A pop culture addict who loves to talk about movies, music, books, comics, and all of the other things that move and entertain us.
In some ways, KISS is the Rodney Dangerfield of hard rock. When it comes to the critics and the general public, they get no respect. Their fans, though, they worship KISS.
In all fairness, they were a pretty tight band that had some really catchy tunes. Some were better than others, and every once in a while, there would be a nugget of greatness. These flashes of brilliance aren't always the big hits either.
While "Shout It Out Loud" and "Rock and Roll All Night" are fun songs, KISS has much better tunes in their catalog. So, I have assembled a list of 20 great KISS songs that you never seem to hear.
1. "Nothin’ to Lose"
An ode to anal sex, this song from the debut eponymous album hearkens back to the early days of rock and roll. Gene was inspired by lines from songs by Little Richard and Frankie Ford.
This was the band’s first single, and despite being catchy as hell it failed to take off. When the album was re-released in the late eighties the studio version of this song was replaced with a live version.
While the live version isn’t bad, it’s missing some of the fun and pop of the superior studio version.
2. "100,000 Years"
Also from the debut album, "100,000 Years" gets claims from both Gene and Paul as to authorship. It starts with a pretty killer bass riff and features one of Paul’s more rocking vocals. This is the song that would lead into Peter’s drum solo during live shows.
Gene says it’s about the Earth being visited by aliens 100,000 years ago, and the theory of relativity and how an astronaut could stay in love while being gone for 100,000 years. Paul doesn’t say what he wrote it about.
Written by Ace, Gene sang the song on the record because Ace was insecure about his singing voice. "Parasite" is one of the heaviest songs from the early KISS records, but got dropped from their concert setlist after Destroyer, only to make a comeback during the Revenge tour.
Paul got so used to hearing it the way Bruce Kulick played it, that when Ace played it after rejoining the band Paul claimed he wasn’t playing it right. Ace finally did a vocal for the song when he recorded it for his Origins Vol 1 album. There's also a very kickass cover by Anthrax.
4. "Watchin’ You"
Gene says he ripped off Mississippi Queen with this song. While it is just as heavy, "Watchin’ You" has a wildness and a looseness that the Mountain song is lacking. The lyrics were influenced by the Hitchcock movie Rear Window starring Jimmy Stewart, who witnesses a murder through his binoculars.
It also hearkened back to living in New York City and peeping on girls getting undressed across the way. So that creepy vibe the song has is justified.
5. "Strange Ways"
Another heavy song penned by Ace Frehley, Peter Criss sang this one. The main riff is one of the heaviest KISS has laid down. Criss was used to singing more R&B type stuff, so this was a little out of his wheelhouse at first, but he kills it. Of course, I believe Peter is underappreciated as a singer. The tune also boasts what is arguable one of Ace’s best guitar solos. This song has never been performed live.
6. "Rock Bottom"
The intro was written by Ace on a twelve string. Paul liked it and made a counterpart to it for him to play. Paul wanted to use it at the intro to a song he had been working on and Ace agreed. The main part of Rock Bottom is just a straight ahead rocker that Paul based on the chords for “All Right Now” by Free. It’s nothing fancy, but it will get you going.
7. "C’Mon and Love Me"
Paul penned this tune that was inspired by the Moody Blues song “Question”. Paul says the lyrics are autobiographical, in that it was based on the kind of lifestyle he was living at the time. This song was the first time Paul played lead on a KISS song. There is also a very cool cover of this by Skid Row.
8. "Larger Than Life"
This has some of my favorite lead guitar on any KISS song. The drums are almost as heavy handed as the sexual reference to Gene’s dick. He says the drums on this song are what inspired going to the more Bonham inspired drums on the Creatures of the Night album.
The lyric came from an interview where Gene was asked about his luck with the ladies. His reply was “Well, I’m not the best looking guy in the world, I’m not the richest guy in the world, I’m not this or this or this…but I’ll tell you what I’ve got, what I’ve got is larger than life.” Having seen Gene’s sex tape, I can say this is hyperbole.
9. "Baby Driver"
Baby Driver was written by Peter with some friends of his from a former band. He says that KISS didn’t play the song correctly, and that it was supposed to be lower and more soulful. I guess Peter forgot for a minute that he was in a glam rock band. Regardless, Baby Driver rocks and still has a pretty good swing in it. In fact, I always thought Edgar Wright should have used it in is movie of the same name.
10. "I Stole Your Love"
It’s the perfect way to start a rock album, a blistering guitar riff which is then kicked wide open by thundering drums and bass. In the 70’s it was guaranteed to make parents wince. Paul says it was influenced by the Deep Purple song “Burn”. There is a scene in Detroit Rock City where the main character’s mom puts on an album thinking it is The Carpenters and this song comes blasting out of the speakers.
