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When KISS Unmasked: 1983's "Lick It Up"

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Author's personal CD of "Lick It Up," autographed by Vinnie Vincent at the 1995 New Jersey KISS Expo. Note that he wrote his signature across everyone else's faces besides his own. Vinnie obviously still has some "issues" he needs to work out.

Author's personal CD of "Lick It Up," autographed by Vinnie Vincent at the 1995 New Jersey KISS Expo. Note that he wrote his signature across everyone else's faces besides his own. Vinnie obviously still has some "issues" he needs to work out.

KISS—Lick It Up (Mercury/Polygram, 1983)

One fine day in 1983, my brother and I were browsing the records and tapes in a Caldor department store (remember those?) in suburban New Jersey. While scanning the new releases, we found a new KISS album with the provocative title of Lick It Up. One look at the album's stark-white cover prompted an excited, disbelieving shout of, "Dude! Check this out! KISS took off their makeup!"

You probably had to be alive in 1983 to fully understand the cataclysmic impact of this event. My bro and I were just a hair too young to fully experience the first wave of KISS-mania in the late '70s, but like most grade-school kids of the time, we were aware of—and slightly terrified by—the fire-breathing, blood-spitting, flash-bombing quartet. We also knew that they'd never been seen without their trademark makeup.

During the 1970s, a bare-faced shot of the foursome was the Holy Grail for celebrity photographers, but the band were vigilant at maintaining their mystique. If the paparazzi ever caught the band members "out of uniform," they would quickly obscure their faces behind bandannas, napkins, restaurant menus, large hats, or sunglasses.

By the time Lick It Up turned up in our local Caldor, however, KISS had been off of the pop cultural radar for a few years, so we had some trouble figuring out who was who on the album's cover. Gene Simmons was easy to pick out, thanks to his trademark tongue, and Paul Stanley's pouty-lipped facial expression gave him away, but we weren't sure who the other two guys were. We assumed one of them was drummer Eric Carr, but, if memory serves, we mistook then-new guitar recruit Vinnie Vincent for Ace Frehley, because we didn't know at the time that Ace had already been out of the band for more than a year.

We didn't buy the LP that day, but a short time later I was at a buddy's house when he reached into his album stack and pulled out Lick It Up. "Have you heard this one yet?" he asked before throwing it on his turntable. Tracks like the burly "All Hell's Breakin' Loose" and "On the 8th Day" proceeded to blow my 13-year-old mind, and by the end of the record, I was sold. KISS was on the rise again!

A Do-or-Die Move

At the time of its release, Lick It Up was a "do-or-die" album for KISS, whose fortunes had been waning for a number of years. The original lineup that took the world by storm in the '70s had been halved: Eric Carr replaced drummer Peter Criss in 1980, and Vinnie Vincent took over the guitar slot from Ace Frehley in 1982.

They hadn't had a hit single in the U.S. since 1979's "I Was Made For Lovin' You," and their two most recent studio albums—1981's ill-fated concept disc Music From "The Elder" and 1982's criminally ignored return-to-form Creatures of the Night—had stiffed on the charts. Simmons and Stanley feared that the band could be finished unless they did something drastic to stop the bleeding, and so they put away the makeup and costumes and let the music speak for itself.

To reveal their new look to the world, Simmons and Stanley aligned themselves with a major new power in the music industry: MTV, whose massive influence could easily make (or break) an act. When the band offered MTV the world broadcast exclusive of their "unmasking," the network jumped at the opportunity.

On September 18, 1983, KISS appeared live on MTV to reveal their faces for the first time and to world-premiere the "Lick It Up" music video. The P.R. stunt worked its intended magic; by the time the album hit stores on Sept. 23rd, people were talking about KISS—and, even better, they were buying the new album. Lick It Up began climbing the Billboard album charts, eventually peaking at #24—their best showing since 1979's Dynasty.

The Album and Tracks

Looking back on it all these years later, Lick It Up may not have aged as well as its predecessor, Creatures of the Night, but it's a decent collection of boneheaded '80s metal anthems. This is despite the thin production by Michael James Jackson, the engineer who'd also worked on Creatures but who never manages to recapture that album's sonic firepower here.

Lick It Up's title song remains the album's best-known track and is a live-set staple to this day—the current lineup even performed it on Dancing With the Stars in 2012. Stanley gives it his all on tracks like the opening "Exciter" and the ballad "A Million To One," but for my money the standouts on Lick It Up all belong to Gene Simmons. His vicious snarl and rumbling bass grooves on tracks like "Not For the Innocent," "Dance All Over Your Face," or "And On the 8th Day" prove that even without his monstrous makeup, Gene was still in full-on Demon Mode.

