On September 18, 1978, Kiss did something that no other band had ever done: they released four records on the same day, one record for each member. The records all had a unified look, but each member had complete creative control over their individual record with no input from the other members.
Kissteria was at its peak in 1978, Kiss was everywhere. I remember as a kid going grocery shopping with my mom and I would always hit the magazine stand as soon as we got into the store to check out all the latest magazines with Kiss on the cover and they were on every one. They had their own comic books, trading cards, action figures, pinball machines and were about to release their first TV movie. For my generation Kiss were like The Beatles.
It seemed at the time that Kiss could do no wrong, but cracks were beginning to form within the band and although initially the solo albums were pitched as an idea to help save the band, it only made things worse. Casablanca Records was not completely on board with the idea of solo albums, although an option for solo albums had been in the band's contracts with Casablanca since 1976. The band and their management forced the issue and basically said if these albums don't happen, the band is breaking up. Kiss was Casablanca's top-selling artist at the time so the label eventually agreed to the project and launched a massive promotional campaign, spending over 2.5 million dollars. The label announced that the records would be shipping platinum, with over a million copies of each record being flooded into the market to guarantee platinum status for each record. Of course "shipping platinum" and "selling platinum" are two completely different things. When all was said and done the four solo albums' combined sales equaled about the same amount as their last studio album, Love Gun. Instead of fans buying all four records, they seemed to just be buying the one from their favorite member. Only Ace Frehley's album made a legitimate dent in the sales chart, scoring a Top 20 hit single with his cover of "New York Groove." Gene Simmons' album made the highest chart entry at No. 22 on the Billboard Hot 100, but without a hit single the album disappeared from the charts in quick fashion. The same fate was dealt to Paul Stanley and Peter Criss, no hit single meant a fast exit from the sales charts. The records shipped platinum but they hit the cut-out bins in record store faster than just about any other record in history.
I was one of the lucky kids who actually got all four Kiss solo records on the very day they were released and this was pretty mind-blowing. My whole life was Kiss at this point, I had already seen them in concert twice and I was barely 10 years old. I carried my Kiss lunch box to school every day and would rush home every afternoon to look at my Kiss trading cards and listen to all their records endlessly. When I first heard they were putting out four records in one day, I had no idea how I was going to be able to get them all. I had decided that I would get Peter's first because at that time he was my favorite member and I wanted to play drums. When I arrived home from school on that September afternoon my mom said she had picked up the new Kiss record for me while I was at school. I was sure she had bought the wrong one but to my surprise she had bought all four! Lying on my bed was a plastic bag with all four Kiss faces on it and inside were all four Kiss solo albums. I was so excited that I couldn't even listen to them because my brain couldn't comprehend that there were four brand-new Kiss records looking me in the face. Eventually I listened to them in order of who my favorite member was: so Peter was first, followed by Gene, then Ace and lastly Paul.
Peter's record was typical Catman fare, a few half-baked rock songs surrounded by sappy ballads but it's what Pete does best and I give him credit for staying true to who he is for his record, although I wish it had rocked more. Pete was still cool and I would still dress as him that Halloween.
Gene's record was a mixed bag of styles and special guests ranging from Helen Reddy to Rick Nielsen. The Demon was not very demonic on his record, other than the devilish intro to the lead track "Radioactive." It was pretty lightweight for such a menacing figure. Highlights on Gene's record are the unexpected Beatles-influenced tracks "See You Tonite," "Man of 1000 Face,s, "Always Near You/Nowhere To Hide" and "Mr. Make Believe." Gene should have done his entire record in this style, as it came off much more sincere than the generic rock tracks he included.
Ace Frehley delivered a very strong record and didn't try to stretch the boundaries too much. Ace gave the fans a record that was Ace all the way. Up to this point Ace had only sung lead vocals on two Kiss tracks: "Shock Me" and "Rocket Ride," so it was cool to hear Ace take lead vocals on every song, with the exception of the album-closing instrumental "Fractured Mirror." Ace used Kiss producer Eddie Kramer on his record along with Anton Fig on drums & Will Lee on bass guitar. Standout tracks include "Rip It Out," "Ozone," "Speeding Back To My Bab,y, "Snow Blind" and "New York Groove," which peaked on the Billboard singles chart at No. 13. I loved Ace's record from the first time I dropped the needle on the vinyl and I began to reassess my ambitions of wanting to be a drummer.
Paul Stanley's record was the most Kiss-sounding record of the four solo albums and would eventually become my favorite of them all. Paul's record is almost perfect, the only wrong turn he made was including the syrupy ballad "Hold Me, Touch Me (Think of Me When We're Apart)." This track can almost be forgiven on the strength of the other 8 songs on the album, including "Love In Chains," "Move On," the epic album opener "Tonight You Belong To Me" and possibly one of the best power pop songs ever written, "Wouldn't You Like To Know Me." Another highlight on Paul's record is the track "Take Me Away (Together As One)," featuring a great vocal from Paul and the thunderous drumming of Carmine Appice. Just like Ace, Paul was at the peak of his powers in 1978 and it shines through brilliantly on his solo record.
That is the order that I originally listened to the Kiss solo albums but that is not how I would rank them. My favorite is Paul Stanley followed closely by Ace Frehley, third place goes to Gene Simmons and my least favorite is Peter Criss. With that said, I love them all and still spin them all in the initial order that I heard them every year when September 18th rolls around.
I've often wondered if the band and Casablanca would have been better off if they had just released a proper Kiss album in 1978 instead of the huge production that was the Kiss solo albums. Here is what my hypothetical 1978 Kiss album would have looked like. I basically used the criteria that it would have been a single record and featured eleven tracks, four tracks from Paul, three from Gene, three from Ace and one from Peter. (Sorry, Pete.)
I would have called the album either Kiss '78 or Radioactive.
1. Tonight You Belong To Me
2 Speedin' Back To My Baby
3 Man Of 1000 Faces
4 Wouldn't You Like To Know Me
5 Hooked On Rock N' Roll
1 Move On
3 New York Groove
4 See You Tonight
5 Rip It Out
Three singles would have been released from the album with non-LP b-sides.....
1. "Wouldn't You Like To Know Me" b/w "It's Alright"
2. "New York Groove" b/w "Snow Blind"
3. "Radioactive" b/w "Always Near You/Nowhere To Hide"
As a Kiss fan I wouldn't change anything about the Kiss solo albums, but from a career standpoint the band took a big gamble with the project and it backfired. Casablanca was on the verge of bankruptcy and the band members were still at odds over career decisions. In October 1978 the Kiss television movie Kiss Meets The Phantom of the Park debuted on NBC and while it received high ratings, most Kiss fans thought that their rock 'n roll heroes had lost their minds. Kiss returned in 1979 with their next studio album, Dynasty, and the tour to support the album saw the band performing one song from each of the solo albums at the beginning of the tour: eventually only "New York Groove" and "Move On" would remain in the set list. "New York Groove" was also kept in the set for the Unmasked tour in 1980 and would appear again when the original band did their reunion tour in 1996.
Although it was a flawed venture it is one that had never been done before and has not been done since, so Kiss should be given credit for being ballsy enough to even attempt such a project.
Scott Carr is a guitarist who plays in the Columbus, OH bands Radio Tramps and Returning April. Scott is also an avid collector of vinyl records and works at Lost Weekend Records. So...if you are looking for Scott....you'll either find him in a dimly lit bar playing his guitar or in a record store digging for the holy grail.