During the most impressionable period of my life, KISS was my first “Favorite Band.” I’ve read comic books just as long as I’ve been a member of the KISS Army. What drew me in to KISS, like almost everybody, was their bombastic appearance. KISS are the greatest representation of real life comic book heroes moonlighting as the ultimate rock and roll experience. I took pride as a 16-year old punk owning every KISS album from 1974-82. I feverish collected and tore into those CDs by way of your Camelot Music or Musicland retail stores in Roanoke, VA, and a couple brick and mortar new/used shops in my dad’s hometown of Doylestown, PA.

Image result for kiss 1976I often failed to put my homies onto KISS. They didn’t get “The Hottest Band in the World,” but I did. Rock fans historically have trouble getting past the “image” of the band. Truth be told, if I were a huge fan in the band’s heyday, I would have likely fallen off the train around the Love Gun era circa 1977 or ’78. The band was everywhere and everything while their success drove them apart behind the scenes. Line-ups changed, as did the sound, but I’ll challenge you to look at any music groups’ catalog and see if they adapted and overcame trends—only to set them, and then set them again. KISS earned 30 Gold (500,000+ copies) and 14 Platinum (1,000,000) records to their name. Full-length certified LPs, folks. An artist in 2018 wishes they could pop out an album a year and sell 250,000 units, let alone 500K.

Annually, around the late fourth quarter, I run through my KISS collection by way of a Spotify playlist featuring most their studio albums—even the two or three I didn’t own growing up. Another bonus of digital technology nowadays is all the podcasts in the world are one tap of an iPhone away. I’ve listened to over 100 episodes of Pod of Thunder: A KISS Podcasta show dedicated to breaking down every KISS song in their catalog. It’s a task that’s taken the hosts five dedicated years to complete. As I fellow podcaster, I respect their efforts and dedication in so many ways. With only a few songs left to cover, this chapter of POT will soon close. The conversations these guys have are ones I often had with myself because I didn’t know many KISS fans my age. I worked with a guy in Florida who also understood the band. We put together lists of top albums and songs by KISS and other acts. However, I seem to have misplaced them. It was fun. So, why not a MattyLovesKISS, amiright?

A series like Pod of Thunder breaks down only the studio-recorded tracks, for my “Top 25 KISS Kuts,” I’m taking song recordings/performances from all media—albums, VHS, DVDs, Television Specials, etc. I’m the type of person that, once I’ve found interest in something new, I want to know everything as soon as possible. I rented KISS eXposed without Mom knowing. I spent my hard-earned, Wicker World paychecks at Books-A-Million to snag as many of the “Re-Mastered”/rereleased KISS. Much like the dudes who talk about KISS songs on that podcast, I too did the work as a kid. Once the internet became a thing, I realized I didn’t own nearly as much KISS shit as I thought. For the people who do, you have to be phat-paid to own all of the imports, $500 picture books, and bootlegs. Much respect.

It took me about a month to compile, but I’m now ready to present my 25-ish favorite songs/performances by KISS, the greatest band ever created.

HONORABLE MENTIONS:

KISS KillersNowhere to Run,” “I’m A Legend Tonight,” “Down on Your Knees,” and “Partners in Crime

Here we go. Difficult decisions were made beyond the top tier of my favorite KISS tracks. To kick things off, I can tell you now that “Nowhere to Run” could’ve easily made the official list. The only issue I have with Killers is that I never owned this album as a teen. The album was originally released in Japan and Germany in the summer of 1982. Due to Killers being an import, I never saw it in any new-used records stores on CD (or vinyl for that matter). I knew it existed and eventually found a file back in the Direct Connect file-sharing days 15 years ago. (I now own the Killers Vinyl LP, by the way.)

The album comprises of a “greatest hits” collection of songs and four new tracks, which I believe are demos featuring Bob Kulick on most lead guitar sections. However, the album cover features KISS original, Ace Frehley. The “Spaceman” was on his way out of his contract but was again featured on the cover of KISS’ tenth studio album, Creatures of the Night, later released in the fall of that same year, but Ace didn’t perform on any cuts off the album.

Anyway, the Killers album found me as an adult after my obsession had long since dissipated into a fond memory. The album hasn’t “stuck” with me nearly as long as the tracks on this list. Therefore, it simply gets an honorable mention. Besides, the album was mostly Double Platinums major highlights. I highly suggest KISS Killers to anyone interested in finding out what KISS is all about. Well, this and Alive!, but we’ll get into that later in the countdown.

