“Alright people, let me tell you something. There’s a lot of people…well I should say there’s a lot of maniacs out there…who wanna see all the Kiss albums ranked! Are you one of those people? I said are you one of those people? Well if you’re one of those Kiss maniacs like I know you are…then you gotta meet Mr. Jonathan Lee over here. He may be young but he’s a rock and roller! When he challenges you to make a Kiss list, you better believe he’s serious people! So let me hear it! You wanna see some Kiss lists? Then let’s rock and roll all nite and party every day!”
Happy birthday to Jonathan too!
LINK TO JONATHAN’S LIST: CLICK HERE TO SHOUT IT OUT LOUD!
24. HOT IN THE SHADE (1989)
OK, so I know Jonathan has a boner for this album. I have some personal history. I was in grade 12 and Hot in the Shade was a critical album for me. Kiss had to reclaim some integrity after the Pop Jovi of Crazy Nights. And in terms of direction, they did. 15 songs, one ballad, hella diversity: from thrash to funk to horn sections, Kiss were really going for it. It was harder edged and keyboards were severely toned down from Crazy Nights. Unfortunately, Hot in the Shade is the “kitchen sink” album for Kiss. They threw absolutely everything at the wall and a few things stuck, but most didn’t. The production was also lacklustre. Highlights are the three singles, Bruce Kulick’s guitar solo on “Forever”, and Eric Carr’s first original lead vocal (and last), “Little Caesar”. 15 tracks, most filler.
23. CRAZY NIGHTS (1987)
Another highschool Kiss album, and one that had me slightly embarrassed for my rock and roll heroes. Paul was dancing in the music videos, not playing guitar. Paul stated that he was writing on keyboards, and the album was bogged down with them. Gene seemed clearly in the back seat of the car, with Paul driving and Bruce & Eric just passengers. There are a lot of catchy songs on Crazy Nights, and a few misfires like “No No No”, “I’ll Fight Hell To Hold You” and…ugh…”Bang Bang You”. At the time, it really did feel like it was the end for Kiss. Breakup rumours circulated in the rock mags and they were not hard to believe.
22. PSYCHO-CIRCUS (1998)
The infamous “Kiss reunion album” is one that I play the least. Overly polished by Bruce Fairbairn (rest in peace), this was not the kind of sound anyone wanted from the original lineup. And of course, with the benefit of hindsight, we know it wasn’t the original lineup at all. Tommy Thayer and Kevin Valentine played more on this album than Ace and Peter. They were mere tokens on an album they were deemed insufficient to play on. Psycho-Circus was a fail, with a few tracks that could have really meant something if the originals played on them. Highlights: “Journey of 1000 Years” and the title track.
21. PETER CRISS (1978)
While I’ve grown to appreciate the Catman’s solo album more in recent years, there is little question that Peter Criss was absolutely lost. There’s nothing wrong with following your heart and wanting to play some soft rock. The unfortunate thing is that Criss didn’t have the songs nor the vocal chops to compete with the likes of Rod Stewart. Peter doesn’t have the same vocal charisma to carry an album like this for non-Kiss fans. And this album really isn’t going to appeal to 90% of Kiss fans.
20. ANIMALIZE (1984)
Animalize sucks. While it may be a platinum success due to the hit single “Heaven’s On Fire”, this Paul-led travesty is bogged down with filler that the old Kiss never would have bothered with. The best song, “Thrills In the Night”, is one that Kiss have dismissed in the years since. One of the worst songs, “Burn Bitch Burn” contains the infamous Gene Simmons lyric, “I’m gonna put my log in your fireplace”. Not even remotely clever and only funny for how bad it is. Gene was busy with the film Runaway and was pretty much checked out of Kiss. The most interesting thing about the album is that future Kiss guitarist Bruce Kulick played on two tracks. Jean Beauvoir, Mitch Weissman, and Allan Schwartzberg also played ghost tracks, diluting the real Kiss.
