On 30 January 1973, barely a dozen patrons crammed together in a rundown venue in Queens, New York, known as the Popcorn Club, to witness the first performance of a local group called KISS. By all accounts the event was far from memorable, and it is unlikely that anyone in attendance ever expected to hear of the band again. Half a decade had passed since that uneventful night and KISS had transformed themselves into rock superstars, having already released six acclaimed studio albums, two live records and a host of merchandise. With a loyal following known as the KISS Army eagerly anticipating their next offering, in truth the four-piece had grown disillusioned and were close to burning out.
In the twelve months since the release of their sixth album Love Gun in the summer of 1977, KISS had followed it with the highly-anticipated Alive II along with their first ever compilation Double Platinum. Now in the wake of the phenomenal success of Star Wars, the band’s label Casablanca had joined forces with Hanna-Barbera, the studio best known for producing such animated shows as Scooby-Doo and The Flintstones, to develop a feature film. From their inception KISS had always been a multi-media enterprise, but with each member suffering from exhaustion following a gruelling tour schedule that had lasted almost nine months, the experience of starring in their own motion picture would almost cause the group to self-destruct.
Seeing that each member would benefit with time away from their bandmates their manager Bill Aucoin would suggest an idea to Neil Bogart, the head of Casablanca, that had never been done before. ‘After a certain number of group records you need a departure,’ he explained. ‘We knew that the group was still strong and wanted to stay together. We also felt we were ready to go to the next level and at that point, it meant letting them expand on their own.’ With the group gathered together alongside representatives of the label, Aucoin made the suggestion that instead of returning to the studio to record a follow-up to Love Gun, each member record a solo album that would be released simultaneously under the moniker of KISS.
Since their first show the focal point of the band had always been co-singers Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons and so it would be inevitable that their own records would bear a striking resemblance to KISS. Yet without the expectations that would come with releasing an official KISS album, both were given the creative freedom to indulge in whatever musical passion they wished, thus allowing them to flirt with genres and techniques not commonly associated with a rock group. What fans were more curious about, however, was what kind of album would be produced by the remaining two members. After all, up until this point guitarist Ace Frehley had only sung on two tracks with the band, while drummer Peter Criss’ piano ballad Beth had become an unexpected hit two years earlier.
‘Even though Love Gun, released in 1977, was our third album in a row to ship a million copies, the band came apart at the seams during that time,’ admitted Simmons in his memoir KISS or Make-Up. ‘It wasn’t that we were breaking up, but people were starting to need their own space again. We had been together for five years, which is coming up on the typical lifespan of a band. I always had the sense that the Beatles were around forever, but when you look at the number of years, it’s astonishing how brief they were: only a decade of existence and only seven years of recording, from Meet the Beatles to Let It Be. The strain was pulling us apart, but it was also pushing us forward, into new projects and uncharted waters.’
Aucoin’s proposal would receive a mixed response from the group. ‘Creatively and commercially, it seems to make a lot of sense and it had the additional benefit of giving us a break from each other,’ admitted Frehley in his autobiography No Regrets. ‘We had spent so much time with each other over the previous five years that it was inevitable for tension to arise.’ Stanley, who had always been the star of KISS, did not share the optimism of his guitarist. ‘I didn’t have a choice,’ he told the A.V. Club. ‘The idea was to present group unity, which is kind of interesting, because the solo albums came out of the band being on the verge of splitting up. In the long run, it was putting a band-aid on a serious wound.’
Each group is made up of several distinct and unique personalities and this could best be demonstrated with the eclectic results that the four solo albums from KISS would produce when they were eventually released on 18 September 1978. Each musician had drawn heavily from their musical influences, while even their choice of producers and methods of recording would reflect their personalities. And while Stanley’s offering would remain loyal to the expectations of KISS fans, Criss would arguably produce the most unexpected collection of songs, taking inspiration from the music of his youth that would include R&B and sixties pop.
