The Hottest Band in the World, Still a Beast
Kiss is undeniably one of the most polarizing bands in rock history. From their outrageous makeup and stage shows, to bassist Gene Simmons massive ego and gratuitous fiscal gluttony, the music is often overlooked. However, Kiss as a whole has inspired innumerable bands, many of whom have gone on to stellar careers. Unlike Kiss, several have even finding their name in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Kiss remains, nearly 40 years into its career, a dynamic band which has made a unique impact in the world of rock music, for better or worse. This October Kiss will release its twentieth studio, Monster. In honor of that, Metalholic has ranked all 23 of the band’s studio albums.
The masked crusaders have often been known more for the spectacle of their live performances and make-up, so it is no surprise that the band’s best album of all time remains, Kiss Alive!. Still, when the paint and bombast are stripped away, the music still stands on its own as many discovered when the band went unplugged back in the 90s. This list below focuses solely on the studio albums, and the music that Simmons, and co-founder Paul Stanley have created through four decades.
This marked the first studio album after the band’s mammoth success with Kiss Alive!. Produced by Bob Ezrin, this became the album that catapulted the band to headline status. It also marked the release of the band’s first ballad, “Beth”.
Love Gun (1977)
This represents the last of the band’s classic 70s albums before disco and new wave twisted rock ‘n roll into another dimension. Love Gun is also the first album to feature all four members singing at least one song. Legend holds that guitarist Ace Frehley had to lie on the studio floor to sing “Shock Me”.
Released in February 1974, the band’s debut effort went largely unnoticed but is home of some of the band’s mainstay hits. Songs like “Strutter”, “Deuce”, “Black Diamond”, and “Cold Gin”.
Rock and Roll Over (1976)
My personal favorite, Rock and Roll Over found the band returning to more of a straight up rock vibe. Another album full of concert staples, and the ballad “Hard Luck Woman”, which frontman Paul Stanley wrote for Rod Stewart.
Hotter Than Hell (1974)
Released in 1974, the band’s second album saw a darker side of the band emerge. Some of the band’s more intriguing and dynamic tracks appear here including “Goin’ Blind”, “Strange Ways”, “Parasite” and “Watchin’ You”.
The band released its heaviest album to date. Revenge seemed like a heavier version of Creatures of the Night with a touch of Destroyer. Tracks like “Unholy”, “Domino”, “Take it Off”, and “I Just Wanna” were stage ready anthems. Stanley and Simmons even co-wrote one track, “Spit” for the first time in years. New drummer Eric Singer replaced the tragically departed Eric Carr. However, Carr did make a guest vocal appearance on the hit “God Gave Rock and Roll To You II”. If not released at the height of the grunge era, the album might have done infinitely better.
Creatures of the Night (1982)
Creatures marked the band’s first album without Ace Frehley, though he is credited on the record. Once again numerous guitarists filled in. Simmons also found his bass duties handled by others on several of the Stanley penned tunes. Drummer Eric Carr even played bass on the ballad “I Still Love You”. The album would be re-released with a new cover featuring future guitarist Bruce Kulick. Kulick never played on the record, though his brother Bob did perform on one track.
Ace Frehley (1978)
The band released four albums at once, one solo effort for each member, with all still labeled as Kiss albums. Frehley’s was easily the heaviest and most powerful of the bunch. The album included the hits “Rip It Out” and “New York Groove”.
Dressed to Kill (1975)
This marks the band’s third effort, and the album which featured the massive hit, “Rock and Roll All Nite”. Plenty of other great songs here as well, but perhaps the weakest of the band’s early trifecta.
Animalize found the band with yet another new lead guitarist in Mark St. John. One of the band’s most underrated albums, it turned out to be the only one for St. John who had his fingers swell during the recording of the album and was later diagnosed with Reiter’s Syndrome.
Hot In The Shade
The band’s 15th studio album, which featured 15 tracks. Future guitarist Tommy Thayer would co-write two songs with Simmons for this record. It would also be the last album to feature drummer Eric Carr who died of cancer in 1991. The album’s lead off single “Rise To It” featured a video with Stanley and Simmons dressing up in their old makeup and costumes. The album also featured the radio friendly hits, “Forever” which Stanley co-wrote with Michael Bolton, and “Hide Your Heart”. The latter has been covered by numerous artists, including, oddly enough, swamp rockers Molly Hatchet.
