Paul Stanley / KISS “Guitar Player” Holiday 2023 Issue

It’s an amazing honor to see Paul Stanley featured solo on a special cover of the Holiday 2023 issue of Guitar Player magazine. As a backbone to Kiss’ sound and the legendary MC of Kiss ceremonies, live and on vinyl, his lead guitar work has too often been overlooked. There’s 25+ pages in this issue of Kiss content, which should be available soon wherever you purchase magazines. https://www.guitarplayer.com/

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War Machine: The Treads Come off the Tank…

April 13, 1984

According to a statement of fact in one of Vinnie’s Kiss-related lawsuits, “Plaintiff Vincent Cusano was a lead guitarist in the band Kiss from an unspecified date in 1982 until April 13, 1984” (Cusano v. Klein No. 97CV4914 AHM), providing a neat final bookend date to his Kiss tenure. From Vinnie Vincent’s perspective, there had been business problems with Kiss from the day he met them, and the situation had steadily deteriorated. He was adamant that he wouldn’t sign the employee contract he’d been presented. He didn’t find it acceptable either as a player or an artist. He also felt it didn’t reflect a reasonable value for his undeniable contributions, and that its terms were insulting and illustrative of his perception of how the band treated him. It didn’t represent his value to the organization, though he would not have been privy to the details of the financial issues afflicting the organization at the time. After having his salary cut in half in March 1983, it’s more surprising that he lasted as long as he did, particularly following the initial lodging offered to him for his stay in New York during the recording of Lick It Up. He’d also initially departed the group following the end of the European tour, and whether he quit or was fired is irrelevant. Kiss’s precarious financial position was hardly improving as quickly as was needed, following the previous year’s renegotiation of their contract with Phonogram, the business was operating according to a new reality. In essence, they were literally and financially half the band they’d been a couple years earlier, and that wasn’t saying much in 1984. Gene and Paul were still Kiss, and hired guitar slingers were a dime a dozen in the 1980s, though getting the right one as illustrated by the trials and tribulations in 1982 proved that not all nice shoes fit comfortably. Finding the player that fit that mode, who could also write the sort of material that appealed to Paul and Gene was an additional challenge.

During the break following the end of the tour, Vinnie nearly immediately connected with former Warrior cohort, Hirsh Gardner, in New England, essentially showing up on his doorstep. Hirsh was running the Sound Design Recording Studios in Burlington, Mass., and the pair started working up new demos. During that time, according to Hirsh (most likely early April), Vinnie had numerous phone call conversations with Gene. It was clear that Kiss — or at least Gene Simmons — initially wanted him to return to the group for the next album, or at least provide material. Gene faced a personal dilemma, having signed on for a supporting role in the Tom Selleck movie Runaway. Principal filming was scheduled to take place in Vancouver from late-May through August. The $8 million Michael Crichton directed film’s schedule was very much tied to Tom’s availability, due to a break from Magnum P.I., rather than Gene Simmons’. And it’s clear, from Gene’s eventual contributions to Animalize, that he had a vested interest in Vinnie’s material and creativity. However, Vinnie’s demos outside Kiss’s constraints were rapidly progressing and opening doors to new possibilities. He certainly had no interest in signing an agreement with Kiss that surrendered his royalties and art, a fatted cow sacrificed after pulling the plough. He was unchained, both creatively and from the bonds of Kiss’s precarious financial position. Gene, admitting failure, did what he had to do. Paul Stanley recalled, “After informing me without any warning or discussion that he wouldn’t be around for the album, Gene went into a studio and crapped out some demos as fast as he could. Then he was off to do a movie. He left me with a pile of mostly unusable junk ” (“Face The Music”). Gene’s outside distractions weren’t limited to acting and were increasing. He’d formed Monster Management, a management company, signing Liza Minnelli as one of his first clients. The solo album he’d produced for Wendy O. Williams, following the previous year’s tour, was released via Passport Records in mid-June, and he was scheduled to produce Keel’s second album.

Kiss had no choice but to further tighten their belt. While Vinnie had provided a musical foundation for their musical rehabilitation, it didn’t make inroads into alleviating their financial predicament. With a string of unrecouped albums, the group were forced to essentially take a bridge loan with advances from PolyGram tapped out and the trickle of other revenue streams quickly consumed. Glickman/Marks were playing a financial shell game to keep Kiss afloat, while Gene sought his own life raft leaving Paul at the helm. Another victim of the cost-cutting was producer Michael James Jackson. While Gene had come to find his image very un-rock ‘n’ roll, the fact that he didn’t cost much to retain (but did take points on the albums) meant that it was more than convenient that he was working with Armored Saint on their debut. As Kiss came off the road in March, Michael was at Ocean Way with the group, and was also preparing to work with Chequered Past. As a result, Michael’s contributions to a fourth Kiss album were limited to producing the drums when financial terms couldn’t be agreed. Paul Stanley defended the decision, suggesting, “At the moment, there really isn’t a need for anybody else… When we’ve worked with other people in the past it’s often been just to have an extra pair of ears; we haven’t used a producer as a producer for quite a while now. We’ve reached a level where we want to accept our failures and accept the praise and success” (Kerrang! #78). By mid-May 1984, the news of Vinnie’s departure from Kiss was made public (Kerrang! #68), as was the next studio album’s title and the replacement guitarist’s name. Clearly, by that time, Vinnie was long gone. The group had returned to work in April to begin pre-production and with the dates of the rough mixes they clearly would have started recording soon after, a rapid turnaround. To fill the cowriting void, Paul reconnected with songsmith Desmond Child. In the years following their collaboration on “I Was Made for Lovin’ You” and “The Fight,” Desmond had worked with Billy Squier and Cher following the demise of his group with Rouge, but neither had been commercially successful. The reconnection with Paul provided Desmond with the catalyst that soon exploded into collaborations with other artists that far exceeded his successes with Kiss (Bon Jovi). Yet, his work with Paul on the critical center mass of Animalize was enough to keep the ship afloat and prevent it from capsizing from the top-heavy Simmons contributions. Paul also worked with former Plasmatics bassist Jean Beauvoir and Gene’s friend, Mitch Weissman, deploying the skills of the latter to better effect than Gene had managed.

