Ace Frehley, Alive II, Alive!, Allan Schwartzberg, Animalize, Anton Fig, Asylum, Bill Aucoin, Black Sabbath, Bob Kulick, Bob Seger, Bobby Lewis, Camine Appice, Cher, Craig Kampf, David Bowie, David Letterman, Disney, Donna Summer, Double Platinum, Eddie Kramer, Elliot Randall, Eric Carr, Eric Nelson, Gene Simmons, Helen Reddy, Janis Ian, Jeff "Skunk" Baxter, Jeff Glixman, Jimi Hendrix, Joe Perry, Kansas, Kate Sagal, KISS, Love Gun, Michael Benvenga, Michael Des Barres, Mikel Japp, Music, Neil Jason, Paul Stanley, Peter Criss, Richie Ranno, Rick Neilsen, Russ Ballard, Sean Delaney, Stan Penridge, Starz, Steely Dan, Steve Buslowe, Steve Lukather, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Toto, Underdog Records, Vini Poncia, Will Lee, Yngwie Malmsteen
The month of September is a huge month for KISS fans, even if they don’t know it. Why you may ask? Because the month of September is the anniversary month for the releases of TEN KISS albums. I’ve talked about Alive!, Animalize and Asylum.
Now, today, September 18th is a doozie. In 1978, all four solo albums were released on this day. Three other KISS albums were released on this day as well, we’ll get to those.
Today is the 40th anniversary of the release of all four KISS solo albums. When I got into KISS, I was 7 going on 8 and that’s about when the whole Love Gun, Alive II, Double Platinum era was going on and then these were just coming out. Because of my newness to the band, I didn’t understand what was going on. I thought it was just 4 albums, one featuring songs by each member. I thought that was cool. And, in a way, it was. In other ways, it wasn’t. In many ways, actually.
While I pride myself on knowing my KISStory, at that time I had no such knowledge. I didn’t realize that Peter and Ace were both becoming victims of their own demons and weren’t pulling their own weight. They were constantly being pitted against Gene and Paul and were coming out on the losing side. As would be the case in any partnership/band/biz, that led to dissension. Ace and Peter were becoming more and more disillusioned with the “other side.” Gene and Paul were becoming less and less patient with Ace and Peter. Ace and Peter, whether right or wrong, felt that Gene and Paul were abusing their power and not allowing the others their creative freedom. Peter was threatening to quit as was Ace. This is not just Gene’s and Paul’s long-heard version of the story, Sean Delaney backed this up when I talked with him several years ago. More on Sean later.
To keep the semblance of the band together, Gene and Paul, along with manager Bill Aucoin proposed that the individual members release their own album under the KISS moniker and let each showcase their influences, skills, desires, etc. Eraldo Carugati did the cover art of each and they looked cohesive, as they were supposed to. To the fans, including the newbies like me, it was to look like a cool thing they did in the name of creativity. I guess it was in some strange instances. They each dedicated their individual albums to each other, except Peter who added a dedication to Michael Benvenga who was in Chelsea and Lips with him, pre-KISS.
Ace’s album was all about the rock. Not, any pop or fluff really, even in the Russ Ballard tune, “New York Groove.” His guest list was not really extensive when you look at the other members’ tracks. He did recruit Anton Fig and Will Lee to play on his album, both of which would go on to be part of The World’s Most Dangerous Band from David Letterman. Fig would go on to be the drummer on the next two KISS studio albums (Dynasty and Unmasked) and when Ace finally blew the joint, he was part of Frehley’s Comet. Ace, being Ace decided he would do most of the other instruments himself, including most of the bass duties (Lee played on “Ozone,” “I’m in Need of Love” and “Wiped-Out”). There’s nothing wrong with that, he did it for the next few KISS albums, at least on his songs. Ace had Eddie Kramer produce his album (Ace co-produced it). Kramer was associated with Jimi Hendrix, David Bowie, the Rolling Stones, Beatles, and the list goes on. He also produced Alive! and Alive II. “New York Groove” was the only tune from this album that charted (#13). Ace’s was the only album to chart (#26) and was the highest selling.
Peter’s album was about soul, R&B, jazz, and rock and roll. kind of stuff. Peter’s background was in jazz drumming, not necessarily the hard rock that he was known for. His influences were older. Diverse. Most of the tracks on this record were written by Stan Penridge. The credits go to Penridge and Peter, but I’m suspicious of how much Peter actually wrote. He may have done some lyrics, I guess. Peter’s cover of Bobby Lewis’ “Tossin’ and Turnin'” was pretty good. KISS did it on the Dynasty tour, at least for a few shows. It was pretty awful from what I’ve heard of it. But, Sean Delaney wrote two songs on the album (“Rock Me Baby” and “I Can’t Stop the Rain”). What is remarkable about this is Sean actually produced Gene’s solo album but was asked to write for Peter. He did both. Peter had many guest musicians including Steve Lukather of Toto fame, Neil Jason (who also played all the bass on Gene’s album), Penridge, Allan Schwartzberg (who also played on Gene’s album and was credited as “additional drum overdubs” on several of the 80s-era KISS albums) and more. The album was produced by Vini Poncia who produced Dynasty and Unmasked. Incidentally, it’s the only one of the four that had a “credits insert” and the only one that released two singles, even though neither song charted.