Lick It Up (1983)
This record continued the heavier rock sound that began on Creatures of the Night. This was the first album to officially show the band without makeup, and featured new guitarist Vinnie Vincent. Aside from the title track, the band also had a hit with “All Hell’s Breakin’ Loose”.
Paul Stanley (1978)
Pure Stanley, full of melody and pop sensibility and enough hooks to catch a shark. A great song-oriented album, but not edgy enough for most Kiss fans. Song’s like “Wouldn’t You Like To Know Me?” and “Move On” are pure confectious ear candy.
Sonic Boom (2009)
Sonic Boom was released in 2009, 11 years after the band’s previous studio effort. It marked the first album for new guitarist Tommy Thayer. Paul Stanley produced the effort, which Gene Simmons hailed it as a return to the band’s glory years of the 70s. In truth the album melded elements of their 70s and 80s sound, and showed promise that the band still had gas left in the tank.
Released near the end of the waning disco era, many mark Dynasty as the turning point for the band musically. With disco and new wave owning the radio, Kiss altered its image slightly, and Paul Stanley penned the band’s anthemic disco hit, “I Was Made For Loving You”. Rumor has it, Stanley came home from a night Club 54 in New York City and wrote this song in 10 minutes to prove how simple disco music was.
1985 saw new guitarist Bruce Kulick take over for the next dozen years or so. Asylum offered some weighty songs, but like much of the band’s 80s efforts received little recognition. It featured the hit “Tears Are Falling”.
Crazy Nights (1988)
With Gene Simmons was preoccupied with his movie and producing career, Crazy Nights saw the band heading in more of a pop-metal direction. The record saw the introduction of keyboards into the band sound. The power ballad “Reason to Live” became a radio hit and found regular rotation on MTV.
While the band had already begun to splinter internally In the late 70s, 1980s Unmasked is when the chasm began to widen between Stanley and Simmons and drummer Peter Criss and Ace Frehley. Much of the lead guitar and drum work was performed by outside musicians. Unmasked is Kiss’ adaptation to the new wave movement, the album is full of catchy pop oriented tunes, that while good, were far from the classic Kiss sound. while Peter Criss is credited on the album, Late Night with David Letterman drummer Anton Fig handled all the drum duties.
Music from The Elder (1981)
Released in 1981, Music from the Elder was meant to be the soundtrack for a movie that never saw the light of day. there are some intriguing tracks on this record, but overall it pushed Kiss farther out of the spotlight and farther apart internally. This marked the band’s first album with new drummer Eric Carr, and while Ace Frehley is credited as guitarist, it is widely known that much of the guitar work was handled by outside musicians.
Psycho Circus (1998)
The first Kiss album since the 70s to feature all four original members. A solid album, however diluted by a lack of cohesiveness among the members. Everyone was trying to do their own thing. This is the album that soured Paul and Gene on making more records. The title track is still a beast.
Gene Simmons (1978)
Some enjoy this album more than others, but it’s a typical ode to Gene’s ego. Sporting more guest musicians than one can shake a stick at, the album has some fun tunes, but not many that stand up to most of his Kiss material.
Carnival of Souls: The Final Sessions (1997)
Recorded over the course of 1995 and 1996, the album was eventually released without fanfare in 1997, as the band was already in the midst of its reunion with original members Ace Frehley and Peter Criss. The impact of the early 90s grunge movement surfaced in the songwriting. While there were many intriguing tracks, it did not feel much like a Kiss album.
Peter Criss (1978)
Taking nothing away from the original Catman, this album has no place in the Kiss catalog. Not only does it not hold any connection to the band’s music, it’s simply not a very good album.
While it is too early to rank the band’s newest record, feedback from those in the know should place Monster in the top half of this list. If the debut single “Hell or Hallelujah” is any indication, the album title is appropriate.
Catch Kiss on tour with Motley Crue starting July 20.
What are your thoughts? Sound off below.