Before I get started with the official list, there are a couple minor technicalities here. I have two ties. Once we get to them, trust me, I’ll explain. Also, let me state that mostl KISS songs are dope both in-studio and live. Like many legendary acts, they recorded a few duds here and there. Some of these performances rank solely on how they affected me as a kid. I don’t look at these songs from solely a proficiency standpoint, but there are some exceptions due to the sound and decisions which make these songs my favorite KISS jams ever. Let’s get on with it.

25. “Take It Off” – Revenge/KISS Konfidential Polygram VHS/DVD

The cover to the KISS Konfidential Polygram VHS tape featured scantily clad women bent over on stage with KISS and censor bars over the necessary areas in order to sell the video outside of the weird back room of porn in most every video store. Well, this was something I had to see. I remember a commercial for a KISS show in Roanoke, VA in 1992. The opening of the commercial was the same as the opening of the “I Just Wanna” music video. That was honestly my first intro into the band. No make up, just Paul Stanley saying, “I’ve got a body built for sin and an appetite for passion.”  

Kiss Konfidential cover.jpgI immediately thought, “Mom would not be into me having anything to do with this.” I think that’s partly why I got into KISS. Some kids party to rebel. Some kids steal cassette tapes and CDs from Phar-Mor. I thought the listening to KISS at 12-13 years old was “edgy.” Besides, with what that initial commercial held in store, it helped shaped me as a creator and performer as well.

The highlight of Konfidential is the live performance of my #25 favorite cut, “Take It Off.” To put it simply, this song is for strippers. I listened to Pod of Thunder’s episode about the song which turned into a psycho-analytical conversation between the hosts about to whom the song pertains to as well as the that person’s psychological condition. Very good stuff. The live performance on the Konfidential VHS was from two or three stops on the same 1992 tour as the commercial I mentioned. KISS brought out strippers to “take it off.” As in, taking off most of their clothes. It left a lot to a 13-year old boy’s imagination.

Best quote: “Ooh, when you spread a little oil, my blood begins to boil, uh huh.”

Ridiculous. The song is a great tailgating jam, let alone a stripper’s anthem. This is the kind of track you throw on goofing off with a significant other. I seriously doubt Paul Stanley has ever taken this song seriously. However, read the lyrics and maybe there’s something else there I’m not hearing. Bruce Kulick tears shit up. Everyone’s on point from start to finish.

24. “Burn Bitch Burn” – Animalize

This song. I couldn’t imagine a band recording a song with similar subject matter in 2018. Hell, a lot of the subject matter in KISS classics would be denied nowadays. Similarly, current Hip-Hop lyrics are so on-the-nose. Maybe a band with a similar idea writing coy rockers about partying and having sex could become popular today. It isn’t too wild to think.

My younger brother was the first person to ask me about Animalize. I didn’t have the album growing up. I knew “Heaven’s on Fire” from the KISS VHS tapes I owned. Animalize was a CD I often had in a stack to whittle down at the music store. It never made the cut. Looking back, I really wish it had. Despite the crapbag production quality, Animalize is telling as to where KISS was during that period of time.

Animalize is KISS’ twelfth studio album—the second without the famous makeup. The band was also on their third lead guitarist in three/four albums (Creatures and Lick It Up featured Vinnie Vincent on lead during each album’s recordings and Ace on the Creature’s cover). MTV was everywhere as was the thin yet robust Hair/Glam Metal scene on the Sunset Strip. KISS acclimated to the trends and survived. Can’t say the same thing for Vinnie Vincent or, the featured lead guitarist on Animalize, Mark St. John.

Both guitarists had an erratic style. I’ve heard St. John went more “Neoclassical” to his approach. To my ears, it sounds a lot like screaming cats, not horns. He isn’t the star of “Burn Bitch Burn,” though I wanted to give the era a little bit of color. This is a Gene Simmons jam. “Post-makeup Gene.” The insecurities are more prevalent than ever.

