Kiss Album Focus - Asylum
When KISS concluded the “Animalize” Tour in the spring of 1985 there must have been something of a feeling that they had been let out of the insane asylum they’d been in for the previous 5 years. The musical experimentation that had started with the “Dynasty” album of 1979 and ended with the major failure, “The Elder,” had transformed KISS from selling out stadiums to barely being able to fill music halls. Moreover, the musical demographic had changed – the number of children attending shows with their parents alienated many KISS fans, and those children were quick to hop on other fads anyway. The bands that had opened for them during the early 1980s, including Mötley Crüe, John Cougar, and Bon Jovi, were doing far better than they were, in some cases leaving them in the dust commercially. These bands were quickly picked up by, and benefiting from, the new medium of MTV while KISS’ successes with the station were marginal at best.
KISS’ schizophrenia continued with the removal of the makeup, the return to making heavy metal, and with the slew of guitarists who rotated through the ranks of the band in a three-year period. The rehabilitation process that had started with “Creatures Of The Night,” and which was fully presented with “Lick It Up,” had been somewhat realized by the success of “Animalize.” According to some statisticians that album would be the best selling studio album of the non-makeup era and the entire period following 1980 and the end of the original lineup of the band! From the success of “Animalize” (though one will have to search high and low to find a fan who prefers the material on that album to either “Lick It Up” or “Creatures Of The Night.”) it was hoped that the band could continue to rebuild their financial position and legitimacy with a whole new breed of KISS fan that was growing up with the band. Many of these new fans had not known the band during their makeup past so the band were truly playing to a whole new audience. A small percentage of “diehard” fans of the original classic era of the band also remained loyal. KISS too, now had to compete with the growing number of metal bands, on an equal basis, when the name alone was no longer enough in many cases to sell product or concert tickets. With the return to at least halfway respectable sales figures, a stable band with “team-players,” who knew their places (and thus their roles as “hired members” rather than “company partners”), it was like the band had come “out of the asylum.” This, perhaps appropriately, would become the working title for the next studio album. However, that would eventually simply be shortened and become “Asylum.”
The “Animalize” tour ended at Meadowlands Arena, East Rutherford, New Jersey, on March 29, 1985. KISS continued their then recent practice of pretty much getting straight back into the studio to record new material after a short break. Paul went home and relaxed and started writing material. Choosing to work at Electric Lady Studios in New York City, Bruce Kulick was firmly in place as the band’s newest guitarist. “Asylum” would mark the band’s first album at Electric Lady since “Dynasty.” However, some drum work, and additional dubs, would be recorded at Right Track studios. To wrap up the “Animalize” era the band had released their first commercial video package, in the form of “Animalize Live Uncensored,” on April 19. The video also established KISS as one of the early trendsetters, along with artists such as Whitesnake and the Scorpions, utilizing music video releases to enhance their catalogs.
By June 1985 recording of the album was properly underway. For the album both Paul and Gene would share production duties (and credit), though at least this time Gene would bring a plethora of work tapes to the sessions. According to Dale Sherman in Black Diamond, “While one magazine reported that the band was in the studio by April, another stated that the band did not even start seriously rehearsing for the album until mid-May and then went into the studios two weeks later. Nevertheless, they stayed in the studios for a total of eight weeks, the least amount of time spent by the band in the studio since the days of ‘Dynasty.’ It was also the quickest that KISS had moved from a tour to the studio since the ‘Love Gun’ days” (“Black Diamond,” p. 194). According to Bruce, “Rehearsals went great. Really quick. We work hard and we get results right away. They’ve been doing it long enough that we know how to get it done. We went in and rehearsed for two weeks and now we’re in the studio and have seven drum tracks recorded. We’re gonna cut four more and start over-dubbing. We all feel very confident in the sense of how strong this record’s gonna be. It’s going to please everybody, from metal fans to people who want a ‘hit’” (The KISS Force, 1985). It probably helped that the band had done some of the writing work on songs while on the road, as well as discussing ideas – this was reminiscent of the early days. What is clear is that while the nation celebrated its’ birthday on July 4, Bruce was busy recording solos for songs on the album. This was a situation that was reminiscent to Mark St. John being left to his own devices to do the work in the studio, without guidance, while the other band members worked on other projects, or worked not at all. At least with Bruce the band could trust that he could be left alone to do the work they required for the album.
