All images courtesy of Getty Images/Wiki Commons
By Andrew Daly
Dutifully stationed alongside his brother in arms, Paul Stanley, KISS‘ Gene Simmons has galvanized fans through blood, fire, and machismo.
KISS first made waves in 1974 with the release of its self-titled record and has maintained a breakneck pace ever since. Whether through the studio or stage, KISS has repeatedly reshaped the face of rock music throughout multiple generations.
Oftentimes, Paul Stanley is given the lion’s share of the credit for keeping the KISS machine running smoothly and with good reason. But for nearly fifty years, with some moonlight interludes in between, bassist Gene Simmons has ridden shotgun, buoying the band’s fortunes and, in many ways, acting as the proverbial face of KISS.
Over the lifespan of KISS’ long career, Gene Simmons has fronted some of the band’s most memorable tracks. If you’ve ever been to a KISS concert, you’ve undoubtedly heard “Deuce,” “God of Thunder,” “Rock and Roll All Night,” and “I Love it Loud.”
Beyond those greatest hits, there’s a deep trove of tracks that Simmons has served up over the years, which remain painfully overlooked. It’s time to remind fans, both new and old, of what they’ve been missing; below are 20 of Gene Simmons’s most overlooked tracks released throughout KISS’ fifty-year career.
20) “Betrayed” from Hot in the Shade (1989)
Aside from Music from ‘The Elder,’ it’s plain to see that Hot in the Shade is the ’80s KISS record that fans harbor the most disdain for. While it may be a bit overly long and a touch dated, Hot in the Shade remains a fun listen. Simmons had not yet fully come out of his “Hollywood phase” quite yet, but he was able to muster some quintessential moments, “Betrayed,” with its catchy chorus and fun instrumentation being one of them.
19) “Russian Roulette” from Sonic Boom (2009)
As previously mentioned, Sonic Boom is not necessarily the first record that comes to mind for most KISS fans. Dig deeper, though, and you’ll find Sonic Boom to be an inarguable tour de force in old-school rock. Most of the tracks are Hotter than Hell, but it’s Simmons’ tracks that carry the load. For the money, “Russian Roulette” is the very definition of bravado-driven cock rock, aka what Gene Simmons hangs his hate on.
18) “Childhood’s End” from Carnival of Souls (1997)
Buried by the 1996 Reunion of the KISS’ four original members and then destructively slandered via KISS message boards since Carnival of Souls remains KISS’ most polarizing affair. With Simmons and Stanley mostly checked out, guitarist Bruce Kulick is said to have carried the load, and the results were staggeringly heavy. In an era defined by grunge and alternative rock, KISS served up a demonically heavy and extremely mature record. Among the headiest tracks on the record is Simmons’ “Childhood’s End,” detailing themes not usually explored on KISS recordings.
17) “Lonely is the Hunter” from Animalize (1984)
The mid- 80s represented an era where Gene Simmons’s focus was mostly on making movies, producing young bands, and basically doing everything other than focusing on KISS. A lot of this is said to be attributed to the feelings of loss the bassist felt without the band’s trademark makeup. Regardless of the reasons, Simmons’ output in the middle portion of the decade is spotty at best. On Animalize, an album that featured the likes of “Burn Bitch Burn,” the far more developed “Lonely is the Hunter” is a welcome surprise. With a memorable riff and a quality vocal, the track is one that sticks long after you’ve heard it.
16) “Within” from Psycho Circus (1998)
Finally exposed to the light of day, the truth behind the Psycho Circus sessions likens to a waking nightmare. Turmoil aside, there’s a ton of fantastic music there, and in retrospect, KISS’ 1998 “reunion record” is quickly ascending to classic status. Simmons had several cuts on the record, but “Within” is one of the more memorable ones. Clearly a holdover from the Revenge/Carnival of Souls era, “Within” is a bit out of place on the poppier Psycho Circus but adds much-needed heaviness that only The Demon could deliver.
15) “Not for the Innocent” from Lick it Up (1983)
One school of thought says Vinnie Vincent saved KISS; others say, Simmons and Stanley, in the face of extinction, awoke from their haze and did what they did best: deliver outstanding rock music. The middle ground says it’s a combination of both, and Vincent certainly gave them a shot in the arm on Lick it Up, bringing out the best in KISS. A few of Simmons’ tracks made it into KISS’ live set over the years, but sadly, “Not for the Innocent” isn’t one of them. One of KISS’ most sinister tracks, the malignance seethes from Simmons’s lips, and it’s simply delectable.
