All images courtesy of Getty Images/KISSonline/AceFrehley.com
By Andrew Daly
It’s no secret that I’m a huge KISS fan, more so, I am a huge Ace Frehley fan. There is an argument to be made that KISS was never better, and more hard-rocking than when Ace Frehley was manning the ever-important position of lead guitarist for the Hottest Band In The World.
There is no denying that “Space Ace” has a special swagger about him…that certain something that simply makes him special. Ace is both unable and uninterested in reading music and is generally averse to playing by anybody else’s rules but his own. Still, Ace has managed to forge a fifty-year career in music and has seen the wildly unheard-of success that street-walking guys from the Bronx don’t often see.
Some say that Ace is “lazy,” and “unreliable,” and while he does steadfastly walk to the beat of his own drum (they don’t call him “Space Ace” for nothing), Ace has always shown up, and very rarely, if ever, missed a show with KISS, or as a solo artist. It’s true Ace has battled his demons with drugs and alcohol, and while he may be unusual, Ace Frehley is far from “unreliable.”
Some don’t agree, or simply don’t believe. My answer to them? Well, the proof is in the pudding. Ace Frehley has fifty years and counting under his belt as one of Rock and Heavy Metal music’s truly iconic Guitar Gods. One who has influenced nearly everybody left his wake since he first sauntered onto the stage with KISS in 1973. Say what you want about how he handles his business, but you can never take that away from him.
As I’ve said, Ace has been at it for a long time, and over the years he’s put a ton of memorable and quality music. So, today, we’re taking a look at lucky number thirteen…that’s thirteen of Ace Frehley’s best tracks. Now, there is a catch here…for those of you expecting to see “New York Groove,” “2,000 Man,” “Do Ya,” “Fox On The Run,” or anything from the Origins Vol.1 and 2 records, you’re going to be disappointed. Reason being that while Ace’s cover songs are tremendous, this article will focus on Ace’s original compositions, rather than his covers. With that said, let’s get started.
“Hard For Me” off of Anomaly (2009)
Ace Frehley knows how to write a damn good song, and it’s the deep cuts where he sometimes shines the most. With “Hard For Me,” the history of the track itself is a bit murky, and apparently, it’s basically the demo version of what would become the lead track off of Ace’s 2009 comeback album, Anomaly, “Foxy & Free.” As good as “Foxy & Free” is, “Hard For Me” is lyrically better by a mile, as it shows Ace is in full-on heavy metal mode, and the solo is easily one of his most wicked efforts laid to tape dare I say ever. It’s worth noting that more or less, “Hard For Me,” and Foxy & Free” are musically identical. Many casual fans aren’t even aware of this alternate track, as Ace only finally released the finished version in 2017 with the deluxe edition of Anomaly. This is one I would love to see Ace tackle in the live setting. If you’re a die-hard fan, and you haven’t heard it – change that. With this one, you’re going to want to dig deep. I promise you “Hard For Me” is a soon-to-be staple of your Ace Frehley Spotify and Apple Music playlists.
“Five Card Stud” off of Trouble Walkin’ (1989)
This is going to be sacrilegious to many fans, but I am of the opinion that Ace’s 1989 studio album, Trouble Walkin’ is his best effort. Most are going to scream that Ace Frehley, or Frehley’s Comet are better albums, and that’s a fair argument, but allow me to make my case. Coming off the tepid critical and commercial reception which Second Sighting received, Ace definitely felt as if he had something to prove by the time he began to record Trouble Walkin’, and man did the kid from the Bronx ever deliver. Tracks such as “Trouble Walkin’,” and “Remember Me” are some of the most memorable, heavy, and generally well-written and well-executed songs of Ace’s entire career. In “Five Card Stud,” we see another dusty gem that is perpetually forgotten by KISS and Ace fans alike. With its crunching, freight train style riff, and Ace’s typically laconic vocal delivery, it’s everything we’ve come to know, and love about our favorite guitar-slinging Spaceman. When Ace venomously spits the line, “I hit a royal flush and I smell blood,” and then feverishly rips into the first of two moltenous solos…it’s these moments that have come to cement Ace Frehley’s status as a true Guitar God. One more quick note regarding the Trouble Walkin’ album and era in general…it’s known that Ace was set to join KISS for their Hot In The Shade Tour as the opening act. It’s also rumored that Ace may have been set to reunite with KISS in full makeup for an Unmasked/Elder era lineup (Ace, Paul, Gene, and Eric) reunion tour, but Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons were so upset with Ace’s inclusion of “Hide Your Heart” on his record (and the fact that his version is much better than theirs), that the entire thing fell through. The old saying goes, “If you’ve got jealous haters, that’s proof you’re doing something right.” Ace nailed it with Trouble Walkin’ and crafted the album of his career. Did I change your mind?