19. ASYLUM (1985)
Though it sold half as well as Animalize, the followup Asylum was marginally better. Bruce Kulick was on board with three writing credits, and the songs were an improvement. Simmons was still checked-out, and Paul was left to do all the heavy lifting. It did produce three singles, one of which (“Tears Are Falling”) was resurrected in the set occasionally on the tours after. Sonically it’s a virtual carbon copy of its predecessor.
18. GENE SIMMONS (1978)
Nobody expected this. Gene might have had the most “heavy metal” image of the original Kiss members, but his solo album was anything but. Climaxing with “When You Wish Upon A Star” from Pinocchio, the album ran the gamut from genre to genre, with dozens of guest stars including Cher, Joe Perry, Bob Seger, Donna Summer, Rick Neilsen, and many more. The best tunes might be Gene’s folksy acoustic songs like “See You Tonite” and “Mr. Make Believe”. Ditch the crap like “Tunnel of Love” and “True Confessions”.
17. CARNIVAL OF SOULS: THE FINAL SESSIONS) (1997)
Not everybody was enthused about Kiss going grunge. While I recognized it as the best way for them to survive in the early 1990s, the album was delayed and eventually cancelled by the 1996 reunion tour. When it was finally released in late 1997, it seemed like Kiss didn’t even care about it. There was no booklet and the original cover art was absent. The album is notable for Bruce Kulick’s debut lead vocal on “I Walk Alone”, but the guitarist was already out of the band by the time it was released. There are good songs here, particularly the heavy as fuck Gene songs like “Hate”, “In My Head” and “I Confess”, but the Paul song “Jungle” was the clear immediate highlight. Regardless, it’s undeniable that this album was contrived and far too inspired by current happenings. It’s like how The Elder was a strange pseudo-progressive one-off, Carnival of Souls is their sole pseudo-grunge album.
16. SONIC BOOM (2009)
Back in the 90s, I used to imagine what it would be like producing a new Kiss album after Psycho-Circus. I had certain rules I wanted the band to adhere to. Two of them were: no outside writers, and no outside musicians. Just Kiss. When Kiss finally returned to the studio after almost a decade, that’s exactly what they did. The only difference was that Ace and Peter were gone, replaced by Tommy Thayer and Eric Singer. They ditched the keyboards, the ballads, and the commercialisms. They wrote and recorded a solid rock and roll album, and it’s not too bad. A few songs could go – “Stand”, “Hot and Cold”, and “Never Enough” perhaps. A few songs should have gone down as Kiss classics, “Say Yeah” in particular. As a bonus, Tommy and Eric both had their first official album debuts as lead singers (“Lightning Strikes” and “All For the Glory”). On the flipside, this is the point at which Paul’s vocal issues were first heard on a studio album.
15. MONSTER (2012)
The followup to Sonic Boom was bigger and better. It was certainly heavier, which some fans didn’t like. The production turned some off, while delighting others who wanted the music to kick them in the balls. With 13 new songs, there was plenty of room for filler: “Freak”, “Long Way Down”, “Eat Your Heart Out”, “Shout Mercy”. There was also lots of room for improvement, and we definitely got that with “All For the Love of Rock and Roll” with lead vocals by Eric Singer. This classic rocker has a truly vintage Kiss vibe, along the lines of an old Peter Criss tunes. “Hell or Hallelujah”, “Wall of Sound” and “Take Me Down Below” were also worth your listening time. It was clear Kiss hadn’t lost it, but it’s a shame that this will likely be their final album ever.
14. (MUSIC FROM) THE ELDER (1981)
Traditionally, The Elder used to be at the bottom of all the lists you’d see in magazines. A misfire? Absolutely. A unique treasure regardless? Arguably! Kiss’ version of progressive rock is really just Neatherthal Prog, but there’s something to be said for that. Songs like “The Oath” and “I” still have the riff power, albeit in a strange muddy mix. Blame the cocaine that Bob Ezrin was doing. “Just A Boy” and “Odyssey” are lovely songs if silly and bombastic. The concept is baffling even if you put the songs in the correct order (as on the remaster) but The Elder has a certain naive charm.