‘I’ve never done this kind of stuff before on a KISS record, it would have been too much of a departure,’ confessed Simmons to Rock Magazine prior to the release date. ‘It’s another thing to have God of Thunder on an album with Mr. Make Believe…I guess the big secret about all of us in the band is that we have all been writing different kinds of songs all along and because of all the self-imposed restrictions, you know, about how we are supposed to sound like, we’ve never done them. It’s no one’s fault, it’s just the way we wanted to sound like.’
The first of the four to commence work was Stanley, who relocated to Electric Lady Studios, the same New York facility where KISS had recorded Dressed to Kill three years earlier, in February 1978. These initial sessions were intended to help the singer develop several new songs, of which the foundation of the album could be built around. Opting to work without the guidance of a producer, Stanley reached out to a reliable KISS associate called Bob Kulick. Despite having failed his audition with the group several years earlier, Kulick had participated in the recording of Alive II, providing uncredited guitar work on three of the additional studio tracks included on the final side of the record.
‘I got a call from Paul and I got a call from Gene as well. Both asked me to play guitar on their solo albums,’ he explained to Bravewords. ‘Paul was trying to do a more organic band-like approach, whereas Gene was trying to get a whole bunch of guests and piece it all together. You know, I would have liked to have played on both records. But the reality was if I played on Gene’s record, as Gene pointed out to me, then there’s two records with the same lead player on it, which I could understand his point. And also the fact that Paul was like, ‘Well, wait a minute. I’m using him so you can’t use him.’ So I basically just said, ‘No problem. I totally understand.’ But Paul’s album was a different project than the KISS Alive II thing in that Paul certainly gave me more latitude and longitude in terms of what I was able to play by virtue of me not trying to have to be somebody else.’
While Stanley would record the initial sessions himself he approached an established producer to help guide the album through to completion. Ron Nevison had first made a name for himself with Thin Lizzy on their 1974 release Nightlife but it would be through his partnership with UFO that he would find his greatest success. Yet due to his commitment with the band’s latest project Obsession, Nevison would be unavailable to participate and so Stanley decided to produce without any outside influence. Among the songs recorded at Electric Lady would be the album’s highlight Tonight You Belong to Me and Move On, the latter co-written by British musician Mikel Japp.
It’s just a hobby of mine to go in the studio and see what happens
Although four songs would be completed during his time at Electric Lady, Stanley had only booked the studio with the intention of recording a demo. ‘It’s just a hobby of mine to go in the studio and see what happens,’ he told Hit Parader. ‘So I cut four things, figuring that when I did the album I would wind up re-cutting them, but I wound up using them.’ But the sessions would be forced to come to a halt when Kulick’s prior commitments to Meat Loaf would force him to embark on a world tour in support of the recently-released Bat Out of Hell. ‘After we cut a few of the songs, I realised they just didn’t sound right,’ admitted Stanley. By the time Kulick had returned to America, Stanley was in Los Angeles working on their motion picture, KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park.
The experience of shooting on location at the Magic Mountain theme park in Valencia was both gruelling and humiliating for the band, having soon realised that their feature film debut would be nothing short of disastrous. After having concluded the shoot on 19 May with a live performance that would serve as the film’s climax, each member immediately turned their attention to what was to become their solo album. The prospect of four albums being released on the same day was a financial risk and one that made the label executives somewhat apprehensive. ‘I said, ‘We’re putting four albums out at once and I want each of them to turn Platinum. We’re going to ship four million albums in one day,” claimed Aucoin on the demands he made to Casablanca. ‘Everybody just wiped their brow and told me that nobody would buy them. But it worked because the energy and excitement was there, plus KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park came out at the same time.’
The next member of KISS to enter the studio would be Simmons who, much like Stanley, had already begun developing material prior to the film shoot. In fact, the majority of the album had been recorded at the Manor in Oxfordshire in April, following the final shows of the Alive II tour. With an array of guests that included Joe Perry of Aerosmith, Cheap Trick‘s Rick Nielsen and a host of session musicians, Simmons had intended for his album to be titled Man of 1,000 Faces in honour of horror legend Lon Chaney, but this would eventually be overruled by the label’s marketing department.
