July 21, 2011
By Mike Devlin, Times Colonist

Gene Simmons didn't get famous by accident. The tongue-wagging, blood-spitting, fire-breathing bassist for KISS is among the world's biggest stars, in part because of his larger-than-life personality. His mantra? The bigger - and more expensive - the better.

Of late, he has been helped by Gene Simmons Family Jewels, the reality show that features Simmons and his family. It has become a huge hit, enough so that a tour featuring the cast is currently underway. Simmons and his clan will be at the View Royal Casino on Saturday (noon to 3 p.m.) for a public meet-and-greet that will most definitely be over the top.

While television has made him a celebrity, it's important to remember the role KISS has played in his life. The group is still out on the road gigging, and is playing with a voracity that hasn't ebbed in 35 years. Simmons - especially when he dons his makeup and calls himself the Demon - is a huge part of that.

Need proof? Here are 10 songs by KISS on which Simmons takes over on lead vocals.

1. Rock and Roll All Nite (1975). A by-the-book but rousing sing-along that does its business in under three minutes, Rock and Roll All Nite is perhaps KISS's finest song, if not its best-known. Taken from the band's third studio album, Dressed to Kill, the anthem benefits from a wicked lead vocal by Simmons. Rock and Roll All Nite still qualifies as the band's most fist-pumping moment, on record and in concert.

2. God of Thunder (1976). Following closely on the heels of its legendary live album, 1975's Alive!, the band issued Destroyer to keep the career momentum in motion. KISS's fourth full-length proved to be its commercial and critical breakthrough, thanks to singles Shout it Out Loud, Detroit Rock City and Beth, the band's first Top 10 hit.

The album's other notable track, God of Thunder, was written by Paul Stanley for Simmons, who has since made the song his unofficial calling card.

3. Calling Dr. Love (1976). Written by Simmons from the standpoint of a "doctor" whose specialty is satisfying persons of the female variety, Calling Dr. Love fit in perfectly with the bassist's sexual reputation at the time, which didn't hurt the song's chart chances. It wasn't the biggest hit on Rock and Roll Over (that was the Peter Criss-sung Hard Luck Woman) but it certainly lives on in infamy as one the band's most notable.

4. Christine Sixteen (1977). There are no shortage of double entendres on Love Gun, a recording whose sexual innuendo starts with the album title and worms its way through each of the 10 songs included. The band's sixth studio album features not one but two salacious songs about girls turning the corner on their teen years, though Simmons's Christine Sixteen - which was sampled heavily on rapper Tone Loc's Funky Cold Medina - is considered the better of the pair.

5. Plaster Caster (1977). Simmons was inspired to write and sing one of the best songs in the KISS catalogue by Cynthia Plaster Caster, a groupie who gained fame for making plaster casts of the genitalia of male rock stars. While there is no evidence to suggest Simmons had ever participated in a casting session, KISS remains closely associated with the practice on account of Plaster Caster.

6. Radioactive (1978). Each member of KISS released a solo album in 1978; to the surprise of no one, Simmons's charted highest, narrowly missing the Top 20. Credit that to his roster of guests (Aerosmith's Joe Perry, Cheap Trick's Rick Nielsen, and Bob Seger among them) but also his selection of material. Radioactive, with its rolling piano, was a big departure for Simmons, though fans responded to the radical departure.

7. I Love It Loud (1982). KISS was at a crossroads during the recording of Creatures of the Night, its first without original guitarist Ace Frehley. His replacement, guitarist Vincent Cusano - a.k.a. Vinnie Vincent - turned out to be a nice fit, and is credited alongside Simmons with co-writing I Love it Loud, one of the band's most overlooked gems. I Love it Loud was the last certifiably "heavy" single from the band for nearly a decade.

8. Killer (1982). The duo of Simmons and Vinnie Vincent struck power-chord gold once more with Killer, the second single from the critically lauded but commercially unsuccessful Creatures of the Night. Another song by Simmons about the dangers of wild women, its most marked characteristic is an up-tempo beat and Vincent's inspired playing, elements of KISS which had been missing for years up to this point.

9. Domino (1993). The grunge years were tough on bands like KISS, yet through the greasy hair and cheap flannel the band adapted nicely to a harder-edged sound on 1993's Revenge, its highest-charting album since 1977's Love Gun. A big part of that was due to Domino, the bluesiest song in the KISS catalogue about a topic - women - Simmons knows too well.

10. Goin' Blind (1996). Simmons proved during the band's return-to-form MTV Unplugged performance that he could still sing. After years of cartoonish behaviour from the group, 20-year-old songs like Goin' Blind (about an old man's relationship with a much younger woman) took on new musical shape. Goin' Blind comes off splendidly here, and played a big part in the massive reunion tour that followed.