“Mission To Mars” off of Spaceman (2018)
If you’ve been sleeping on Ace Frehley’s 2000’s post-KISS career, you’ve been missing out on a lot. Since 2009, Ace has put out five outstanding studio records, and Spaceman is perhaps the best of the bunch. Now, we all know what Ace is about – classic Hard Rock and Heavy Metal riffs with interludes of frenetic soloing. If you’re expecting Ace to reinvent his proverbial wheel at this stage of the game, you’re going to be sadly disappointed. Conversely, if you’re excited about the fact that at 70 years of age, Ace is still pumping out memorable Rock tunes, then welcome aboard the good ship Frehley, next stop outer space, our journey will be soundtracked by the typically space-themed, and definitely heavy, “Mission To Mars.” As I said before, this track is simply Ace Frehley doing what he does best: reveling in his general guitar badassery, churning out deeply heavy riffs, and wailing away on shreadworthy solos. I can confirm that this track translates exceptionally well in the live setting, and settled in nicely alongside the classics. You don’t need to take my word for it with this one. Just listen to it. If you’re an Ace fan– it sells itself.
“Separate” off of Second Sighting (1988)
I mentioned earlier that Second Sighting was a massive critical and commercial disappointment for Ace, which is unusual, as his records are usually universally acclaimed. I theorize that there are two simple reasons as to why this record didn’t do well and is truly, and honestly Ace’s weakest record. The first being the decision to go full-on Glam Rock. I am not sure if this was Ace’s decision or Megaforce Record’s decision, but regardless– it was a bad one. Ace both with and without KISS has always been a pioneer in the world of Glam Rock, still, he always maintained his Heavy Metal edge. Hell, isn’t that why he left KISS in the first place, as they weren’t heavy enough for him anymore? The decision to soften up and go total Glam was a common one that many artists made to great success at the time, but it was a poor fit for the Spaceman. The second issue with this record was the replacement of Anton Fig with the incredibly bad and ill-fitting Jamie Oldaker on drums. A huge part of the Ace Frehley sound is the hard-hitting, precision whirlwind that is “The Thunder From Down Under” AKA Anton Fig. His presence behind the drumkit was missed immensely on this record, and it showed in Ace’s live shows from around this time as well. Despite all of that, this is still a decent record, and “Separate,” is one of Ace’s most criminally underrated tracks. At nearly five minutes long, it slinks along with that trademark Ace swagger, and there is just something about it that’s just…right. Ace played this song often in the live setting during his late-80s to mid-90s shows, but it hasn’t really resurfaced in his post-KISS 2000s era. I hope to see Ace break this one out live one day for sure.
“Snowblind” off of Ace Frehley (1978)
We’re going all the way back to the beginning now with probably the heaviest track off of Ace’s stone-cold-classic debut studio album, Ace Frehley, which is Ace’s ode to cocaine, “Snowblind.” By 1978, KISS was coming off a smash record (Love Gun), and a huge tour that accompanied it. While the band appeared to be on top of the world, internally there were massive issues, which included but were not limited to Ace Frehley’s substance abuse problems, which were firmly hedged against his growing confidence as a songwriter. Simply put, Ace wanted more songs, furthermore, he wanted out of the band. The reality of KISS is that at the time, Ace was the most talented musician in the band, and it was becoming more and more obvious that his blossoming status as a songwriter and singer was going to severely cut into the facetime the other members of KISS would receive. So, what was the solution? The band, its record label, and its management decided that the four members of KISS would release individual solo records, which would give the members the freedom to stretch out and do their thing, and more importantly – it would keep KISS together. The result? Well, as it turns out, Ace made the best record, and it was a smash success. As for the other records…not so much, and the rest as they say is KISStory. With “Snowblind,” we see Ace exploring his choices which had come to be heavily defined and influenced by the use of cocaine. It’s a subtle, veiled introspective side of the Spaceman that we don’t often see. This was the first time Ace lyrically examined his substance abuse issues, but it would not be the last. Ace still plays this one live to this day, and it’s a rager every time.