Simmons’ demonic persona may have led many fans to expect his solo album to be in the vein of heavy metal, but the songs recorded during the sessions would draw from the likes of the Beatles and even then-current progressive rock groups like Boston. Displaying a more melodic vocal sound to the one commonly associated with KISS, Simmons was excited at the opportunity to broaden his musician horizons. ‘They’re the kind of songs nobody has ever known that I’m capable of writing, number one,’ he declared. ‘Or that I could sing at least two octaves above the voice that I use on the record, number two; and that in fact I had a different voice at all, number three.’
Although the album was intended to showcase Simmons as a lead vocalist, he would invite several notable singers to participate in the sessions. These would include Australian artist Helen Reddy and disco icon Donna Summer, although perhaps the most significant contribution would come from his new partner Cher. With the two having met at a party hosted by his label, Simmons was eager to bring the pop star into the studio. ‘At the time I was starting to think of ideas for my solo album, which I envisioned as a big production, with tons of guest stars and a circus atmosphere,’ he explained in his biography. ‘I thought it would be great if I could get Cher to sing on the record.’ Cher’s appearance would be during the track Living in Sin, in which she would cameo via a phone call portraying an obsessed fan who stalks the rock star while staying at a motel.
‘We were apart too long so we decided to link up in London. Gene was working there on his own individual album and one night, while we spent over $500 on one phone call, he asked me to meet him at the English studio,’ Cher told Star prior to the release of the solo records. ‘It’s frightening just how fantastic it all is with both of us. It’s so beautiful. I’ve found something that is too incredible to describe. I’m truly happy and in love. Gene feels the same way. We want to hold on to this forever. We can’t be separated and we’re determined to stick together. I wouldn’t want marriage to wreck what we have, even though we’d both like to get married. He is sweet and warm, a really nice person. He doesn’t smoke, drink or do anything that is bad for people.’ While KISS were at the height of their popularity, Cher’s own career had begun to suffer with a slew of critically-savaged albums that included a collaboration with Gregg Allman and two attempts at capitalising on the popular disco scene of the late seventies. It would almost be another decade until she achieved Platinum status following her reinvention as a hard rock singer in 1987.
‘We were hanging around with Cher a lot because Gene and Cher were together at that time. So I was there when Cher did her vocal part on Living In Sin at the Holiday Inn,’ recalled pianist Eric Troyer, who contributed to both Living in Sin and opening track Radioactive. ‘Bob Seger and I did some vocals. I think I did some vocals separately too. I played piano, there’s some banging piano that I put on both those tracks. I was also there when Helen Reddy did her vocal part; she was kind of a pain in the ass…The background vocals he was very specific with, ‘I want this something here, something here, maybe a little higher.’ But the piano part, I think it was like, ‘We’ll listen to this song, run it down and play some parts.’ I think what happened was I started to work out some parts and then they would listen and say, ‘Well, do more of that there and a little less of that there.’ And it just sort of shapes itself, which is pretty generally how I would work when I would do piano overdubs and stuff like that.’
As with the other members of the band, the first material gathered together for Simmons’ recording sessions were songs that had failed to make it onto KISS albums. ‘There were so many songs lying around that KISS will never do because people just wouldn’t get who it is or they wouldn’t trust the feeling behind it,’ claimed Simmons in KISS: Behind the Mask. ‘By that point, I was totally seduced by power, fame and wealth and women especially. I started seeing Cher so I was lost completely. I’ve always been straight, never been high, but that doesn’t mean that my senses weren’t dulled by other things. One second you’re picking your toenails and taking lint out of your belly button and the next second you’re flying on the Concorde with Charlton Heston sitting next to you and it’s like, ‘Hey, how you doing?’ So, you completely lose sight of who you are and where you’re going or what real things are about. So in a lot of ways my solo record was probably a reflection of a completely disjointed guy who was just doing everything.’