During July, as a part of the PolyGram reissuing of the KISS catalog to include the new CD format, “Creatures Of The Night,” was re-released. “Creatures Of The Night,” “I Still Love You,” and “War Machine” were remixed by Dave Wittman at Electric Lady to tone down the drum sound. For the reissue of the album the original blue “make-up” cover was replaced with a then current 1985 picture of band with Bruce Kulick. It was hoped that the new artwork would improve sales on an album that Gene and Paul felt had been unjustly ignored at the time of original release. By mid-1985 the album was nowhere near “Gold” certification, in terms of sales in the United States, and was only slightly ahead of the “Elder.” The reissue artwork would mean that of the three issues of the album (1982, 1985, and 1998) the real guitarist on the album is never featured on the cover.
After his distractions on the previous album Gene is at least prepared when he brings a ton of material to the studio. While some songs, such as “Love’s A Deadly Weapon” had been helped by some of the song writing partnerships that developed during projects with Wendy O. Williams and Keel. However, Gene was also coming up with plenty of decent material of his own – no doubt recycled from his voluminous notebooks. “Love’s A Deadly Weapon,” a perfect example of Gene’s recycling and patchwork, had started out as a demo in 1980 as one of the first songs KISS had ever demoed with Eric Carr. It’s generally referred to as being called “Deadly Weapons” and was written by Gene and Paul.
Substantial reworking was required for the song to be transformed into its “Asylum” guise. Taking the chorus of the original demo, “Love’s a deadly weapon / And murder’s on my mind (murder’s on my mind) / I don’t wanna threaten / I’m leavin’ you behind” only the first two lines would survive, though some of the music would be incorporated in the new song. Added to this was a riff from the Rod Swenson and Wes Beech song, “Party” that appeared on Wendy O. William’s “Kommander of Kaos” album. It is likely that Gene originally heard “Party” during pre-production for Wendy’s second solo album. Gene had been slated to produce this next WOW album, but was unable to do so because of his other commitments. Swenson and Beech would get a credit on the song, but did not actually write with Gene and Paul to create the piece. It would also seem likely that Gene and Paul had never sat down together and written “Deadly Weapons,” and that as was the case usually it was a result of their combining individual song parts. With a little arrangement of the old and new parts, Gene had a song with an interesting history! Also featured on the Wendy’s “Kommander of Kaos” album is a live recording of “Ain’t None Of Your Business,” the song that had been written by Eric Carr, Vinnie, and Gene for her first album.
Gene also had plenty of other demos in varying stages of completion. Some songs that have been generally placed in the “Asylum” era include: “We Won’t Take It Any More,” “I Have Just Begun To Fight,” “Take It Like A Man,” “Russian Roulette,” “100%,” “Nobody’s Perfect,” “Keep Your Tail Between Your Legs,” “What You See Is What You Get,” “Anyway You Slice It,” “Hello Hello,” and “Secretly Cruel.” It’s now known that “I Have Just Begun To Fight” is actually a demo Gene recorded with members of the band Virgin in 1978/9.
“We Won’t Take It Any More” dated from at least 1983 and was one of several Gene songs sent the band Heavy Pettin’ for possible use. The version that circulates in collector’s circles seems more like the early stages of a demo work out rather than a fully developed and completed idea. “Take It Like A Man” appears to be a work in progress in the 2:37 format that circulates. Gene has the basic musical structure worked out and a catchy chorus: “You’ve got to take it like a man / Any way you can / You’ve got to take it like a man / Take it like a man / Take it like a man.”
“Nobody’s Perfect” is one of the most complete demos that circulate from this period. The song also contains recycling of earlier ideas, demonstrated by one line in the chorus: “Nah, nah, nah, nobody’s perfect / So I’m rotten to the core / Nah, nah, nah, nobody’s perfect / But-but, baby I know the score / Yeah I know the score.” “Keep Your Tail Between Your Legs” had probably been discarded by the time “Asylum” was being recorded, since it had been recorded as “Get Down,” by Keel, in 1984. “Any Way You Slice It” was another song that had been offered to Heavy Pettin.’ While some lyrics have minor changes there is an extended break section plus some arrangement changes. “Secretly Cruel,” which was also recorded for the album was inspired by a “Girl who used to write in and describe all the great things she would do with my pictures. She had this giant poster of me standing sideways then she would position herself in a certain way and that was her thrill” (Kerrang #155).
