I have a confession to make........
The nonmakeup era KISS has never particularly been my favorite.
Oh sure, like most, I will loudly champion the bookends of that era, Lick It Up and Revenge, to anyone within earshot. After all, they’re undisputed, formidable second-tier KISS classics (those records usually rank 8th and 9th in my respective rankings), featuring top-notch production, well-balanced songwriting, and the band at its most focused. I’d say the better half of those records are chock full some of the very best KISS songs overall. (As an aside, you’re reading this correctly - no, I don’t count Carnival of Souls as a real KISS album - and we didn’t count it in our draft. It was never released while that band was still active, the band never toured it, and none of the songs have ever been performed live. If you want, I will totally fight you in the comments. It’s not a bad record. It’s just not really a real KISS album, to me.)
Anyway, like many recovering KISS fans, I spent most of 1984-1990, the years ASIDE from the bookend releases, wondering exactly where the hell my band went, and honestly trying to listen to as little current KISS as I possibly could. You might say that I buried my KISS credentials in the closest sandbar this side of Leon the Sphinx.
Each time I was forced to endure a single listen to any of the four album-abominations released under the KISS moniker during that unfortunate era, I was reminded that Gene Simmons was mailing in songs from D list movie sets while intentionally dressing as Bea Arthur in pink sequins. A cringeworthy thought, to be sure....
To be fair, there are decent songs on all the albums. Animalize has a rather tragic combination of some of Paul’s very best non-makeup songwriting paired with Gene’s very worst half-assed efforts, while Asylum has a couple of memorable tunes amidst 7 or 8 totally forgettable clunkers, and outfits that make early-period Poison look like they’re wearing street clothes. Crazy Nights was Paul trying way too hard to be a hair metal band with Heart’s producer, which left Gene just kind of looking and sounding ridiculous, while Hot In the Shade are four or five finished songs and about 10 8-track demos.
This all being said, when my fellow KISS and Baseball nerd Colin Gawel asked me to be part of the insanity that is the KISS NONMAKEUP FANTASY DRAFT, this KISS and Chicago White Sox stat geek absolutely jumped at the opportunity to strangle the numbers to truly determine which semi-terrible Gene Simmons metaphorical log-fireplace thrash masterpiece in particular I might place in my starting lineup ahead of an almost as worthless Paul Stanley tune perfectly tailored to sound like Jon Bon Jovi wrote a song hungover for a eunuch to yodel it.
You might say I was born to do it. No, really, I was.
When the draft order was unveiled, I was awarded the first pick by random lottery. I instinctively felt as though I had a bit of advantage, ensuring I could lead the pack in how the draft fell in the odd rounds. Not wanting to waste this golden opportunity, I did the absolutely unthinkable - I listened to Animalize, Asylum, Crazy Nights and Hot in the Shade on repeat for ten days, in an effort to make sure my power rankings of all the songs that I didn’t really know and would never listen to again could be as absolutely accurate as possible.
...and while listening to Read My Body, Lonely Is the Hunter, and Radar For Love might be enough for any person to scream NO NO NO, I’m happy to report that my research indeed paid off in spades. I had a great draft, ending up with a fantastic group of some of the best songs. I only had one pick in the draft that I felt was a bad pick, and I came away thinking most of my album were winners.
I did end up with a different problem, though. The most difficult thing, for me, was actually sequencing the result! While some of my fellow draft colleagues were conscious to select first single material, album closers, or complementary material that naturally flowed, I was so focused on selecting the best song available in each draft position that some of it became impossible to juxtapose! The tracks I ended up with typically ended up being either very fast and loud or very soft and ballad-like, and I ended up with two songs that seemingly had to open the album.
So, after spending hours in the think tank with my draft analysis, I ending up spending even more time - a few weeks with my trusted coaches and staff - as we assembled just the right starting lineup for opening day.
And here’s the result!