As with his bandmates, this new project allowed Simmons to indulge in the artists that had first inspired him. ‘As I went on with the solo project, I wanted to pursue my Beatles obsession, so I rented a recording studio in Oxford, England, down the road from where George Harrison lived,’ he explained.’ Anytime I wanted another star to appear on the record, I flew them in and treated them like royalty. I tried to make a point – a showy point, granted – that I was capable of playing guitar. So on the album I didn’t play bass at all, I only played guitar…Sean Delaney produced my solo record and he brought in Michael Kamen to arrange and conduct about thirty of the finest string players in Los Angeles. One morning they had arrived and were seated inside the recording studio to do their parts on a song I had written called Man of 1,000 Faces. Sean had arranged to have them all wear Gene Simmons face masks, the ones that were for sale in stores. It was certainly one of the most bizarre moments in my life: to open the door to see a roomful of violin players all looking like me.’
Arguably the album’s most unexpected moment came during the final minutes when Simmons opted to perform a rendition of a Disney classic. ‘When I was a kid I went to see Pinocchio and I heard Jiminy Cricket at the end of the movie singing When You Wish Upon a Star,’ he recalled. ‘I really thought he was singing to me. He was saying, ‘You, Gene, I’m talking to you. They all hear me but I’m speaking to you. When you wish upon a star all your dreams come true.’ I did that song for me. I knew everybody would say, ‘Oh, that’s nonsense.’ As a homage, I felt that I had to record that song in some way to pay back Jiminy Cricket because my dreams at that point had come true. I cried on the recording of the song. It really hit me hard; big lump in the throat. When I went into the sound booth and I was singing the song, all those original memories came back. In some ways it was a connection to the little boy.’
The one with the most to prove with the solo albums was Ace Frehley who, by 1978, had only performed vocals on two KISS tracks, 1977’s Shock Me and Rocket Ride, instead preferring to allow Simmons to take the lead. His lack of confidence in his own voice meant that fans had heard very little of his talents and so when it was announced that he would be releasing an album many may have felt concerned that he lacked the ability to carry the record by himself. None more so than Frehley, although the temptation to finally step out from under the shadow of KISS and demonstrate both his songwriting and vocal abilities was too much to resist. ‘I felt good about my solo project from the beginning, mainly because I knew I’d be teaming up with Eddie Kramer,’ he said on his reunion with the man responsible for producing the last two studio albums for KISS, along with Alive II. ‘I had a lot of confidence in Eddie. I respected him and he respected me. We’d been a good team on the KISS albums and there was no reason to think we wouldn’t work well together on a solo venture.’
While Simmons had employed a revolving door of guest artists to help bring his project to fruition, Frehley would instead work in a similar fashion to Stanley, recruiting a small group of musicians in order to keep the sessions tonally consistent. And whereas Stanley had Kulick, Frehley’s principal collaborator alongside Kramer would be Anton Fig. Born in Cape Town, South Africa before emigrating to the Bronx, New York, Fig had played drums from an early age and it would be through the recommendation of Frehley’s childhood friend Larry Russell, as well as Kramer, that Fig would be invited to collaborate on the project.
‘I was lucky to have a few songs already in the vault, tunes that had been rejected on earlier KISS records,’ admitted Frehley. ‘That gave me a head start. I brought them back, did a little rewriting and tweaking and that helped ease some of the anxiety about going off on my own. Other songs just kind of happened; spontaneous combusion, I guess. It helped, too, that I cleaned up a little – although not completely – during the making of the record, usually limiting my alcohol and drug use to the evenings after a long day of recording. I also felt I didn’t really have much of a choice. I knew that I couldn’t blame anyone else if my solo album bombed. If a KISS record sucked, I could always chalk it up to Paul’s or Gene’s megalomania. Not now. This time it was all on me. Whatever praise or blame would be heaped on the record, I’d have to take full responsibility.’
Recording sessions would take place in Connecticut at the once elegant Colgate Mansion which, by the late seventies, had been abandoned and left to perish. Frehley was immediately overwhelmed by the building’s interior design. ‘The library for example, in which we recorded a lot of the acoustic work, had beautifully carved woodwork and turn-of-the-century textured wallpaper, still intact,’ he recalled. ‘It was enormous and grand; I found it to be an inspirational and creative workplace. We used several other rooms to create different acoustic effects. On Fractured Mind, for instance, we placed microphones at the top of the stairway on the second floor to get a huge, reverberating drum sound.’