Additionally, “Love Fast, Die Young” and “Are You Tough Enough” were two other songs that were mentioned in Kerrang for possible inclusion on the “Asylum” album. “Love Fast, Die Young” was ultimately re-titled “Trial By Fire.” It is not clear whether the latter of these was simply an interesting song title, completed demos, or alternate title of other demo Gene had at the time.
Paul had found a comfort level working with Desmond Child and Jean Beauvoir. This continued on the “Asylum” album. “I’m Alive” was simply a renaming of a song that had been mentioned with the title “Run For Your Life.” Unlike Mark St. John, who had on the previous album essentially been told what to do and how to do it, Bruce Kulick was allowed artistic and creative input, and was thus made to feel more a member of the band. According to Bruce, “I wrote a few with Paul and one with Gene” (KISS Explorer, 1985). It would seem that a lot of what Bruce wrote would turn up on the album with his three co-writing credits. Eric Carr was again cut out of this aspect of the business. He would diplomatically lay the blame at his not having any material included on the album as being the result of the other’s material being so strong. He had some basic ideas, but nothing completed to the level of the rest of the band’s contributions.
Both “King Of The Mountain” and “I’m Alive” had started out life on the “Animalize” tour with Bruce Kulick and Paul Stanley working on ideas. Later input from Desmond Child completed the pieces. “King Of The Mountain” was proof that the band had finally figured out how to capture the sonic fury of Eric’s drums that had previously only been accomplished Michael James Jackson. According to Paul, “a song like ‘King Of The Mountain’ says that everyone’s got the right to feel that they’re Number One” (Rock Scene Spotlights #2). With its drum intro it proved to be the perfect opening track for the album.
Paul followed-up “I Still Love You” and “A Million To One,” from the previous albums, with a new power-ballad, “Who Wants To Be Lonely,” which would become the album’s third video. “Tears Are Falling” would be a second Paul ballad on the album, and was one of the few songs he’d write on his own in the 1980s. The song was inspired by Stevie Wonder’s “Uptight,” would become the primary single released off the “Asylum” album. In the United States it would be the only physical single from the album released, even though three promotional videos were made with material from the album. According to Paul the song, “is about the exact moment that a relationship is over. Sometimes, when someone cries, it says a lot more than word could ever say” (Rock Scene Spotlights #2). Paul would play bass on the recording. Rounding out Paul’s contributions to the album were “Radar For Love” and “Uh! All Night.”
There has long been discussion about just how much of a tribute to Led Zeppelin’s “Black Dog” this song is. Paul has easily deflected the question, “There’s some wonderful people like Willie Dixon and John Lee Hooker and a lot of people who certainly influenced the people who wrote ‘Black Dog.’ And I think it’s a tip of the hat to anybody, I think my heroes – at least I have taste! I don’t think there’s anything necessarily revolutionary and new under the sun. It’s reminiscent of it, sure, who’s going to deny it? But then ‘Whole Lotta Love,’ that old song – who did it? Willie Dixon” (Creem Collector Series 2, 1). “Uh! All Night” required the input of Paul, Desmond Child and Jean Beauvoir to come up with a song that includes: “Well, we work all day / And we don’t know why / Well, there’s just one thing that money can’t buy / When your body’s been starved, feed your appetite / When you work all day, you gotta, Uh! All night.” Paul justifies the nature of the song; “son of ‘Heaven’s On Fire’ meets ‘Tomorrow And Tonight’ in a dark alley. Not necessarily a bad song. Definitely the best I could do in this genre at that time. I’ve always wanted us to have anthems, songs that were singable for anybody, whether they could actually sing or not. So the choruses tended to be simple enough that they were somewhere between chanting and singing” (Box Set Liners). Jean would play bass on the recording and also contributed backing vocals.