By the middle of May there were already rough mixes for “Heaven’s on Fire,” “Under the Gun,” and “Thrills in the Night.” With material such as that, the mindset may have been “No Vinnie, No Problem.” Or perhaps it was simply a matter of no Vinnie, no Vinnie problems… After two and a half months working in Boston, Vinnie and Hirsh had come up with at least an album’s worth of material with Vinnie also handling bass duties (Kerrang! #73). While many lyrics had been written, final vocals were not recorded, and the arrangements may not have been locked in, Vinnie had instrumental demos for “Street Rockers” (later recorded by Hirsh as “Bad Cowboy”), “Boys Are Gonna Rock,” “Shoot U Full of Love,” “Twisted,” “Animal,” and a revamped “Gypsy in Her Eye.” But Hirsh’s hopes of a continuing relationship with Vinnie disappeared in early July as unexpectedly as his reappearance — Vinnie upped and relocated to Los Angeles, taking the master tapes with him, where he’d continue the process of putting his solo project together. The unpaid studio bills (458 hours) with Hirsh resulted in him having the Invasion’s equipment seized during their Alice Cooper tour visit to the area in 1986. He also sued Vinnie for a purported interest in four of the songs on the Invasion album he alleged to have cowritten.

© 2023, KissFAQ.com — all rights reserved.

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Inside the War Machine, 1982-84: Michael James Jackson

In 2018, I conducted a series of interviews with the late Michael James Jackson. During that year I was also blessed to spend time with him on the KISS Kruise. This feature is the long-procrastinated print version constructed from those interviews.

Read the full piece at https://kissconcerthistory.com/interviews/interview_mjj18.php

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Eric Carr’s 1980 Kiss Contract

Despite my best efforts, this chapter couldn’t be written in time for inclusion in “Mass Kissteria,” but since it did recently get completed, here ya go. I can categorically state that Vinnie’s contract, while sharing whole sections, was a vastly different creature that I think comes from a whole different paradigm/attitude.

Paul Caravello signed his contract with the KISS partnership on July 24, 1980, cementing his rise from humble beginnings — and an apprenticeship of a decade and a half — to the drummer for the self-proclaimed Hottest Band in the World. While his five-year contract paid him $100,000 gross per year (in 2023, equivalent to $368,000), there was a price to be paid for the fame he’d enjoy as a member of the group. He would not be sharing in the spoils and was not entering into the business partnership but was an “employee for hire.” Also, not stated in the employment agreement — since it would have been covered under a separate management contract — was Bill Aucoin becoming his manager. Bill charged Eric a 9% rate, and he also paid commissions to Glickman/Marks. One might think of those payments akin to union dues since Eric reaped the benefits of Bill’s work for the business. However, as an employee, with no rights or voice, there’s a question as whether it was worth 9% to Eric…

That said, Eric’s employment provided a windfall, particularly having only earned around $10,000 per year from his music career during the previous three years. There were several last-minute changes to the agreement, and it was notable that his salary was backdated to June 30, his first full day of rehearsals. He also received what was essentially a signing bonus of $5,000, plus an additional $5,000 for personal clothing. In the draft agreement there had simply been provision for a $10,000 bonus, but no backdating or cost of outfitting was defined. The bonus would be repayable should his tenure not last past Dec. 31, 1980. In the draft version, the bonus was refundable — if Eric was terminated during a six-month period following execution of the agreement. Differing from the draft was the clear definition that it was the company’s financial responsibility for the costs associated with the character’s make-up and costume, which otherwise could have become financially crippling.

The contract’s term was for one year, with an additional four yearly extension options stipulated, with the contract automatically renewed unless Eric was terminated. If his employment reached the third and fourth years of the contract, his salary would be adjusted according to local CPI. His salary could not be arbitrarily reduced during the term. Comparing Vinnie Vincent’s unsigned 1982 agreement, it seems likely that the salary had been raised to $104,000 (defined for Vinnie until March 1983 as $2,000 per week) in the third year.

While he was an employee, it was important to treat him according to his stature as a member of the group — KISS had an image to project, so lumping him in with the road crew would not have had good optics. KISS agreed to pay all first-class travel and touring expenses, though the draft version didn’t explicitly specify “first class.” His three weeks per year minimum vacations would be taken according to KISS’s schedule. Interestingly, considering the narrative surrounding the creation of his stage name and persona, KISS would own and claim invention of the “Fox” makeup guise: “The make—up, the likeness, the costume and the character created hereunder together with all other names and likenesses, make-up and character of any other members of KISS together with the name KISS are and shall remain the sole property of KISS.”

The contract’s termination section included a somewhat ironic morality clause, Eric agreed that he would conduct himself in a manner according to a band whose fans are generally minors. The draft didn’t have a remedy clause, with the signed version adding a “cure to reasonable satisfaction” term and requirement for written notice of failure — otherwise Eric would have been walking on eggshells worrying that anything could be misconstrued. KISS was given the right to terminate the agreement should he miss 14 performances/engagements in a year. The draft lacked “written notice” requirement for termination clause, and the engagements metric was removed. Eric agreed that he would never appear in public using makeup/costume without written permission or appear without makeup using his KISS identity . The termination of the contract, due to non-renewal, required 30-day notice prior to its term date (June 30). In the draft KISS only needed a 7-day notice.

Eric signed away many of his musical rights with KISS taking ownership of all musical creations by Eric during the term. KISS was under no obligation to accept or record any contribution by Eric. Conversely, a non-obligation clause was added to the final contract, stating that Eric was also under no affirmative obligation to “compose music or lyrics” for the group during his tenure. Any song composed under the contract would be transferred to KISS, “the Composition shall be the sole property of Publisher, everywhere and forever, with all copyrights therein for the term of such copyrights and all extensions thereof, throughout the universe and Publisher shall have the sole and exclusive right to publish, sell, exploit, use and dispose of the Composition and all rights therein, now or hereafter known and to retain any and all benefits, revenue, money, and income accruing therefrom subject only to the payment of royalties hereinafter set forth.” His royalty was 7 cents per copy, 5% of retail for print, and 50% new for mechanical/sync/TV in North America.

There was nothing particularly unusual in the protections KISS took in the contract’s restrictive stipulations, but a section (10.d) restricting him from performing any compositions from his tenure similar in arrangement or order, was added to the final contract. It’s not clear whether section 7 and the business’s ownership of “all other names and likenesses” could be interpreted to include the stage name “Eric Carr.” It would seem odd were the intent to prevent him from using that name should he be terminated from the group, though it is certainly understandable that the business would not want to be used to promote his endeavors should he leave.