Paul’s album has been touted as the “most KISS-like” and I disagree. I think that would be Ace’s (which could be one reason why I like it less). Now, Paul’s has KISS qualities but it sounds like Paul’s KISS songs. The addition of outside musicians changes the feel than that of a KISS album. I think Paul’s has the best-written tunes. A little bit of “Starchild” and a little bit of the “lover” is how I’d describe the album. Ballads, power-ballads, hard rocking tunes and some pop aspects. There’s not a song on this album that I don’t dig. While there are three songs (“Move On,” “Ain’t Quite Right” and “Take Me Away (Together as One)”) that were co-written by Mikel Japp, this is the only one of the four solo albums not to feature a cover tune. Paul had some notable guests on this album. Carmine Appice and Craig Krampf (co-writer of “Oh Sherrie” and session drummer for many big-named artists) on drums, and of course, Bob Kulick on guitar. Steve Buslowe played bass on side one and Eric Nelson on side two. I wonder if that was by design? I find it odd. The album was produced by Jeff Glixman who has worked with Kansas, Yngwie Malmsteen, Black Sabbath and more.
Gene’s album seems, to me, like a huge party. It’s like he gathered all of his friends, girlfriends, a previously-released KISS tune, bits of horror, hard rock, The Beatles and his favorite Disney films and threw himself a shindig. If I knew he wasn’t so straight-edged, that could be the case, but other than a few impromptu orgies, I don’t see the party happening. The album opens with something that reminds one of The Omen and is hellish before hitting the hard rock “Radioactive” which has a very cool (complete with choreographed dissonant passing notes) classical guitar interlude into “Burning Up With Fever” which on the original CD versions put both of those songs together and you had to either just listen through or fast forward to get to the latter. This is the only one of the four that re-recorded a KISS song (“See You In Your Dreams”) because he wasn’t happy with the original that was on Rock and Roll Over. Gene has always maintained that he learned English from watching Disney films. So, while it sticks out like a sore thumb on the album, it makes perfect sense that he’d cover “When You Wish Upon a Star” because hey, it gives him an extra tune and you love what you love, especially when it fits your story. Now, his guest list is incredible. He plays no bass on this album, just acoustic and electric guitar. He leaves the bass work to Neil Jason, who along with Allan Schwartzberg on drums, also played on Peter’s album. Elliot Randall, who is probably best known for his guitar solo on “Reelin’ in the Years” from Steely Dan handles most of the main guitar work but also, Rick Neilsen, Joe Perry, Jeff “Skunk” Baxter and Richie Ranno of Starz do guest spots. And back up singers? Bob Seger, Helen Reddy, Donna Summer, Cher, Janis Ian, Michael Des Barres and a then-unknown young lady by the name of Kate Sagal (yes, Peggy Bundy) all lent their voices. Sean Delaney, as I said, produced the album. Sean claimed, to me, that he never got paid for that job and that Gene cheated him. Again, that’s an allegation and not necessarily a fact. But, the fact that he and Gene had a falling out about this time and as far as I know never really reconciled, I can see it. It wasn’t my business and I hope they talked before Sean passed away in 2003.
You’ll notice the order in which I talked about the albums. This order is important because it is in reverse order my favorite/preferred list. Gene, Paul, Peter and Ace. I get looks and furrowed brows when I say Ace’s is my least favorite. There are several reasons for this. One, I just am not a huge fan of Ace’s. I feel he squandered an opportunity and let KISS fans down in general. Yes, Peter flaked first and was a little byotch about it. But, I felt we got the better deal because Eric Carr was a much better drummer and a rock drummer at that. Ace’s also is just boring to me. Don’t get me wrong, I like it, it’s just my least favorite. I felt the reason for the solo projects was to show a bit of freedom and influence and step out of the KISS box. If you’re going to sound like KISS, record a KISS album and don’t be a byotch. Peter, Paul and Gene all got experimental and showed range, for better or for worse. Don’t argue, you have your favorites and I have mine!
All four had cool posters that you pieced together and the ones I have on 180g vinyl (from Underdog Records, of course) are pretty good. I had to buy my Paul Stanley used and it is missing the poster. I never had all the posters as a kid, either, so I’m looking for a replacement. I talked earlier about the good and bad of the solo albums. I love them for what they are, in varying degrees. The bad, however, was that no matter how crappy Peter’s performed, he still thought he was better and needed more from KISS. They showed him the door. Ace, on the other hand, got bolder as his album did the best and it proved, at least in his head, that he was more important. I feel he was, but disagree with how he dealt with it. Plus, he and Peter’s demons really got in their way beyond “just ego.” What are your thoughts on the solo albums, Dear Reader? I know you’ll disagree on the Ace placement but it is how I see it.
This got a lot more overly verbose than I expected, so I’ll continue the others either in a separate post for today or just do it tomorrow. Stay tuned.
Until tomorrow (or later today), stay in the Useless Things Groove!
“You were standin’ and I was thinkin’ ff all the time that I spend hangin’ around. Situation could only get better. I got closer to see what I found. In the mornin’, movin’ easy. Everything seems so right. But when the night comes, I’ve been dreamin’… Dreamin’ ’bout leavin’ you one more time. Girl, you gave me good love but it ain’t quite right.” – “Ain’t Quite Right” (Stanley/Japp)