14) “The Devil is in Me” from Monster (2012)
For KISS’ final studio outing, Monster, Simmons laid it all on the line and delivered a track that stands chest to chest with anything he’s put forth before in “The Devil is in Me.” Quasi-autobiographical, “The Devil is in Me” oozes arrogance and attitude. One can picture Simmons sauntering around the stage, wagging his tongue in the live setting, that is, if KISS would ever play it.
13) “Any Way You Slice It” from Asylum (1985)
Gene Simmons never looked more out of plan than during KISS’ ultra-glam Asylum era. With flourishes of color, pastel garb, and eyeliner for days, Simmons looked nothing short of uncomfortable, and his musical output followed suit. Amid what could be referred to as “throwaways,” Simmons did manage to conjure his fervent spirit for what should be remembered as the album’s best track, “Any Way You Slice It.” Though the production is dated, the instrumentation is sublime, and the campy lyrics about Simmons’ sexual exploits are chuckle-inducing, to be sure.
12) “We Are One” from Psycho Circus (1998)
Known predominantly for bringing more metal-oriented tracks to the table, Simmons has been known to get in touch with his softer side now and again. To that end, Psycho Circus track “We Are One” is Simmons’ most touchy cut since 1976’s “Great Expectations.” A soaring chorus is supplemented by Tommy Thayer‘s outstanding fretwork throughout. With established expectations to be “The Demon” at all times, it’s nice to see Simmons stretch out and show a more melodic side now and again.
11) “Ladies in Waiting” from Dressed to Kill (1975)
One of KISS’ most energetic outings, 1975’s Dressed to Kill found the band hungry and with their backs against the wall. Running scared, many KISS concert staples were crafted, namely the proverbial rock ‘n’ roll anthem, “Rock and Roll All Night.” Simmons delivered several outstanding efforts among the controlled chaos, with the up-tempo “Ladies in Waiting” proving the best of the bunch. The track’s signature of a tidy beat laid down by Peter Criss and some memorable guitar work added by Ace Frehley toward the song’s end.
10) “Almost Human” from Love Gun (1977)
Preeminent thinking often shows Love Gun to be KISS’ finest hour, and in many ways, that’s hard to argue with. Sadly serving as the final album to feature KISS’ original four members through and through, Love Gun showed KISS at the height of its powers. For the first seven tracks, KISS lulled listeners into a false sense of security with one catchy hard rock track after another, and then with the album’s eight cuts, Simmons ripped the bottom out of everything. One of KISS’ most quirky, if not bizarre tracks, “Almost Human” features off-kilter vibes, what sounds to be bongos, Paul Stanley-led falsetto harmonies, and one of the nastiest Ace Frehley guitar solos laid to tape.
9) “Thief in the Night” from Crazy Nights (1987)
A distinct product of the glam metal era featuring big choruses, big hair, and synth touches, 1987’s Crazy Nights isn’t often remembered as a guitar-forward album. But in truth, it’s a venerable coup de maître for six-string maestro Bruce Kulick. Producer Ron Nevison did an outstanding job bringing Kulick’s guitar to the forefront on the record, and Simmon’s sleazy “Thief in the Night” is a prime example. Open power chords and crunchy ESP-driven riffs slither along, giving way to a sickly-sweet solo so rich you can almost taste it as it seeps out of your speakers.
8) “Man of 1,000 Faces” from Gene Simmons (1978)
Temporarily discharged from the KISS machine and left to his own devices, Simmons showed his meddle on his ’78 self-titled solo outing. Running the gamut of all his influences, Simmons showed his true colors and made it clear to fans that Paul Stanley wasn’t the only driving force behind the hot-rodded stylings KISS made oh-so-popular. One of the more idiosyncratic moments on the record is “Man of 1,000 Faces,” which plays as an obvious confessionary tale of his life behind his self-imposed Kabuki mask. Eschewing guitars and instead allowing the track to be driven by strings, “Man of 1,000 Faces” is a one-of-a-kind moment for the normally thundering bassist.