Gene, with his outside commitments, would again have others playing bass including Paul and Jean Beauvoir. Paul also gets the blame for the cover art concept that attempted to update the classic KISS color scheme. Bruce inherited Ace’s blue and Eric got Peter’s green on the lip coloring of the band members. Some fans took the cover as an insult to the former members and legacy of the band, apart from finding it plain ugly. With the band’s costumes some thought that the band had gone a step too far in the direction of the lipstick Hollywood glam movement that would reach its zenith with the likes of Poison in 1986 (compare the cover of “Asylum” with Poison’s “Look What The Cat Dragged In”!). This opinion would be confirmed by some when the first pictures of the band in their “Asylum” regalia started appearing in magazines. While excluded from the song-writing Eric could take some pleasure in the attention given to the sound of his drums on the album. This is probably one of the high points of the album in the presentation of power and ferocity which came closest to recapturing the “Creatures” sound while maintaining a balance with the rest of the music.
By the end of the summer Gene would be back working on other projects. He appeared in the Miami Vice episode, “The Prodigal Son,” a special two-hour show that kicked off the show’s second season on September 27, 1985 on NBC. Naturally, Gene played a drug dealer, another negative character in his resume of acting, Jimmy Borges, who is providing information to Crockett and Tubbs. The plot line of the episode revolves around drug dealers killing off federal agents in Manhattan. According to Dale Sherman, “the role in Miami Vice only lasted for a single day’s shooting” (DS – BD, p194), so Gene was quickly free to work on other projects. Regardless, this episode of Miami Vice is easily available on VHS tapes...
“Asylum” was released on September 16, 1985, and eventually reached a respectable position of #20 in the US charts and #12 on the UK charts. The album highest chart position was in Sweden where it reached #3, but it also managed to go top-20 in Japan (18), Norway (11), and Switzerland (15). “Tears Are Falling” was released as the first single off the album, though it essentially bombed only reaching a dismal #51 on the charts. The single becomes only the third KISS single in the United States to feature a picture sleeve (the other two were “Flaming Youth” and “I Love It Loud”), again using the somewhat garish album cover art. It was backed with “Any Way You Slice It” in North America, and “Heaven’s On Fire (Live)” in some other European markets (and Japan on the 12” single release of “Who Wants To Be Lonely”). This track had been recorded in Detroit in December 1984 during the “Animalize” tour and was one of the very few B-sides ever issued during KISS’ career. It was Eric Carr’s first live appearance on vinyl, and along with the “Animalize Live Uncensored” video fueled rumors of the impending appearance of an “Alive III” album. The recording would see worldwide release as part of the “Hear ‘N Aid” famine relief project in 1986.
“Tears Are Falling” was supported with a hot video that had been filmed in London, England in late-August/early-September 1985. Paul had taken off for a holiday in Antigua following the recording of the album. It would be there that he would contact the British director for the videos. It was directed by David Mallet, who according to Paul had done some of his favorite videos for David Bowie and Def Leppard. The decision to film in England was simply made because, “it’s easier to work over there because most of his crew is there” (Superstar Facts & Pics #9). While Paul and David did much of the video planning over the phone, Paul recalled arriving in London for the “Tears Are Falling” video shoot, “I remember walking in and just being knocked out by the size of the set. I felt like I was in some sort of Hawaiian jungle.... It’s 95 percent a performance video.... There’s a girl in it” (Metal Hammer, 2/87). During the band’s visit to London Paul would hang out with producer Ron Nevison and the initial discussions would occur suggesting that he produce the next KISS record.
Initially, even with “Tears Are Falling” in rotation on MTV and the album doing well on the charts, the album stalled. A second video is hastily issued in the form of “Uh! All Night,” which reverted the theme back to the common images of scantily clad sex kittens rather than surreal spewing volcano’s and Paul’s Tarzan imitation. The video quickly becomes a late night and Headbanger’s Ball favorite. Released in December 1985, Paul recalled the filming of this video, “literally about five days before the tour was about to start we flew back to London, and we shot, back to back, ‘Who Wants To Be Lonely’ and ‘Uh! All Nite.’ Again, it was just a gas” (Metal Hammer, 2/87). The following month the song was issued to radio stations in a promotional 12” format, though it was not domestically released in the US, unlike some other international markets which would get a proper single. In the markets where “Uh! All Nite” was released it failed to chart.
Finally, the video for “Who Wants To Be Lonely” was released in early 1986 and was so risqué initially that a quick edit job was required to bring the video into line with American censors for broadcast – whatever differences there are between the two versions are subtle at best. Paul summed up the reasons for the edit: “It’s sometimes what people think they see that makes something dirty. I can’t imagine for the life of me what’s so weird about a hose shooting water all over a girl.... You’re not going to see a Tijuana party or anything with a donkey and a girl named Maria” (Rock Scene Spotlights #2). This song only gets released as a single in Japan, and there only as a 12” single, the only one in that format to ever be released there.
