All images courtesy of Getty Images/KISSonline
By Andrew Daly
A number of months ago, our very own Joe O’Brien took a pass at his ten most underrated KISS tracks in his article, You Wanted The Best, You Got The Best…Underrated Kiss Tracks, and I think Joe nailed it. That said, I too am a proud member of the KISS Army, and so I felt it was time I give this thing a go myself.
From here, there isn’t a whole lot more I can say regarding KISS that I haven’t said before. Simply put, I am a lifelong fan of the band, and they are without question my favorite band of all time. When KISS’ End Of The Road Tour does finally wrap up in 2022, at MSG, I can guarantee you I will be in the front row for that show, no questions asked.
In the meantime, here are ten KISS tracks that I feel are criminally underrated. Some you will agree, and some you probably will hate. Regardless, let’s get this thing started.
“Outta This World” from Monster (2012)
I am going to go ahead and assume that I’ve already infuriated no less than half the people who are reading this with the inclusion of this track. This said, the fact remains that “Outta This World” is a truly underrated late-stage KISS track. I’ve heard it all before — droves of “fans” who have nothing better to do than harp on the fact that Tommy Thayer is wearing Ace Frehley’s Spaceman makeup. Some will say, “KISS should have created new characters for Tommy, and Eric.” My retort is how did that work out when they tried it with Vinnie Vincent and Eric Carr? The answer is — it didn’t. Next, many will say, “Tommy is simply imitating Ace” Yes, it’s true that Tommy stays true to the original source material and doesn’t really deviate. That said, I’ve seen Tommy live, and I am very familiar with his work in Black N’ Blue, and Tommy does have his own bluesy vibe, and distinctive vibrato, and phrasing that is different than Ace Frehley. Ace’s style is more distorted, and a bit of a sloppy meet’s mania type of thing, whereas Tommy, is extremely clean and tone-focused. My point is, Tommy and Ace are both great. Tommy is simply doing what he is being paid to do, and you would all do the same. It’s also worth noting that Ace Frehley sold the rights to his make-up. I love Ace, but he and anyone else really have no right to complain. With all this being said, check “Outta This World” out if you missed it. It’s a gem.
“Dreamin’” from Psycho Circus (1998)
I have tremendous reverence for Psycho Circus, as it was the first real, live album of new material the band released during the height of my late-90s childhood KISS obsession. Looking back, for me, Psycho Circus still holds up. It still sounds fresh, and the songs are as good as anything they’ve ever done before or since. Some would say it’s the last “great” KISS record, and I can’t disagree, although I did love Sonic Boom, and Monster too. In retrospect, it is a bit sad that it wasn’t the true “reunion” record it was offered up as. For those that don’t know, with the exception of “Into The Void,” “You Wanted The Best,” and “I Finally Found My Way,” Ace Frehley, and Peter Criss don’t play on this thing at all. Aside from the tracks I’ve just called out, Tommy Thayer handles all of the lead guitar work, and apparently, Bruce Kulick, who co-wrote the track, handles all of the bass work, with session drummer, Kevin Valentine, handling the drumming on the down-low. Anyway, as a kid, I didn’t appreciate the backend of Psycho Circus and ignored “Dreamin'” for years. As an adult, I realized that “Dreamin'” was actually a lowkey standout track written by Paul Stanley. It’s clearly an outtake from the Revenge or Carnival Of Souls era, but never the less — “Dreamin'” rocks, and it’s one I would love to hear live.
“I Walk Alone” from Carnival Of Souls (1997)
Only now, as KISS’ career slowly creeps to a close are fans starting to truly realize just how seminal of a guitarist Bruce Kulick is. More so, many fans are also becoming acutely aware of how lucky KISS was to have found him at the time that they did. If KISS did not secure the services of Bruce Kulick, it’s a bit scary to think how things may have ended up. There are a great many guitarists from Bruce’s 80s and 90s heyday who garner fantastic amounts of attention, and praise, and I feel it’s more than time that Bruce soaks up some of that praise too. To this day, I am deeply disturbed that Bruce Kulick was not inducted into the Rock ‘N’ Roll Hall Of Fame with KISS. It’s also worth noting that Eric Carr, Eric Singer, and Tommy Thayer should have been too, but let’s save that for a different day. In regards to “I Walk Alone,” here we have the one and only track that KISS ever allowed Bruce Kulick to sing. Most likely, Paul and Gene finally relented as they had their eye on the upcoming Reunion Tour, and couldn’t be bothered to truly care, or manage the results of Carnival Of Souls. Still, the record itself is probably the heaviest, and yes, grungiest KISS ever sounded. I have often wondered what the ace-in-the-hole lineup of Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, Eric Singer, and Bruce Kulick could have done had they stayed together. While the Reunion era was wonderful, as a fan of KISS’ music, and not just their image, in retrospect, I do feel shortchanged musically that we were not allowed to see what else this line could do. For me, both Revenge, and Carnival Of Souls were watershed KISS moments, and I am left wanting more. As for Bruce Kulick, and “I Walk Alone,” I find this track to be sadly ironic, as it was released after Bruce had been dismissed from KISS after the return of Ace Frehley. It’s a great track, and it turned out to be a careful bit of foreshadowing in the end.
