Up there with Coca-Cola, Cadillacs and The Stars And Stripes, KISS are an all-American institution. They’re also natural survivors, born with the ability to withstand everything from the death of 80s-era drummer Eric Carr to the Dylan-goes-electric-esque backlash that greeted the (temporary) removal of their famous make-up during the early 80s. However, while KISS’ sensational stage shows have always grabbed the headlines, the band have, over the past five decades, assembled an equally spectacular body of work. Indeed, it’s almost impossible to imagine rock’n’roll without their flamboyant presence, but if their End Of The Road tour really does mark their final farewell, the very least uDiscover Music can do is salute them with this timely selection of the 20 best KISS songs.
20: ‘Nothin’ To Lose’ (KISS, 1974)
Both KISS and their fans retain a soft spot for ‘Nothin’ To Lose’. Released as the band’s first single, in February 1974, it was also one of several songs that KISS performed live during their first-ever US TV appearance, on ABC’s In Concert, also in February ’74. A lascivious, Rolling Stones-esque rocker, with Gene Simmons and original drummer Peter Criss sharing lead vocals, the spirited ‘Nothin’ To Lose’ remained a fixture of KISS’ live set throughout their 70s heyday.
19: ‘Forever’ (Hot In The Shade, 1989)
With Guns N’ Roses dominating the hard rock scene, and grunge music on the rise, the late 80s and early 90s were a difficult period for KISS. Despite the fact it went gold, 1989’s Hot In The Shade is one of the most overlooked titles in their canon. It did, however, bequeath the masterful Paul Stanley/Michael Bolton co-write, ‘Forever’: a smouldering power ballad which entered the US Top 10 and still convinces today.
18: ‘Firehouse’ (KISS, 1974)
Written by Paul Stanley and clearly influenced by The Move’s classic 60s hit ‘Fire Brigade’, infectious rocker ‘Firehouse’ remains one of the stand-out cuts from KISS’ self-titled debut album. Built upon low-riding riffs and Gene Simmons’ slithering basslines, the song is tailor-made for live performance and it’s remained a constant in KISS’ live set throughout their career – its subject matter often accentuated by flashing red lights, sirens and Gene Simmons famously breathing fire.
17: ‘Crazy Crazy Nights’ (Crazy Crazy Nights, 1987)
KISS’ 14th studio album, 1987’s Crazy Crazy Nights, found the enduring rockers veering away from the harder, metal-inclined style they’d largely adhered to since 1982’s Creatures Of The Night. Instead, Gene Simmons and co pursued a more radio-friendly, pop-metal sound, with a much heavier reliance on synthesisers. The album’s hedonistic title song netted them their first UK Top 10 smash.
16: ‘I Was Made For Lovin’ You’ (Dynasty, 1979)
In the same way The Rolling Stones turned to disco for 1978’s ‘Miss You’, KISS turned to the late 70s’ dancefloor craze with ‘I Was Made For Loving You’. While the critics branded this supple, tongue-in-cheek pop track as a novelty item, it peaked at No.11 on the Billboard Hot 100 and became one of KISS’ biggest Stateside hits.
15: ‘I Love It Loud’ (Creatures Of The Night, 1982)
After their pop-oriented turn-of-the-80s albums Dynasty and Unmasked, KISS’ tenth studio album, Creatures Of The Night, found them returning to the no-nonsense hard rock sound that yielded such stellar success for them during the mid-to-late 70s. To ram the point home, Gene Simmons wrote this stomping hymn to heavy metal, driven along by an earth-shaking beat. As simple, but highly effective, fist-pumping rock anthems go, it still takes some beating.
14: ‘Lick It Up’ (Lick It Up, 1983)
Perhaps taking the biggest risk of their career, KISS celebrated their new deal with Mercury Records by removing their trademark make-up for their 11th studio album, 1983’s Lick It Up. It was a radical move, but it paid dividends as the album built on the tough, hard rock/metal hybrid that won the band converts with Creatures Of The Night. Arguably the album’s high point, its steely, salacious titular song was classic KISS, rewarding Gene Simmons and company with a well-deserved UK Top 40 hit.
