The passing of time has proved fruitful for Kiss' 1982 heavy metal hammer, Creatures of the Night. And if you ask most Kiss fans – even original lineup diehards – quite a few will probably cite Creatures as one of their favorites in Kiss's catalog.
It wasn't always that way for the masked crusaders, as back when Creatures of the Night was released, most pundits deemed Kiss a band on the rocks. From the outside looking in, things seemed dire for Kiss, and internally, according to bassist Gene Simmons, things weren't much better.
"We were walking on one leg," Simmons says. "If I could paint you a picture, it would be of us being completely unsure of ourselves. By the time Creatures happened, we were barely a band. It was just Paul [Stanley] and me, with a cast of musicians around us that we brought in to help us record. Of course, we had Eric Carr, who was a great drummer, but he was still very new."
"For the first time ever, we had outsider writers coming to help us write songs," Simmons continues. "It really was a difficult time for us because, for the first time in history, we felt extremely unsure of what we were doing in Kiss. We'd always believed in the vision of Kiss, but things had gone so far off course, and we weren't sure how to right the ship."
With the release of Music from "The Elder" in 1981, Kiss lost their credibility not only with fans and critics, but also their lead guitarist, Ace Frehley. After years of pleading with his bandmates to return to the bread and butter-hard rock that granted Kiss fame and fortune, Frehley had become wildly disillusioned with Kiss's direction. Moreover, his substance abuse and erratic behavior further exasperated an already troubled situation.
"By the time Creatures happened, Ace was already gone," recalls Simmons. "Ace doesn't appear on a single song on Creatures of the Night. His only appearance was in the promotional shots, and he did us a favor by appearing in the I Love it Loud music video. But even that was a mistake because he clearly didn't know the song and had to fake his way through the entire thing. So, not only were we feeling very unsure of what we were doing, we didn't even have a lead guitarist."
With Kiss's back against the wall, the bonded-through-music duo of Simmons and Stanley rallied. Ever resolute, albeit with outside help, the longtime bandmates set to work on creating a record that would not only bring Kiss back to the forefront of rock music, but would be remembered for years to come.
"Even with all that was happening, the magic of Kiss shined through," relishes Simmons. "We were down two original members and had no guitar player, but the songs surprisingly turned out just fine. And I have to say, we couldn't have done it without Eric [Carr]. He worked very hard to bring in that heavier drum sound, and with his help, many of those songs like War Machine, and I Love It Loud became staples that are still in our set to this day."
Of the many memorable and poignant moments that manifested from the Creatures of the Night sessions, Simmons and Stanley's approach to "replacing" Frehley was the most interesting. Instead of hiring a new six-stringer, Kiss held open auditions in concert with the recording of Creatures of the Night.
"We had to find a workaround for the Ace issue," recalls Simmons. "And that wasn't easy because, for all his issues, Ace was a unique player. We held open auditions out in L.A., and everyone from Richie Sambora to Slash to Doug Aldrich to Punky Meadows came down. None of them were a fit, but we couldn't wait around for the right person.
"So, we went ahead and recorded Creatures with session players. Guys like Steve Farris, Robben Ford, and a guitarist who at the time was called Vincent Cusano."
Depending on who you talk to, Vincent Cusano, aka Vinnie Vincent, either saved Kiss or was akin to a stomach-churning plague on earth. Of course, if you asked Vincent, he'd probably agree with the former. Regardless, one thing is certain – Vincent added much-needed texture and color to an era shrouded in darkness. But are his contributions overstated?
"I do feel Vinnie's contributions are overstated," asserts Simmons. "I feel they're overstated, and I'll tell you why: to begin with, that's not even Vinnie playing on the entire record. He played on a few tracks in total. And Vinnie will often talk about his songwriting on Creatures, and yes, he helped with several, but the contributions of Adam Mitchell are there, too. But even that was an issue because we were writing at Adam's house, and Vinnie cornered me and said, 'Hey, forget about this Adam guy. I should be writing the songs. We don't need him.'”
"Looking back, I thought that was pretty sneaky," continues Simmons. "It was sneaky and an early indicator of Vinnie's character, but we went along with it. And one of the first things we came up with was I Love It Loud. I was living with Diana Ross and I was at her Beverly Hills house one day, and I remembered coming up an early version of that song.
