TOP 30 ALTERNATIVE KLASSICS
April 25, 2013
Official KISS Album and Tour Magazine Article

By KELLY MICHAEL STEWART and CHRIS ALEXANDER

After the myriad KISS compilation albums, concert staples and international chart-topping favorites, there still exists a staggering array of material—some of it forgotten, dismissed, undervalued or just plain ignored. And while any list of any kind will always be subjective, we two card-carrying KISS ARMY members have picked our own dream lineup of KISS songs that some may call filler, but we think are absolutely killer…

“Love Theme from KISS” (KISS, 1974): This actually started off as a different song with vocals called “Acrobat,” which was a staple of the band’s early live shows. But when the time came to record it, producers Kenny Kerner and Richie Wise suggested they rework as an instrumental and retitle it. Despite it not being a ballad—or actually a love song—“Love Theme from…” was a popular moniker at the time, and they though they could capitalize on that trend. In the end, they wound up with one of their more unusual songs, which got lost on an iconic debut album filled with KISS favorites.
—K.M.S.

“Comin’ Home” (Hotter Than Hell, 1974): A rarity in the KISS canon, this is one of the few songs co-written by Paul Stanley and Ace Frehley. “Comin’ Home” was also one of the first tunes that wasn’t part of their earlier demo material, and is a testimony to the life on the road they had just started out on.
—K.M.S.

“Goin’ Blind” (Hotter Than Hell, 1974): Gene Simmons wrote “Goin’ Blind” with his friend and former Wicked Lester bandmate Stephen Coronel in 1970, but it first appeared as a KISS track here. The song marked a departure for the band, and was the closest thing to a ballad on KISS album up to that point. Despite being one of the strongest songs on Hotter Than Hell, “Goin’ Blind” never made it into the band’s ’70s live set list, so for many years—until Unplugged—it remained somewhat forgotten.
—K.M.S.

“Strange Ways” (Hotter Than Hell, 1974): Frehley wrote it, Peter Criss sang it and it just might be the best damn song on Hotter Than Hell. The production of that classic platter is muddy and distant, marring some of the material, but that works in the lumbering “Strange Ways’ ” favor. Heavy, dark, with a purring Criss vocal and a blistering one-take solo that stands among Frehley’s best.
—C.A.

“Getaway” (Dressed to Kill, 1975): Before Frehley started singing the songs he wrote, either Simmons or Criss would do the vocals. Frehley’s best-known tunes from the early days were “Cold Gin” and “Parasite,” but there was also this little gem, featuring Criss on vocals. Fast, raw and fun.
—K.M.S.

“Sweet Pain” (Destroyer, 1976): Simmons’ ode to S&M is a bit of a forgotten gem on this classic album—so much so that it’s the only Destroyer track that has never been performed live. On much of the record, the band experimented with different recording techniques, like children’s choirs and orchestra; “Sweet Pain” is no different, but here, adding female background vocalists to the mix gives the song an almost R&B/soul feel.
—K.M.S.

“Baby Driver” (Rock and Roll Over, 1976): After the success of Destroyer’s “Beth,” Criss started contributing a song per album that he had either written or co-written. At the time, Criss didn’t like the direction the band took “Baby Driver,” thinking it went too rock. Time has proven that orchestration correct, and it fits perfectly within the straight-up pummel of the rest of Rock and Roll Over.
—K.M.S.

“Almost Human” (Love Gun, 1977): It starts with a sneaky Simmons bassline, advances with a Criss bang of the gong and then it’s off, a dark, creepy bit of junk funk that lyrically lets Simmons flex his love of the macabre. The music surrounding it supports that theatrical darkness, with spastic Frehley guitar explosions, weird backwards looping and general nightmarish grit that out-Coopers Alice. One of Simmons’ greatest creations—and a favorite of special FX wizard Robert Hall, who even stole the name for his shop.
—C.A.

“Plaster Caster” (Love Gun, 1977): This was Simmons’ tribute to groupies, and in particular “Cynthia Plaster Caster,” who had an interesting hobby of making molds of her favorite rock stars’ members. Simmons has always had a knack for taking taboo lyric material and turning it into an up-tempo pop song that’s accessible to everyone.
—K.M.S.

“All American Man” (Alive II, 1978): The famous fourth studio-recorded side of Alive II is a masterpiece of trashy rock, leading with this thundering Stanley strut. “Six foot, hot look” indeed—this anthemic slap to the face is pure ’70s sex. We can only hope that Stanley drags this rough-and-tumble scrapper out of the trick bag at least one more time and fries it live…
—C.A.

“Charisma” (Dynasty, 1979): Dynasty was the first KISS album where Simmons took more of a back seat in the songwriting department, with only two songs making the final lineup. Thankfully, they were very strong tracks: “X-Ray Eyes” and “Charisma.” Remarkably, the latter has never been performed on tour, and the closest to a live performance it’s had was on Mexican television in 1982. “Charisma” did get played a little during the KISS Konvention shows of 1994, but for the most part, it remains one of the great unsung KISS gems.
—K.M.S.