The 1980 contract defined who Eric Carr could be during his tenure with the group and its limitations may have become burdensome. The songwriting and publishing stipulations clearly didn’t serve to inspire the drummer to contribute to KISS, and one can note that Eric’s rejected composition, “Don’t Leave Me Lonely,” was published by KISS when it appeared on Bryan Adams’ platinum certified 1983 Cuts Like a Knife album. He had no say in decisions the business made, and only had so much leeway to influence those decisions with his input — as The Elder saga would later illustrate, he was expected to fulfil his role regardless of what he thought of the direction.

The price for fame was high, but it would not be fair to characterize the contract as a deal made with the Devil. It would have been bittersweet, but the bright lights and tantalizing possibilities would have more than offset any reservations — at the time. Once signed, the whirlwind truly commenced, and it would not let up until the end of the year. If Paul Caravello had any doubts, there wasn’t much time to dwell on them in 1980 as kissteria enveloped and transformed his life. Eric signed new contracts in 1985 & 1990, each modifying certain terms of the original to match the realities of the band’s existence at the time.

© KissFAQ.com — no publication or reproduction without written permission.

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Rob Freeman on Eric Carr’s first sessions…

Award-winning engineer provides additional insights as the first person to professionally record Eric Carr as a member of KISS during Jan.-Feb. 1981 sessions at Ace in the Hole & Penny Lane Studios, and his observations of working with Eric (and KISS) again in 1983. Read the interview at https://www.kissconcerthistory.com/interviews/interview_robfreeman22.php

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1977 Assignment of Copyrights

Assignment of Copyrights agreement dated Dec. 1, 1977.

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Review: Off the Soundboard – Live in Poughkeepsie, NY 1984

Street date: Apr. 7, 2023

Formats:
• Digital Download /Streaming
• Single CD
• 2-LP standard black vinyl
• Limited edition 2-LP 180g custard yellow vinyl LP

The fifth installment in Kiss’s “Off the Soundboard” series is one of staggering importance to the celebration of the band’s 50th anniversary, and all the years it contains. Very few would have known that a soundboard recording featuring Mark St. John survived, and it is from his second show with the band, at the Mid-Hudson Civic Arena in Poughkeepsie, NY, that this new release is sourced. Mark had been sidelined, before the Animalize tour had even commenced in September 1984, with Bruce Kulick being recruited to fill in for him as the band hit the road in Europe. By the time Mark made his live debut for half a show in Baltimore on November 27, Bruce had performed 38 shows with KISS. The band was musically locked in, benefiting from the pre-tour musical and production rehearsals and in synchronicity, musical and otherwise, from the nightly grind of the tour. This show is also important as a standalone live release featuring the late Eric Carr.

Opportunities for Mark’s re-integration would have been limited on the road. There was less than 10 days between the end of the European tour and the start of the North American leg. There would have been nightly soundchecks, but it doesn’t appear there was a substantial period where Mark could be brought up to the comfort-level Bruce already enjoyed, even if they tried. The band were running a grueling schedule, sometimes performing 4 or even 7 nights in a row. In fact, the November 28 show in Poughkeepsie was the sixth show in a row without a break. The dynamics of the process off-stage could never match the reality of stepping out in front of a paying audience. The three shows where Mark performed were in smaller regional markets, before the critical larger mid-west shows took place in early December – audiences for those would be double, triple, or more than those attending the Baltimore, Poughkeepsie, and Binghamton concerts. More importantly, there were two days off before those December dates started which provided a useful window for rest and/or additional integration depending on how what was essentially a live audition went. And that’s what this show feels like, it seems like Mark’s musical audition to attempt to displace Bruce and reclaim his job. The decision may have already been made, for all we know, and things may have been out of Mark’s hands, but this was his moment. We all know how the history was written, but now fans have been given the opportunity to judge with their own ears with this recording. So, dig out your Animalize album, and give it a spin, and then settle back to enjoy this gem of a show…

Many Animalize era bootlegs are spread over two CDs, but Poughkeepsie clocks in at 79:03, suggesting the show has been formed to fit on a single CD. That makes sense from a price point and listening experience, since many of those Animalize shows do have an abundance of fat to trim. With NO “Alright Poughkeepsie, you wanted the best…” intro, the show launches directly into “Detroit Rock City.” The lack of the show’s signature declaration is a minor quibble. The immediate impression is that the recording sounds good, very mid-1980s. It’s a bit thin sounding in parts, but there’s still a hunger coming through, and more importantly the sonics do not sound overly molested. Gene’s bass sits nicely in the mix and there’s a good blend of the vocals. There’s no adjusting any of those elements other than tinkering with EQ, because the nature of most of these recordings is they’re sourced from standard cassettes rather than expensive multi-tracks. After hearing so many BK shows clearly, there’s not as much a hesitancy to Mark’s playing but one of seeming deliberateness. It’s important to remember, this is his first time playing the first half of the show, having only performed the second half the night previously. His solo section feels strange, many doubled notes that sound a bit like an anxious stutter. But the playing stays generally in theme with the style of the song in 1984. It’s a decent start to the show, nonetheless.

“Cold Gin” follows, with a good Paul introduction rap. Yes, I’m stating that explicitly, because I’m not a fan of many of his 1980s crowd interactions! The guitar sound is very chunky. Mark still injects some of himself into the short first solo while the second solo goes more fully into the MSJ realm sonically, before ending the song as expected. The standout for me on this one is actually Gene’s bass playing, which is very good, powerful and attractive. The next song, “Creatures of the Night,” was released as the first digital single, and there are some sonic issues present, but it’s fascinating to hear Mark playing those lead parts. His solo is all over the place, but still in the same neighborhood as the original. Overall, and this is a recurrent theme with my perception of Mark not being in synchronicity with the other band members – how could he possibly be? – he seems to be running a nanosecond behind the other players, overprocessing to keep up and not in the comfort zone of muscle memory and autopilot.

