What KISS Could Have Been In The 80s If Gene Actually Cared
Thirty one years ago this week, September 18th 1983, the four members of KISS made headlines by appearing on MTV without makeup. It seemed to be an easy transition for all the band members…..Except for one.
Now having read the autobiographies of both Gene Simmons (KISS and Make-up) and Paul Stanley (Face The Music: A Life Exposed), it’s clear that Simmons was not the one who wanted to take the makeup off in the first place and he was never truly comfortable with it right up until the makeup went back on in 1996.
It was Stanley, in fact, who had to convince Simmons that there was no other option but to take the makeup off since the band was now reduced to playing to half-empty arenas instead of selling out stadiums.
The publicity of the unmasking on MTV proved to be a smart move as the sales of their 1983 non-makeup debut album Lick It Up were much better than the band’s previous album Creatures Of The Night (1982) and they would eventually fill arenas on the ensuing tour.
If you look back at that period between 1983 and 1989, however, it’s clear that the band’s best moments both in the studio and on stage all came thanks to Stanley who was very open about Simmons’ lack of interest in the music during that time.
Stanley told in his book of times when, at the start of recording sessions for an album, Simmons would quickly hand in a handful of tracks that were essentially junk because he was more interested in becoming a Hollywood actor. It even got to the point in 1989 when Stanley confronted Simmons in the parking lot of the recording studio and gave him an ultimatum: Either you step up your game or you’re joining Ace Frehley and Peter Criss as another former member of KISS.
I should state that it didn’t start all THAT badly for Simmons. Songs like “Not For The Innocent”, “Young And Wasted” and “Fits Like A Glove” were all solid Gene/KISS songs on the Lick It Up album. Though they didn’t match up to classics like “Calling Dr. Love” and “God Of Thunder” they held their own.
The Gene songs that would follow, however, transformed Gene from the God of Thunder to just plain God-awful.
KISS - "WHILE THE CITY SLEEPS"
In 1984 the band released Animalize. Like Lick It Up before, Stanley saved this album from going straight to the record store discount rack with the single “Heaven’s On Fire”, a big hit on both radio and MTV. Add the very cool album tracks like “I’ve Had Enough (Into the Fire), “Get All You Can Take” and “Thrills In the Night” and it was easy to see Stanley was doing all the heavy lifting. Unfortunately, Stanley’s fire was doused with water by Gene thanks to his songs “Burn Bitch Burn”, “Murder In High Heels” and “While the City Sleeps”. Simmons put a lot of people to sleep with those songs.
KISS - "SECRETLY CRUEL"
The following year came Asylum (1985). Different title, same result. Stanley writes 80s gem: “Tears Are Falling”. It was another hit for KISS and it would keep them in the race with their 80s metal-era competitors like Def Leppard and Van Halen. Stanley again fills out the album with solid tracks like “King of the Mountain” and “Who Wants To Be Lonely”. Come to think of it, the album’s title Asylum may have been directed at Simmons since his songs probably drove Stanley to the brink of insanity with tracks like “Any Way You Slice It” and “Secretly Cruel”. Slice open these songs and the stink rises. Simmons’s cruelty to music was no secret either.
KISS - "SOMEWHERE BETWEEN HEAVEN & HELL"
Things didn’t get any better in the ensuing KISS albums to round out the decade, 1987s Crazy Nights and 1989s Hot in the Shade. Simmons slept through those albums with more duds – “No, No, No”, “Hell or High Water”, “Good Girl Gone Bad”, “Betrayed”, “Prisoner Of Love”, “Cadillac Dreams”, “The Street Giveth And The Street Taketh Away”, “Somewhere Between Heaven And Hell” and “Boomerang”. Never heard of any of these songs? There’s a reason. Unless you’re a die-hard KISS fan like me, you wouldn’t want to know them.
As I mentioned in the beginning, Simmons was not a fan of taking the makeup off and if you see photos of him in the 80s you'll see why. Check out any of the videos on YouTube of KISS during that period and you can easily see that Simmons was out of place. At times he looked like downright silly without his trademark Demon costume and makeup. Hell he’s even admitted he felt out of place. He was even quoted as saying he looked more like a “linebacker in drag”.
Looking back at the band’s era without makeup in the 80s I always go to the Paul Stanley songs for my daily injection of KISS. If Simmons put the same effort into the band that he did during the 70s KISS would have ended up being one of the biggest groups of the decade and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame would have ultimately opened their doors to every era of the band.