“The Oath” from Music From “The Elder” (1981)
KISS fans are an odd bunch. Generally ravenous for all things KISS, and on the surface, they seem to be loyal. I know things to be different, however. Dig into the deep, dark underbelly of the KISS fanbase, and you sadly find a lot of fair-weather types, who will kick, and scream at the slightest inkling of something they don’t find to be pure to the band’s initial 70s heyday (1973-1979). For me, I find this highly annoying. I can only imagine how irritating it must be for the members of the band, then again — it comes with the territory, I suppose. Circling back to the subject of complaining, more specifically — things KISS fans love to complain about, we have 1981’s Music From “The Elder.” Look, I get it — there was really no particular reason KISS needed to make a Prog-Rock album, especially after they had just gotten done printing a full-page ad in newspapers across the country saying they were going to “make their heaviest record yet.” To say this was kind of a bad look might be an understatement. This said, in retrospect, Music From “The Elder” is a ridiculously good record. While this is by no means a “traditional” KISS album, Music From “The Elder” is loaded with great tracks. Honestly, wouldn’t you like to hear “The Oath” live? Well, even if you wouldn’t — I would. Why? Well, honestly, “The Oath” is probably one of the most Metal songs KISS ever laid to tape. The riff is absolutely nasty, the bassline gallops along with immense depth, Eric Carr leads a desperately hard charge on the drums, and Paul Stanley, as always, kills it with the vocal. If you’ve been hating on Music From “The Elder” for the last forty years, it’s time to relent and give “The Oath” a try.
“Boomarang” from Hot In The Shade (1989)
I loved Hot In The Shade from the moment I heard it. Sure, at fifteen songs, it may be a bit too long, but to be fair — which one of these stellar tracks would you have cut? I honestly love them all and have no issue with the album’s length. One of my favorite tracks off of Hot In The Shade is the immensely underrated “Boomerang.” It’s pretty well documented that Gene Simmons more or less took his eye off the ball during the mid-80s, and a lot of his output with the band during that time was a mixed bag. This said, I like all his tracks, but perhaps “Burn Bitch Burn” isn’t his best work? Anyway, it is said that Paul Stanley had some sort of a heart-to-heart with dear old Gene in the late-80s and judging by the results laid forth on Hot In The Shade, I’d say Gene certainly came to play. With “Boomerang” we see the band gliding forward at breakneck speed, Gene’s vocals are inspired as is his bass work. Bruce Kulick shreds as always, but the real star of the show here is Eric Carr. When it comes to Eric Carr, he was probably the best drummer that KISS ever had, and he really was the right guy, at the right time. As most KISS fans know, we lost Eric to cancer in 1991, as such, Hot In The Shade serves as the last recorded document of Eric’s drumming with KISS. More so, “Boomerang,” being the final track on Hot In The Shade, serves to close out Eric’s career with KISS. While it’s true that Eric did contribute backing vocals to “God Gave Rock ‘N’ Roll To You II,” in 1991, “Boomerang” is the last track Eric played drums on, and man does he absolutely go off. Seriously, if you’re a drummer, you cannot help but appreciate this track.
