KISStorian ranks the original studio LPs

#1 > LOVE GUN – Eddie Kramers KISStoric sonic masterpiece, the punchy Love Gun boasts Ace’s first vocal, some of his best leads and the original line-up’s finest studio hour. Best snare sound found on any KISS studio recording save the non-live side 4 of Alive II, compliments again of Kramer.

#2 > ROCK & ROLL OVER – Meaty, beaty, big & bouncy, and again with Kramer at the wheel, Rock & Roll Over is a bombastic rock record that captures the band getting back to what they do best, rock. The debut EP should probably have this spot but the band is so much more developed by ’76’s RRO .

#3 > KISS Almost as pristine as “Christeen Sixteen” herself in sheer simplicity, KISS is loaded with more of the bands live staples than any other and, If you don’t like “Kissin’ Time”, you’re probably in the band because Ace’s solo on it is fierce, capturing on his frets the bands frustration in being forced to record the number.

#4 > DRESSED TO KILL – Shortish but tight, Dressed To Kill is a surprisingly crisp sounding album given it was practically self-produced …DTK features a notably improved Peter Criss and a number of now classic KISS rockers for the subsequent tour and Alive!. Turns out that giving the band more control, at least at this juncture, enabled them to produce something that represented them better than the debut and HTH, employing acoustic guitars to add texture for the first time. 

#5 > DETROYERThe bar and the band raised to the high ‘n mighty Bob Ezrin standard, Destroyer is KISS’s first successful foray into mainstream pop hot on the heels of the radio explosion of the Alive! version of “Rock & Roll All Nite”. Although many argue it’s KISS’s best studio effort because of their expanded scope with Ezrin producing, the overblown fascism that is “Great Expectations” gives us their first truly cringeworthy moment and a snapshot of the shape of things to come.

#6 > HOTTER THAN HELL – A delightfully dark ‘n dirgy, balls-to-the-wall album that includes a number of my all-time favorite KISS deep cuts, HTH is a major cornerstone of the KISS cannon. Were it not for its muddy production and dead drums, I could even put it above Destroyer because its definitive stuff. No place else would the sludge blues-rock of “Mainline” have made the cut nor  “Goin’ Blind” & ” Strange Ways” fit in so well with classics like “Parasite”, “Got to Chose” and the title cut.

(( KISStorians note: I have left off Dynasty & Unmasked because they, by & large, feature Anton Fig as ghost drummer. Had I included them, Unmasked would have come in last place, Dynasty somewhere in the middle ‘cuz its state-of-the-art KISS! ))



KISStorian issues demands

Until all the following demands are met, darkness will consume the land and silence will persist…..

KISS is required to re-mix both Unmasked & Crazy Nights, removing all keyboards.

KISS must immediately issue a live DVD from the Asylum tour.

KISS is implored to perform The Elder live on a pay-per-view.

KISS must engage Bob Ezrin or Eddie Kramer to record one more album with the band.

The Demon’s hand must be forced to release of the oft-threatened  ‘Gene Simmons 100’

Wicked on Bleecker

IMAG0448I snagged this on Bleecker Street in NYC in like ’87 when I was going to school out east. We would shoot down from upstate and always hit the record stores looking for boots. Pre-Youtube, this was a goldmine of a find for any budding young KISStorian looking for more pieces of the puzzle. Now everyone knows the tale but then it was a total mystery . The price tag says $8.99 and the KISStoric vinyl treasure featured both the never released Wicked Lester album as well as the Eddie Kramer recorded first actual demo of the band done at Electric LadyIMAG0449-1-1 (1)

KISStorian ranks top 10 KISS albums of all-time

cropped-scan0115.jpgLists like these can do more harm than good but I felt it was about time I went on the record. It was a cathartic exercise that had me shuffling the order around like so many KISS cards. No sooner than a minute after hitting ‘publish’ I wanted a mulligan. Please feel free to comment with your top 10 and why?

#1 – ALIVE – this is our ‘live’ rock & roll party and the desert island keeper

# 2 – LOVE GUN – you wanted the best, you got the best studio album

#3 – KISS – the vision, the sound and the live staples in one concise initial salvo, a sacred sphere.

