KISStorian’s ten top PAUL STANLEY deep cuts

For me the best Paul tunes are the mid-to-up-tempo simple rockers. No list like this could ever be complete or right but these are the kind of Stanley steamers I find myself popping on to shut up any friends in doubt of Paul’s sheer rock prowess and singular knack for crafting groovy rockers. This ten make clear Paul’s material has its own cocksure feel with rock solid arrangements, sharp guitar hooks and well-honed, commanding vocals. Re-acquaint yourself with his style.

KissPaul_StanleyFrontalIT’S ALRIGHT – One of his very best, this blues-based romp is arguably the most KISS-like cut on Pauls ’78 solo debut Paul Stanley and yet at the same time shows Paul tipping a decidedly Stonsey honky-tonk hat.  It also recalls Rod Stewart classics like “Hot Legs and “Every Picture Tells A Story”.  Pauly had already proven an ability to cop a Rod vibe on “Hard Luck Woman” and “It’s Alright” is the rocking flip side to my ears. Unlike Maggie Mays’ lover however, Paul will give you “breakfast in bed” and not “kick you in the head” LOL. This ain’t metal and this ain’t no disco. This is fooling around at the very least and definitive Paul Stanley rock & roll; ever cavalier / never desperate.  “If you want me to stay for the night, it’s alright”.  Comparisons and possible inspirations aside, and this is why KISS is so great, the finished product sounds nothing like Rod or the Stones LOL. 

Kiss-Kiss_Killers-FrontalDOWN ON YOUR KNEES – One of four new Paul-penned KISS songs on the Killers compilation, “Down On Your Knees” is still one of my favorites all time, hits included.  It’s a well-timed DON’T FREAK OUT PEOPLE! to core fans dismayed by the poppy Unmasked and decidedly left-of-centerThe Elder albums. Killers made it clear KISS had no plans to slow down or, as some feared, pack it in altogether. The track has a tight, almost ACDC-like guitar hook that showcases Paul at his raw vocal best with a post-solo section bridge that has him sounding every bit the ‘All American Man’.  Plus this is Paul at perhaps his most sexist (yes, ‘ist’) since ‘Makin’ Love” off Rock & Roll Over.   (((   I couldn’t help but include PARTNERS IN CRIME to this list – A kinky bed-mate off Killers, this tune has also always had my ear and gets better with time. Sure, it’s slightly 80’s land-locked with the repeating wang-bar dives in the chorus but everything about it just works so well, like it could not be improved even if Gene had showed up. Built around a bluesy Deep Purple-esque riff, it’s a welcome divergence to me and happens to have one of his cooler 80’s lyrics: “You’re coveting abuses, tripping with excuses, I know you got a lover at home”

urlBULLETPROOF – Off Paul’s long-awaited 2nd solo outing Live To Win, “Bulletproof” is another sturdy well-crafted near hit, the kind that keep KISS fans like me believing everyone else is crazy. Ultra-slick mix aside, it’s got it all and even if the held-back verses may cause a slight cringe among the faithful, the pay-off of the eventual guitar n’ drum break as it launches into the “Bullet Proof” chorus riff proves ample evidence Stanley can deliver a current sounding hit in an era. If only there were still classic rock stations playing new rock instead of the constant retread that dominates the format and has for 20 years (thanks Clear Channel). 

cover_lickitupGIMME MORE – An uptempo rocker the band toyed with live only on the Lick It Up tour, “Gimme More” may be my  favorite 80’s Paul rocker. Sure, he would attempt the land speed record several times in the 80’s but even the frantic”Under The Gun”can’t hold a flash pot to the clever fusion of metal, classic rock, and punk that is “Gimme More”.  It showcases Paul’s old-school Robert Plant vibe and an expanding vocal range as well. New members of the band really shine on this recording with Eric Carr executing bitchin’ rapid-fire Bonham-like double bass fills in the whistle-stop breaks and, when given the nod, co-writer Vinnie Vincent rips balls off with urgent screaming lead fills. “Gimme More” is only one of the reason’s the Lick It Up album is way underrated by KISSTory. I am of the stubborn opinion that the record is a close 2nd only to Creatures Of The Night as their 80’s best and vastly superior to any of the other non-makeup releases. 