Sales improvements over previous albums had continued with “Asylum” being certified Gold by the RIAA on November 13, just a month after the release of the album. While this was still not a matter of the album shipping gold or platinum, as had been the case in the 1970s, it showed that the band still had some momentum, like a dog that refuses to die regardless of how many beatings it takes. If nothing else, KISS were persistent. Currently, the RIAA only recognizes the album as having attained Gold certification even though its sales reportedly stand over 1,000,000 copies. The album’s use of three promotional videos also set a standard for the band to use that format in following years (a standard for many bands at the time).
The “Asylum” tour kicked off at Barton Coliseum in Little Rock, Arkansas, on November 29, 1985, following three days of final rehearsals. Little had changed from the previous tour except for the size of the KISS logo that was a few feet taller. Where the band had played “Whole Lotta Love” during the Animalize Tour, this time saw them introducing fans to the Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” Songs from the album added to the set list included “King Of The Mountain,” “Any Way You Slice It,” “Tears Are Falling,” and “Uh! All Night,” though the first two of these are not played at all shows. In fact “Any Way You Slice It” didn’t survive past the first night of the tour. In December, the band played some of “White Christmas” as the shows got nearer to Christmas.
The “Asylum” tour was generally uneventful and visited the same sorts of venues that the band had played during the “Animalize” tour. Venue capacities ranged from 6,000 to 17,000 seats, though attendance figures didn’t reach the maximums possible. Like the “Animalize” tour, attendances were patchy at best, though there was little decline from the previous tour. According to CK Lendt, the tour “Wasn’t much different from the last, averaging 5,000 people per night. It was hit and miss. Sacramento would sell 2,600 tickets but Philadelphia would sell 10,000. Ticket prices were stepped up... Without the increase KISS would never earn percentage monies” (KISS & Sell, p.305). In essence, the band was stagnant on tour, regardless of the opening acts they were taking on the road with them. Opening acts included Black ‘N’ Blue, WASP, King Kobra, Blue Oyster Cult, and Kix.
On January 12, 1986 KISS played their first ever concert in San Juan, Puerto Rico. CK Lendt recalled, “Promoters continued to take chances on KISS. One of KISS’ promoters from the early days, Dave Lucas, stepped up to the plate to promote a KISS show in San Juan, Puerto Rico, in January 1986. Although his home base was Indiana, Dave had branched out to find new markets and was working with a local impresario in San Juan. I warned Dave not to take the show as the costs and uncertainties were too great, especially with all the air cargo and travel costs he’d have to absorb. We already had an offer from a more experienced local promoter there. Dave kept topping his offer and we finally said yes. But the Catholic Church admonished parents to keep their kids away and articles in the press tied KISS to Satanism. Dave lost a bundle promoting KISS in Puerto Rico” (KISS & Sell, p. 305). He wasn’t the first or last promoter to get burned by misjudging the band’s popularity in the 1980s.
One interesting thing to come out of this visit was Paul Stanley jamming with a band at a local rock club. The announcer had some fun welcoming Paul back to the Coventry, and the song (“Strutter”) was bootlegged as a very rare recording alleged to be from “Shannon’s Pub” from 1973! The club Paul appeared at was indeed called Shannon’s Pub. According to one person who was at the event, “‘Strutter’ was agreed on since it was the easiest for Paul to remember, and the band knew that one... Although Paul pretty much had forgotten the words and had to be rehearsed backstage before he went out” (Michael Hawkins).
The tour had important repercussions for the band, even as quiet as it was, due to one of the opening acts, Black ‘N Blue. Gene went on to produce albums for that band and even dragged Peter Criss onto vinyl in 1986 for their album “Nasty Nasty.” More importantly, he also developed a relationship with guitarist Tommy Thayer. While this initially started out as a song-writing partnership it later developed into a more professional relationship when Tommy became KISS’ tour manager for the Farewell Tour of 2000/1 and general reliable support person.