#4- ALIVE II – at their live zenith plus 5 studio cuts larger than life

# 5- ROCK & ROLL OVER – a band in full 70’s stride, don’t put baby in the corner

# 6 – DESTROYER  – the pinnacle for some, too soft for others, dear to the daughters of Aphrodite

#7- CREATURES OF THE NIGHT – a sonic boom still reverberating from Eric Carr’s kick

# 8- ACE FREHLEY –  I don’t wanna burst your bubble but the original spaceman crashes the party wiped-out with the best of the 78 solo emissions

# 9- DRESSED TO KILL – stark perfection plus the Stanley/Simmons rock & roll national anthem

# 10- LICK IT UP – the bands best sans clown album and the shape of things to come

Editors note: Scott Wheeler’s suggestion below was so right on that I have heard his words and indeed taken heed. I am still wrestling with including MONSTER on this list as it is still taking root frankly and if “Never Enough” wasn’t on SONIC BOOM I may be able to talk about it as a really great record to. It is a process.  I am contemplating trying to calculate albums #10 thru #20; a Herculean task.


TOD HOWARTH talks shop


How did you originally catch the rock & roll bug?   Well if The Beatles were the definition of Rock and Roll in 1964 then there it was! But I think that the real heavy rock for me was Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin and Humble Pie.  I learned a lot about melodies, harmonies and song construction from the Beatles and kept within those guidelines right into my ‘heavier’ introductions.

Who are your favorite 5 rock singers of all time?   Good one, as it depends on one’s definition again, of a ‘rock’ singer!  I was influenced by singers over the years but perhaps didn’t realize what would become my favorites until later – realizing how they in fact shaped my own style (even though I don’t sound like many of them) ….John Lennon, Steve Marriott, John Waite, Steve Walsh, Layne Staley.

Can you describe your first time meeting Ace Frehley?   It took place in New York on my first audition. I was flying out to do another leg of a tour with Cheap Trick then and I combined the trip to meet up with the future Comet band.  I walked in, saw John Regan of course, Eddie Trunk was there (however I had no idea who he was) and then there was Ace.  I truly would not have known him sans makeup because I had never ‘looked’ him up through the pages of countless rock magazine articles – I seldom read those and never gravitated to KISS photos and articles because my personal musical interests were elsewhere.

Ace shook my hand as we were introduced and he was very pleasant, enthusiastic about the project and I imagine thrilled to be completing the group to really get out there and tour. I do remember that the impression that I got was, ‘Wow, cool guy, he’s happy to be here and play and very positive about what he’s doing and where’s he’s going’

This in itself was very refreshing as I had been through a few projects with tons of negativity and that was a drain on me over time. Ace looked good and he had a tremendous presence about him at that time.

He let you play a number of leads or record and live, was that something you had to fight for?  Not one bit. In fact I had told him that I wasn’t a jammin’ lead player nor a spontaneous one as I’ve always considered myself to be a singer/songwriter that played solid rhythm guitar/keys.  I believe that he was disappointed to a degree that I wasn’t asking to play more leads so as to bounce things off each other. I can play lead (obviously) but my compositions are melodies and notes that I hear in my head and then have to learn them.

I did want to play the lead on “It’s Over Now” after I tracked it because, well I thought that it suited the song. He had no problem with that at all. That’s when I gained HUGE respect for him as he was very confident in his guitar talent (had every right to be) and let me have that one.

Of your Frehley’s Comet song contributions, which track are happiest with today? (mine may be “Calling To You”)   Ha!  Cool that you like the old ‘MEGAFORCE‘ title “Calling To You”!  Mine would be a toss up, somewhere between “Time Ain’t Runnin’ Out”’ and “It’s Over Now”. 

How was it working with legendary producer Eddie Kramer?    Eddie at that time was a great guy, big resume and I learned more about him as we worked together, again, I really didn’t know that much about him either! He was very diplomatic about his ideas and brought great humor and results in the studio all at the same time. I don’t have any recollections that stand out about the times in the studio…besides the personal banter and jokes that we had between all of us.

Guitarists often say no two drummers are alike: how would you describe the feel difference between playing with legends Anton Fig and Jamie Oldaker behind the kit?   Well that saying is so very true.  I think that perhaps in the past I may have eluded to the opinion that Anton was better suited for the Comet initially, but then Jamie was so very instrumental in the feel in at (the very) least the track “It’s Over Now” …. he became the stellar standard. So it really becomes the definition of the ear listening.  Anton was flat out powerful, rocking, pounding and wild and the proverbial mosh pit for the ears – full of raw energy.  Jamie was moreover rock solid with the depth of a feel the escapes many drummers from track interpretation. The way he laid the snare down…..monumental.