“Dirty Livin’ ” (Dynasty, 1979): Criss’ confessional is another strong track in Dynasty’s collection of winners, with a strange choral arrangement, great drum work (played by Criss, as opposed to most of the platter, where Anton Fig filled in) and the perfect track for a filthy tomcat. Groovy, soulful and sexy.
—C.A.

“X-Ray Eyes” (Dynasty, 1979): Joining “Charisma,” this is the other great Simmons track on this fantastic turning-point platter. Gothic in its structure, this cinematic slice of doom-pop again mines Simmons’ love of pulp (is it referencing the goggles for sale in the back of comic books, or the 1963 Roger Corman horror flick?), and the sound of his bass propels it. A great, shiny yet evil rock tune.
—C.A.

“Shandi” (Unmasked, 1980): The band no doubt had high hopes for this single when it was released in 1980—but the backlash against them was starting to take hold in America, and “Shandi” only reached #40 on the charts. In places like Australia, the song was a massive hit, and it’s still played when they visit Down Under. KISS was splintering at the time, so much so that Stanley was the only member to actually appear on this track. Regardless of who played on it (or the fact that it’s a ballad), what you have here is one of the most finely crafted songs Stanley has ever written. There’s an underlying irony to the lyrics that matches the band’s history: The song talks about knowing a relationship is over and being together one last time before finally ending it. By the time the music video was lensed, Criss had already been asked to leave the group, but he was brought back one last time to appear in the video in a strange case of life imitating art.
—K.M.S.

“Two Sides of the Coin” (Unmasked, 1980): With the solo extrusions of all four members in 1978, Frehley emerged as a strong songwriter and singer. So much so that he became an almost equal contributor in both areas on the KISS recordings of 1979/1980, with songs like “Hard Times” and the single “Talk to Me,” and another such gem in the Frehley catalog is this song. This era was short-lived, though, with Frehley only contributing one more song on The Elder before departing the band in 1982.
—K.M.S.

“What Makes the World Go ’Round” (Unmasked, 1980): Like all of Unmasked, this song evidences Vinnie Poncia’s pop makeover, but hey, it’s a catchy, happy track that makes you want to lace up your roller skates, chew bubblegum and hold hands with your best girl. Time has been very kind to Unmasked, and this bright track is a highlight.
—C.A.

“I” (Music from “The Elder,” 1981): Simmons’ ode to self-worth and believing in oneself is the closing track on this much-maligned opus. The song was the second Elder single, but since the album had already flopped, “I” failed to make any waves with audiences. This is truly a shame, because on any other KISS album, it would have become on of their classic anthems.
—K.M.S.

“Odyssey” (Music from “The Elder,” 1981): Everything that’s wonderful about “Odyssey” is also everything that people hated about The Elder—that is, lush production, symphonic spine, epic imagery and a complete disregard for typical, commercial rock ’n’ roll. But my God, isn’t “Odyssey” a beautiful piece of work, with Stanley foreshadowing the deep, controlled operatic baritone that would emerge during his turn as the Phantom of the Opera? A magical, moving, emotional masterpiece of theatrical sonics.
—C.A.

“Nowhere to Run” (Killers, 1982): One of the stronger four new songs written for this best-of collection, “Nowhere to Run” was one of the Stanley-penned tracks that set the path for the band in the 1980s. The Killers songs tend to be footnotes in the KISS legacy, but “Nowhere to Run” is a diamond in those rough years.
—K.M.S.

“Keep Me Comin’ ” (Creatures of the Night, 1982): There isn’t a false move on Creatures of the Night, but along with the devastating “I Still Love You,” this offers some of the best Stanley work of the decade. It’s menacing, strutting, stripped-down Led Zeppelin-flavored rock ’n’ roll, with Stanley’s shriek and wicked guitar work playing against Eric Carr’s pummelling percussion. A really tough, no-bullshit bit of rock.
—C.A.

“Rock and Roll Hell” (Creatures of the Night, 1982): This, along with “War Machine,” was one of two Creatures songs that Simmons worked on with the up-and-coming songwriting team of Bryan Adams and Jim Vallance. Rumored to be inspired by the difficulty of working with Frehley in his final years with the band, “Rock and Roll Hell” served as a catharsis that paved the way for the new lineup without Frehley and Criss.
—K.M.S.

“Exciter” (Lick It Up, 1983): This leadoff track showed the world that KISS wasn’t finished with the heavy material they had developed for Creatures of the Night. Stanley’s vocals are like lightning, Vinnie Vincent’s guitars shred like machine guns and the whole track is like a pleasant murder by jackhammer. A great opening to a great album.
—K.M.S.