Kiss-Rock_And_Roll_Over-FrontalMR. SPEED – An oft forgotten southern-fried golden oldie off Rock & Roll Over  I am happy KISS had the moxie to attempt and Paul the inclination to write. A lot of folks complain that their chief problem after the 70’s was that KISS followed trends instead of making them but “Mr. Speed” is more proof that Paul has always had an ear to the radio.  Sure, they never intended a hit with it, but the Lynyrd Skynyrd inspired intro riff strikes me as a prime example of how Paul’s tunes generally have more cohesion with what else is happening with other artists at a given time. Certainly more so than with any of Gene’s tunes ever tried to. Paul has always been the more mainstream / rooted one of the two and, as a result, he makes a perfect complement to Ace Frehley’s Jimmy Page-like lead work. “Mr. Speed” also has a wonderful turn-around complete with KISStastic descending harmonies and another great Peter Criss pocket for the Starchilds’ reply to the Demons’ “Calling Dr. Love” epiphany. It is my assertion that anyone who has not heard “Mr. Speed” could never really understand the band or what Paul Stanley is all about: a riff, a groove and a chorus ….classic rock & roll. This was probably the song that sealed it for me as a youngster, the one that made me like Paul too, before I even knew how great the guitar tones were on it. More than “I Want You” or “Love Gun” or even “I Stole Your Love”, I decided this was Paul’s coolest tune because when I heard it I felt cool somehow too.  In my KISS world it is still is a benchmark in the overall repertoire. “Made it clear, but baby you can’t even see me, so stop those tears, ’cause baby you can’t even deceive, ah ah”  

urlDANGER US – This is easily the most fun song on the Sonic Boom album but manages to maintain a ballsy attitude and the Stanley strut without taking itself too seriously (even if it is “Danger You, Danger Me, Danger Us” for the most part).  It’s an enormous 70’s riff with an 80’s fused call-and-answer chorus that borrows from everyone, Kiss included, but is somehow able to evade the monster plod found on the albums other offerings  Again, a tune where everything just works and no moment of regret like I feel with Paul’s cuts on say Revenge.  “Double down tough” …amen. 

Kiss - AnimalizeGET ALL YOU CAN TAKE – Off the first Stanley solo-produced KISS album Animalize “Get All You Can Take” reveals a primal revitaIized Stanley working hard with (then) guitarist Mar St. John and drummer Eric Carr to deliver a modern,  again somewhat Zep-inspired rocker that finds the Starchild brimming over with pearls of rock wisdom and impressive vocal gymnastics.  It’s a serious ass kicker, maybe my favorite cut on the album, in which Paul’s penchant for Plant-like singing really shines as seemingly the only voice in rock able to pull it off so lovingly. “If you got half a chance, you take it”  

64054RADAR FOR LOVE – When re-sampling 1985’s Asylum this is the cut I usually drop the needle on first. It’s a high-adrenaline re-working of Zep’s “Black Dog” that comes as close as anyone might imagine possible to the vocal breaks without being taken to court. However, by the time the solo kicks it’s pure KISS making a jump into a Stanley octane mode with a spirited Bruce Kulick guitar workout. Occasionally topical when in the mood, “Radar For Love” finds Paul shunning the advent of Viagra  when he sings hilariously “Don’t need no doctor, giving me pills… I got enough to give you chills” 