Some credit must also go to Stanley for his totally bitchin' freestyle "rap" that starts off "All Hell's Breakin' Loose" ("Street hustler come up to me one day and I'm just walkin' down the street mindin my own he looks me up and he looks me down, and he says HEY MAN, what be this and what be that?" . . . sheer poetry!) It's criminal that Paul is constantly overlooked as a pioneer of rap-metal! (Haha.)

"Gimme More" and the hilariously filthy "Fits Like A Glove" fulfill the album's "sleaze" quotient nicely, providing listeners with such cringe-worthy lyrical tidbits as "C'mon, lick my candy cane!" (from "Gimme") and "When I go through her, it's just like a hot knife through butter" (from "Glove") . . . but as I'm so fond of saying, if KISS' lyrics don't make you cringe at least once per album, they're not doing their job!

Vinnie Vincent's flashy, Eddie Van Halen-influenced guitar work is all over this album and is a major part of the band's updated sound. KISS was still closely associated with the 1970s at this time, but Vincent's fretboard fireworks launched them into the 1980s.

The Legacy of Lick It Up

Thanks to heavy MTV rotation of the cartoonish "Lick It Up" and "All Hell's Breakin' Loose" videos (which featured the band members cavorting with a parade of post-apocalyptic hotties in a crumbling urban setting), Lick It Up sold half a million copies by early 1984—their first album to reach Gold status in the U.S. since Unmasked. It didn't quite launch them back into the stratosphere that they'd occupied in the '70s, but Lick It Up helped their good name and put them on semi-solid footing again.

However, by early '84, Simmons and Stanley quickly decided they'd had enough of Vinnie Vincent. The guitarist had been making noise to the press about his desire to be a full-fledged member of KISS (as opposed to a contracted player) and that he felt entitled to a bigger slice of royalties. Vincent was dismissed at the end of the Lick It Up tour and replaced by one-and-done guitarist Mark St. John for the recording of Animalize (1984). Vincent formed his own short-lived band, the Vinnie Vincent Invasion, and would go on to file a series of unsuccessful law suits against KISS over the next several decades over royalty payments and other financial minutiae.

Animalize (1984) was the album that truly cemented KISS' comeback, striking double platinum thanks to the hit single "Heaven's On Fire." It was official: The faithful KISS Army had accepted the re-invented band, and the makeup-free quartet continued their quest for world domination well into the next decade.

© 2013 Keith Abt


Pavel Reyes on September 18, 2015:

Another great article Keith, once again you provide interesting information while giving a glance to the Good Ol´Days of Rock N´Roll and Classic Heavy Metal. I remember being amazed for the news (they traveled faster than magazines to this MTVless island -no records stores either, of course- in the middle of the Caribbean..) then me and my friends (there was also a small platoon of the KISSArmy here in town) back then had to wait a few years until KISS unveiled to us. Nice reading one more time! Looking Forward for the next one, buddy!

Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on May 08, 2015:


Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on November 24, 2013:

Hey bethperry...glad you dug it! I've written a whole mess of other Hubs about KISS, hope you check those out too. Thanx for stopping by.

Beth Perry from Tennesee on November 24, 2013:

I like this album, but not crazy over it. Of course, my favorite KISS music is pre-Dynasty. I was just a little kid but remain a fan to this day, and proud to say my youngest is a diehard member of the KISS Army.

Thanks for posting; really enjoyed reading!

Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on September 23, 2013:


Taylor from Southern California on September 23, 2013:

Ya sweet album. Great hub!

Tim from Los Angeles, CA on September 18, 2013:

30 years ago today! and they are still rockin'!

Tim from Los Angeles, CA on September 18, 2013:

Randy Duckworth! I know that dude! If you ever come by this page again... feel free to get in touch with me!!

Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on September 18, 2013:

Bumping this one just because KISS took their makeup off thirty years ago TODAY!!

Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on September 08, 2013:

According to a series of law suits he's filed over the years, KISS still hasn't paid him in full for his contributions to this record...

BlackDiamondCheesehead on September 08, 2013:

Hey Randy Duckworth, Vinnie Vincent had the same reaction when he received his paycheck for his work on the album...

Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on September 08, 2013:

That's a great story Randy!!

Randy Duckworth on September 07, 2013:

WOW...this album is 30...God, I feel old!!! LOL I have a funny story that goes with Lick It Up. It has to do with the first time I saw the music video for the title song on MTV. I had been a fan since the age of 6, and my parents had taken me to see them twice IN makeup. In 1983 when this album came out, I had just gotten out of the hospital after having an operation. (I have Cerebral Palsy), and as part of my physical therapy for recovery, I was wearing full leg braces that did not allow my knees to bend. When the video came on TV, and I realized that they had removed their makeup, I was so shocked that I literally fell over in the floor, flat on my A@@!!!! All I could say was "Oh my God...Oh my God!"

Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on August 29, 2013:

I didn't see the "unmasking" till many years later, cuz we only had one TV hooked up to cable and there was no way my Dad was gonna give up his football game (or whatever) so us kids could watch some bunch of long haired freaks on MTV!...haha

Tim from Los Angeles, CA on August 29, 2013:

30 years already? It seems like I was older at the time but I remember that day of the unmasking on MTV as it was the day my cable company started broadcasting it.

Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on August 21, 2013:

I never thought ballroom dancing and "Lick It Up" would go together so well...hahaha!! Thanks for stopping by, Weevil.

Resident Weevil on August 21, 2013:

I really never thought I'd see a day when Kiss was a good candidate for a family variety show like 'DWTS'. But I suppose I should have seen the writing on the wall way back when they were thriving on lunchbox sales and cheesy movies.

Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on August 07, 2013:

Hi BDC...I agree that Vinnie's contribution to KISS' resurrection during this time period was significant (and I tried to give him as much credit as possible in this article)... however, by all accounts the dude's ego was out of control and let's be honest, after Gene and Paul there was no room for another ego in that band. Haha. basically V.V. got too big for his britches and he ended up getting the smackdown for it.

Thanks for stopping by as always, I'll keep the KISS goodies comin' if you keep readin'!!!

BlackDiamondCheesehead on August 07, 2013:

Thanks for another KISS write-up - keep 'em coming...

I really have to think that Vinnie Vincent saved the band during this time - I know people credit taking off the make-up for the renewed interest of KISS, and a couple of kick ass videos getting airplay during this time on MTV also helped, but Vinnie's songwriting and awesome shredding brought new life to the group, and it showed...It's too bad the contract/financial issues always come up - I feel it really downplays his contribution (which is probably exactly what Gene wants).. Is it too bold to say without Vinnie Vincent, KISS would have died in 1983?

On another note, imagine if KISS never took off the make-up, and used the exact same pose for the album cover, except in full costumes and grease paint - how awesome would that have been??? I lie awake at night thinking about these things...

Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on August 07, 2013:

Hi Cryptid - I'll admit, "Lick it Up" hasn't aged well but for 1983 it was a pretty good record. I still think that if the universe were fair, then the preceding "Creatures of the Night" would've been their big comeback album, because it's a far superior record, but the stars hadn't properly aligned yet, I guess. Thanks for stopping by.

cryptid from USA on August 07, 2013:

You first few paragraphs totally sum up the vibe that surrounded this album. By this time the mysterious KISS shtick was getting old, and some of the acts that had arrived on the scene were out-KISSing KISS when it came to aura and intrigue. The glam metal scene was starting to rev up, and it was all so much more interesting than old dudes from the '70s wearing grease paint. Taking off the makeup and jumping into the glam metal thing of the '80s no doubt saved the band, just as putting the makeup back on did around 2000.

As for the album itself, Lick it Up was pretty weak, but awesome for what it was, a turning point in the history of one of the greatest rock bands ever.

Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on August 07, 2013:

Cool, Nate... I'm glad you dug the piece, and that it brought back some memories for ya...

Nathan Bernardo from California, United States of America on August 06, 2013:

This is another article by you that brings back the memories. I got into KISS around 1977 or 1978, when I was in grade (we're the same age). I got all of their LPs and even a 45; I don't still have them (too bad) but I did at one time. That is, I had all of them up till 1979, the Dynasty album, and I lost interest in them around 1982 or so; but I even had the solo albums, my favorite being Ace Frehley's and kind of liked Peter Criss'. Those were different times; and I remember them when they unmasked and also made a comeback in the big hair 80s. I wanted to say, my favorite album cover was the Dressed to Kill one. Next would be Hotter than Hell. I had many favorite songs, can't remember them all; liked Love Gun a lot, and God of Thunder, Detroit Rock City, and the anthem Rock and Roll All Night. Good stuff, enjoyed this read.

Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on August 06, 2013:

Hi Freedom ... I was 13 when this LP was released, at the time I was into the then-hot Crue, Priest, Def Leppard, etc... KISS wasn't even on the radar for awhile there.

FreedomMetal from Somewhere In Time on August 06, 2013:

Killer album! But not as good as Creatures....... Nice trip down memory lane! I remember when the album was released - I was still a huge KISS fanatic and couldn't wait to get the new album, sans make up.