“Fits Like A Glove” turned out to be a more entertaining romp than I remember it being. It’s a fun song live, and a good measuring stick performance-wise to weigh Mark against Bruce and Vinnie. This track has nice Eric Carr backing vocals. His higher and softer harmonies provide sugar to soften the cookie-monster-growling of Gene vocal delivery. There are also some wonderfully clear bass glissandos, but Mark’s ending guitars may have provided an uncomfortable echo of Vinnie… The solo on this one doesn’t work with the song – and what is being played by the rest of the band – and lacks fluidity and a sense of purpose. Next up are the key songs, those from the Animalize album which Mark had performed in the studio. These make this album golden, for presenting that era of KISStory properly for the first time, and that’s no disrespect intended toward Bruce. Just to be able to hear Mark performing his brief chapter of Kiss’ catalog life is exciting, especially with this release being unanticipated. Unfortunately, “Heaven’s on Fire,” as a song, doesn’t have much of a lead guitar workout, so we’ll have to wait through Paul’s solo section for that. Mark does an adequate job performing this song. “Under the Gun” delivers the happy face. It’s been a wait, but not a painful journey to get to this point in the show. Mark is unleashed on one of the defining up-tempo song of the period and gets his moment… He’d played the previous night’s show in Baltimore, from this point in the set and there is a bootleg of that show, so at least this part of the set onwards was a path already slightly familiar for him on the stage. Now we get to hear what he really sounded like, and he sounds far more comfortable in this mode, even though he strays from his own studio blueprint in parts. The solo is a glorious mess, and for me this is the price paid for admission, even though it goes off script and starts shaking the cage at the end, before being brought back on track. Oddly, by the time this song has ended, I feel fully sated and the rest of the set is going to be dessert.

“War Machine” has also been issued in advance as a digital single, and it was a very good choice at that now we’re able to enjoy its context fully. It’s another song that provides a clean canvas to display Mark’s lead work, teeth and all it seems, during the solo. I like the attitude of his attack, and there’s a brutality not as present on Bruce’s playing style at the time. But it strays from the original and doesn’t feel as fluid as Bruce’s playing which generally stayed on point for the song. Of course, there are also some excess divebombs and whammy throughout, that clearly differentiate it from Bruce. It’s followed by Eric’s drum solo, which leads into “Young and Wasted.” This tour marked the first time Eric sang this live. So, with Mark playing, I was looking forward to this song a lot. Sadly, in the era of cassette tape flips, this one fell victim midway through the first line before returning towards the end of the solo. The blending is seamless, and I’m thankful that they’ve left what fragments they did rather than cut the whole thing out. That, in my view, would have been disrespectful to the memory of Eric. Some will not like the resulting treatment, but for me it is certainly better to have part of something stitched together rather than nothing of something, and it doesn’t disrupt the show’s flow.

The third digital single, “I Love It Loud,” provides another opportunity to contrast the three guitarists. Gene’s bass solo leads into this important evaluation of Mark song. Sure, the solo is supposed to be seven notes, but it’ll be interesting to hear how he handles the song. He doesn’t seem to approach those seven notes with vibrato and sustain, instead it sounds almost chicken-picked into a divebomb that crashes. I’m left wondering if Mark received a stink-eye look from the ownership for that. It’s performances such as this that illustrate that with a MTV performance filming looming, there really wasn’t much time for St. John to do much more than give everything he had… It’s followed by “I Still Love You,” on which he does a decent job. It features the requisite melodic playing clearly imprinted with his style, particularly with the discordant notes at the end. The next song, “Love Gun,” is not a shining moment, and the solo delivered doesn’t seem to be of the quality expected. Mark fades into the mix a bit on “Black Diamond,” but it sounds like his lead is ping-ponging around, meaning he’s gone off-script. Still, for the show’s crescendo he’s firmly rooted in the mode he should be, and the ending is strong. I don’t know whether much else was cut from this show – that it’s on a single CD suggests that possibility, as does the limited number of Paul raps – but if that is the case, I’d happily sacrifice the pointless exercise of “Oh! Susanna” for anything else “lost.” Still, it was part of the era, but it remains of questionable value for me.

Into the encores we rapidly find ourselves, and the rendition of “Lick it Up” is very good, though it’s not a particularly demanding song to perform. Mark is clearly more comfortable with Vinnie’s material than Ace’s, perhaps being stylistically closer to the Ankh, though I wonder if his ending of the song made Paul shudder with flashbacks to the dark side of the Wiz… The show closes with the second incomplete track, “Rock and Roll All Nite,” but that’s slightly unfair a description, since we get the majority of the show closer, which is handily ended with an extended fade-out to mask any cut-off. The treatment, again, doesn’t feel awkward, nor does Mark’s performance. And that will be the point that will be debated by those with a better musical vocabulary than I. I consume the product and compare with other performances and judge with what my ears translate into feelings about the performance. Others may be able to tell you what Mark was doing right or wrong, and perhaps detail what he was actually doing from a technical or music theory point of view. That side has equal value to the discussion. But my takeaway was immediately one that Mark doesn’t feel comfortable, the show doesn’t feel honed, and that it was a case of giving him a shot. “Giving it a shot” is not what I feel recommending this show to fellow fans is. It’s got the quality to be a worthwhile addition to any collection, regardless of how you decide to consume it. It honors both Mark St. John and Eric Carr.

Bootleg consumers should have no issues with the technical handling of this show. I find the mastering to be well balanced and the levels appropriate to retaining the sonic nuance while providing a quality listening experience. But credit should be given to the original sound engineer who captured the performance. While the mix is not perfect throughout, it presents a vibrant representation of the band members. Moving to the engineering work of the present, the edits are very well executed and on first listen only the most obvious were apparent, and even then, not as a distraction. Soundboards vary in character and quality, simply due to the purpose behind them, and that’s the story I’d most like to know about Poughkeepsie 1984. Was this from the band’s archives, and was it preserved for the ownership to inspect Mark’s playing at that MTV filming approached? What is the context of this tape? We may never know. The tempo seems slightly slower than other soundboards from the tour, was that deliberate or was it kept honest to the performance? Ultimately, it doesn’t matter, and amazingly, we’re left with it as one of only three possible representations of that short-lived lineup, making Poughkeepsie 1984 a very worthy addition to the “Off the Soundboard” series. But it is also a valuable archival release, because it provides a fascinating look into that period of the band. The quality of the performance, while imperfect, does not do a disservice to either KISS or the memory of Mark St. John and gives the “Off the Soundboard” series a credibility of purpose that it was hitherto lacking. It’s impossible to not smile at parts throughout the show, and there’s a few cringe-worthy moments too, but it’s been finely crafted for consumption in 2023. What else is in the vaults of similar or greater surprise stature?

LP – https://amzn.to/3LLsmg2
CD – https://amzn.to/3LSxYFg

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Review: Creatures of the Night 40th Anniversary Edition, the music!

Kiss supersizes their most bombastic 1980’s release with a deluxe treatment that features over 5-and-a-half hours of music and a Santa sack of goodies… But after all the word salad, how does what matters the most (to me) on the “Creatures of the Night” Super Deluxe Edition measure up?