13. REVENGE (1992)
Revenge could be the most important Kiss album that isn’t from the 1970s. They were shit out of luck commercially and musically bankrupt after Hot In the Shade. They needed to right the ship and to do that, Kiss made several changes. 1) They heavied up. 2) They got back together with Bob Ezrin. 3) Gene got his head back in the game. 4) Gene and Paul even sang together again and shared a writing credit for the first time in ages. Unfortunately, the biggest change was in the drum stool. After a short but mighty fight with cancer, drummer Eric Carr passed away in November of 1991. In tribute, the track “Carr Jam” was resurrected from the Elder sessions, featuring a Carr drum solo. After his passing, Paul recruited the drummer from his solo tour, Eric Singer. No real duds on this album, but there’s a certain flavour that does not match up with Kiss’ 1970s output.
12. UNMASKED (1980)
Kiss’ most pop album by a long shot. Peter was on the cover, but Anton Fig was on drums. This album took years and years and much cajoling to finally appreciate. Pop is a funny thing. As rockers, we are conditioned to distrust and dismiss pop. Once we learn that pop isn’t a dirty word, we can listen to Unmasked open minded. There are lots of great tunes on Unmasked since as “Is That You?”, “Tomorrow”, and “What Makes the World Go ‘Round”. What’s really special is that Ace Frehley had three lead vocals and co-writes on the album, including the hit “Talk To Me” and the funky fun of “Torpedo Girl”. “Two Side of the Coin” was the third irresistible Frehley concoction, and possibly the best of the three.
11. ACE FREHLEY (1978)
Though often considered the best of all the solo albums…is it really? While certainly a great album, including “Rip It Out”, “Speeding Back to My Baby”, and “What’s On Your Mind”, there are some songs here that are not at the same level. Still let’s not crap on Ace’s album. We’re just explaining why it’s not higher on this list. Ace’s was one of only two of the Kiss solo albums that rocked (Paul’s being the other). Ace’s had no ballads, just a killer spacey instrumental called “Fractured Mirror”. It also has “New York Groove”, the biggest hit from any of the solo albums, and a tune that Kiss played live in concert for a couple years. You still hear it on radio and on TV today!
10. DESTROYER (1976)
The big one. The daddy of all Kiss albums. “Beth”. “God of Thunder”. “Shout It Out Loud”. “King of the Night Time World”. You know ’em. And you especially know “Detroit Rock City”, the Destroyer staple of all Destroyer staples. Bob Ezrin took Kiss up several notches, for better or for worse. His producer’s touch is unmistakable for anyone who’s heard an Alice Cooper album or The Wall. He brought Kiss into the big leagues. Destroyer might have some filler, though your experience may vary. I could live without “Flaming Youth”, “Do You Love Me”, and “Sweet Pain”.
9. DYNASTY (1979)
Heavy Disco. Is that a term? After releasing four solo albums to limited success, Kiss had started to backfire. They needed something big, and that was “I Was Made For Lovin’ You”. Kiss were always influenced by what was going on around them, but this time some fans were embarrassed for them. There’s a lot to like here, including lead vocals from all four Kiss members. Ace Frehley had three in “Hard Times”, “Save Your Love” and the Stones cover “2000 Man”. Alas, Peter Criss only had one, a lucklustre “Dirty Livin'”, also the only song he played drums on. Anton Fig played uncredited on everything else. The end was nigh, but the album was strong with Stanley tunes like “Sure Know Something”, one of his best love songs, and “Magic Touch”. Unusually, Simmons only had two songs and neither were as strong as Paul’s.
8. DRESSED TO KILL (1975)
Of the original three, Dressed to Kill might be the most underwhelming despite the inclusion of “Rock and Roll all Night”. It’s great – -don’t get me wrong — but I prefer the other two. Over the years I’ve grown to love Dressed to Kill more and more for its deep cuts. Stuff like “Two Timer”. But the centerpiece is C’mon and Love Me”, one of Paul Stanley’s most incendiary guitar riffs. This album and the self-titled debut share a certain vintage “rock and roll” production value, many steps away from heavy metal. It’s quaint.