What is your 2013 solo release Opposite Gods about? (its pretty fucking heavy dude … and I heard you sing like Bowie!?)   This solo effort has a plethora of inspirations that are all real life with exception to “Dancing Through The Pain” which was a dream. I have songs on here about my adult children, and their trials in life, a song about one of my very best friend’s Harley accident, which paralyzed him from the waist down, a tune about the shallowness of today’s ‘talents’ One about my dog! And just one political tune – of which I don’t do normally but could not help to sing about what I see here in America.

Cool that you can hear ‘Bowie’ in my voice!  I can imitate him dead on!

Yes. it’s very heavy, but I’ve always been heavy – until I start to sing! Ha!  I love deep dark material but I also write in an adult contemporary style like my Winter CD  When I record my heavy stuff it’s just that to me, heavy… but my voice really isn’t a ‘heavy’ type timbre so it becomes a little less threatening!

You highlight your adrenaline junkie hobbies nicely on your website: is that what drew you to rock & roll originally, the rush of it all?   No, the draw was – reflecting and understanding what I went through back then in the ‘60s now – acceptance and acknowledgement. My early life was a little rough, nothing too traumatizing but enough for me to search out some attention – and then of course a lot of that would evolve to women! The Beatles had that, well …. Hell, I wanted that too!

How did your recent appearance on the TV show Wipe-Out come about and was it fun?   I got my ass kicked!  I ‘trained’ for about three weeks swimming (which I ended up using a lot of) and general biking, weights, but no where near as much as I would need.

I had been watching the show for a while and being that ‘adrenaline junkie’ that you saw on my website I thought, ‘Man, I wanna do this!’  So at 53 years of age then, I decide to drive up to Los Angeles and audition. I wrote to them first of course and was immediately accepted to do as such and they loved me.

Upon arrival to the set in the mountain area of the northern Hollywood area I noticed that they had just recently cut all the weeds around the course – deadly for me as I’ve huge allergies which affect my breathing.  This was not the entire reason for me getting my ass kicked but it surely didn’t help.  I qualified I believe the 8th fastest time out of the final 22 or so but there was no chance that I could compete after the first real round (the one filmed for TV)  because they were to film the second round only a few hours after my initial ass kicking.  I had no second wind to give.

I had fun though, but realized that I was in fact, 53 years old then. I’m now 56!

FxF-cover-FBWhat’s the new project Four By Fate about?  Four By Fate is a brand new project / band that is the result of a few key industry players.  John Regan and I have kept in touch over the years, more so in the last few trying to get Ace back into the fold to do a 25 year re-union show/tour/concert for the 2012 (or around this time) year.

While having trouble getting through to him on a direct questions, it was posed to him by third parties where he expressed no interest.  He had his solo band and was happy rightfully so, doing that and other events.  In the mean time John and I were asked to collaborate with a Canadian KISS aficionado named Mitch Lafon on contributing tracks, re-recordings to his project; KISS 40 year anniversary tribute A World Without Heroes CD that would benefit a cancer hospice.  A great cause.  We did so and while doing this we were hooked up with some fantastic musicians via the internet style of recording.

Meanwhile, John had struck up a great business relationship with Danny Stanton of Coallier Entertainment and through a quickly morphed idea of getting John and I plus perhaps some musicians from the KISS project together to do a few quick shows, it whittled down to an actual band that would power on as a heavy melodic rock band using a few songs from Frehley’s Comet as a jump off point.

The line up is as follows: John Regan, bass guitar, backing vocals, Sean Kelly, lead guitar and lead/backing vocals, Stet Howland, drums, lead and backing vocals and me on lead vocals, guitar and keys.

With John’s and my extensive resume, Sean Kelly’s and Stet Howlands credits (Nelly Furtado & W.A.S.P respectively) we felt that we could initially pull from the big bands we’ve played with material wise while quickly developing our own which would be ‘Heavy Melodic’.

The new band was announced this last Tuesday and has it’s now website already, We are all doing homework at this very moment in preparation for the up and coming events that will unfold soon!  – TOD HOWARTH

KISStorian’s top ten GENE SIMMONS deep cuts

KISS Nation should demand the boyz seal these ten Gene master strokes up immediately in a time-capsule. I cannot put them in any order of import; no mere mortal could possibly extrapolate such calculations (not safely anyway).