KISS-Monster-album-coverLAST CHANCE – Off the band’s 2013 rebound Monster (also produced by Stanley) “Last Chance” is a hard rocker with a driving beat that is my favorite Paul vocal on the album and perhaps the rowdiest song of his career?  The song kicks from the very start and, with a  shorter than usual 2-bar full-band intro (yeah, after the bass riff),  it goes right into the table-setter verse with Paul teasing “Open the door and let the night come crawling’ in ….take a bite of the original sin”.  It’s relentless and only lets up briefly in the build after the solo with what feels like jungle drums by Eric Singer ….but it works!  It’s worth noting that as much as the recent albums have pandered to 70’s fans, this song doesn’t sound like anything the band has ever done. “It’s your last chance so just roll the dice because nobody here is getting out alive” 

album-Kiss-Creatures-of-the-NightKEEP ME COMIN’ – Off the seminal KISS Creatures Of The Night opus, “Keep Me Comin'” is another straight ahead Stanley rocker only he could attempt.  A great guitar line, stagger-beat pre-chorus, and an amped up “Keep Me Comin'” refrain is all Paul needs to roll out the seductive tale that keeps KISS in the sex business on the surprisingly serious Creatures. Unlike his band-mate Mr. Klein,Paul is more apt to change grooves and feels mid-tune while holding that classic strut groove. Even if the tour fell short that year, critics and fans alike have come to the consensus that Creatures is the bands heaviest foray of all time and “Keep Me Comin” fits the album menu like an afternoon delight for dessert.  BUY THIS ALBUM TOMORROW

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KISS UIC Chicago ’84

It was my first concert, KISS or otherwise — my Dad took us…  It was cold as hell and February 15th, 1984 @ the UIC Pavillion, KISS’s Chicago home away from home in the 80’s it seemed.  Man, I had never even smelt weed at the time and I think I must have gotten a contact high because, without telling anyone, end of show, during the encore break, I just jumped the wall to the main floor and wound up front row, in the fray with the Army!  It was trippy, time slowed down a bit there ….at one point Vinnie Vincent mouthed “I love you” to me (or someone near me) and threw a pick our way and it fluttered just outta reach through a smoky haze thick with baptismal rock mayhem. I was hooked on rock & roll and the return of Kiss!  The whole ride home I couldn’t shut up  ….my friends, which include today a famous Historical writer and Comedian / Movie Star were less enamored with the experience. One had cotton stuck in his ears that my mom had to remove with tweezers when we got home. My Dad claimed his ears took three days to recover fully. This was the article that I believe appeared in the Chicago Tribune the week of the show. kiss-liu-chicago

LIU Chicago

BRUCE KULICK Animalized

UNKNOWN - BRUCE KULICK 1984 - 3Okay… Kiss fans are gonna freak on me one way or another but, when your a fan like I am, sometimes things in your Kiss universe boil up on one topic or another and we feel the need to reach out to the Kiss Army;  I now believe this to be normal. The web has its victims.

I was watching Animalize Live & Uncensored  the other night for no other reason than, well… it was time to do so (again). Any way, I had an epiphany in Kiss / Bruce Kulick terms. Contrary to many a Kiss fans insistence that Revenge is the high tide mark for the humble shredder, I believe Kulick’s finest hour (minus the Blazefest in Chicago in which I heard him settle in a way that I wish happened more often) may just be this very hyper piece of Kisstory. Talk about a fuckin’ pro, Bruce Kulick stands tall like a redwood on this classic 80’s concert vid.

Bruce’s Achilles heel to me, and Gene & Paul might admit it if we were on a stuck together on the ‘Kiss Clipper’ headed for the eastern rim,  is that he’s not a true “closer’. Maybe just ‘cuz he’s a mellow guy and not an type-A personality. Often the most important thing you say isn’t actually the first,  especially in show biz and rock & roll. All the greats from Page on have asked, “but how do I get out” when they’ve got something going but know it’s all about how you end it. Guitar solos that is. Closing was Ace Frehley‘s forte = big space boots. This was the first time we were seeing Kiss on tv live, without make-up, without Ace and Bruce kicked ass.

