classic riffs

#712: Does Paul Stanley Get Enough Credit for Writing Killer Riffs?

GETTING MORE TALE #712: Does Paul Stanley Get Enough Credit for Writing Killer Riffs?

Think for a moment about the greatest guitar riffs of all time.  “Smoke on the Water”, “You Really Got Me”, “Iron Man”, and “Whole Lotta Love” might make your own personal favourites.  Indeed, these songs usually show up on any decent list of great rock riffs.  Planet Rock did a dubious list in 2017, featuring the classics and questionable choices like The Darkness.  It also featured a number of hot licks by Hendrix, Ozzy, and Van Halen.  The usual suspects.  They do get points for including Budgie’s “Breadfan”.

I once read a quote by a guitar player* who said he hated Jimmy Page because “He already wrote all the greatest riffs, and I’m jealous.”  Tony Iommi, Ritchie Blackmore, the Young brothers and even the young fellas from Metallica are often credited as the greatest riffmasters in rock.  They’ve all done their part to enrich our lives with memorable, chunky and headbangin’ guitar riffs.  But so have others.

Consider Kiss’ Paul Stanley.  Once upon a time, the singer was considered one of the best with very few rivals.  You’d often see his name on singers’ lists with guys like Freddie Mercury and Ronnie James Dio.  Paul must, absolutely, be considered one of the greatest frontmen in history.  That is hard to dispute.  On the other hand, few give him credit for his guitar.

“I’m no slouch,” said Paul of his guitar playing.  He’s even responsible for some Kiss solos.  But as a riff writer?  We rarely think of Stanley, yet behold the songs!  Looking only at tracks with lone Paul Stanley writing credits, the list of monster riffs is impressive.

  • “Black Diamond”
  • “Hotter Than Hell”
  • “C’mon and Love Me”
  • “Rock Bottom”
  • “God of Thunder”
  • “I Stole Your Love”
  • “Love Gun”
  • “Tonight You Belong To Me”
  • “Magic Touch”

Paul had some pretty awesome riffs on co-written songs like “Mr. Speed”, “Makin’ Love” and “Creatures of the Night”, but since other writers may have contributed, we’ll exclude those.  This list also doesn’t include his catchy acoustic riffs like “Hard Luck Woman”, or lesser-known later material like “Modern Day Delilah”. If you wanted to delve further into Sonic Boom and Monster, there’s plenty of Paul’s guitar thunder without co-writers.  This is strictly a list of the most impactful material:  the 1970s.

So Stanley doesn’t get enough credit.  Does this make him a riff master, up there with the other guys?

I’m going to go out on a limb:  Maybe, leaning towards yes.

“God of Thunder”, “I Stole Your Love” and “Love Gun” are monolithic enough to stand next to an Iommi or Blackmore riff.  Just like a Deep Purple fan knows there is more to them than just “durrh durrh durrh!”, a Kiss fan can recommend a number of rock solid riffs from their albums.  A huge number of those are Paul’s, although certainly Gene did just fine with “Deuce”.  “Deuce”, admitted Gene, is just a Stones lick played backwards.  Paul’s best stuff is less derivative than that.  “God of Thunder” is just that — “God of Thunder”.  You can say it sounds vaguely Sabbathy, but it doesn’t sound like anything specific.  Same with “I Stole Your Love”.  As for “Hotter Than Hell”?  Much like a great Sabbath song, it boasts two killer riffs in one track!

Elitists like to scoff; make fun of adults in makeup and spandex.  Fair enough.  Tony Iommi never needed makeup or particularly tight pants to be a rock star.  Sabbath played with the “Satanic” gimmick but didn’t rely as heavily on image and flash.  Kiss wouldn’t have made it in the first place without the makeup and costumes, but as they developed, they had the music to back it up.

Do yourself a favour and go back to listen to Paul’s classic guitar riffs.  They are often highlights of the song, little rock solid gems that are ready for air guitar.  He really hasn’t received the credit due for coming up with a number of simple, solid and dynamic riffs on his own.  Should his name be spoken with Page, Blackmore, or Young when talking of riffs?  We’ve made our case, so get Kiss’ed on these classics.

 

 

 

Might have been Nuno Bettencourt

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REVIEW: Rock Aid Armenia – Smoke on the Water: The Metropolis Sessions

ROCK AID ARMENIA – Smoke on the Water: The Metropolis Sessions (2010 Edel CD/DVD set)

When some of the biggest names in both British and Canadian rock combined together to re-record “Smoke on the Water”, as a mega-collaboration charity track, I don’t care who you are:  You gotta listen!   Originally released as “Smoke on the Water ’90” on The Earthquake Album, it didn’t garner the attention of, say, a Hear N’ Aid, but it’s definitely a noteworthy track.  The Earthquake Album contained just the radio mix, which was an edited down version lacking Paul Rodgers.  This package on the other hand is a CD/DVD combo set including all 4 versions of “Smoke ’90” and a documentary.

The region 0 encoded DVD is 40 minutes long, and filled with incredible behind-the-scenes footage and candid interviews.  First, an explanation of the cause:  rebuilding a children’s music school in Armenia, destroyed in a 1988 earthquake.  Then, the musicians arrive!  Roger Taylor (Queen) is first in the door.  Can’t do anything without the drums!  He shows off his considerable chops while warming up.  Chris Squire (Yes) is next, who reveals that all egos have been dealt with in advance of the recording.  Brian May turns up with a broken arm (skateboarding accident) to offer his support; he would return to record after the arm has healed.  The recording takes place over five separate sessions.  One benefit of this arrangement was that it enabled Ritchie Blackmore to show up, without having to see Ian Gillan!

IOMMI MAYOh, to be in that room…

Soon to arrive:  Tony Iommi.  Paul Rodgers.  Bruce Dickinson.  David Gilmour.  Alex Lifeson.  Two keyboardists:  Keith Emerson and Geoff Downes.  Even Bryan Adams sings some backing vocals, after he turned up just to check out the recording studio!  (Gilmour can’t help but take a stab at Rogers Waters during the interview segments.)  Incidentally, I found it cool that Rodgers recorded his vocals with a hand-held mike.

I’ve always been a fan of this version of “Smoke”; in fact this was the first version of that I ever heard, 23 years ago.  The band was dubbed Rock Aid Armenia.  They got together in late ’89, and recorded this updated sounding cover.  Gillan, Dickinson and Rodgers handled the lead vocals, in that order.  It’s great to hear Iommi playing those chunky chords again.  Chris Squire’s bass work is fairly simple, but perfect.

The CD includes an updated 2010 remix that cuts down a lot of Keith Emerson’s cheesey keyboards.  Emerson stated that he wanted to put his own stamp on his parts, based on ELP’s “Fanfare for the Common Man”.  He probably wouldn’t be happy to be mixed down on this version, but his keys always stood out like a sore thumb to me.  The 2010 mix adds in a lot more previously unheard guitar fills instead. Other extras include a previously unreleased version of the song, with an entire Ian Gillan vocal take.

This is a great little-known recording, and I’m glad an obscurity like this has finally been reissued properly.

4/5 stars

Footnote:  In 2011 and 2012, Gillan and Iommi followed this with a single and compilation album under the name WhoCares; also featuring Nicko McBrain, Jon Lord and Jason Newsted!