WAR MACHINE – Creatures of The Night This may have in fact have been recorded “On The 8th Day” because it is freakin’ god-like rock. The intro guitar riff is a couple of light years ahead of its time; hard to believe songsmith Bryan Adams could have had anything to do with the song, but he did. Gene’s growl says get the bleep out of my way or get run over by the biggest drums on earth, ever (thanks Eric Carr) and stands as a testament to Gene’s mastering of the ‘monster plod’. When he sings “draw the battle lines” it’s so evil, so infectious, that I literally wish to rule the world briefly. Terrifying. The gut-check guitars in the verse and the sheer space allowed for the drums to resonate ’till the next A-chord bruises another rib is downright primal. If “War Machine” doesn’t get your blood boiling you probably have never ‘rocked’ anyway. While we’re at it, it bears mentioning that there isn’t a bad track on Creatures; get it.

ALMOST HUMAN – Love Gun – Let me count the ways it’s special: the grabber bass tone, the poppin’ bass breaks, Peter Criss’s jungle groove, Ace Frehley’s Hendrix-inspired guitar solo, Gene’s all-holds-barred vocal musings, lyrics like “the moon is out I think I’m gonna change”. It  screams ‘The Demon’ and yet has an avant-garde thing about it that few Kiss songs do. “Almost Human” added to the mystery of KISS in ’77, showcasing Gene’s knack for expanding the KISS superhero brand vision.  Gene meets Zappa compliments of legendary producer Eddie Kramer.

GOIN’ BLIND – Hotter Than Hell Of the early Gene songs this is by far the darkest offering, in both lyrical content and musical tone, though “Watchin’ You” (off the same record) comes as a close second. When I was a kid, I couldn’t listen to “Goin’ Blind” because it troubled me, as it should have: it’s about a 93-year-old man in love with a 16-year-old. No question, it has a palpable desperation about it. The stark imagery, slowly developing minor chord melody, grungy mix and Gene’s straining lead vocal (“BEEE_EEEEEEE”) make for a heady, gut wrenching brew that exposes Gene’s British Invasion bug.  To me, this is the song that qualifies Gene as an artist to be reckoned with. It’s all too wonderful; maybe the darkest ballad of all time!!  Ace’s solo work throughout the track alone make “Goin Blind” a top ten Kiss song in this rock soldiers book. Yes, it’s Gene the bohemian artist.

ANIMAL – Sonic Boom  Okay, I know, it’s not ‘Klassic KISS’  but you coulda fooled me, or anyone who cares. It’s a ruthless mother of tune that recalls Gene at his very finest, declaring independence and little remorse for his prey – probably the best tune he’s written in 20 years. It just sounds so damn urgent one has to wonder what buttons Paul Stanley must have pushed to awaken the Demon’s ire. Too bad he couldn’t have mustered something like this up for Animalize; the album might have been even a bigger success for the boyz. How does a 60-year-old man write a rock riff this cool and have it not sound like anything else? The “Almost Human” refrain in the break is a real nice touch and Tommy Thayer lays down the law on arguably his best lead on the bands most recent opus. Conviction? Guilty as charged.

MAN OF A THOUSAND FACES – Gene Simmons When KISS ruled the world the gods decreed there be four solo Kiss albums, and so it was. Gene’s ego was approaching supernova at the time so it was probably for the best, and maybe why “Man Of 1.000 Faces” was so perfect then and is so perfect now. It’s like a personal Gene Simmons brand statement / warning of things to come, and it’s a great song that took some guts. The first-person revelations and  horn arrangements in the verses roar into an anthemic Beatles-inspired chorus that sounds more like a Broadway encore than a KISS song. It really shows Gene’s ability to tell a story and, in this case, an apparently spot on autobiographical one that paints Gene as a new hero to root for.

NAKED CITY – Unmasked – Okay, the record leaves a lot of folks with a poppy “what happened to KISS” taste in their mouths but it is, in hindsight, a pretty good record, largely due to the three Ace tunes on it. For some reason though, “Naked City” always felt strangely ultra-sincere to me in relation to the rest of it. So many departures on it including Gene’s falsetto and a quasi-reggae groove guitar line that came off like an entirely new KISS branching out. And, for all its cliche imagery, somehow Gene is able to sell us on the bleak reality of the ‘naked city’. With Kiss waning in popularity in America at the time, perhaps in some detached mercenary sort of way the song was about the fact Gene knew the band may be left for dead stateside. Was it all over?  Gene even asks the question in the veiled lyric “Is there no tomorrow?”