Best quote: “When love rears its head, I want to get on your case/Ooh baby, wanna put my log in your fireplace”

The song is about coitus (if you couldn’t tell), yet, the title doesn’t give that impression. At least, not to me when I first looked at the Animalize track listing that also features songs like, “Get All You Can Take,” “Under the Gun,” and “Thrills in the Night.” Ah, to be naïve again. The album’s a laugh, but you have to respect it. I’m more of a “KISS deep cuts-guy.” “Heaven’s on Fire” is a classic, but not one of my go-to jams. “Burn Bitch Bitch,” however, most certainly is.

23. “Saint and Sinner” – Creatures of the Night

This is the only song on the “Kountdown” from Creatures. Don’t get me wrong, Creatures is one of the best produced KISS albums in their entire catalog. The entire album rocks it for real. However, this album didn’t hit me as being so damn good until I got older. Like I said, a lot of these songs on the list made it based on sentimental value.

Songs off Creatures like “War Machine” and “I Love It Loud” really drive the album home for me but “Saint and Sinner” is arguably one of Gene Simmons’s best vocal performances. The melody of this jam is the first thing that comes to mind whenever Creatures comes up in any facet of conversation. (Not that I have a lot people whom I regularly discuss KISS albums.) It’s a catchy tune.

I remember the day I bought the album. I was out at the mall with a high school girlfriend. We ventured into our local Camelot Music and saw the next batch of KISS Remastered CDs arrived. The third wave set consisted of everything from 1982-89. I threw the CD in the deck of her Mitsubishi Eclipse and rocked through the title cut straight into “Saint and Sinner.”

I said something to the extent of, “Holy shit.” I was blown away. It was probably the one album I wish had heard early on. The main reason I hadn’t picked up the re-released Creatures was because the cover featured the band without makeup and the addition of Bruce Kulick, who wasn’t on the original release. Plus, I love the cover of the original Creatures with the glowing eyes. I was familiar with some of the popular material from Creatures, but soon discovered this album consists of the strongest line-up of deep cuts.

One of my first visual intros to KISS was watching the “I Love It Loud” music video during an episode of the legendary Beavis & Butt-Head. As I said, KISS looked like the ultimate band, plus, their drummer at the time, Eric Carr, played drums inside a tank. How cool is that for a kid looking to find his favorite style of musical performance?

Best quote: “Getting off this carousel/You can do what you please/You can go to hell”

There’s always been something about the melody and rhythm that really kicks your face with rock and roll. I love this cut. Creatures is the full-on, heavy metal superior to KISS’ two albums that soon followed in ’83 and ‘84. 

22. “Naked City” & ”She’s so European” (tie) – Unmasked

If I compiled a list of my favorite albums, Unmasked would likely fall somewhere in the top four. While Dynasty was KISS’ foray into the “pop” genre, Unmasked perfected their particular style and arrangement. One of the reasons I love this band so much is because I can remember when I acquired my catalog. This album is no exception.

I was a junior in high school. It was near the tail-end of September in 1998 during the middle of the week. The girl that sat in front of me in my English class gave Unmasked as an early birthday present. The gift came out of nowhere. I think she may have worked at a music store at the time. Anyway—later that day, I started to feel like total crap. It wasn’t because I didn’t know what to do when a girl, who I didn’t really know that well, dumped Unmasked on my desk in 1st Period English—I was hyped. Flu-like symptoms were the enemy that birthday week.

Image result for kiss unmaskedOnce I returned home after school, I threw Unmasked in my Dad’s stereo, laid down on a couch in a dark basement, and got blown away. Due to the fact I was sick, I didn’t know if I was even listening to KISS. It’s Pop-Rock all the way. “Shandi” was the only song I was familiar with because it was featured on Xtreme Close-Up. I also knew that Unmasked was the “Australia album.” Due to the success of Dynasty in Australia and New Zealand as well as KISS’ descending popularity in America, Unmasked was made—I think—to sell max units Down Under. 

Gene Simmons has three featured cuts off the album. Much like Creatures of the Night, all of Simmons’ performances on Unmasked are on-point. I’m not just talking from a musical standpoint, but lyrically-speaking, the “Gene-isms” reign supreme during this era. “Naked City” and “She’s So European” tied. I didn’t throw in “You’re All That I Want” because I thought a three-way tie would be a bit much so early on the list. If I didn’t think so, then, yes, add “You’re All That I Want.” Gene gives each song his all.