7. KISS (1974)
This album and Dressed to Kill are a pair. The difference is the debut has more classic songs. Just about all of ’em in fact. “Cold Gin”, “Deuce”, “Strutter”, “Black Diamond”, “Firehouse”, “100,000 Years”, “Nothin’ To Lose”, “Let Me Know”…that’s eight stone cold classics right there. That leaves only the instrumental “Love Theme from Kiss” and the single “Kissin’ Time” as filler. Impressive. A lot of concert perennials came from this album, and Kiss won’t let you forget ’em.
6. ROCK AND ROLL OVER (1976)
After the lush and orchestrated Destroyer album, Kiss had two choices. Continue along that road and see where it led, or try and recapture their rock and roll roots. Although they would later attempt to re-capture the Destroyer vibe on Psycho-Circus, the choice was to go rock and roll again. They recruited Eddie Kramer of Kiss Alive fame and holed up in a small theater to capture a “live” vibe. They didn’t, but Rock and Roll Over does harken back a bit to their first albums. Lots of classics here with “Hard Luck Woman” as the best of them. A few duds like “Baby Driver”.
5. LOVE GUN (1977)
Kiss didn’t stray too far from the formula when they followed up Rock and Roll Over with Love Gun. This time they had a strong batch of songs including the dual highlights “I Stole Your Love” and “Love Gun”. Ace Frehley stepped up with his first ever lead vocal, “Shock Me”, and there was no turning back for the spaceman. Simmons had a dud with “Almost Human” but also provided the classic (but creepy) “Christine Sixteen”. Even Peter’s “Hooligan” has a primitive charm. Love Gun is enjoyable any time, any day.
4. LICK IT UP (1983)
It’s neck and neck when it comes to Lick It Up and Creatures, the two albums of the Vinnie Vincent era. Creatures probably has the better pack of tunes but Lick It Up is no slouch. There’s some filler (“Gimme More”) but this is rock solid. Deep cuts “A Million To One”, “Dance All Over Your Face” and “And On the 8th Day” are on the same level as the hits “Lick It Up” and “All Hell’s Breaking Loose”. Then we get to tunes like “Exciter” and “Not For the Innocent” and you have an incredibly strong and heavy Kiss album. No ballads, no pop, no compromise. The fact that this is the first Kiss album without makeup is the only commercial hook. Everything else sounds like Kiss were writing what they wanted to. Vinnie saved Kiss? Not really but two albums in the top five speaks to his songwriting and lead work while in Kiss.
3. CREATURES OF THE NIGHT (1982)
Kiss were in trouble at the start of the 80s. They lost a considerable amount of credibility with the “disco albums” and The Elder. A European compilation called Kiss Killers with four new songs indicated that Kiss were ready to put the experimenting to rest and rock again. By the time they had assembled Creatures of the Night, they had gone full-blown heavy metal. My friend Uncle Meat would call it “heavy metal bullshit” because it was most certainly a contrived move on Kiss’ part. The sincerity here comes from young Eric Carr, who blew the nuts off the album so hard with his drum parts that in 1985 they tried to tame the beast with a remix. Channeling his inner John Bonham, the Fox was the star of Creatures, regardless of some very strong songs. But all was not well. He may have been on the cover and video, but Ace Frehley was not on the album. Secretly, young Vinnie Cusano wrote and played on a number of songs. Also a young Canadian upcomer named Bryan Adams co-wrote several songs. In return, Eric Carr co-wrote “Don’t Leave Me Lonely” which Adams recorded, Creatures was the last hoorah of the makeup era, and indicative of the changing times, was the first Kiss album with only two lead vocalists: Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley.