Street date: Nov. 18, 2022

Formats:

  • Super Deluxe 5-CD + Blu-ray Audio box
  • Triple blue vinyl Deluxe Edition LP
  • Half-Speed Remaster black vinyl LP
  • 2-CD Deluxe Edition set
  • Single CD remaster
  • Digital / Streaming

Paul Stanley: “This album sums up everything that KISS is. We made no compromises in capturing the essence of what we do live — heavy metal rock ‘n’ roll” (PR, 1982).

According to the advance PR, featuring copy worthy of hype sticker treatment, “The Creatures of the Night 40th Anniversary Super Deluxe boasts 103 total tracks with 75 tracks being unreleased. Newly remastered, the original album has never sounded better.” This advance review/overview (aka “over-review”) digs into both the history of the band at the time leading up to the recording and the music contained within. It’s important to note a couple of things: 1) I’m incapable of writing a simple focused review. For personal edification, my perception of the context is woven into the appraisal of the product, its contents, and the era during which it was created; 2) I’m utilizing some reference material that was not available during the construction of the release. Had it been, then I guarantee it would have been provided for possible use; and 3) This over-review should not be read as a replacement for the extensive liner notes contained within the product. It is hopefully supplementary to that in-depth and revelatory effort by Ken Sharp. Simply put, as Kiss fans we continue to be spoiled with the plethora of music and information that at times seems to surface daily. The process of adding, clarifying, correcting, and better understanding and explaining history is a never-ending task. And this January 2023 update reflects that…

Producer Michael James Jackson should be here as we begin a period of celebration for an album he played a critical role in crafting — one that firmly reestablished a solid foundation for 1980’s Kiss. It’s fine to pause for somber commemoration, if just for a moment, but I don’t think Michael would want us to turn things into a requiem. Thankfully, while such a wonderful person is no longer with us, his art, and the memories of the person, remain. In the aftermath of “The Elder” fiasco, Michael was entrusted with a daunting task. The “Creatures of the Night” 40th Anniversary Super Deluxe Edition is more than a fitting monument from his tetralogy of Kiss contributions and the bombastic Kiss album that stands testimony as the sonic declaration that Kiss was BACK. There were to be no more albums chock full of pop-pap-pandering, no pretentious artistic explorations in search of critical acclaim, no prisoners taken… Instead, a there was a no-holds-barred return to the natural root of Kiss and put a stop to the rot that had seeped in. That root was total commitment and focus on doing what it does best. It was the proverbial phoenix rising from the ashes. Analogues can easily be drawn between earlier directional changes, illustrated by the drastic shift of “Rock and Roll Over” away from the construct that had resulted in the creation of “Destroyer.” It was a manifestation of Newton’s Third Law of Music: “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” Except in the case of the reaction to “The Elder,” more drastic action was required, and comparing “The Elder” with “Creatures of the Night,” that pendulum swing was a war hammer in full sweep. For the band, the album also broke new ground for the band and architected a blueprint for much of the recorded output from their next incarnation. It firmly established a new musical baseline.

The album itself doesn’t require much tweaking, and a remaster is simply that — minor changes to the original version of an album that retains the essential sonic DNA of the original while bring the sound in line with current standards. EQ of the master is tweaked during mastering for release, shifting the baseline slightly for the listener. There’s not a tremendous scope for anything other than superficial enhancements and adjustments. The terms remix and remaster are often confused. Original album master tapes are the fully mixed versions of the albums, though sometimes song intros/outro fades or other pure edit elements may have been adjusted as part of the mastering process. In recent decades, “remaster” for many has simply been a euphemism for basic treble and volume boosting, particularly the latter as part of the industry’s notorious “loudness war” on consumers. Often though, there is a benefit that takes place with a fresh transfer from the original analogue master tapes. At higher resolutions a fresh transfer can result in the improvement of clarity and additional enhancements resulting from improved modern hardware and techniques; or in some cases, modern techniques married to legacy hardware transferring analogue into the digital realm for additional work and flexibility during the mastering process. Hopefully, the days of an audio engineer aligning tape heads with benefit of an oscilloscope have not yet taken up residence alongside dinosaur bones — it’s a fascinating process to watch (and hear).

Throughout the past 40 years “Creatures of the Night” has received several remaster treatments. The original 1982 vinyl, direct on a quality turntable, or in analogue-to-digital form, remains a go-to for many purists. The 1985 remix/remaster may be the go-to, or at least more sonically familiar, for those who became fans in the 1980s when that version was more readily available in stores. The opening track was remixed and the whole album re-EQ’d during the preparation for the new master. As a result, there are some subtle differences between all tracks (compare the ending of “Danger” to note the change in reverb). Audiophiles debate the differing qualities of various pressings ad nauseum, but with that realm being so subjective the search for objective commentary is ultimately futile unless an obvious fault can be noted. In the digital realm, few hold the original 1985 CD issue to much esteem. At least in Japan, with PolyStar’s P33C series (1986), many can agree that those masters of the catalogue to date were overall the very best representations available for well over a decade. And personally, with the P33C-20013 release, I find it to have not yet been sonically beaten — it is based on the correct 1982 mix, though married with 1985 cover! The 1997 remaster was noted by many (me included) as one of the highlights from the remaster project. It certainly seemed to be a louder version based on similar principles to the Japanese mastering of 1986. The clarity, particularly coming from the ’85 CD or cassette tapes was a wonderful fresh listening experience. The album was reissued again in 2014, though an unfortunate error meant that this version was based on the 1985 remix master. It did, however, sound very good. 192 kbps / 24-bit digital only issues followed. These were, at the time, among the very highest quality commercially released versions, but one should perhaps wear a tweed jacket and hold a pipe while discussing those merits.

The average Dynamic Range DB (DR) of the original vinyl cut has been measured at an average of 12, firmly planted in the comfortable range (11-14). By contrast, the 1997 remaster took the DR up to a more mid-range average of 7 — causing complaints at the time. This was dialed back for the 2014 digital 192/24 release (DR 10). There’s no doubt that the 45th Anniversary edition is louder than 1997 and there is frequency clipping present. While not completely, it is brick walled to a degree. Again, the condition of the ears and the quality of the gear used to play the album have a role in the end result to play. Judgement of this new 2022 remaster is going to depend on the condition of the ears of the listener. The qualities of any mastering, these days, is so highly subjective that it’s near pointless to discuss. That said, “Creatures of the Night” is one album that can handle being mastered hot. Consistency is key, again only for my ears, and the mastering of disk one sets the standard for the rest of the collection. The reverb really reverbs, the drum wash explodes like a monster wave crashing on a frozen shoreline, eroding it in the process. One can almost imagine chunks of glacier calving off into the frothing and bubbling maelstrom every time Eric Carr swung his sticks. Every ounce of bombast drips from this remaster, it’ll leave you breathless. Will it supersede the P33C release in my listening preference order? Insufficient data at this time. The same is the case weighed against my trusty analogue rip of virgin 1982 vinyl. That one is hot and angry, with a touch more of the analogue warmth captured via de-mastering. Most, hopefully, won’t give a damn and will simply press play and reach for the volume knob. Paul Stanley was right, turn life up to 11.