7) “Killer” from Creatures of the Night (1982)
Perhaps the most metal track from KISS’ most metal album, Creatures of the Night, “Killer” finds Gene Simmons lamenting a recent tryst gone array. In what can be best described as “fresh,” guitarist Vinnie Vincent’s riffing is fluid and edgy, menacingly slithering along like a hungry python. Creatures of the Night bred two KISS concert staples, “War Machine” and “I Love It Loud,” but in many ways, “Killer” is the penultimate standout from what should be thought of as KISS’ definitive studio offering.
6) “Living in Sin” from Gene Simmons (1978)
Gene Simmons’ ’78 solo album was an eclectic record, to be sure, allowing the four-stringer to spread his wings, treating listeners to all sorts of genres. But with “Living in Sin,” Simmons delivered a sublime cut seemingly primed for KISS’ next studio album. In retrospect, “Living in Sin” is an out-and-out victory and undoubtedly one of Simmons’ best tracks. With a fun storyline, quality bass work, and an appearance from Simmons’s then-girlfriend Cher, what’s not to like?
5) “She’s So European” from Unmasked (1979)
When KISS released Unmasked, they probably were trying to piggyback onto the success of 1979’s Dynasty. Never in a million years did Simmons and company expect to craft a power pop classic for the ages, but in the end, that’s just what the NYC heroes did. Unmasked is a polarizing album at best, lionized by some and loathed by others. But in the case of Simmons, he delivered several memorable tracks, with the best being the sugary sweet “She’s So European.” Laced with keyboards and driven home by a fun chorus and on-point vocals, Simmons showed the world that he’s far from a one-trick pony.
4) “Charisma” from Dynasty (1979)
On the heels of KISS’ infamous ’78 solo album concept gone wrong, the quarreling foursome regrouped in the studio to begin work on KISS’ first new studio outing in two years. The sessions didn’t go as planned, with Peter Criss being jettisoned from the sessions and disco stylings more than creeping into KISS’ music. To Simmons’s credit, he seemingly paid no mind, and while most of the tracks on Dynasty aren’t exactly his best, the leadoff track from side two ended up as one of his best. On an album heavily veering toward pop, with “Charisma,” Simmons upheld KISS’ hard rock integrity.
3) “Sweet Pain” from Destroyer (1976)
Destroyer is seemingly always in the running when the conversation of KISS’ best albums comes up, and with good reason, it’s solid. Many of the record’s tracks have peppered KISS’ setlists over the years, and some still do. More so, the record produced Simmons’ supposed signature song in “God of Thunder,” and while that proto-metal slice of heaven is great, it’s “Sweet Pain” that trumps them all. Never given a chance to shine in concert or via greatest hits compilation, “Sweet Pain” is one of Simmons’ most sublime moments. Pro-tip: for the definitive version, listen to Destroyer Resurrected, which features a version of “Sweet Pain” with Ace Frehley playing lead, as opposed to Bob Ezrin’s stand-in, Dick Wager.
2) “Larger Than Life” from Alive II (1977)
The penultimate spot on the list goes to an odd outlier in the KISS discography, “Larger Than Life.” Unequivocally one of KISS’ songs, it’s often forgotten due to its strange inclusion at the end of KISS’ Alive II album along with four other studio cuts. Reportedly, Ace Frehley couldn’t be bothered to show up to the studio for this one, so old friend Bob Kulick handled six-string duties, and he did so with style and vigor. Diehard KISS fans are surely familiar with this one, but newcomers, be advised, “Larger Than Life” will blow the doors off your expectations and open your mind to the wild world of KISS.
1) “Mr. Blackwell” from Music from ‘The Elder’ (1982)
Posturing at the edge of the stage, wagging its tongue in all its explosive glory, is what could be considered KISS’ most doomy track, “Mr. Blackwell.” In what can only be described as a happy accident, the confusing, misguided, and all together oddball Music from ‘The Elder’ has divided KISS fans for over forty years, and that’s not about the change. As a prog rock mutineer, Music from ‘The Elder’ is a challenging listen post to post. But a few tracks do harken back to what KISS was, and “Mr. Blackwell” is one of them. Uncomfortable vocals, menacing aesthetics, and a searing solo by Ace Frehley earmark this cut as decisively exceptional.
– Andrew Daly (@vwmusicrocks) is the Editor-in-Chief for www.vwmusicrocks.com and may be reached at email@example.com