“Dark Light” off of Music From “The Elder” (1981)
The story of KISS’ fateful decision to bring in Bob Ezrin, and record a medieval-themed Prog-Rock album has been told many times over, and we don’t need to fully rehash it here. That said, 1981’s Music From “The Elder” is a great record, just not in the traditional KISS sense. If you’re able to open your mind, and really digest it as a piece of music, while separating yourself from your traditional KISS fandom, you might be surprised to find yourself enjoying the record. All of that aside, Ace Frehley hated the record then, and by all accounts, he still hates it now. No surprises there– Ace is a rocker through and through. By the time 1981 had rolled around, Ace was all but done with KISS. With the departure of Peter Criss from the band, and Eric Carr not being an original member, and partner, Ace Frehley was overruled time and time again by Paul and Gene on all group decisions. So, Ace resolved to hold up in his home studio and record his guitar tracks for the record there. While Ace may have been disconnected from his bandmates and simultaneously deteriorating into addiction, Ace still managed to contribute the best track on Music From “The Elder,” and it’s not even close. The track in question is the almost always forgotten “Dark Light.” While Music From “The Elder” is a Prog-Rock album at its core, “Dark Light” is a true rocker. With heavy riffs and dense power chords, Ace did his best to bring the heat here, and honestly…he succeeded. There’s a certain machismo about this song, and Ace’s solo is unique as it’s one of his least frenetic to start. Instead, Ace uses his trusty Gibson to slowly build a mountainous wall of six-string sound which suddenly implodes unto itself before the song crashes back into its final verse. This song is unique, and it shows Ace to be the true songsmith that he is. Don’t sleep on “Dark Light.”
“Shot Full Of Rock” off of Trouble Walkin’ (1989)
I tried my best to diversify this list as much as possible, to showcase all the deep, dark corners of Ace’s career, but I had to dive back into (I’ll say this again) Ace’s best record, Trouble Walkin’. While I was singing this album’s praises earlier, you may have noticed that I failed to mention the album’s best track, “Shot Full Of Rock.” Well…here it is. I mentioned before all of the things that made Second Sighting a weak album, and basically, the opposite is true here. With Trouble Walkin’, Ace turns up the volume and goes full-on from start to finish. Anton Fig is back behind the drums, and man does it show. Also of note, this is where long-time Ace cohort, Richie Scarlet, joined Ace’s solo band. Richie is a rocker to his core, and he seriously helped Ace regain his footing here. You can really hear the special chemistry Richie and Ace have on songs such as “Shot Full Of Rock.” Now, Richie is by no means the guitar player that Ace is, but he compliments Ace very well, so much so that Ace would often let him solo during shows as well. In “Shot Full Of Rock,” you’ve simply got an in-your-face Rock song. It’s a classic Ace Frehley song – fun and full of swagger. You can’t go wrong.
“Shock Me” off of Love Gun (1977)
Simply put, no list of any kind, in any form, of top Ace Frehley tracks is complete without the KISS Klassic, “Shock Me.” After all, this is basically Ace’s “signature song.” That said, it’s debatable if this is his best song (it isn’t). All of that aside, for Ace, this is the one that started it all, the one that gave him the confidence, and the one that people most often remember. As the story goes, “Shock Me” was inspired by an incident in 1976, while KISS was on tour for Rock And Roll Over. KISS was in Lakeland, Florida for a show, and at the beginning of the show, Ace apparently electrocuted himself while touching a metal railing that was not grounded properly. Being the warrior that he is, Ace finished the show, even though he couldn’t feel his arms or hands, and his fingers were burned to a crisp. Ace recounts that he played the show in a nearly blacked-out daze, and all he remembers is the fans chanting, “Ace, Ace, Ace,” which apparently kept him going. All told, Ace lived to tell the tale, and a year later his “signature song” was born. At the end of the day, “Shock Me” is a great track, and over the years, the solo has been included on numerous “best-of” and “all-time” lists. Ace nailed it with this one, and it’s still an Ace concert staple to this day. Evidently, the boys in KISS agree, as they’ve kept it in their setlist as well, both with Ace and without. These days they’ve got long-time, and also awesome lead guitarist, Tommy Thayer, singing “Shock Me.” I personally have no issue with it (a great song is a great song), but many do. Let the flame war begin.