Who was Michael James Jackson? Michael had worked his way up from the ground floor of the recording industry, though his mother, Fran Jackson-Harrison, had managed artists including Peggy Lee and Nat King Cole. Perhaps it was from there that the ever-important skill of “dealing with talent” was first observed, a decade prior to being anywhere near the control room side of a studio. First a copyeditor, he was soon writing liner notes, and even using his interest in poetry to write radio jingles. Once on the periphery of the business, he started absorbing knowledge from everyone he encountered. A natural inquisitiveness led to a growing knowledge about micing techniques, technical process, and recording methods. Even with a shyness and reserve, he was a people’s person and had a natural empathetic, patient, and understanding nature. It was at Elektra Records where he encountered a passed-out Jim Morrison lying in the bushes —he thought Jim was a deceased homeless person. By 1974, he was working in A&R for A&M and pushed for Jerry Moss to sign the San Francisco soft rock group, Pablo Cruise. He’d produce their debut album the following year. Throughout the ’70s he’d work with the likes of Steve Harley, Lauren Wood, and Red Rider. At the time he was engaged by Kiss, he had already worked with engineers Dave Wittman, Niko Bolas, and Peggy McCreary. In fact, he was wrapping up projects such as Jesse Colin Young’s “The Perfect Strangers” album (Elektra) and sessions with James House (who’d release his eponymous debut the following year) throughout the period he worked with Kiss. For those projects he’d engage an assortment of session players including Mike Porcaro, Jimmy Haslip, Robben Ford, and Rick Derringer. To Kiss fans, he was an unknown quantity who became an unlikely hero, a producer seemingly more comfortable working with AOR artists than the brashest of New York rock groups. Yet for Michael, the type of artist wasn’t a particularly important factor. Each had similarities in the challenges faced while completing a project successfully.

Michael had built a reputation as a song-oriented producer. As 1981 drew to a close, it was helpful that his lawyer also represented Diana Ross. Her business manager at the time was Howard Marks. Through that connection, Michael’s name was thrown into the mix with Kiss reeling from their first major failure and needing to quickly rebound by jumping into the studio. His recruitment is a good illustration of how seemingly random relationships bring parties together within the industry, random threads weaving together… Howard and Michael met in Beverly Hills during the afternoon of Jan. 14, 1982. The corpse of “The Elder” wasn’t cold yet when Bill Aucoin met with Michael on Saturday, January 16. But it was certainly twitching, and Bill immediately felt that Michael could bring a new perspective to the band. Through that series of meetings, first with Howard, then Bill, and then Gene and Paul individually, he was presented with the scope of the challenge at hand: The complicated task of redefining the band for the fans and extricating Kiss from the commercial abyss they’d leaped into. Like any gamble, there was also a possible payoff. It was an opportunity for Michael to break into a new area of the business and raise his profile through working with a band with undeniable stature. While Kiss in 1982 was no longer a top echelon band, their name and image remained evocative in the public and industry consciousness. The mission was something he found appealing, and there was an immediate rapport with the band members. He, Bill, and Gene and Paul, were cognizant of the importance of the album for the future, or even survival, of the band. At a perceived nadir, they were at a critical juncture, and all parties knew how much was at stake.

He soon met the primary creative tools that he’d have at his disposal. Jackson met with Gene for a casual introduction over breakfast. Paul, too, had hung around Los Angeles following the Fridays show filming, celebrating his 30th birthday with then beau Donna Dixon at L’Ermitage restaurant. At some point, he also had lunch meeting with Jackson. The following week Michael flew to New York City to meet with Bill at his Madison Avenue office, and by early February, there was a regular dialogue taking place between he and Bill. On the face of it, there may have been something odd to pairing Michael with Kiss, but he immediately felt there was something there from a relational point of view that expanded the possibilities for both sides. That’s certainly not to say that Michael’s appointment was easy. Paul and Gene were engaged in a tug of war about the direction the band should be taking, and more particularly, how to get to that destination. Gene, in particular, questioned the need for an outside producer to help them. To be fair, the last one hadn’t worked out so well, regardless of the plethora of reasons. Whatever the doubts, Michael quickly fell into the role of mediating between the two, and as a confident producer he was adept at refereeing between multiple creative forces within a project. Michael also started placing calls to an assortment of songwriters and seeking out prospective material. While some were clearly connected with the other acts he was working with, there’s enough overflow to suggest that he was starting the process of gathering songs for possible consideration by Kiss (and possibly for Bill Aucoin for Peter Criss).

While 1982 would be challenging, the year provided a sonic soul-cleansing therapy and penance for a band that found themselves reduced to two core members. By the time Michael officially signed on to produce new recordings with the band in February 1982, the band’s Spaceman was lost in space and his status unknown. The fiasco of “The Elder” had fractured Ace Frehley’s emotional and creative investment in the band, and he was slippin’ and slidin’ his way to a personal nadir. He was simply no longer in any fit state to be willing or able to contribute creatively to the band. As a result, the hard decision was made — to move on, move forward, keep going, and so on and so forth. It’s not as if Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley had much choice. And it’s not like that choice was anything new at that point. Their choices were rooted in the reality of a business, their responsibilities to it, and a desire to not have terms of surrender dictated at them by others. Ace was already marginalized by Peter’s departure, and his warnings over “The Elder” and the band’s direction in 1981 had been ignored. The artistic shift of 1979 combined with the performance of “Unmasked” the following year had started the band down a commercial slide, and its follow-up had quickly become a requiem mass for the original Aucoin era. Their massive 1980 Phonogram contract hung over them as a Sword of Damocles. They would have heard from the critics, not for the first nor last time, that they were “doomed.”

