Prime Cuts: Kiss
Originally printed in Guitar World, August 1992
Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley reflect on two decades of Kiss classics, including "Duece," "Strutter," "God of Thunder" and more.
"DEUCE" (Kiss, 1974)
GENE SIMMONS: That was the first song I ever wrote for Kiss; it was thrown together in about half an hour. I ripped off the lick from "Bitch" by the Rolling Stones and changed it so it starts in A and goes to a C. I purposely set out to create a repetitive lick—like in "Satisfaction" or "Bitch." Lyrically, I had the slight thread of a story line, but I was more concerned with conveying attitude than making sense of the word "deuce." I'm not quite sure what the line, "You know your man is working hard, he's worth a deuce!" means, but it sounded right.
"STRUTTER" (Kiss, 1974)
PAUL STANLEY: This was one of the first songs I ever wrote for Kiss. It started with an old chord progression Gene had written five or six years earlier for a song called "Stanley the Parrot," which, by the way, had nothing to do with me. [laughs] We sped the "Parrot" song up and gave it a Stones-ish strut, hence the name. At that point I was using a Les Paul TV model. I was already real keen on vintage guitars—although my extremely limited finances meant that I could only afford one guitar at a time. So I went from a Les Paul/SG that I bought for $120 in a pawn shop to a double-cutaway Les Paul Special that cost about $200.
"BLACK DIAMOND" (Kiss, 1974)
STANLEY: Kiss was originally heavily influenced by Humble Pie. We wanted to make two guitars sound like one—it was the "Big Guitar" theory. Ace [Frehley] and I worked hard on blending our rhythm parts on a lot of those early songs. We experimented with doubling rhythms, writing counter-rhythms, or playing different inversions against each other. "Black Diamond" was one of the earliest songs Gene and I wrote together, even though it's credited to me. Gene came up with the riff that's incorporated into the chords. The tag at the end of the song reminds me of early Neil Young or "Stairway to Heaven." It needed something extra, because we just didn't think the song was over.
"GOIN' BLIND" (Hotter than Hell, 1974)
SIMMONS: The idea here was to create something that sounded like a theme to a Western by strumming minor chords on an acoustic guitar. There's a lick in the chorus that I ripped off from "Layla" and played backwards. The bassline doesn't have anything to do with the melody or the chords. I was listening to a lot of Cream, and although I never really understood what songs like "Tales of Brave Ulysses" were about, they still summoned up strong images in my mind. The lyrics to "Goin' Blind" are like that—they don't make a whole lot of sense, but at least lines like, "I'm 93, you're 16" are easy to visualize.
"HOTTER THAN HELL" (Hotter than Hell, 1974)
STANLEY: I was always a big fan of Free, and "All Right Now" really meant a lot to me—it was a perfect song. "Hotter than Hell" was basically me re-writing that song. There's nothing wrong with stealing, as long as you do it right—and make sure that you're stealing a diamond, not a piece of glass. All bands start off being fairly derivative, and copying others is the first step toward developing your own style. At that point I had gotten my first real custom guitar. A guy in New York named Charley Labue built me something similar to a ’58 Flying V with two humbuckers—pretty similar to what Albert King was playing, but with one wing shorter than the other. Randy Rhoads’ Jackson V had a similar design.
"C'MON AND LOVE ME" (Dressed to Kill, 1975)
STANLEY: We were in L.A. on the Hotter than Hell tour, and the president of Casablanca Records, Neil Bogart, came to us after the show and said that Hotter than Hell wasn't selling anymore. He wanted us to go back to New York the next day and start working on another album. It was a real interesting concept—especially since we hadn't written any new songs yet. [laughs] So we packed our bags and went home, and every morning Gene and I would write. When Peter [Criss] and Ace would show up, we'd say, "Okay, guys, here's today's song." It wasn't unusual for us to write a song in an hour and a half.
The verses to "C'mon and Love Me" were probably written in half an hour, and yet it's one of my favorite songs to this day—in fact, we may bring it out on the next tour. It sounds every bit as good today as it did back then.
SIMMONS: We were at the peak of our career when we recorded Alive!, and we knew it. Alive! was real, and was very much a product of its time—it wasn't just Kiss, it was the mid-Seventies. People had had enough of the hippie, political thing and just wanted to rock out and have a good time.