“Rock Soldiers” off of Frehley’s Comet (1987)
If there was ever going to be another song that you might say defines Ace Frehley, it’s “Rock Soldiers.” This is another semi-rare instance where Ace digs deeper into his (at the time) ongoing substance abuse issues. With “Rock Soldiers,” we find Ace recounting perhaps his most infamous incident, where he sent Connecticut police on a wild car chase which saw Ace drunkenly evading the law in a DeLorean which was reportedly packed with cocaine and liquor. Once again, Ace lived to tell the tale and walked away unscathed, and the result is this monster track off of Ace’s equally monstrous 1987 comeback record, Frehley’s Comet. I’ve sung this record’s praises before, and I don’t think, I know it’s one of the best of its era. As I said before, “Rock Soldiers” handily challenges “Shock Me” for the title of Ace’s “signature song.” Case in point: do you want to catch a serious vibe at a Rock concert? Well, the next time you’re at an Ace Frehley show, check out the vibe and the feel of the audience when Ace sings, “When I think of how my life was spared from that near-fatal wreck…if the Devil wants to play his card game now…he’s gonna play without an Ace in his deck.” I’m telling you, I’ve seen Ace many times, and I’ve been to many concerts, but that moment is incomparable. Experience it for yourself. You can’t beat it.
“Two Sides of The Coin” off of Unmasked (1980)
This era of KISS and Ace’s state of mind has been touched on in this article already, so I won’t dive too deep there. Unmasked is an album that is unfairly derided by many KISS fans, and even Paul Stanley himself, who calls the album “crappy,” and “wimpy.” I’ve always found this to be a sad state of affairs seeing as Paul wrote some excellent songs here, and he delivered some of his best vocal performances ever to boot. With that being said, guess what? Ace Frehley’s three tracks, “Talk To Me,” Torpedo Girl,” and the big winner, “Two Sides Of The Coin,” are hands down the best tracks on the album. Truth be told, I could have chosen any of the three here, and I did really struggle with which one to pick. Ultimately, I chose “Two Sides Of The Coin” because I feel it’s the most musical of the three, and it’s also unique for a very special reason– it is one of the very few Ace Frehley penned tracks to not feature a classic, signature guitar solo. Instead, it features some very handy tom-tom work by ghost drummer, Anton Fig, while the Spaceman lays down some chiming, almost New Wave/Jangle Pop guitarwork over the top before the song rolls back into the final chorus and eventual fade-out. It’s uncharacteristic of Ace, but extremely welcomed, and shows his uncanny ability to write fantastic songs, and stretch out of his comfort zone when needed. Ace doesn’t play this one live too often, but he apparently did break it out on the 2018 KISS Kruise, which you can watch here. This is one I’d love to see Ace play live, and I am hoping he does so the next time I see him in concert. As a side note, regarding Unmasked, I can make an argument that it’s the band’s best record, but that’s a topic for another article forthcoming. Stay tuned.
“Rocket Ride” off of Alive II (1977)
As I mentioned earlier, by the end of the Love Gun Tour, KISS was a band going off the rails. Never a band to be outdone, or outshined, KISS kept the train rolling by putting out a sequel to their 1975 hit live album, Alive!, with the release of Alive II in 1977. One cool and slightly puzzling addition to this album was the inclusion of five new studio tracks on Side D of this double album. One of those tracks of the now-classic Ace Frehley penned track, “Rocket Ride.” This track sees Ace in traditional Sex, Drugs & Rock “N” Roll form, with the focus here being on sex. Also of note regarding these five new tracks was given the tenuous state of the band at the time, Ace decided he didn’t feel like showing up to record these tracks…well…that’s Paul and Gene’s version of events. According to Ace, Paul and Gene didn’t feel like waiting for Ace to make time, and they chose to record without him. Regardless of the truth, Bob Kulick features as a ghost player on four of the five tracks, the exception being “Rocket Ride,” which is just fine seeing as Ace absolutely slays on this track. “Rocket Ride” features not one, but two quintessential Ace guitar solos and they may well be some of the best he ever laid down period. The riff, vocals, solo, and pacing of this song are fierce, and “Rocket Ride” is a track that really translates well in the live setting. Basically, if you’re an Ace fan– you know and love this song. There are no exceptions.
