I’m going to publish reviews of every Kiss album, including compilations, gearing up for the 2012 release of Monster!
KISS – Kiss (1974)
KISStory began in 1973 when Ace Frehley joined Paul Stanley, Peter Criss, and Gene Simmons. The band rose from the ashes of Wicked Lester, a 5-piece band featuring Stanley and Simmons who cut a record for Epic. The record was never released but some of the material here originated in the Wicked Lester days.
Produced by Kenny Kerner and Richie Wise (as was the next album, Hotter Than Hell), Kiss lacks that “oomph” of guitar that the band would become noted for later on. Most songs, even powerful fast ones like “Deuce”, rely on rock-and roll-guitars with a little more jangle to them. The tempos are often a bit slower than the versions the band would play (see: Alive!) but the spirit is there in this basic rock recording.
The first song, “Strutter” introduced Kiss to the record-buying public. Everybody knows “Strutter”, just as strong today as in 1974. “Nothin’ To Lose” is next, one of my all time favourite Kiss songs and is sung by Gene, Paul and the catman himself Peter Criss. It’s a rock-and-roll song made special by the three vocalists, a gimmick which I wish Kiss would have used more often. “Firehouse” follows this, complete with sirens, and is quite a bit slower than live versions and plods a bit. Ace’s song “Cold Gin” is next, sung by Simmons, a man who never gets drunk which always struck me as an odd pairing. It’s another classic, again a bit slower than live versions but with that great riff intact. Side 1 ends with one of Paul’s earliest songs “Let Me Know”. It was previously known as “Sunday Driver”, which features in the first line of the song: “Let me be your Sunday driver, let me be your Monday man.” Gene sings the verses and Paul sings the bridge. It features a coda that Kiss often played live attached to other, later songs such as “She” or “Watchin’ You”.
Side 2 began (on reissue versions) with the cover tune “Kissin’ Time”. This song was released as a single first, and added to the album later. It’s nothing special even though it does again feature all three singers. (Frehley would not sing a lead until Love Gun.) “Deuce”, which should have kicked off side two, is a song everybody knows. It is Gene’s signature song, a tune which Ace played as a solo artist as well, simply because he loves the song. This version is almost asgood as the Alive! version. Next, “Love Theme From Kiss”; a meandering instrumental. It was once called “Acrobat” and featured a second part known in fan circles as “You’re Much Too Young”. That part was chopped before the studio version was recorded, and later became the main riff to “Detroit Rock City”. “100,000 Years” begins with a trademark Gene Simmons bass slide, and then goes into that great groove with Paul taking the lead vocal. This is as grooviest as Kiss ever get, although again the Alive!version is superior. The album ends with the first Kiss epic, “Black Diamond”. It starts with a mellow acoustic opening, Paul’s smooth vocal, and “ooh ooh” backgrounds. Then there’s a countdown, Paul yells “Hit it!” and the whole band kicks in. Peter sings the rest of the song. It is an absolute classic and one of Kiss’s very best.
On the album cover: You’ll notice some rare things. Ace has silver in his hair, and Peter’s makeup is completely different. The reason given is that Peter had a professional do his makeup for the cover whereas the rest of the guys did their own. I’m not sure why Ace’s hair is silver but I’m sure it was impractical. If it wasn’t for these oddities, I think this cover image would be more iconic in Kisstory, because it is otherwise very cool. They were going for that iconic Meet the Beatles type of simple image, and they came close to nailing it.
The first three Kiss albums share a common “rock-and-roll” sound with less distortion and more jangly guitars. Most fans consider the Alive! versions to be superior. I would tend to agree. Still, this was the start: it’s remarkable just how many of these songs would become Kiss classics and would be played live through the years. In fact by my counting there are no less than 8 out of 10 songs here that are bonafide classics in Kisstory.