11. "Almost Human"
A song Gene wrote for the Love Gun album, Almost Human is based on a book about lycanthropy. It has a very primitive sound and feel to it that lends itself to the lyrics very well. Jimmy Maelin from the band Ambergris was brought in to play extra percussion. Gene says that it’s him on guitar, but to hear him tell it he played most of the really good KISS songs entirely himself. This song to me feels very similar to Watchin’ You.
Dynasty is often (unfairly in my opinion) disparaged as the KISS disco album. While it’s not the band’s best effort by any means, it’s still a pretty solid album. When you take into account that the band was falling apart at the time, it’s an impressive achievement.
"Charisma" is one of only two songs Gene sings on the album. It is basically a song about how cool Gene is, taken from an incident where a friend was mocking him and turned into a tribute to himself. The song isn’t overly flashy, but it is catchy and the bass locks into a pretty cool groove.
Paul wrote this tune for the Unmasked album with the album producer Vini Pocia. It was originally meant to have a harder and more guitar based sound. I would like to hear that version sometime. The version that was put on the record was softer and more pop oriented.
Gene didn’t play on tis song at all, with Paul handling the bass. If you can get over it not sounding like classic KISS though, it’s a catchy little pop-rock song. Unmasked had some stinkers on it to be sure, but this isn’t one of them.
14. "Dance All Over Your Face"
Lick It Up was the first KISS album released without the trademark make-up. That tends to be the beginning and end of the conversation about it, with the title song being the only one people remember from it. There were some good, rocking songs on that record though. My favorite might be "Dance All Over Your Face".
While the lyrics are almost laughably hyper-masculine, the song just flat out rocks. I may well be in the minority on this one though, as even the song’s writer Gene says it was a failed attempt to recapture the edge of "Larger Than Life".
15. "Who Wants to Be Lonely"
Paul says this song veers off from what KISS is, but I think it pretty much embodies what KISS was in 1985 when it was released. It was co-written by Paul with Jean Beauvoir and Desmond Child, who is no slouch when it comes to writing catchy pop-rock hits. The song has a nifty 80’s rock groove, and is almost guaranteed to get stuck in your head once you hear it.
16. "Tears Are Falling"
The big single from Asylum, and later showing up on Smashes, Thrashes, and Hits, this one has received more love than others on the list, but is sorely neglected these days. 80’s pop-rock at its finest, Paul wrote this one on his own after seeing the video for "Would I Lie To You by the Eurythmics". Paul’s voice has a nice ragged edge to it on this song. It also has a very good solo by Bruce Kulick, who joined the band on this album.
17. "Take Me"
From what I consider one of KISS’ best albums, Rock And Roll Over, "Take Me" is Paul’s ode to how much he was getting laid at the time as a rich and famous rock star. Full of swagger and a great guitar riff, it really is KISS at the peak of their powers. If you’re in the mood for an upbeat rocker with a lot of swagger and attitude, this will probably be just what the doctor ordered. (Give me some credit here, I avoided the obvious Dr. Love pun.)
18. "Burn Bitch Burn"
Animalize was the only album to feature guitarist Mark St. John, and is mostly remembered only by the single "Heaven’s On Fire". Overall it is a pretty mediocre album, but "Burn Bitch Burn" has that same fierceness and intensity as "Dance All Over Your Face". Gene says the song is about how people will go to ridiculous lengths to get laid.
19. "Easy as It Seems"
Another pop-rock gem from Unmasked, Paul says he just woke up singing this one day. He didn’t really see it as a KISS song, but it fits pretty well with the rest of the album that it appears on. It’s pretty soft for a KISS tune, but it’s catchy as hell and I defy you to listen to it and not sing it to yourself later. It’s another song that has a nice little groove to it.
20. "Sweet Pain"
"Sweet Pain" is a typical KISS song in that it is based on a barely veiled sexual reference. The riff came from a song Gene had called "Rock and Rolls Royce". He tried to emulate the vocals from "Wild Thing".
The recording of the song caused some controversy within the band as Ace’s solo was replaced by one from Alice Cooper’s Dick Wagner. Gene and Paul say they tried to call in Ace to do it and couldn’t reach him. Ace says that claim is utter bullshit and I agree. The video above features Frehley's original guitar track.
Still, the song ended up being great, and if it gets overlooked it’s only because it in on arguably KISS’ best and most popular album
Honorable Mention: Ace Frehley LP
As an honorable mention, I suggest listening to Ace Frehley's 1978 solo album in its entirety. While the other three solo albums were pretty uniformly terrible, Ace's is outstanding from beginning to end. Even the other members of the band have to grudgingly admit that while their efforts were lackluster, Ace knocked it out of the park.
So, what do you think, KISS fans? Do you love these songs as much as I do, or am I totally off base? Let me know your thoughts. While you ponder your response, check out this interesting KISS tribute. It takes about a minute and a half to get going, but it's worth it.