“Save Your Love” off of Dynasty (1979)
“Save Your Love” is a track which our very own Joe O’Brien covered in his article, You Wanted The Best, You Got The Best…Underrated KISS Tracks, so, to be honest, there isn’t a whole lot I can say that Joe didn’t cover already. That said, what I will say is that in regards to Dynasty, we see Ace Frehley taking center stage again, and his three tracks, “Hard Times,” “2000 Man,” and of course, “Save Your Love,” are the best tracks on the record. Ace was on fire here, and as always, Anton Fig lent his amazing talents to compliment Ace’s tracks perfectly as he was ghost drumming in place of Peter Criss who was on the fast track out of KISS by this point. The songwriting here is forceful, and Ace’s guitar work is crunchy, driving, and powerful. Joe and I often comment that we would love to see Ace perform “Save Your Love” live in concert, but to date, we haven’t seen him do so. With that being said, I’ve recently learned that Ace did also break this one out during the 2018 KISS Kruise, so I have hope that the next time Joe and I settle in to see Ace live, we will finally be treated to “Save Your Love” in person.
“Rip It Out” off of Ace Frehley (1978)
Here we have the song that more or less launched Ace’s solo career, and is also still the track that Ace opens his concerts with to this day. With “Rip It Out,” we see Ace lamenting the loss of a lover in his typical Frehleyin way. In short, when it comes to writing about love lost, Ace has always taken the attitude of “fuck you,” as opposed to “I miss you,” and honestly…when it comes to Ace Frehley, would you expect anything different? “Rip It Out” is as classic as it comes, and basically laid the blueprint for Ace’s non-KISS career: heavy riffs, savage guitar solos, to-the-point lyrical themes coupled with a succinct vocal delivery, driven by destructively volcanic drums laid down by you guessed it– Anton Fig. This is a song we all know and love, and one we can certainly all agree belongs on this list. Its initial success was the precursor to Ace’s eventual departure from KISS. Its enduring notoriety among both KISS and Ace fans alike shows as an example of why Ace remains in such high regard for those who came after him, and why his talents are so missed within KISS to this day.
Ace Frehley’s accomplishments within the realm of rock music are many, and both his style and persona alike are seminal and highly recognizable among his peers and fans. Ace is a rare case of a musical savant who has a God-given talent that many would kill for.
That said, as I mentioned earlier, his laid-back, quirky style, and general way of being have often left him with the label of “lazy.” In the truth, that could not be further off base. Ace Frehley has earned his place at the top of the mountain. As an elder statesman of Rock and Heavy Metal, Ace’s influence is boundless and is felt throughout multiple adjacent genres in ways that many of us could never fully imagine.
At the age of 70, Ace is still churning out incredible music with the fervor of a man half his age, and at this point is probably experiencing the most productive and creative period of his now fifty-year career as both a touring, and recording musician alike.
I do not know if Ace will ever share the limelight with KISS again, but I do know he will continue to grace stages as a solo artist for long as he is able. I look forward to seeing the Spaceman in concert many more times, and to add new and incredible tracks to this list as time goes on. In the meantime, until Ace lands, his spaceship at a venue near you, dig into these tracks on your next Mission To Mars.
– Andrew Daly (@vwmusicrocks) is the Editor-in-Chief for www.vwmusicrocks.com and may be reached at email@example.com
2 thoughts on “Into The Void: Thirteen of “Space Ace” Frehley’s Most Savage Tracks”
Should have actually included “Into the Void”. That song ripped!
5 STARS FOR this Ace FREHLEY’S Fan for going into a blackhole with Space Ace’s great songs! ⚡⚡