2. PAUL STANLEY (1978)
Now here’s a hot take! Paul solo at number two? You better believe it people. I’ll tell you something, you know it too, Paul Stanley could write a Kiss song in his sleep! Well oh-yeah! And let me tell you something else and you better believe it! Bob Kulick – lead guitar! And people, every song on here coulda been a Kiss classic! There’s a lot of people out there, well I should say there’s a lot of diehards out there who like Ace best. Ace fans lemme hear ya! But I’ll tell ya something else — Paul ain’t no slouch!
If the solo albums prove only one thing, it is that Paul Stanley was the only member of Kiss who had nothing to get off his hairy chest. Peter clearly had things he wanted to do. Simmons was able to indulge his every decadent desire. Frehley was able to do an entire album true to his own unique style and personality, and being the heaviest of the albums, fans absolutely loved it. But Paul’s is nine songs of quintessential Paul Kiss. It’s what he would have been doing anyway. But it is oh so very good with no filler, and some oustanding rockers. Even the schlocky power ballad “Hold Me Touch Me” strikes the right chord, with Stanley delivering one of his best guitar solos. Yes, on the ballad, that’s Paul on lead guitar! Well oh-yeah, lemme hear ya!
1. HOTTER THAN HELL (1974)
Kiss’ worst sounding album is my favourite. It was inevitable. It was my first Kiss! And when I first heard it, it was on a kid’s Fischer Price turntable. In mono, with the worst stylus. It doesn’t sound much worse than that. But that’s all I had for listening to records. It didn’t matter. I listened to Hotter Than Hell night after night after getting it in a trade at age 13. I loved it, every song.
Age 13 was the worst year for bullying at my school. I took refuge in Kiss, Iron Maiden, W.A.S.P., Helix, and Judas Priest, but it was mostly Kiss. I didn’t have a lot of money so I taped the Kiss albums one by one from my neighbor George. In fact I traded my Kiss album to George, as it was one of only two that he still needed. I got a wealth of goodies in return, and he taped Hotter Than Hell for me on a Scotch 120 minute cassette. So don’t talk to me about this album sounding worse than Born Again by Black Sabbath. That’s my favourite Sabbath album anyway.
There is no filler on Hotter Than Hell. “Goin’ Blind”, “Watching You”, “Got to Choose”, “Mainline”, “Parasite”, the title track…I would not want to live without any of them. “All the Way” matters to me in a big way. I remember singing it loudly during gym class, the only way to tolerate such a class. No wonder I had no friends! Only “Strange Ways” could really be argued to deserve the chopping block. I know Jonathan doesn’t care for “Let Me Go Rock and Roll”, but he’s wrong. I love when Kiss go old school.
The fact that my mom and dad didn’t mind me listening to Kiss, and bought me Kiss tapes when I asked for them, is one of the best things about my childhood. I love you mom and dad,
And though not as much, I love Kiss. And this is my favourite Kiss album, and has been since I first heard it in 1985.
We chose to exclude the following albums on our lists, but they all deserve mention.
KISS ALIVE! My other first Kiss album! But this one I kept. As a kid, live albums were not as good as studio albums but over the years I have grown to understand. I love Kiss Alive. Top five album.
KISS ALIVE II Notable for its five studio tracks. Bob Kulick played on four.
DOUBLE PLATINUM Worth mentioning for its new version of “Strutter” called “Strutter ’78”. Also features a bunch of remixes. A cornerstone Kiss compilation that makes a good “first”.
KISS KILLERS Four new songs, available only in Europe and Japan. Mostly good songs, with Paul on lead vocals. “I’m A Legend Tonight” and “Nowhere To Run” are important songs in my Kiss upbringing.
SMASHES, THRASHES & HITS Two new songs and the much hated new version of “Beth” with Eric Carr singing. People hated the new Paul songs (too cheesy and commercial) and Eric Carr had misgivings about singing Peter Criss’ signature song. It seemed that Paul and Gene didn’t want Ace or Peter to have any lead vocals on this 1988 compilation.
New and unreleased songs also appeared on albums such as Alive IV, Kiss 40, the Kiss Box Set and more. We could have gone to town but this seems like enough to capture the Kiss that really matters. I hope you enjoyed this list!