When WASP left the tour to join Black Sabbath on their tour, King Kobra had nearly begged KISS to let them open. Drummer Carmine Appice recalled, “I heard KISS was changing opening acts... I met with Paul Stanley... I asked him to consider us as a favor. We talked to Gene Simmons... Also our managers were friends. KISS was getting offers of money from other bands, asking to be on the tour. Finally KISS called and said yes to us” (Hamel, Chris – The Morning Union). The same paper that interviewed Carmine described the band’s appearance at the Springfield Civic Center in unflattering terms: “These guys appear to be the living incarnation of the characters in Rob Reiner’s hilarious rock parody ‘This is Spinal Tap’” (O’Hare, Kevin – The Morning Union). The band took a further strange step when original vocalist Mark Free became Marcie Free in 1995. However, KISS hitting the stage at that venue blew out the power in the arena after their first song of the night, “Detroit Rock City.” After more than an hour the band continued the show with a shortened set.
Opening the set with “Detroit Rock City” was standard for the “Asylum” tour. The set usually ended with “Lick It Up,” which had been adopted as the band’s anthem for the 1980s. The “Asylum” tour was notable in that it provided Bruce Kulick with his first real guitar solo spot with the band. Eric Carr also started to take his drum solo to a whole new level integrating electronic synthesizers. This resulted in an almost symphonic solo. According to Eric, “Personally, I was especially pleased with this tour, because of the great reviews that I got on my drum solo. You know, I used synthesizers... and that wall of fire in front of me. We gave it the works and the response was great” (Rock Scene Spotlights #5).
The “Asylum” Tour ended at Philadelphia’s Civic Center on April 12, 1986. It was around this time that the album finally dropped out of the charts completely. For the first time in several years there was no proper international (non-North American) leg for the tour. The rest of the year was essentially taken off as a holiday, with the members pursuing other projects. This allowed Gene, in particular, to work on his ever-growing assortment of non-KISS pet projects. In May, rather than participate actively in the rock Hear ‘N Aid Ethiopian famine relief project, KISS contributed the live version of “Heaven’s On Fire” that had been used on various international singles during the year. The band’s non-involvement in the Ronnie James Dio organized project was noted in some circles. However, Paul has suggested that rockin’ for famine probably wasn’t in the best of taste.
In June 1986 Gene’s film career went downhill when he starred in the film “Never Too Young To Die” with George Lazenby (a former “James Bond”), Robert Englund, Vanity, and John Stamos. Directed by Gil Bettman, who also wrote the screenplay with Steven Paul, and Lorenzo Semple Jr., Gene was dressed up as a character that made his “Animalize” and “Asylum” makeup and costumes look good. Filmed during the downtime between recording “Asylum” and the start of the tour, Gene starred as schizophrenic hermaphrodite Velvet Von Ragner. In some ways the film made his previous effort, “Runaway,” look like Oscar material.
Essentially, the movie was about a son seeking vengeance against his father’s murderer. Gene also played the FBI agent Caruthers and performed one notable concert scene where he sings a little song called, “It takes a man like me to be a woman like me” (Oh Yeah). This song was based on an old Wayne/Jane County song “It Takes a Man like Me to Know a Woman like Me,” which had been performed by Wayne’s band Queen Elizabeth. KISS had played shows with Wayne during their club days in 1973. Pure schlock perhaps, but the film did contain some excellent one-liners that provided light relief from the script and acting.
Getting limited release in 1986, even the promotional hype couldn’t help the film, “A vicious hermaphrodite wants to control the country and only two people stand in his way. The resulting battle of the sexes will blow your mind with a heady mixture of powerful heavy metal music and state-of-the-art weaponry, martial arts, and espionage that make this exciting action flick a winner” (PR), the film was seen by so few that it essentially went straight to video. Acting was an important diversion for Gene: “Once you climb the heights, once you reach the top of the mountain, the question is: What do you do next? Go back to the bottom of the mountain and relax? Not for me... The top of the mountain just affords me a better view of all the other mountains I haven't climbed yet. I'd like to do other work and do it well. Acting sure is one of them” (AP, Bob Thomas, 1986).