At that time live records didn't sell, and we knew we were doing something that the industry thought was stupid. But Alive! changed all that. Frampton Comes Alive was released shortly thereafter, and then everybody started putting out live records. But we weren't aware of it as a marketing thing, it was just real—a lot like our first record. To me, it's one of the two or three records we've done that still holds up.
With anything good, there's always more than ingredients—it's how long you cook it and how hungry you are when it's ready. As much as I'd like to take all the credit for Alive!, it was a lot more than just Kiss. All the planets lined up, the fans were right, radio didn't matter and there were great rock and roll magazines like Creem. It was just a very pure, innocent time. And the music reflected that, which is why that album works so well. A lot of the musicians who are happening now wanted and needed what we gave them then. It made kids want to pick up the guitar and put a band together.
"It was recorded mostly at Detroit's Cobo Hall, as well as in Wildwood, New Jersey and Davenport, Iowa. "Detroit Rock City" was written as a result of those shows, because we did three nights in an 11,000-seater. People thought we were out of our minds for playing there, because up until then we had been playing the 5,500-seat Michigan Palace. But in those days we thought excess was best.
STANLEY: We didn't think that any of the first three albums captured what we were about—being a live band. To this day, most of the studio versions pale in comparison to those on Alive! Our live show was akin to four people leading 12,000 in a church revival. Everybody there had tremendous commitment.
The cover of that album was shot at the Michigan Palace in Detroit. We did it in the afternoon while our crew was setting up the stage at the Cobo Hall, which is where we recorded most of the album. We wanted the perfect live shot, so we set everything up and played in an empty theater. We got our picture.
"GOD OF THUNDER" (Destroyer, 1976)
SIMMONS: "By the end of our third record [Dressed to Kill], we had gotten very used to each other's songwriting styles. Paul's songs were always a little snappier and happier, and mine were always darker and gloomier. So we'd poke fun at each other sometimes, and Paul once said to me, "Anybody can write a Gene Simmons song." To prove his point, he came back the next day with "God of Thunder." I changed some of the lyrics, and sang it.
When I first heard the song, I immediately had visions of the scene in Fantasia where the mountain top opens and this big winged thing is standing there—something from the dark shadows. But Paul's "God of Thunder" lyrics totally missed the point—they were all about Aphrodite and love.
The sound effect of the little kid was actually done by Bob Ezrin's two sons, who ran into the studio wearing toy helmets and carrying walkie-talkies and ray guns. The weird voice on the song is one of the kid's voices coming through a helmet, which we miked. It wasn't planned, and we had no idea what it all meant, but it seemed right. It's real Twilight Zone stuff—very weird.
STANLEY: I won't say that Gene is lying about "God of Thunder," but maybe he was trying to entertain you. It's in Gene's nature to glamorize a story and make it more interesting than it really is. Here's the real story: I wrote that song about myself, and the original lyrics were almost identical to what was recorded. "Hear my word and take heed" was originally "We make love 'til we bleed," but that was the only thing that was changed. When I wrote it, I had every intention of singing it, but Bob Ezrin thought that it would be more appropriate for Gene to sing. Although it became known as a Gene Simmons song, it certainly wasn't written for him or as a joke.
"DETROIT ROCK CITY" (Destroyer, 1976)
STANLEY: From the very beginning, the people of Detroit took us in as one of their own. While we were still an opening act in most parts of the country, we were headlining there, and I wanted to write a song about that. Then someone was hit by a car and killed outside one of our concerts in Charlotte, North Carolina. I found it very strange that somebody on his way to see something that would have been so much fun, something that was such a testament to being alive, would get killed—which is where the song's car crash intro comes from. The whole song is really about somebody getting ready to go to a concert to have a great time, and ending up dying.
"SHOUT IT OUT LOUD" (Destroyer, 1976)
SIMMONS: Before Kiss started, Paul and I had a group called Wicked Lester, which recorded a never-released album for Epic Records. We already had "She" and "Love Her All I Can," but the producer was screaming that we didn't have any singles and suggested that we find another song at a publishing house. When we did, we heard a Hollies song that wasn't quite good enough to record. It had a chorus that said, "We want to shout it out loud, but we can't let people know." I thought the idea of shouting out loud was great, so I ripped off the title.
"CALLING DR. LOVE" (Rock and Roll Over, 1976)
SIMMONS: This is gonna sound warped, but "Calling Dr. Love" started off with the title, which I stole from an episode of The Three Stooges. I also had that silly little word rhyme, "They call me Dr. Love/I've got the cure you're thinking of." I went into the Record Plant in New York and recorded the song as a demo, playing all the instruments myself, and then I took it to the band—and that was it.