The terms of the production contact were standard. Michael was engaged to deliver between 9 and 12 mixed, mastered, and fully rights cleared songs to the label no later than August 5, 1982. He’d be paid a guaranteed production fee of $35,000 for five weeks of non-exclusive pre-production, followed by primary priority availability for up to 15 weeks of recording. He was also awarded a royalty rate of 2% rising to 3% for copies exceeding one million units worldwide plus points on any tracks used on future compilations. The album was given a $250,000 recording budget with Jackson responsible for any excess incurred. Howard Marks signed the contract on behalf of the Kiss partnership. It was clear from the allocation of up to 20 weeks, that recordings required multiple sessions, in some cases working around Jackson’s schedule with other projects. In addition to sourcing external material, another of Michael’s first tasks was putting Paul and Gene in touch with songwriters. It was felt that introducing them to new perspectives would help them freshen their approach to songwriting. Adam Mitchell, who Michael had known since his days with A&M — when Adam was working with Canadian band Fludd — was one of the first recruited. Paul was initially circumspect about working with a new collaborator, but once they established a rapport their efforts progressed quickly. Paul’s responsiveness to what Adam was bringing to the table was obvious, with “Partners in Crime” and “I’m A Legend Tonight” quickly being generated. Michael also reached out to Bryan Adams’ manager, whom he’d known from the publishing side of the business. He was aware of Bryan as an emerging talent, as someone who could bring a strong melodic sense to the songwriting. Bryan also had a strong co-writing partnership with Jim Vallance, and the pair had already placed 40 songs with acts including Bachman-Turner Overdrive, Ian Lloyd, Uriah Heep, Randy Meisner, and Prism (of which Jim had been a member).

The first five weeks of Michael’s contract may have seemed a bit like an audition, to see if appropriate material was being generated and the collaboration working. He had been paid an advance of $10,000 for those five weeks, but there was a clause that meant that he could be terminated anytime during that initial period. The same might be considered the case for the use of some of that material on “Kiss Killers.” The band needed to appease Phonogram, since they were the source of the money critical to the operation of Kiss as a business concern. They had been deeply displeased by the decline in sales and the utter fiasco of the previous year, so the material generated was also a trial in appeasement of the label. But other factors also came into play. By the time “The Elder” was released, Kiss had already breached the album delivery term of their Minimum Recording Obligation (MRO) and affiliates were getting restless for new product. Australia had been one territory threatening to issue a local “Best Of” in 1981. They had sent Aucoin a letter in January 1981 ravenously suggesting such, even before the breach took place (June 16, 1981). Undoubtedly, their profit projections were buoyed by a desire to keep the post-Kissteria gravy train flowing (Kiss were key to their sales projections having sold 500,000 albums in 1980). By the terms of the 1980 Phonogram contract, “during the Term, if any LP of the Minimum Recording Obligation shall not be delivered within thirteen (13) months following the delivery of the prior LP of the Minimum Recording Obligation [MRO], Company shall have the right to compile and release in the Territory a ‘Best Of’ LP” (Phonogram International, B.V. / KISS Agreement, 4/1/1980, Section 2.b.i.; PolyGram / KISS Agreement, 4/1/1980, Section 2.b.ii.). “Unmasked” had officially been delivered May 16, 1980, starting the countdown clock running… Australian PolyGram initially backed off their pursuit of the “Best Of” in 1981, proposing, “if the Kiss studio LP is not delivered by September, 1981, we have the right to release a ‘Best Of’ LP before December 31, 1981; or if we do not release a ‘Best Of’ now, we may release it at any time during the Term” (PolyGram VP Legal & Business Affairs to Howard Marks, 7/24/1981). Naturally, when Kiss shifted gears in July 1981, going all-in with “The Elder” concept, they missed that deadline too. Those details, and the pressure it placed the band under, are key to explaining what happened next, not only in relation to 1981, but the knock-on effect…

Four songs from the initial sessions were delivered to Phonogram for inclusion on the compilation. There was a critical need to fast track the release of additional product for international markets, due to “The Elder” missing the mark commercially. It certainly wasn’t that Kiss needed another compilation at that time, it was a combination of the contractual right and knowledge that Kiss would not be delivering a completed full album until mid-year at the earliest. Contractually, the inclusion of those new songs likely changed the album’s value against the original six album contractual minimum agreed in 1980 or was part of a negotiated delay to delivery of the next full album. Again, referencing both 1980 contracts: In broad terms, the band were permitted to release a live album after three studio releases, but it didn’t count against the MRO unless it included two new recordings. It seems likely that some negotiation took place, since the “Best Of” format was defined contractually as a maximum of 10 mutually agreed songs. Two international affiliates — Japan and Australia (where “Kiss Killers” attained ARIA Gold certification) — expanded their content to 14 songs, adding “Escape from the Island” and “Shandi”, and “Talk to Me” and “Shandi” respectively. Oddly, the band’s separate contract with PolyGram, covering the United States Territories and Canada, also permitted the same “Best Of” arrangement as the international agreement, but PolyGram opted not to press domestic U.S. copies. Instead, they relied on PolyGram Special Import (PSI) stickered European copies for domestic sale in North America.

The party line the band was telling the press at the time, “our label wanted something to hold everybody over until the next studio album” (Kerrang #21), was actually not far from the truth. Whatever the logistical case, the sessions provided a suitable starting point for the project, a mini project within a much larger mission. The back story also explains why those tracks are most suitable contained within this Super Deluxe Edition rather than leaving them orphaned on the assortment of treatments the album has received in recent years (and that certainly doesn’t downplay the excellent Japanese MQA CD issue or the stunning German “hot pink” 45rpm half-speed master). Here, those song’s sonic contrast to material on the “Creatures” album are displayed starkly. Yet they are a critical part of telling the story of “1982.” The debate over where they are good songs, or not, is highly subjective and irrelevant. The material does illustrate a band taking their first steps getting back on track musically. They also represent the first fruits of a new relationship both with a fresh producer and new cadre of songwriters. The mastering of the four “Kiss Killers” tracks on the Super Deluxe Edition follows a similar recipe to the “Creatures” album. They’re loud, they’re clear, and they sound great, casting a further spotlight on their role as throwaways. In this collection, it’s hard not to think that these songs are finally taking their rightful place next their slightly younger siblings.