Gene also managed to squeeze into his schedule a production role on Keel’s third album that was released in April 1986 on the strength of the cover of Patti Smith’s “Because The Night.” As a result of their connection with Gene the band Keel also appeared in the “Never Too Young To Die” movie. Unlike the previous Keel album he’d worked on, Gene wouldn’t get co-writes on “Final Frontier.” Instead, he brought in numerous guests including Joan Jett and Michael des Barres (“Raised On Rock”), Mitch Perry (“Tears Of Fire”), Jaime St. James (“Rock And Roll Animal”), and Greg Giuffria made a guest appearance on “No Pain, No Gain.” The album managed a reasonable #53 chart position, though the band didn’t last much longer. Gene provided a useful powerful figure as producer. Ron Keel recalled, “I remember one day the label called the studio to talk to Gene Simmons and told him we were over budget. Gene said, ‘I’ll write you a check, and I’ll take this record to another label tomorrow and sell it for twice the budget.’ They left us alone after that” (ronniekeel.tripod.com). The album apparently attained Gold certification from the RIAA.
In October, Gene, still making efforts to break into acting, filmed minor parts for the “Trick Or Treat,” a combination rock-horror parody movie. Gene played a disgruntled DJ named Norman “The Nuke” Taurog who befriends a teenager and becomes embroiled in a plot by a dead rock star who’s terrorizing a high school. Directed by Charles Martin Smith the movie was released in November 1986. The movie also included Ozzy Osbourne in a cameo role as Rev. Aaron Gilstrom who ironically condemns rock ‘n roll. The movie’s primary characters were Marc Price as unpopular metal-fan Eddie Weinbauer and Tony Fields as Sammi Curr, a fictional shock-rock star.
In 1985 Gene must have had a sense of Déjà vu, or thought he’d finally stumbled on Van Halen II, when he got involved briefly with a then unknown band from Philadelphia. That band was Cinderella. At a time when Cinderella included guitarist Mike Schermick and drummer Tony Destra, who’d get replaced by Jeff LeBar and Freddie Coury (who had also tried out for the Vinnie Vincent Invasion), the band was like any other struggling club act. They “worked the Maryland-New Jersey-Pennsylvania bar circuit and sent out demos to all the record companies they thought could help – including KISS’ Gene Simmons, producer for fledgling bands like Keel and the pre-contract Van Halen. ‘He helped us a lot,’ recalls Keifer, ‘he tried to get a deal together for us and he gave us a lot of really good advice. But we still came up empty handed’” (Circus, 12/86). Later Jon Bon Jovi saw the band and was more forceful to the suits at PolyGram to get the band signed. Cinderella’s album “Night Songs” sold over 3 million copies on the strength of songs such as “Shake Me,” “Nobody’s Fool,” and “Push, Push.”
Bruce Kulick was also involved working with other artists, continuing a trend of doing session work whenever he was available to do so. During the year he returned to the Michael Bolton fold to help out a bit on his “Everyone’s Crazy” album. This was Michael’s final rock-tinged release before heading totally off into R&B land. Bruce played guitar on 8 of the 9 tracks on the album.
Gene continued his acting attempts, making an unofficial sequel to the old Steve McQueen series, “Wanted: Dead Or Alive,” starring Rutger Hauer. This film is probably considered the best of Gene’s acting roles from the period. However, there was no lack of irony with his portrayal of an Arab terrorist, Malak Al Rahim, who arrives in the US to create a chemical nightmare in southern California. While the film was not released until 1987, Gene would at least get a shot at diversity and a score the most memorable ending to one of his roles (mouth + grenade). Around this time Gene also made a small appearance in the HBO series “The Hitchhiker” in an episode called, “O.D. Fellin” which aired in that show’s third season on January 28, 1986. This episode also featured Michael Des Barres, with Gene playing a drug dealer who sends out his underlings to recover a package of cocaine stolen during a feud between dealers.
The “Asylum” era saw Paul Stanley in full control of the band, and if anything keeping the band alive, while partner Gene dallied with side projects, both musical and visual. The irony that the sort of roles Gene was taking were in direct opposition to his stated lifestyle demonstrated a certain amount of infatuation in the fantasy the media allowed him, yet the roles were neither serious and did not stretch Gene to develop anything of a proper acting style or skill, to the detriment to his role within the band. Regardless, musically, Gene was building a strong career as producer and branching out was good for business – His! He’d always had a strong ear for possible successful unknown bands and the loss of Cinderella to Jon Bon Jovi would spur him on to form his own record label.