After having recorded two demos with Fig, sessions commenced at the mansion in June and would last a little over a month, with the relaxed schedule allowing for experimentation, something that the guitarist felt he had been denied with KISS. And while from their second album onward KISS had already defined their sound, working with both Fig and Kramer allowed Frehley to find his true artistic voice, assisted on several tracks by bassist Will Lee and backing vocalists Susan Collins and David Lasley.
‘Sometimes we’d put four different amps in four different places and blend them all together in the mix. Crazy shit. Always pushing the envelope,’ explained Frehley. ‘Sometimes even double-tracking drum fills, like the drum solos in Rip It Out. On Fractured Mind, Eddie and I achieved a unique metallic bell sound on the guitar. I was playing a Gibson double-neck guitar into a Marshall stack with the volume turned all the way up. I mean, this thing was ready to explode. On one neck I had the pickups on, so if I were to hit the strings on the neck, it would have been loud as hell, but instead I played the picking figure on the other neck, with the pickups off. The sound coming out of the amp was the body resonating through the pickups from the other neck. That’s how I got those bell overtones. It’s a technique I still use today.’
Despite the apprehension many had regarding Frehley’s abilities as a solo artist, everyone would be taken by surprise when he became the only member of KISS to produce a hit single from the solo venture. Composed by Argent‘s Russ Ballard and originally recorded by British glam rock group Hello, New York Groove would prove to be the perfect song to showcase his commercial appeal, yet on first listen Frehley was less-than-impressed. It would be through Kramer’s insistence that the track would find its way into the recording sessions, but it would ultimately take three attempts and two studios to achieve the desired result.
A decision was made to recut the song from the ground up
‘Eddie and Ace arrived at Plaza Sound with a version of New York Groove recorded at the mansion. But there was something about the overall feel of it that wasn’t sitting quite right with them,’ recalled engineer Rob Freeman. ‘A decision was made to recut the song from the ground up, starting with a new basic track consisting of drums and rhythm guitar. So one day we cleared the studio, set up Anton’s drum kit and recorded a second version…But after careful analysis of Russ Ballard’s original songwriting demo (a cassette tape they kept playing over and over for comparison to what we were doing), it was decided to re-record New York Groove yet again with further subtle changes to the tempo and/or drum feel.’
For Kramer, the experience of working with Frehley on the album would prove to be a memorable one. ‘We mixed it at Plaza Sound. We cut some tracks there too. Anton’s briliant, he’s a great drummer,’ he told authors David Leaf and Ken Sharp. ‘We did so much weird shit at that mansion. It was haunted, people were scared to stay in the place. I have tons of photographs of that session; I have a photograph with Ace with a Halloween mask on, singing background vocals with me singing the background parts next to him. I’ve got pictures of the room with all the amps. Each room had a different sound. We had like thirty amplifiers in a row. We’d go from one amp to the next, sampling which is the best one. I mean, combining different amps and speaker cabinets. It was great. We had a fucking great time!’
While Criss had spent the majority of his career with KISS behind a drum kit, 1976’s Beth had demonstrated that his musician tastes may lay beyond hard rock. And, as with Frehley, when the solo project was first proposed he soon realised that this would give him the opportunity to explore genres of music not commonly associated with the group. ‘They were a mixed bag for sure. My album reflected my musical tastes; Motown-inspired R&B with horns and black back-up singers,’ he stated in Makeup or Breakup: My Life In and Out of KISS. ‘Paul’s was more the English Zeppelin sound that he liked. Ace’s was his typical Hendrix thing and Gene’s was the most bizarre; almost a pop album. He later wrote that his intent was to piss off KISS fans and push it in their faces that their musical tastes were one-dimensional and his wasn’t. That’s how crazy we were then.’
Sessions for Criss’ album would be divided between Electric Lady and Sunset Sound Studios in Los Angeles and with the drummer intending for a large and epic sound he searched tirelessly for the right producer. ‘I wanted Giorgio Moroder to produce me. He had done a lot of work with Casablanca at the time and he would go on to do the music for Scarface,’ revealed Criss. ‘He turned me down because he didn’t like the demos that I had done, so then I tried Tom Dowd, who was Rod Stewart’s producer. Tom was in Mexico at the time, and the message he got was that a Mr. Christ wanted to talk to him about producing his album, By the time he cleared up the confusion and got back to me, it was too late.’