"HARD LUCK WOMAN" (Rock and Roll Over, 1976)
STANLEY: I was a big fan of Rod Stewart, who around that time had a big hit with "Maggie May." I figured I could write a similar song, and came up with "Hard Luck Woman" with the idea of giving it to Rod. But we recorded it ourselves because we needed a follow-up to "Beth," which had just been a huge hit for us. We wanted something similar to "Beth," so we let Peter sing "Hard Luck" too. He had a real raspy voice, and when people heard it on the radio, they thought it was Rod Stewart. I also used my Guild 12-string acoustic, which helped it sound like a Rod Stewart song.
"CHRISTINE SIXTEEN" (Love Gun, 1977)
SIMMONS: That song started as another great conversation with Paul: "You write dumb songs!" "No, you write dumb songs!" Paul had stolen some of my titles, like "Black Diamond," and when he came up with the title "Christine Sixteen," I stole it. I had just discovered Van Halen, so I had Eddie and Alex play on the demo. They also played on the original demo of "Got Love for Sale."
For the spoken part in the middle that goes "When I saw you coming out of school that day, I knew I've got to have you—got to have you!" I always pictured myself in a black car across the street from a school, watching a young girl.
"I WAS MADE FOR LOVIN' YOU" (Dynasty, 1979)
STANLEY: Dance music was so big at that point that every band from the Stones on down seemed to be having hits with dance material. I would listen to it in New York clubs like Studio 54, always thinking it was very simple music and that I could write songs like that. So I went home, set my drum machine to the 126 tempo—like every damn song during that period—and worked on a chord progression with Desmond Child and Vinny Poncia. The first line of the song was "Tonight, I wanna give it all to you"—which is basically what club people were thinking in those days.
We stopped playing it live a decade ago, but people started saying we should bring it back. We said, "Are you crazy? That's a dance song!" We finally tried it again when we were doing the Monsters of Rock tour in Europe in '89. We were ready to put the guitars up in front of our faces to keep the tomatoes from hitting us, when, instead, we had a sea of fists in the air. And this was in front of hard-core headbangers!
"A WORLD WITHOUT HEROES" (Music from the Elder, 1981)
SIMMONS: That started out as a mushy Paul Stanley song—stuff like, "With every bit of my heart, I love you and can't live without you." I just wanted to throw up in his lap. I thought the music was cool, but he was just singing about crap. So I said, "You spineless excuse for a man, you're just drooling over this girl. Have some balls—tell her to suck your dick and fuck off!"
But I thought the chord changes were fantastic, so I started fooling around with the melody. Bob Ezrin had flown Lou Reed up, and we sat down to talk about some ideas. Lou had a scrap of paper with "a world without heroes" written on it. I asked what it was, and he said it was just an idea he had about how awful the world would be if we didn't have heroes like John Wayne, Superman or King Kong. That gave me the idea for the lyrics: "A world without heroes, is like a world without sun, you can't look up to anyone, in a world without heroes."
"CREATURES OF THE NIGHT" (Creatures of the Night, 1982)
STANLEY: We were coming off the Music from the Elder album, which was a left turn down a very dark street for us. After that, who we were and who we weren't became clearer to us. We needed to get back home—and I think we did it with a vengeance with Creatures of the Night. It was a very heavy, dark album, and it was probably my first real declaration of who we were. There's a certain ferocity to a lot of that material, like the title track, "Danger" and "War Machine."
"DOMINO" (Revenge, 1992)
SIMMONS: This song started out with a bass lick, much as "Deuce" did. Once I had the meter down, I started writing rhyming words, but without a melody—so it was almost a rap. Then I talked the song through with the lick, and the melody just came naturally. The melody that came to me was the bass lick, so I just shadowed my melody with the lick on guitar. The spoken part sort of reminds me of "Christine Sixteen."
"TOUGH LOVE" (Revenge, 1992)
STANLEY: I wrote that with Bruce [Kulick] and Bob Ezrin. I alternated between a two-piece Les Paul maple-top reissue—which can be a good substitute for a ’58, ’59 or ’60—and a Steinberger, which recorded fabulously through a Marshall. The Steinberger was the only guitar that really held its tuning well when dropped down a whole step to D—probably because it's made of graphite. I've always been a fan of hearing every string when you play a chord, and on this album my sound is very big and clear—the attack is great.