“Say Yeah!” from Sonic Boom (2009)
At the time of its release, I am not sure that too many fans were over the moon regarding Sonic Boom. While the band itself was elated with the results, as they should be, man fans were too busy being upset over Tommy Thayer, and Eric Singer wearing Ace Frehley, and Peter Criss’ make-up. It is what it is. With that aside, the reality was that at the time, KISS had not released an album since 1998’s Psycho Circus, an album which Paul Stanley does not look back on fondly. By all accounts, aside from the title track, Paul seems to have a particular disdain for Psycho Circus, as he felt genuine misery at the time due to internal strife between the band members, mostly stemming from issues with Ace Frehley, and Peter Criss. Conversely, the line up of Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, Tommy Thayer, and Eric Singer have always got along famously, and honestly, it shows in the live setting, and in their work on both Sonic Boom, and Monster, two truly excellent works which document the band’s most stable, and yes, longest-running lineup. Hate all you want, but that is worth something. When it comes to “Say Yeah!,” we have a classic KISS anthem written in the style reminiscent of KISS’ 70s heyday, which is exactly what KISS advertised Sonic Boom as. In my opinion, KISS delivered, and “Say Yeah!” is still a part of KISS’ setlist to this day.
“Saint And Sinner” from Creatures Of The Night (1982)
As I mentioned earlier, Gene Simmons more-or-less mailed in the mid-80s when it comes to KISS, but the early-80s were an entirely different story. For Creatures Of The Night, Gene Simmons probably delivered his best ever collection of songs in “Rock ‘N’ Roll Hell,” “I Love It Loud,” “Killer,” “War Machine,” and the most underrated of the bunch, “Saint And Sinner.” One of the cool things that I notice in regards to Gene’s songwriting on Creatures Of The Night is that The Demon seemed to be in a bit more of a somber mood, and with these tracks, we see Gene tackling more serious issues. It makes sense, as KISS was in a commercial freefall after they had mistakenly strayed too far from their Rock and Heavy Metal sound. Also of note, was the band was experiencing massive interpersonal issues, with Peter Criss departing in 1980, and successfully being replaced by Eric Carr, only to have Ace Frehley leave after the press for Creatures Of The Night was completed, in 1982. I guess the departure of Ace hit KISS, and Gene particularly hard, as it’s clear that “Saint And Sinner” is specifically about Ace Frehley, and Gene’s feelings toward him, with biting lyrics such as, “Getting off this carousel, you can do as you please, you can go to hell, you put my back against the wall, well I’m not gonna fall on my knees, no, not at all.” Given this context, for me, it gives the song, and the entire album a bit more of a special meaning. KISS was on a mission here. They weren’t only trying to prove that they still had it to the rest of the world, no, they were also desperately trying to prove it to themselves as well.
“Easy As It Seems” from Unmasked (1980)
I recently came to the realization that Unmasked might just be my favorite KISS album. Furthermore, I suspect that Unmasked might just be KISS’ most underrated record. You might not agree, but think about it, when it comes to Music From “The Elder,” you’ve got a small subset of fans who respect it, and it’s low-key, retrospectively garnering the respect it deserves, so for me, that’s not the band’s most underrated after all. I recently wrote an article speaking on the underrated nature of both Creatures Of The Night and Unmasked, and not surprisingly, the diehard fans rose to the occasion and praised Creatures Of The Night, but I was shocked to find out just how many “fans” really still hate on Unmasked. Even Paul Stanley is seemingly quoted once a year where he badmouths the album, and honestly, I don’t get it. Again, yes, Unmasked is not the “traditional” KISS sound — it’s a Power Pop record. So what? Start to finish, Unmasked smokes, and it features some of the band’s tightest songwriting, and instrumental work, and who doesn’t enjoy stand-in drummer, Anton Fig, wailing away on drums? I honestly love Unmasked, and “Easy As It Seems” is one of the album’s best tracks not written by Ace Frehley. Many fans forgot that Paul Stanley’s first love was R&B, and his vocal and lyrical performance showcases that front and center. As for the rest of the band, Gene Simmons delivers some of his best bass work, and Ace Frehley flashes his versatility here with flourishes of angular, jangly New Wave influenced lead work. I personally feel that Unmasked is at the very least one of the most unique KISS records, and “Easy As It Seems” is a perfect showcase for that.
