashes & Hits.  It was to feature two new songs produced by Paul Stanley, he said, “You Put the X in Sex” (sic), and “(You Make Me) Rock Hard”.  He also said there was to be a new version of Beth, with Eric Carr singing.  At the time, to me, this didn’t bother me as a concept.  I liked Eric’s voice, but he had never sung lead on an album before, so this should be cool.  Unfortunately, Eric put no rasp in his voice, which I think sank his version.

As for the two new singles/videos?  Not only was “Let’s Put the X in Sex” pure pop again, but Paul wasn’t even wearing his guitar in the video!  He was just…dancing!  Dancing!!  “Rock Hard” was a better song, but once again, Paul was dancing.  And Gene?  He was completely clocked out.  Not only did he look like a transvestite, but he couldn’t even lip sync the lyrics correctly.  Watch the video.  Check it out.  At around 1:50, the lyric, “You turn me ’round”.  You can clearly see Gene mouth the words as “You turn me up”.  You doesn’t even know the words to the damn song, he was so clocked out at that point.

Hot In The Shade (1989)

Paul did a brief solo tour with Bob Kulick and Eric Singer, and promised Kiss would be back later that year with a new album.  Paul’s promise was true, and in the fall I sat and watched the new Kiss video, “Hide Your Heart”.  I hoped it would not suck.

It didn’t!

Paul was playing a guitar again!  And it wasn’t some candy-coloured modern guitar, it was a vintage one.  The song was catchy with a good chorus, but was not overtly pop.  The video wasn’t about hot girls anymore, but had a story to it.  Perfect!  Kiss had finally started to catch up with where I thought they should have been going.

I picked up the album on cassette in Pickering, Ontario while on school field trip to the nuclear plant, of all things.  We stopped at a mall for lunch, and I picked it up at an A&A.  It was long and it took a while to absorb, but I immediately loved the pedal steel solo that opened the album.  That’s what I’m talking about!  It might not have been anything vintage Kiss would have done, but at least it was about the roots of rock again, not keyboards and ballads.

Once again I predicted the singles:  “Forever”, the acoustic ballad, was a great song with yet another killer Bruce solo.   You had to have at least one ballad back then, and Kiss gave us just one out of the 15 songs.  And it was an acoustic ballad, not a keyboard one.  Bonus.

The third and final and most confusing single was “Rise To It”.  Confusing because Gene and Paul put the makeup back on in the video.   In a flashback scene, Paul and Gene sit in a dressing room putting on their makeup, discussing the future of the band.  Could they survive without makeup?  Paul says yes, Gene says he’s nut.  Eric and Bruce, backs turned to the camera, “play” Ace and Peter.  Flash to the present day, Kiss kicking ass without makeup at a live show, then back to the dressing room.  “Yeah, I guess you’re right,” Gene concedes, as they walk out together, fully suited up.

What were they trying to tell us?

It is known now that Kiss were attempting to woo Ace back into the band.  It would be a return to makeup, and the Elder lineup of Stanley/Simmons/Carr/Frehley for a tour.  For the first time, Kiss did not tour to support the album when it was released, but waited until 1990.  By then, the album had petered out, and Ace had declined.  The co-headlining tour with Whitesnake culminated in a disasterours show in Toronto where Paul trashed Whitesnake to the crowd for not letting Kiss use their full stage gear.  The crowd in turn booed Whitesnake, the first time, according to Steve Vai, he had ever been booed on stage.  He had walked onto the stage in front of a crowd cheering, “Yngwie, Yngwie, Yngwie…”, but had never been booed, until Paul trashed Whitesnake on stage.  Kiss did return later that year with their full Sphynx stage show.

Anyway, that was the 90’s.  As far as the 80’s ended, I thought and still think that Hot In the Shade was a step back in the right direction.  At 15 songs, it was too bogged down with filler, and I don’t think it sounded that great.  I never liked Bruce’s guitar sound on it, I felt it was unappealling.  I liked that Eric Carr had a proper lead vocal on his own song (“Little Caesar”) and I liked that the album ended with a seriously heavy rocker, Gene’s thrash-like “Boomerang”.  I was no longer embarassed by the band.

When they would finally return again in the 90’s, they had lost Eric Carr.  But they had also righted the good ship Kiss, with the excellent Revenge. 

But that, dear friends, is another story….

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