13: ‘Calling Dr Love’ (Rock And Roll Over, 1976)
One of many highlights from 1976’s Rock And Roll Over, Gene Simmons’ ‘Calling Dr Love’ drew its inspiration from the most unlikely of sources – The Three Stooges’ 1934 film Men In Black. A US Top 20 hit, the song’s call-and-response chorus is reputedly based on the film’s dialogue (“Calling Doctor Howard, Doctor Fine, Doctor Howard”), but Simmons and his cohorts made it their own on this infectious, riff-driven anthem which also featured one of lead guitarist Ace Frehley’s most gloriously OTT solos.
12: ‘Creatures Of The Night’ (Creatures Of The Night, 1982)
KISS’ final album for Casablanca, and one of the heaviest of their career, 1982’s Creatures Of The Night announced itself in no uncertain terms with its crunching title track. Co-penned by Paul Stanley and songwriting associate Adam Mitchell (whose CV also includes collaborations with artists as diverse as Olivia Newton-John and Merle Haggard), ‘Creatures In The Night’ was in the same vein as the raw, uncompromising heavy rock that Britain’s NWOBHM-era stars such as Def Leppard and Iron Maiden were then pioneering, and its transatlantic appeal ensured it became a UK Top 40 hit.
11: ‘Hard Luck Woman’ (Rock And Roll Over, 1976)
Paul Stanley reputedly penned ‘Hard Luck Woman’ with Rod Stewart in mind, but after KISS struck gold with the Peter Criss-sung ballad ‘Beth’, the band recorded it themselves. Criss did a fine job, too, delivering a raspy, ‘Maggie May’-esque vocal which suited the track’s rootsy, semi-acoustic backdrop to a T. A song with inherent radio-friendly appeal, ‘Hard Luck Woman’ duly notched up a US Top 20 hit for KISS and, in 1994, country colossus Garth Brooks revisited the song for the tribute album KISS My Ass: Classic KISS Regrooved, with Stanley, Simmons and company backing him.
10: ‘Rocket Ride’ (Alive II, 1977)
‘Rocket Ride’ was written and sung by KISS’ original lead guitarist, Ace Frehley, and it’s one of only two tracks on this list of the best KISS songs that doesn’t feature any direct involvement from KISS’ two mainstays, Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley. One of Frehley’s best numbers, this belting, psych-tinged track is actually the only one of the clutch of Alive II’s studio recordings the guitarist appears on, but he stamps his authority all over it, playing everything bar the drums, which were supplied by Peter Criss.
9: ‘Black Diamond’ (KISS, 1974)
A stone-cold classic from KISS’ eponymous debut album, the gritty ‘Black Diamond’ was written almost entirely by Paul Stanley, who sings the song’s opening section accompanied by his 12-string guitar before the band kick in and drummer Peter Criss handles the next two verses. The song’s lyric concerns the sex workers the band often encountered on the streets of their native New York City. “[Black Diamond] was a song that I wrote about New York,” Stanley later told Classic Rock. “New York was very dear to us, and life there was all we could write about. Seeing hookers on the street, whether we lived it, we saw it and it kind of gave us something to fantasise about.” A confirmed fan favourite, ‘Black Diamond’ has since been covered by The Replacements and Pearl Jam, among others.
8: ‘Shout It Out Loud’ (Destroyer, 1976)
KISS’ first three albums all went gold in the US, but their career kicked up a gear when Casablanca Records paired the NYC quartet with Alice Cooper producer Bob Ezrin for their fourth album, Destroyer. Something of a studio whizz, Ezrin polished the band’s sound and added a layer of sophistication with strings, sound effects and more. Ezrin’s punchy, radio-friendly production also played a significant role in the US Top 40 success of Destroyer’s first single, ‘Shout It Out Loud’, written by Paul Stanley and inspired by The Hollies’ ‘We Want To Shout It Out Loud’, which Simmons and Stanley performed in their pre-KISS outfit, Wicked Lester.
