Back in 1976, I convinced my newly single mom that I wanted to join the KISS Army for my birthday. So, my mother, bless her heart, working as a part-time teacher, scraped up enough money to allow me to join that brilliantly named fan club. Today this day, it remains the only fan club I ever joined, and my tenure in that army was only a year, as I quickly moved on to other musical artists. Still, for that one year, I was in the KISS Army, ready for my orders to invade Canada or whatever we were to do. Keep in mind, that there was no basic training for this Army, so it may have been THE army that our current president could have handle.
The reason I bring this up is that through the Kiss Army, I learned of one of the band’s finest marketing ideas ever: each member of Kiss was going to record AND release a solo album in the Fall of 1978. Now, it there was ever a brilliant idea, this may have been it. Finally, we were going to get four Kiss albums in the place of one. However, there was a problem with this idea. What happens when we, the Kiss Army discover that their individual tastes in music were different that what Kiss Army expected?
During my time in the Kiss Army, the band was reaching heights of success that few artists outside of The Beatles had ever experienced. The difference was that the members of Kiss were able to maintain their anonymity due to their onstage make-up. In 1976, Kiss had big selling albums with Destroyer and Rock and Roll Over. During the first half of 1977, Kiss released what may have been their finest studio album in Love Gun. Later that year, the band went for broke again when they released their second live album, known as Alive II. Although the double album set sold well, it was not the pop cultural reference point of their first live album, Alive.
After the big tour in the wake of Love Gun and Alive II, Kiss were the biggest band in the world. Now, their marketing group kicked into high gear. The band was now having the images put on lunch boxes, dolls, posters, make-up kits, cars, and so much more. The band’s first album release of 1978 was a double album “greatest hits” package called Double Platinum, which is one of the most beautiful album covers with a gatefold all in metallic silver or “platinum”. On the inside of the gatefold were embossed images of each member of the band, which was immaculate. Double Platinum was simple, yet one of the band’s finest album artwork to date. All of this time off was calculated by the band’s management to allow the boys to create their own albums.
Now, there was a reason that Kiss album only had a couple of songs by each member on the group albums: these guys were NOT prolific songwriters. They were all very capable songwriters within that forerunner sound to the Eighties hair metal/hard rock sound that would take over the airwaves in the USA by 1987. But, back in 1978, Kiss was nearly the only game in town, but too much was being banked on the success of these solo albums. Still, each solo album was stocked with posters that would fit together like a toddler’s jigsaw puzzle to form a “giant” band poster.
So, imagine the reaction of rock fans in the Fall of 1978, when they bought the solo albums thinking they were getting four times the KISS pop metal sound, but, instead, got four widely different albums. Lead guitarist, and at the time suffering alcoholic, Ace Frehley released the best album, which sounded the most like a Kiss album. Since Ace was not the main songwriter in the band, this discovery was very surprising. Yet, Ace was the man to keep the whole Kiss/glitter rock/pop-metal banner flying high. But, the others’ albums were totally surprising. Who knew at the time that Gene Simmons, the menacing demon of a bass player, really wanted to be a Broadway performer. Or, Peter Criss, the cat-dressed drummer on a high riser basically wanted to be Rod Stewart singing Faces-like semi-sober rockers or solo-Rod sung ballads. Or, Paul Stanley, the star-child himself, was just a wannabe pop star, not too many steps removed from Shaun Cassiday. Oh, how those three solo albums just wanted to make me cry. And, to top things off, Kiss had shipped a MILLION copies of EACH solo album to stores throughout the world! I remember seeing Kiss solo albums in cut-out bins going for $2 a piece throughout the Eighties. There was so much solo product around that many of us on the Kiss bandwagon simply jumped off and looked for something else. Plus, somehow, Kiss had become a pop band for little kids, and no self-respecting teenager was going to follow a rock band that the little third grade girl down the street loved.
In what should have a majestic coronation of Kiss as the best band of all-time, instead became a sinking ship from which everyone was looking to jump off in order to be rescued by another band passing in the night. Unfortunately, sometime many years later, someone in the Kiss organization had the bright idea to release an album titled as The Best of the Solo Albums, which gathered three or four of the best songs from each members’ solo albums for placement on this compilation album [See the tracklist below. Thanks to discogs.com for the tracklist.] . No longer would I have to subject myself to Gene Simmons trying to croon “When You Wish Upon a Star”, as if he were a Disney character. Come to think of it, may if Kiss had kept the make-up throughout the Eighties, Disney could have orchestrated the band’s new images as a kids’ variety show on the company’s burgeoning television channel. What a missed opportunity for big bucks, which I am certain that Gene would have jumped on. However, by traveling the long trail to redemption that they have been on since the whole MTV special of Kiss Unplugged made the band more palatable for the voters of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame for induction. Plus, by bringing the make up back, musicians can try out to become the next artists to travel as Kiss, almost like a traveling Broadway hit or Beatlemania. The bottom line is that Kiss will never die.
|–Ace Frehley||New York Groove||3:01|
|–Gene Simmons||Living In Sin||3:50|
|–Gene Simmons||See You Tonite||2:30|
|–Ace Frehley||Rip It Out||3:39|
|–Ace Frehley||Fractured Mirror||5:25|
|–Peter Criss||Don’t You Let Me Down||3:38|
|–Paul Stanley||Tonight You Belong To Me||4:39|
|–Paul Stanley||Take Me Away (Together As One)||5:26|
|–Peter Criss||Rock Me, Baby||2:50|
|–Peter Criss||I Can’t Stop The Rain||4:25|
|–Paul Stanley||Hold Me, Touch Me||3:40|
I still think the Kiss solo albums were a bad idea in the short term. However, they may represent some of the band’s more collectable albums in their discography. Go figure!