Eventually, Criss settled on Vini Poncia. Having initially started performing as a guitarist for Ringo Starr, Poncia’s first break came when he co-wrote the hit You Make Me Feel Like Dancing for Leo Sayer. ‘We hit it off immediately,’ stated Criss. ‘I couldn’t wait to get to the studio day we recorded. There were never any arguments, no fights in the room, no egos, unlike my other recording experiences. I treated the musicians as if they were my real band, as if we had been together forever.’ Criss had no intention of creating an album that would appease fans of KISS and instead decided to indulge in his love of older music, something that would become apparent from the opening track.
‘When we were planning our solo albums, I knew I might never again get the chance to do what I wanted, with horns and strings and singing,’ he told Modern Drummer. ‘I’m a soul singer; I grew up with James Brown, the Ronettes, the Rascals, Phil Spector and the Motown sound. I understand now why the fans and even the guys in the band didn’t really get it. It was far away from Zeppelin and Hendrix, which was what they were into. What I was doing maybe sounded a bit older. I wanted my solo album to be me. I did my best to get my voice to tackle every aspect of music, from soul to ballads…When I met Gene, Paul and Ace, they were full-blown rock ’n’ rollers. They weren’t really into horns or strings; it was mostly guitars. But I had already been on the scene in cover bands for ten years, playing every popular nightclub in New York City. So I was well accustomed to different styles of music.’
For those close to Criss, they also saw the solo project as an opportunity for the drummer to indulge in the music that had inspired him during his youth. ‘What the album did foremost was give Peter a chance to get in touch with his roots,’ Poncia would later claim with regard to the direction that Criss would take. ‘He was able to do some white R&B and bluesy kind of things that he grew up with. He was able to show the world a different side of him.’ Several of the songs that Criss would decide to record would be re-workings of material he had composed with friend Stan Penridge in their former group Lips, including the opening track I’m Gonna Love You.
‘Stan and I wrote some great shit, Vini Poncia did a wonderful fucking job,’ declared Criss. ‘I just got out of a car accident so all my fingers were broken. My ribs were broken. I got a concussion. I had to get plastic surgery. I played on everything, fucking-A, with these iron braces on all my fingers and tape on all fingers. It was my baby. I’d give me baby a five. I worked on her, especially Don’t You Let Me Down and I Can’t Stop the Rain. I had horns. I went all soul. I did Tossin’ and Turnin’. I thought that even my little autobiography song Hooked on Roll ‘n’ Roll was brilliant. I wrote a song about my career. If you listen to the lyrics it’s all about my drumming, when I started, how I went along.’
Following in the footsteps of Simmons, Criss would also invite an array of artists to appear on the album, the most notable of which was Steve Lukather. Guitarist and co-founder of the acclaimed rock group Toto, Lukather would also enjoy considerable success as a session musician, later lending his talents to Michael Jackson’s best-selling record Thriller. The prominent horn section present throughout the album was arranged by Tom Saviano, a multi-instrumental jazz musician who throughout his prolific career would work with such artists as Earth, Wind & Fire and Sheena Easton.
With the experience of KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park behind them, Stanley opted to remain in Los Angeles to continue work on his album. With Nevison still unavailable to act as producer Stanley turned to Jeff Glixman, whose collaborations with Kansas had produced several acclaimed albums. Having finally returned from his tour with Meat Loaf, Kulick travelled to California with his bassist Steve Buslowe to assist with the new sessions, but almost immediately it became obvious that tensions were rising between Stanley and his producer.