“Young And Wasted” from Lick It Up (1983)
Gene Simmons has spoken at length that the 80s was a very difficult time for him as a member of KISS. While the band eventually did rise back to platinum-level success with albums such as Lick It Up, Animalize, Asylum, Crazy Nights, and more, Gene felt extremely out of place without the band’s trademark kabuki-style makeup. Gene has said that he was never sure what to do on stage, or quite how to act, which is most likely what led to him eventually drifting astray as an actor, and producer. Still, as was the case with Creatures Of The Night, on with the band’s first non-makeup record, Lick It Up, Gene Simmons really shines. With tracks such as “Not For The Innocent,” “Fits Like A Glove,” “On The Eight Day,” and my choice for the most underrated of the bunch, “Young And Wasted,” Gene played a pivotal role in KISS rising to commercial relevance again, and also is perhaps the biggest part of why Lick It Up is considered one of KISS‘ best records of any era, not just their non-makeup era. The song itself is geared more toward Metal as per the band’s sonic shift which was brought on by the arrival of Vinnie Vincent on lead guitar who had replaced the since departed Ace Frehley. The fast pace, Heavy Metal riffing, and breakneck drum and bass combination make “Young And Wasted” one of KISS’ most headbangingly wild tracks. Dig it.
“Nowhere To Run” from Killers (1982)
For me, when it comes right down to it, the list of underrated KISS tracks begins and ends with KISSs 1982 dusty gem of a track, “Nowhere To Run.” KISS fans, seriously — have you heard this song? If you have heard it — how can you not love it? At the time, it would have been easy for even the most diehard of KISS fans to have missed out on Killers, the record in which “Nowhere To Run” was featured. You see, Killers was recorded during the dead zone that band was in after the release of Music From “The Elder.” Due to horrible sales, KISS had chosen not to tour for their 1981 Prog Rock mishap and instead chose to go back into the studio, and record four hard-rocking tracks with an eye on setting things straight. Those tracks were, “Partners In Crime,” “I’m A Legend Tonight,” “Down On Your Knees,” and the absolute monster of a track, “Nowhere To Run.” Killers itself was an oddball German import Greatest Hits type thing, which randomly included the four new tracks, so most American audiences either missed it altogether or didn’t care anymore. This said, if you missed it, go back and listen to “Nowhere to Run,” as it’s one of KISS’ finest moments period. Paul Stanley puts on a clinic vocally here and sings with a reckless abandon that demonstrates why he is to this day one of the greatest Rock ‘N’ Roll singers, and frontmen of all time. Also of note, Ace Frehley chose not to participate in the recording of these four new tracks, and instead, the world-class session man, Bob Kulick was brought in, as he had been before, to fill in for the Spaceman. This time, however, the band did not ask Bob to “try and place like Ace,” and instead allowed him to be himself, and the results are four crisp, hard-rocking tracks that are defined by the truly singular lead work of Bob Kulick. If you aren’t familiar with the work of Bob Kulick, who is Bruce Kulick’s older brother, do yourself a favor and dig in. In the meantime, put “Nowhere To Run” on and bask in the glory of KISS’ most underrated, and possibly best ever track.
My servitude as a member of the KISS Army has been a long and interesting one. I’ve loved the music. I’ve watched the ebbs and flows of the band’s commercial standing. I watched lineup changes, infighting, and unfair media coverage nearly derail the band on more than one occasion.
Conversely, I’ve watched Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, Tommy Thayer, and Eric Singer settle in, and record two fantastic albums together. These four men take the stage year in, and year out, and truly do put on the greatest Rock show you will ever have the pleasure of seeing.
KISS is a band that consistently picks itself up off the mat and rises to the occasion. They’ve been in the game for nearly fifty years, and seeing as this does seem to finally be the “End Of The Road, I look back on the band’s music, and all the members who made it possible. To Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, Ace Frehley, Peter Criss, Eric Carr, Vinnie Vincent, Mark St. John, Bruce Kulick, Eric Singer, and Tommy Thayer — cheers to you. Cheers for all you’ve accomplished in establishing, and keeping alive the legacy of KISS.
To all the session players who worked behind the scenes to keep KISS rolling in times of trouble — Dick Wagner, Bob Kulick, Anton Fig, Kevin Valentine, and many more – cheers to you too. You’re part of the rich legacy that is the music of KISS. This said KISS’ legacy runs deeper than “Rock ‘N’ Roll All Night,” “Beth,” “Detroit Rock City,” and “I Was Made For Lovin’ You.” Sure, those are great songs, but KISS’ music is so much more than that. I hope you dig this article, and I hope it inspires you to dive deeper. KISS may be at the “End Of The Road,” but they aren’t done quite yet. I hope you double back. I hope you take the journey.
– Andrew Daly (@vwmusicrocks) is the Editor-in-Chief for www.vwmusicrocks.com and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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You can watch “The Oath” live here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wg63VRG9lDY