For my buck, Bruce is better in the studio than live ….not on this Animalize evening in Detroit in 1984. Ironically, he almost seems more comfortable with the idea of being a random gunslinger than he was after being handed the lead duties full-on w/ Asylum (even though, yes I know… take it easy, Bruce was already in the fold on Animalize the disc and played on a couple cuts, the best stuff on the disc too lead wise (see “Lonely is The Hunter”)).

imagesAt this stage of the game, Bruce had no time to think about it and played it straight from the heart — the result is Kiss at their 80’s finest on a particularly “hot nite for rock & roll!”.  It’s so cool to watch now ‘cuz Bruce was  literally “Under The Gun” on that Animalize tour: For outsiders, ‘BK’ was originally a fill in for the late Mark St. John who, in a strange twist of fate, acquired a rare disease that affected his hands to the extent that he could no longer play guitar … just after having learned to play Kiss music on the bitchn’ Stanley-fueled Animalize. Go figure. I think most of us were excited about Mark at that point and figured Gene & Paul had done their homework and we were all systems go, then another Kiss hiccup as it were. It took a while for that news to get out and so it was kinda like… uh, is that Marek St. John?  

As an aside before I forget, Bruce’s tone on the show isn’t my fave but at least he wasn’t overriding a chorus as he was later prone;  practically a vocation for guitarists in the 80’s. At times though he sears and showcases some impeccable timing / picking. He’s  super fucking well versed in all things rock guitar, old school to the tapping ruling the day for guitarists in the hair band freak show that was MTV in the mid-80’s.

bruce_kulick_grammyBut know why he shines on this show most? Because he is playing the very role he was born to play – the under dog. Ace was similar in that regard,  ultimately becoming a rock god “spacing out and having fun” in the role and big shadows of mega front-men Gene Simmons & Paul Stanley.  Fans were always generally rooting for Ace,  still are. Similarly, and because he was kinda a fill-in, Bruce had nothing to lose and a sincerity about him that comes off his fretboard, especially here as he walked the “Kiss gauntlet” (Gene’s words) . To us Kiss fans, Bruce was just some dude we didn’t even know, and thus Animailze Live & Uncensored a very cool live introduction, one in which he both rocked and (also) didn’t suck; hard to do in ’84 when you think about it. Though it’s over simplifying things a bit, this is the day he won the gig for all intents and purposes. Kisstory indeed!

In some ways Bruce Kulick saved Kiss when he became the lead player. He was the team player us Kiss fans could love and still miss Ace because, above all, it was clear Bruce ‘got it’ on every level.  The storm was over and we felt secure again as fans. The ‘who-the-fuck-is-going-to-be-our-lead-guitarist’ crisis finally averted, Kiss would get back on an even keel with the line up set until the loss of Eric Carr to a brain tumor in 1991. With Bruce now in place, Kiss was a true ‘band’ again for the first time since the original line-up really. In the wings, current guitarist Tommy Thayer must have observed Bruce’s low-key approach and used it to his benefit in filling the Space Ace,and Bruce’s, shoes today.

Not one damn misstep best I can tell on this whole concert which was “GOIN’ OUT LIVE ON THE RADIO / BEING FILMED FOR AN MTV CONCERT!”.  Best solo’s on it?  Well, a few were semi-mimicked in one way or another but, over all (always gotta qualify shit with Kiss fans) Bruce does whatever the hell he wants to Kiss classics one after another, basically kicking the shit out of the material. I recommend “I Still Love You, “War Machine”, “Under The Gun”, “Thrills In The Night” and perhaps his laser tare on “Love Gun”?  His playing “Black Diamond” is interesting too if not downright blasphemous: maybe his best ever solo w/ Kiss save “Hell or High Water” or “Tears Are Falling”.  “Turn On The Night” and “Rise To It” are other Kulick favs.

More importantly, it’s clear on this show that Kulick locks in with the band seamlessly and, given the circumstances, never looks nervous or like he’s unsure he fits in. Not an easy gig to pick up. In modern terms, he really owned it. There must have been high fives all around backstage that night and later when they watched the show, Bruce had made the grade and in spades. Go ahead >>> log off and Animalize! back to ’84 for the best Kiss  non-make-up era concert money can buy. Kiss fans owe a debt to Bruce… raise your glasses people. 

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.