According to Kulick, it was Stanley who felt that he would be unable to handle the production and so sought professional assistance. ‘It was Paul’s insecurity, ‘You know, maybe I need help?’ And I said, ‘Help? What kind of help? It’s just music. We know when it’s right.’ So Jeff Glixman really had no effect on us whatsoever,’ he explained. ‘I’m not saying anything bad about the guy. He was fine and he wasn’t condescending in any way shape or form to me. He knew Paul loved my playing.’ Glixman would oversee the recording of only four songs before parting ways and leaving Stanley to complete the sessions. Despite having been the first of KISS to enter the studio, he would prove to be the last one to leave, with recording finally coming to an end in July, just weeks before the intended release date.
‘I remember on the first session in New York how impressed I was with Paul. He was playing his guitar through a Marshall amp and to this day I have never heard anyone that could make it sound the way Paul did. Of course it was extremely loud but Paul had such a majestic way of playing it that it almost sounded like an orchestra,’ recalled Buslowe in 2003. ‘ I did two sessions at Lady Land Studios. The first was on 22 February 1978, the second was on 25. The first song we recorded was Tonight You Belong to Me. It seemed that we did the whole thing that night, overdubs, etc. I remember that Paul, Bob, Richie Fontana and I wasted very little time learning the songs. It all came so easily.’
Although he had shown reluctance at the idea of recording a solo album and the process had been plagued with complications and delays, when asked about the experience Stanley offered a more positive response. ‘Everybody’s grown tremendously with their albums,’ he admitted. ‘And the really nice thing about it is that when the albums are all done and each of us hears the other, it’s a really great way of saying, ‘Hey, this is what I’m about. This is the way I’ve always heard things.’ It’s like really getting to know somebody even better than you do.’
On 18 September 1978, barely four months after the release of Double Platinum and two months before the premiere of KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park, each member of the band released their individual album, backed by an extensive marketing campaign. ‘Even though the solo albums were a way for Ace and Peter to feel they had a bit more creative control, we were intent on controlling the project,’ insisted Simmons. ‘Both our management and our record company insisted that each album have the same kind of artwork. We all used the same artist, Eraldo Carugati, so the entire project felt like a coordinated band solo release, something that has never been done before or since.’
Simmons would climb the highest, peaking at no. 22 and spending a total of twenty-two weeks on the charts before finally fading into obscurity. While Criss would only reach no. 43, three slots lower than Stanley, it would be the latter’s album that would slip from the charts first after only eighteen weeks. ‘When the four solo albums came out in late 1978, you could see the glass as half-full or half-empty. Selling around five hundred thousand copies each was nothing to sneeze; two million records if you looked at them collectively as a KISS product,’ claimed Stanley. ‘It was too much hype, and because of the leftover records, a financial disaster for Casablanca. The solo albums did quell the need for Ace and Peter to leave. But they represented nothing more than a Band-Aid on a gaping wound. They put off something that was inevitable.’
While the project may have been deemed a failure, it had allowed KISS to demonstrate different aspects to their talents that they had not displayed on their earlier records. ‘That album was a risk, but it was necessary,’ admitted Simmons to MusicRadar in 2012. ‘At that point, Ace and Peter, god love them, had succumbed to alcohol and drugs in a deep way. We had done a movie, KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park and during the movie they would disappear and we’d have to have actors sit in for them in make-up; just pathetic behaviour. We had a meeting and Ace said he wanted to leave and have a solo career. We told him to have a solo career but stay in the band, have your cake and eat it too. ‘No, I’m going to have my own solo career and show you that I can sell ten million records.”
For Frehley, the project was less a necessity to save the band and more the logical next step to allow him to grow as an artist. However, he did have some reservations regarding the label’s decision to release all four albums simultaneously. ‘I’m still not sure it was the greatest idea in the world; maybe it would have made more sensr to roll the records out slowly, over a period of several months, to give each its time in the spotlight,’ he would later admit. ‘Instead, Casablanca pressed half a million copies of each record and flooded the marketplace on a single day. The results were mixed, to say the least. Critcally speaking, Ace Frehley was the most successful of the four records. I expected that. My goal was to make a really solid, guitar-based rock album, and I did. The shock, to just about everyone, was that Ace Frehley also was the most successful of the solo albums from a commercial standpoint, outselling the other three albums and producing a Top 20 single in New York Groove.’