7: ‘Hotter Than Hell’ (Hotter Than Hell, 1974)
KISS’ confident, self-titled debut album was a hard act to follow, but Hotter Than Hell has its moments, not least Ace Frehley’s ‘Parasite’ and the Paul Stanley-penned title song. The latter’s likeness to Free’s immortal ‘All Right Now’ is undeniable, but with the whole band firing on all cylinders, ‘Hotter Than Hell’ is still a KISS classic on its own inimitable terms.
6: ‘Beth’ (Destroyer, 1976)
Sung by their original drummer, Peter Criss, KISS’ signature ballad, ‘Beth’, is still the band’s highest-charting US single (it peaked at No.7) and it’s one of only two KISS singles (the other being the disco-flavoured ‘I Was Made For Lovin’ You’) to yield a gold disc in the US. Criss is also credited as one of the song’s writers, but the general consensus is that co-writer/producer Bob Ezrin did the heavy lifting by significantly altering the arrangement and adding piano and strings. Everyone agreed Criss’ heartfelt vocal was just the ticket, however, and while ‘Beth’ was a major departure for the group, it’s a song with timeless appeal.
5: ‘Love Gun’ (Love Gun, 1977)
Paul Stanley wrote, arranged, sang and even played bass, as well as his customary rhythm guitar, on the title track from KISS’ platinum-selling sixth album, Love Gun. In a modern context, the lyrical content is perhaps a little too Spinal Tap, though it’s worthwhile mentioning that Stanley borrowed some of the lines from Booker T & The MGs’ ‘The Hunter’ (a song also recorded by Albert King, Free and others). Undeniably a great rock song, it seems hard to quibble with Stanley’s assertion that ‘Love Gun’ is “quintessential KISS and one of the five essential signature songs” the band recorded.
4: ‘God Of Thunder’ (Destroyer, 1976)
It’s ironic that ‘God Of Thunder’ is widely regarded as Gene Simmons’ theme song, as this epic track, influenced by Greek mythology, was penned by Paul Stanley, who intended to sing it too – until producer Bob Ezrin demanded Simmons take the lead. In fairness, Simmons did an excellent job and, due to the blood-spitting and bass solos he’s since added to the song’s live incarnation, the song is now as synonymous with him as any other in KISS’ canon. A much faster version of ‘God Of Thunder’ also appears on Alive II, but for atmosphere and sheer drama, the definitive Destroyer takes wins hands down every time.
3: ‘Deuce’ (KISS, 1974)
A Gene Simmons-penned corker from the band’s self-titled debut album, live favourite ‘Deuce’ is KISS’ most-covered song, with artists as diverse as Red Kross, Lenny Kravitz and Bathory having since reimagined it. It’s not hard to hear why it strikes a chord for rock fans of all persuasions, either. ‘Deuce’ has it all: rampaging riffs, urgent vocals and imperious lead guitar from Ace Frehley. Amazingly, the song arrived almost fully-formed, with Simmons later saying, “I heard the lick, the riff, the melody, the whole thing. We arranged it right on the spot and knew that it would be a staple for years.” He wasn’t wrong.
2: ‘Detroit Rock City’ (Destroyer, 1976)
KISS may have been New York through and through, but Detroit was where the band drew their biggest, most enthusiastic audiences during their early days. In return, Paul Stanley (with help from producer Bob Ezrin) penned this legendary ode to Motor City which has become synonymous with KISS. Indeed, it’s nigh-on impossible to envisage a KISS show without ‘Detroit Rock City’: a long-established classic rock staple which is famous for its guitar solo – a duet between Paul Stanley and Ace Frehley.
1: ‘Rock And Roll All Nite’ (Dressed To Kill, 1975)
When it came to recording their third album, Dressed To Kill, KISS’ then label boss, Neil Bogart, took charge of the sessions personally, telling the band, “You guys need an anthem!” Featuring the legendary mission statement, “I wanna rock’n’roll all nite and party every day!” Simmons and Stanley’s insanely catchy ‘Rock And Roll All Nite’ certainly fit the bill, though the song only really caught fire when the supercharged version from the band’s first live album, Alive!, stormed up to No.12 on the Billboard Hot 100, providing KISS with their decisive commercial breakthrough and their signature song to boot.