(Note- the album title was selected because it was the excellent working title of Crazy Nights)
Kiss - Who Dares Win - by Matt Walters
The first overall pick in the draft, and pretty much everyone agreed it was the only choice to make at #1. It’s probably not the best song in the draft in my opinion, but it’s absolutely the most valuable, as it is the best Gene Simmons song and a clear head above the second best Gene songs (Not For the Innocent, Domino, Fits Like a Glove, Thou Shalt Not, Young and Wasted). There are many great Paul Stanley songs from the Lick It Up-Revenge era, and certainly a healthy debate about which is the absolute best (I could make a decent case for two or three of my subsequent picks below), but there’s absolutely no question which Demon song rules the roost.
Heart of Chrome
This was an early round pick that some might have termed a reach, but several other GMs let it slip when I made this pick that it was on their board next. My favorite Paul Stanley song from the non makeup era, I feel as the angry/defiant Starchild side of his persona was reborn in this excellent Revenge track (see Sure No Something and Wouldn’t You Like To Know Me for reference to similar themes). This makes the ideal #2 track in my sequence, with a driving riff and the best lyrics of any song on the album.
Fits Like A Glove
This has to be a middle of the order track in my sequence, as it’s the second best Gene hitter in my lineup, and a solid live rocker that would become a live staple for many tours. I’ve always loved this standby that for me, never gets old. I was thrilled to see his solo band recently put it back in the set...
Reason to Live
I have two ballads in my lineup, and I opted for the power ballad in the cleanup spot. As much as I dislike the idea of a power ballad carrying the proverbial weight, this track has the most mileage in terms of hit potential and will probably be the anchor of the lineup’s success.
Thrills In The Night
My choice for the first single rounds out side 1. I never understood why this very underrated song didn’t take with either the band or the public, as it features an excellent, slinky verse riff, a great little builder of a bridge, and an explosive, catchy chorus. Given any amount of label push I feel this track could have propelled Animalize to 2x platinum (as I feel Who Wants to be Lonely might have propelled Asylum to platinum if properly marketed as a single).
I’ll Fight Hell to Hold You
I put this urgent, solid Crazy Nights rocker in the position of side 2’s opener, partly because in the CD era side 2 openers matter less, but also because I needed separation from my eventual closer, which is very musically similar. I think it features some of Paul’s very best higher register vocals and some excellent guitar work from Mr. Bruce Kulick.
Good Girl Gone Bad
This is my second favorite Gene song from Crazy Nights (after the excellent Hell or High Water, which I missed out on), and I was pleasantly surprised when it fell to me in one of the late rounds. A great medium tempo track that fills out the album tracks nicely.
Love’s A Deadly Weapon
...and now we are into filler territory. The best thing I can say about this track is that it’s better than No, No, No, but it’s unfortunately completely devoid of a memorable chorus. Of course, you can’t expect to have all winners in this draft...
Somewhere Between Heaven and Hell
My lone error in the draft was selecting this tune with the underrated “The Street Giveth and the Street Taketh Away” still on the board, which fell to the savvy Colin two picks later. Although this isn’t a completely bad track, there’s nothing too noteworthy about it either. Like many tracks on Hot in the Shade, it’s just sort of there.
Every Time I Look At You I feel this excellent Revenge ballad has to be the penultimate song in the sequence, the pause of reflection before the closing punch. A rare, complete ballad from Paul that was well arranged and has many of producer Bob Ezrin’s hallmarks. A track I still go back to today as a great example of a well-written love song.
I’ve Had Enough (Into the Fire)
I was tempted to put this song as the opener, but I knew I also needed a no-holds-barred closer. Once it became clear this was the only candidate in the bunch with its powerful staccato ending and high octane energy, I built the last half of my sequence around it. The best song on Animalize featuring a great Paul vocal, top notch guitar work from Mark St. John, and one of the best middle eights in any KISS song.
So that’s it! This was so much fun to do, and we discovered afterwards that it is something versatile enough that could be done with many different eras of KISS. I think the most fun part of the process was evaluating some of the songs I don’t typically listen to, and discovering some tracks I had forgotten about that have aged a bit better than I remembered.
Don’t get me wrong, I still think some of those albums are among KISS’ very worst, but I might dust off the old vinyls for the occasional spin of an album side....