Aucoin had envisioned the project as a way to help the band work through many of their personal and professional issues, but instead it had only served to fracture their relationships even further. ‘The solo albums were centred around giving the guys a break from each other. It gave them independence,’ he would claim. ‘There was renewed energy and excitement. Everyone wanted to do their own thing. Even though they were all separate, it was like a whole new KISS again. It was never meant for all of the solo albums to come out together. We thought we’d put one out at a time. They weren’t getting along, they were starting to have that tear in the fabric.’
You don’t need those fucking jerks
The notion of four solo albums released on the same day had been conceived as a way for each member to have a break from the band but ultimately it had transformed into a bitter competition to see who would produce the most successful record. ‘It got to be, ‘Who’s gonna have the best album? Who’s gonna outsell whose album?’ That’s when that ego, that cancer, came in,’ admitted Criss. ‘I would be surrounded by people who would say, ‘You don’t need those fucking jerks, listen to how good that song is.’ When we got back together we had to decide which songs from the solo albums we would play on tour and that caused nothing but major heartaches. I still think that although we were the only band to do it, the idea was still a mistake. Casablanca had to ship them all platinum to keep us quiet. 1978 was the downfall of the band!’
Aucoin also believes that serious mistakes were made with how the albums were marketed and released. ‘The solo albums got bungled a bit,’ he revealed. ‘The Handyman Group, which is the major record distributor, calls up Neil and orders a million units of each album. And Neil goes nuts. So he presses up another million and a quarter. Now we have five and a quarter million records pressed up. When you walked into a record store, it looked like the entire store was KISS. That wasn’t necessarily good because it never looked like they sold any of the solo albums. It never looked like the pile went anywhere. And then I find out that Neil has pressed another million and a quarter because he thought, ‘Wow, if one company’s gonna order so much.’ So there was so much product out there that it looked like a disaster. But they all went Platinum eventually.’
Stanley’s own effort had remained the closest to the established sound of the band, and he saw the solo albums as a logical progression for KISS and one that hinted at the work that was yet to come which would arrive the following year with the pop and disco-infused Dynasty. ‘I tried not to contradict what I did before,’ he told the Colorado Springs Gazette. ‘There’s nothing wrong with progressing. I never said anything in KISS that I didn’t believe. If you want to do something different it shouldn’t be mis-labelled. These albums are an introduction to another level. The next KISS album will sound a lot closer to the solo albums than the last KISS album. People forget how uncompromising we are. They see the chrome and not the engine.’
For a few short years it had seemed that KISS could do no wrong, but this would all change in 1978 when the poor reception of their solo albums marked a negative turning point for the band. ‘On the heels of that disaster, our movie finally aired on 28 October,’ recalled Criss. ‘We were incensed that the movie ads all featured Gene with the rest of us in the background. That was just a sympton of the state of the band. Five years in, we were blowing things out of proportion. We were fried and miserable from all the albums, all the touring, all the things we had been through. All of us were ultimately embarrassed by doing that movie. The reviews were uniformly horrible. The L.A. Times called it ‘a four-star abomination. A five-minute idea for a cartoon, disguised as a two-hour movie.’ We actually got a lot of hate mail from fans after that movie.’
In comparison to the critical and commercial success of the band’s prior output, some considered the solo albums a failure, one that perhaps best represented a group whose egos were out of control, but for KISS it was a way to cope with the frustrations and limitations of being a rock star. For a short time, each of the four members of KISS were able to return to their roots and start again without fear of judgement and if the critics failed to understand then they were not the ones who the albums were created for. ‘Among the so-called rock critics there’s a lot of jealousy,’ declared Simmons. ‘They’re upset because they realise there’s nothing they can do about our popularity. Also, they suffer from peer group pressure. You can’t be a critic and say, ‘I love Olivia Newton-John and Led Zeppelin‘ in the same breath. It’s sad that they don’t realise that people don’t care about what they say. Ultimately, though, you don’t want everybody to like you but we know that not everybody will like KISS. But just once I’d like to see somebody write, ‘I hate KISS. They’re the worst trash that ever existed. I went to their concert and twenty-thousand people went nuts.’