In retrospect, members seem to recall more about the cover of the album than the actual album itself. Both Gene and Paul now hate the cover of the album; yet see it in the context of the time it was used. They also see “Animalize” and “Asylum” as companion albums since they share so many similarities in structure and execution. Paul Stanley didn’t think that the album was as good as “Animalize” had been, though perhaps this is only in relation to his own material. That is hardly surprising with the lack of successful singles from the album.
With all of the external projects, the band had still not resolved some of the basic business problems affecting them. As a result, the never ending battle to make the dollars on the road were taking its toll on Gene and Paul, and that was starting to show in the performances, with some appearing to be bored, or worse, disinterested. Gene and Paul were also changing, the movies Gene was making, as bad as they were, gave new interests in Gene from different media points, excluding Paul. While all of these factors were building up, other bands such as Bon Jovi, Def Leppard, and Cinderella were having major successes where KISS wasn’t. While the band initially planned to head back into the studio in February 1987, they instead decided to take some time off so that they could wait for a particular producer, known for doing highly successful pop metal, to become available to them...
Following the release of “KISS Animalize Live/Uncensored” on video, “KISS Meets The Phantom of the Park” had been released by Worldvision Home Video in April 1986, and the band had no control over it. During the summer of 1986 the band filmed the scripted parts of “KISS Exposed” at Grey Hall in Beverley Hills. While not really a “KISS Mansion,” Paul suggested, at the time, that the house was really his. While the video wasn’t released for some time it ultimately become their first full length compilation of video material interspaced with what can only be described as comedy points that should have had Bruce Kulick’s request applied to them – “edit them out!” The “Exposed” video would be a success, no doubt helped by the latest member of the band: “Sonny The Chimp.” While the band (more likely Bill Aucoin) had considered the video market as early as 1980, the drive for the “Exposed” video came from the record label, though the band were happy to oblige and assist in creating the product as the format started to take off in the mid-1980s
According to Paul, the video “Came out of the record company wanting to put out a compilation of our videos. And I always see that stuff as a real rip-off. In essence what they are doing is having the public pay the company back for the cost of the videos. I don’t think that’s necessarily fair – especially since you can tape them for free” (Rock Scene Spotlights #2). To make the video more appealing, it would include the concept videos the band had made with a mix of live videos from past shows that the band had archived. Interspaced between the clips were scripted and sometimes distasteful vignettes that would do little to endear the band to the masses, outside of the fan base.
Regardless, this second band video, and first concept piece, was released in June 1987. It was very successful and attained Platinum status in October (Gold 7/23/87; Platinum 10/1/87) status while a compilation clip video for “Rock And Roll All Nite” would be released to support it. It is around this time that PolyGram also released two timepieces cassingles/7” singles of past hits, “Beth” backed with “Hard Luck Woman” (PolyGram 814 303) and “I Was Made For Lovin’ You” which was backed with the live version of “Rock And Roll All Nite” from “Alive!” (814 304). One should easily be able to spot that all of these songs were the biggest hits of KISS’ career and tied in nicely with the historic nature of the “Exposed” video.
One major complaint about the video was how little it featured Eric Carr and Bruce Kulick. According to Gene, “The problem was that we shot so much that we had to edit lots of it. And so of course, Eric and Bruce – a lot of their stuff was cut out. But the truth is that we were more sort of the narrators of this thing” (Rock Scene Spotlights #2). Paul was a bit more defensive: “I think it would have been great to have more footage with Eric and Bruce and there’s nothing intentional to be read into it” (Rock Scene Spotlights #2). It wouldn’t matter much to Bruce who would get plenty of video time of his own when he filmed his “Hot Licks” instructional video during the summer.
In terms of collectability, there really is not much from “Asylum” for collectors to get their hands on. There’s the previously mentioned 12” Japanese single for “Who Wants To Be Lonely.” The Japanese vinyl pressing of the album also included an iron-on. Picture sleeve singles for “Uh! All Night” were manufactured in Holland and Spain, and many European versions of the “Tears Are Falling” single include the live version of “Heaven’s On Fire” as a B-side. A CD-Video for “Tears Are Falling” was released well after the album had had its time. Featuring the video, it also includes four audio tracks: “Tears Are Falling,” “Anyway You Slice It,” “Who Wants To Be Lonely,” and “Secretly Cruel.” Finally and possibly most artistically, is the Dutch picture disc of the album, the only format that really makes the album’s cover look good...