"It was a simple thing – I was referencing the melody of The Who's My Generation, and I came up with the chords and the melody. And I remember calling Vinnie, getting him involved, and he actually wrote most of the lyrics."
As creative as Vincent was and fruitful as his relationship with Simmons and Stanley could be, problems were immediately apparent. A war of clashing styles erupted in the studio, with Simmons and Stanley fighting with Vincent to amalgamate him into the Kiss machine.
"I remember that Vinnie brought in Killer." recounts Simmons. "We liked it, but he fought tooth and nail over the solo. Vinnie wanted to make every solo this massive thing. But Paul and I would bring him specific solos; we gave them to him and asked him to play them verbatim, but he refused.
"He didn’t want to do that, but honestly, everything that Vinnie did sounded like Yngwie Malmsteen on crack. You know, the kind of stuff that the rest of us normal human beings hate. It was ridiculous, and it certainly wasn't Kiss."
"It got to the point where we had to put our foot down," Simmons continues. "We said, 'Look, you're going to play the notes exactly as we tell you to.' And that's how the solo for I Love It Loud came together. We didn't need to be ripping apart the puzzle pieces of his solos and trying to splice them together, and that's what was happening.
"We didn't feel we needed to be in a situation where we were fighting with Vinnie Vincent over how the songs should sound. He wasn't a member of Kiss – to remind everyone, Vinnie Vincent was never an official, legal member of Kiss. To this day, Vinnie Vincent has never signed a contract with Kiss."
With the sessions for Creatures of the Night breaking down into a battleground, Kiss had every reason to fold their tent, but miraculously, they came out the other side. That luster of self-assurance, however, quickly wore off in the months that followed Creatures of the Night's release, with Kiss running headlong into hordes of non-believing fans and indifferent critics.
"Even after we finished Creatures, Kiss were in flux," Simmons says. "We were by no means out of the woods. We didn't know who would be in the band, and the times were changing. Hair metal was coming in – bands younger than us – and when Creatures came out, it didn't do well at all. But we liked the record, and we stood by it.
"We had this great stage show with a tank – we called it the 'Tank Tour' internally – but it was poorly attended in the US," Simmons laments. "But strangely, when we went to South America, places like Brazil, we played to the largest crowds Kiss had ever played for.
"We had a show where we played for 135,000 people and another with over 200,000. And after that, we looked at each other and finally thought there was some hope. We knew we still had an audience, but we also knew we would have to make changes."
Now, 40 years after its release, Creatures of the Night is no longer a forgotten record in the Kiss discography. The near-death backstory, messy exit of Ace Frehley, and the blustering entrance of Vinnie Vincent all provide a colorful backdrop to a truly outstanding record. As for Simmons, when asked, the bassist quipped that Creatures of the Night is "one of my favorite Kiss records," a sentiment many fans seem to share.
It seems that the drama, infighting and uncertainty surrounding Creatures have washed away, leaving fans to relish the spoils of an outstanding heavy metal record. What’s more, Creatures is an interesting case study on success, overindulgence and the pitfalls of the rock 'n' roll lifestyle. And, of course, there's the malevolent Vinnie Vincent and his gunslinging exploits. Vincent might not have saved Kiss, but Creatures of the Night, in many ways, did.
"When I look back, despite his demons, in some ways, Ace was right," admits Simmons. "We did need to make a rock record. And he had said that all along; Ace had said that The Elder was not the record that Kiss should make, and he was right. But the thing is, we had people around us telling us it was a good idea, and things didn't go according to plan. We got off track. That happens in bands, and Kiss is no exception. So, where Ace was wrong was, he didn't stick with the band.”
"Having said that, when I look back on Creatures, even though it wasn't successful initially, I look at it as us finding our footing again," Simmons reflects. "And when you look at Animalize, Asylum and Crazy Nights, these are all gold and multi-platinum records. We went on to sell out arenas and headlined outdoor festivals worldwide. I don't think many bands could have gone through the changes we have, as many times as we have, and still come out successful.
"We have defied what managers would recommend time and time again, and Creatures was the start of that second era of success for Kiss. We said, 'We're sticking to our guns, and we'll tread water as the grounding is shaking, knowing that we will come out the other side.'"
- The 40th anniversary edition of Kiss' Creatures of the Night is available now.