LARGER THAN LIFE – Alive II– LTL is just that, KISS at their 70’s zenith, in a position to audaciously release their second double-live record in just three years! But it gets better; side four included some new material that made it a ‘must have’ (like all KISS). The best Gene cut on it is “Larger Than Life”. Gene’s voice is flat-out menacing and the Bonham-esque groove Peter Criss lays down makes for one of the very best rock moments in KISSstory. I would say it’s easily in any true believers’ top ten as far as studio recordings go ‘cuz there are so many cool things exploding in your face. So dry. So crisp. So tight. So raw. So Gene. I hear a cool reworking of The Who’s “The Seeker” riff with heavier guitars, a Beatles shock end-of-chorus turn-around and one of the best snare-flamm, bass-drum breaks on any rock song, ever. “Da-Boom, Da-Boom, Da-Boom, Da-Boom DA DA!!!” No one sounds or even thinks like Gene, no one ever will and this one proves it.  What you have in LTL is signature, A1 Simmons, basking not so sheepishly in the glow of KISS’s 70’s supremacy. It’s nothing short of a rock & roll masterpiece.

TWO TIMER – Dressed To Kill – Dressed To Kill is always overlooked when folks talk about the early stuff but it is, if a little short in length, a good rockin’ time. Funny though that Gene should be the one calling the kettle black but that’s exactly what we get on this rrotsy rocker. Juxtapose this with the sentiments on “Ladies In Waiting” on the same record and you have Gene’s split personality. His walking bass line shows he listened closely as young player and learned his lessons well. “Two Timer” is steeped in old school song craftiness and is the kind of thing that you could hear coming from other bands which, lets face it, you can’t say for many Gene songs. Plus, vocally he pulls off a Louis Armstrong-like richness with so much personality and believability that one has to say aloud “Geno!” The lyrics are fun too because, for the first time, Gene’s on the losing end complaining “she tells me she’s high fashion, she thinks she looks divine, and  that’s what I keep telling her, I tell her all the time” lol..  As the song fades, Gene raps “that’s the truth baby you’re a….”, in what sounds to me like a nod to the hip vocal stylings of Hendrix in songs like “Cross Town Traffic” and “Foxy Lady”.

WAITING FOR THE MORNING LIGHT – A**hole –  Everyone tends to slag Gene’s solo efforts, inside the band and even in the KISS Army ranks; I don’t get why. Gene seems to have fun with them, taking chances more often than not and touching on genres no one would think Gene would have any interest in. Who knows, this song may be closer to the real Gene Simmons than anything else, especially if you are an aficionado of his early demos. In any event, it’s one of the very few sweet sentiments expressed anywhere by him and offers a glimpse of the lighter side of his ‘singer/songwriter’ upbringing.

******* Pick one – Lick It Up – LIU is a guilty pleasure on a lot of levels but, album title aside, it’s a balls to the wall rock record that declared KISS alive and well in 1983 and may have been the best hard rock record of the year. Still sounds fresh to me, although Paul sometime poo-poos the album for some reason. Simply put, it represents Gene’s best 80’s/ sans make-up outing, bar none. Young & Wasted”, “On The 8th Dy”, “Fits Like A Glove”, “Not For The Innocent”, “Dance All Over Your Face” – sweet Jesus, it’s a Gene-a-thon that finds the freshly scrubbed Simmons lashing out in anger, fit to be tied and chomping at the bit. Makes one wonder what happened between LIU and Animalize to sour his enthusiasm because if you don’t have LIU (and Creatures of The Night for that matter), you are quite truly in the dark on the sheer magnitude of KISS’s scope. For example, “Young & Wasted” is KISS doing metal better than the real metal bands they had been forced to compete with to stay afloat. With the unmasking as a backdrop to the release, Gene’s tracks on LIU are an essential heaping helping of KISStory. “Not For Innocent”,”Fits Like A Glove”, and “Dance All Over Your Face” sound the charge for a new ‘unholy’ KISS looking for your daughter, reminding the listeners that Gene was back on the hunt while “On The 8th Day” defined KISS’ mission for the first time in biblical terms as the band soldiered on “through the heart of a brave new world”. Although the Dynasty tour was dubbed “The Return of KISS”, it was Lick It Up that saved the band’s ass and shows Simmons to be one of the heaviest musicians of all-time.