“Who Wants to Be Lonely?” (Asylum, 1985): This midrange-tempo single wasn’t a big song for KISS at the time, and tends to be forgotten today. What doesn’t help is the track being associated with a music video that…let’s just say their clothing taste was a little questionable in retrospect. Taken strictly on musical terms, though, “Who Wants to Be Lonely?” is one of the best songs the band put out in the 1980s.
—K.M.S.

“I’ll Fight Hell to Hold You” (Crazy Nights, 1987): Sometimes, Bruce Kulick’s co-writing contributions to the band during his tenure tend to be overlooked. “I’ll Fight Hell to Hold You,” originally written by Stanley and Adam Mitchell, was almost scrapped, but Kulick came in with a fresh take on the guitar riff, and it turned out to be one of Crazy Nights’ highlights.
—K.M.S.

“Betrayed” (Hot in the Shade, 1989): When Tommy Thayer joined KISS as the new Spaceman in 2001, he had already been part of the KISS family in one way or another since the late ’80s. He worked on a couple of Simmons’ songs for Shade, including “The Street Giveth and the Street Taketh Away” and this track, the beginning of Simmons’ renewed focus on the band (which would truly flourish on the next album, Revenge).
—K.M.S.

“Little Caesar” (Hot in the Shade, 1989): While prepping the Smashes, Thrashes & Hits best-of in 1988, the band got the idea of rerecording “Beth,” with Carr finally making his debut as a KISS vocalist. This led to Carr getting behind the mic again on this new song, written with Simmons. Sadly, with Carr’s passing in 1991, this ended up the only original track he ever sang on a KISS record.
—K.M.S.

“Heart of Chrome” (Revenge, 1992): Stanley penned this track with Vincent, who briefly returned to KISS in a songwriting capacity, also co-writing “Unholy” and “I Just Wanna.” On almost any other album from this era, “Heart of Chrome” would have likely been singled out as a major track, but that’s just a testament to how strong a disc Revenge is.
—K.M.S.

“Thou Shall Not” (Revenge, 1992): Simmons was firing on all cylinders when KISS recording this album, giving us classic tracks like “Unholy” and “Domino.” But there were other standouts, including “Spit” and this one. The religious right in America have always been a thorn in KISS’ side for the dumbest reasons over the years; “Thou Shall Not” does a great job of settling the score. Revenge, indeed.
—K.M.S.

“Childhood’s End” (Carnival of Souls, 1997): This was an original started by Thayer that was brought to Simmons, who finished writing it with Kulick. Named after the Arthur C. Clarke novel, it brings in a children’s choir à la “Great Expectations” so many years earlier, but with a completely different effect. Simmons has said that the song isn’t about any person in particular, but it still feels very personal.
—K.M.S.

“I Will Be There” (Carnival of Souls, 1997): Carnival tends to be overlooked, except by die-hard KISS fans; the basic complaint is that it strays too far from the KISS sound in favor of a more “grungy” affect. The best corrective to that opinion is to give this beautiful Stanley ballad a listen. This time, the lyrics aren’t about a woman, but his dedication to his children.
—K.M.S.

“Journey of 1000 Years” (Psycho Circus, 1998): Circus’ closing track is a Simmons song that’s nothing less than epic. Musically, it takes some of its cues from the title tune, allowing the album to come full circle. The sweeping orchestral soundscape is hypnotic, and this just might be KISS’ most ambitious track since The Elder.
—K.M.S.

“All for the Glory” (Sonic Boom, 2009): This song not only marked Eric Singer’s debut as a vocalist, but is a highlight on an instant-classic album. It demonstrates everything the band does best, a hard-thumping track about band unity, working hard and being the best.
—K.M.S.

"Wall of Sound" (MONSTER, 2012): “And we all bow down…To the wall of sound…” That we do, Gene and this is one of the finest Simmons songs in the band’s 40 year history. A menacing stomp echoing Gene’s dragon boot stage stalk echoes the sleazy “Larger Than Life” from the studio side of KISS ALIVE II but lyrically and again, sonically, this is on a different level, with Tommy once more proving his metal mettle with violent string stabs and Paul bringing real raunch to his rhythm guitar.
—CA

"Long Way Down" (MONSTER, 2012): Big percussion, big, open riffs and an absolutely soaring, searing vocal from Paul make this one not only a classic KISS tune, but a classic of heavy rock full stop, one laced with an almost southern rock feel. Tommy’s guitar work once more blazes through with fiery confidence while Eric and Gene keep the pulse relentless and primal.
-CA

"All for the Love of Rock and Roll" (MONSTER, 2012): Eric finds his voice anew with this head bopping, shiny Paul penned pop rock tune, one that sounds like it was channeled directly from Paul’s 1978 solo album (think “It’s Alright”) with more than a dash of “Mr. Speed”. An uplifting, soulful and groovy arena rock crowd pleaser with an almost R&B feel.
-CA