“Naked City” is about being in love with an older woman in a city full of naked people. “There are ten million stories.” Simmons was dating Diana Ross at the time. I can see where he’s coming from. He’s living in New York or L.A. Everybody’s naked, but then there’s Diana Ross, who’s old. However, he informs us that he’s “not looking for pity/In this naked city.” So, we can assume it was all good. For those of us aware of Simmons’s fascination with old sci-fi and horror films, those elements are prevalent in the song’s lyrics.

Best quote:Street vampires in the night/Young lovers and love at first sight/This is my flesh and my fantasy” 

“She’s so European” is a lyrical breakdown of the psychosis of a lying tramp. I initially thought Gene simply explains how his latest conquest is “so European.” Y’know—how ladies across the pond drink pink champagne and own brass beds. This is one of those deep cuts that Pod of Thunder did a great job of breaking down lyrically. They revealed that the subject of this tune is actually full of crap and she’s not fooling Gene. He stills sleeps with her but he’s no fool. Before I heard that episode, I never really focused on what this song could be telling the listener.

Best quote: “She still speaks with an accent from a week in San Tropez/She makes love on her brass bed ’cause her parents are still away”

Hilarity aside, this song also kicks a lot of rock and roll ass melodically. I have to give credit to session drummer Anton Fig. He’s the driving force of the song. I’m not fluent in music theory but I know the verse’s snare runs off-time. The drums sound so different from anything else KISS did prior to Unmasked. Peter Criss, KISS’ original drummer, appears on the album’s infamous comic book cover. However, by the time KISS recorded Unmasked, Criss was still under contract as a member of the band but didn’t play on this album as well eight of nine tracks off Dynasty the prior year. Fig replaced Criss in KISS’ studio sessions from 1979-80. Rumors ran that Fig, at one point, was “briefly” KISS’ new drummer. Eric Carr eventually filled the drumming vacancy as they embarked on Australia and New Zealand to promote and tour for Unmasked. 

Original lead guitarist Ace Frehley’s solo marvelously fits this cut in a sleazy way. All of the songs on this record have a unique quality which sets Unmasked apart from the rest of KISS’ massive catalog. Frehley’s contributions on Unmasked and Dynasty are high marks during his tenure with the band. I don’t feel that “Torpedo Girl” is legendary or anything, but “Two Sides of the Coin” and “Talk to Me” are real rockers off Unmasked. 

I can’t recommend Unmasked enough. If I ever get to experience a trip to Australia, I will hunt down a hole-in-the-wall record shop (if they exist) and see if they have a copy of this album. I’ve always thought that “Shandi” to Australians is similar to Men At Work’s “Down Under” to Americans. Both songs were huge hits in both countries. Expect to see more from Unmasked a bit further up in this countdown. 

21. “Parasite” – Hotter Than Hell

This song would be one of the best rockers to fire into as an opener during a bad “battle of the bands” contest. Especially if the band who went on before totally sucked in a Yacht Rock-y way. No offense to the Yacht Rock. It has its place, but not in a battle. If I’m not mistaken, “Parasite” was Ace’s second major contribution to the catalog. (The first, “Cold Gin,” off KISS’ self-titled debut album, didn’t make the cut.) Gene Simmons provided the original vocals but years later Ace sang his song live during the Reunion Tour.

Peter Criss shines bringing forth his jazz influences into a smooth shuffling beat during the verse. He then kicks into high gear for the rest of the jam. I love watching old live performances of this song in and around the 1975-76 era. KISS played “Parasite” a bit faster than what they recorded for Hotter Than Hell. I’ve always been a fan of when KISS sped up songs live. Eric Carr turned “War Machine” into even more of a monster similarly to what Criss does during “Parasite” from Detroit in 1976.

Best quote: “Parasite lady/Parasite eyes/Parasite Lady/No need to cry” 

I always thought the lyrics were “Parasite lady/Parasite” with the second “parasite” extended, “Parasigh-aaaite.” Once I saw a few live performances, I realized the lady has parasite eyes—more than two. Maybe she has eyes in the back of her head? Oh, Ace. Very clever, sir.

Next week, #20 on down to #16. See you then, if you “Sure Know Something,”

 

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Matt de Simone is a writer, comic book collector, former pro-wrester, and huge fan of KISS. Follow him on Twitter, Instagram, and check out a few episodes of his soon-to-be-returning podcast.

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