At the beginning of the recording process, some song and idea leftovers from recent years were reviewed. Copies of the February 1981 Ace in the Hole/Penny Lane demos were made at the Record Plant on March 3. “Feel Like Heaven” had already been discarded, or in more polite parlance, given to Peter Criss to record (his album was completed by Feb. 22). It may be a matter of happenstance, that Michael had noted John Stanley’s (Russell Ballard’s manager) contact details in January. Two of his songs were used on Peter’s “Let Me Rock You” album, but Bill Aucoin wouldn’t have needed anyone to mention that name to him as a prospective songsmith, and it may be that he passed Ballard’s name onto Michael… Certainly, Ballard didn’t remember being contacted by Kiss at the time, so he may have forgotten or not been involved directly. More likely, his catalog had already been mined by Aucoin and Vini Poncia for Peter’s project — from Peter’s perspective, some of the material recorded for the album was a result of Vini bringing in songs that he felt fit Peter well, such as “Tears” and “First Day in the Rain” (though it didn’t take much persuasion to have him cover John Lennon’s “Jealous Guy”). From Kiss’s then recently unused batch of material, “Nowhere to Run” was a clear standout. From the pre-“Elder” recordings, it was the most fully formed and required very little work to finalize its form — though Ace hadn’t recorded a solo at the time. The Penny Lane tracks weren’t the only song ideas that had been worked on in early 1981, they were just the ones that were focused on and taken to a high level of completion. Several instrumentals and other jam ideas remained, though several of these were untitled Frehley/Carr works.

Coupled with the two fresh Adam Mitchell co-writes, a fourth song was selected for use on “Kiss Killers.” “Down on your Knees” reunited Paul with Mikel Japp, and newcomer Bryan Adams. Bill Aucoin had reconnected Paul with Mikel, a songwriter who had co-written three songs for his 1978 solo album. The two knocked a basic idea into shape within a few hours at Paul’s Los Angeles hotel. Kiss had been jamming ideas at SIR Studios, while Bryan was also there. He gave the song a listen and offered some contributions, bringing it to completion. Bryan was busy during this period, and just starting to gain more widespread notice in the United States. He’d finished a tour opening for Foreigner and was heading out to support Loverboy at the end of April. In between, he was playing club gigs. When the song was recorded, Mikel also contributed some rhythm guitar.

Gene was immediately receptive to other songwriter’s ideas, more than willing to take their ideas and put his stamp on them to adjust them to his needs where needed. It was a less emotional connection to the process, and more calculated, but it did result in some eclectic material. One may wonder whether it was an arrangement that suited his personal life too, allowing more time for extraneous affairs. The first song the pair wrote together was “Chrome Goes into Motion,” which Adam suggested was stylistically more akin to Steely Dan than Kiss. Included on the collection, listeners can make up their own minds as to whether it could have been developed into something appropriate for any Kiss project. It certainly has a more cinematic quality and could easily have been part of a Mad Max/Terminator car driving at night scene. Gene also liked the first song Adam had played for him, “Something Seems to Happen at Night,” latching onto it and recording a vocal. Adam also suggested a couple of songs that he had written with another co-writer, “My Love Goes with You” (which one Vincent Cusano had helped demo — Adam later recalled writing this song on his own, though the March 1982 copyright registration co-credits both he and Cusano). Gene had material of his own, having collaborated with Micki Free on “When the Legend Dies,” “Oh So Right,” and “Tempt the Fates.” Micki had been a guitarist in Smokehouse and had been noted by Gene as a future talent in August 1975 when his version of the band opened for Kiss and Ted Nugent. During 1980, as Micki tried to establish himself as an artist, Gene had been noted as one of his industry supporters.

The demo of “Legends Never Die” included on the Super Deluxe Edition is the same as on Gene’s Vault, which features a guitar solo by Michael Ray. Mastering of that track remains equivalent to that previously released. Both “Something Seems to Happen at Night” and “It’s Gonna Be Alright” are also Vault repeats. In the case of the former it’s clear stylistically that it would have fit on a Vini Poncia produced follow-up to “Unmasked” had the band gone further in that AOR direction. Mitch Weissman, who had helped demo the Beatles-esque “It’s Gonna Be Alright” with Gene previously recalled, the “demo is Gene over the click track. Mikel Japp had this riff, I did the passing chords.” Gene also dug up the long languishing “Eat Your Heart Out” plus “First Love,” “Monster Lick” and “She Made Me All I Am.” Michael also brought in material from his song-writing associates. James Newton-Howard’s “Play with Fire” was considered, along with Warren William’s “I Can’t Go On” and “Loose Change.”

Michael also listened back to leftovers from various other sessions, liking Gene’s “Sentimental Fool,” which had been cut in instrumental form by Kiss in Toronto during May 1981. With additional rework with Bob Kulick, it was transformed into “Tell it to a Fool.” A drums and bass instrumental presented on the collection seems to illustrate how far that consideration had progressed before the echoes of “The Elder” became too obvious. Clearly, none of this material was used on either 1982 Kiss album, but as the inclusions on the Super Deluxe Edition suggest, there was a concerted effort made to develop the ideas to determine whether there was anything credible to build on. Some of Gene’s material might have been useable, it just wasn’t appropriate for Kiss. He clearly needed some outside assistance bringing suitably fresh material to life that fit with the mission at hand.

Like Paul, Gene also wrote with Mikel Japp. Mikel recalled, “Gene and I met at SIR for the first time and off we went on a writing spree at Diana Ross’s house where Gene was staying for a while. We wrote many things and had different titles every other day for the same song! We would change things inside out, to outside in, it was a lot of fun though. Paul and I had great fun also in different ways when writing. Gene and I ended up finishing off the idea that I had left with Paul at the hotel on the tape. That idea became ‘Saint and Sinner’ (which of course had a least 3 titles before that). Gene and I also wrote a few other things such as ‘Eye of the Storm’ and another ‘It’s Gonna be Alright.’ Two real cool ideas I thought that never really made an album.” Inclusions of songs such as “It’s Gonna Be Alright” also help illustrate the character of Gene’s ignored material at the time. While Michael didn’t want the cowriting situation to be gratuitous, it clearly provided benefits. Paul and Adam clicked, providing a partnership that generated material for Kiss albums throughout the rest of the decade. Gene and Adam’s collaborations generally found homes on an assortment of Simmons-associated projects during the same period.

Rehearsals started at the end of March and pre-production was in full swing by March 24, with the recording sessions commencing at the Record Plant on March 29 with Dave Thoener engineering. Both studio C and D were utilized during the sessions. During the rehearsal period, Michael, Adam, Gene, and Paul attended Diana Ross’ 38th birthday party. Session guitarist Bob Kulick was brought in to substitute for Ace. Unlike his previous ghost appearance on “Kiss Alive II,” he was given more latitude to play in his own style. However, as noted in “Behind the Mask,” he didn’t enjoy the sessions as much as his previous work with the band. He felt second-guessed at times and described a palpable sense of tension mixed with the urgency of the sessions. If Michael were refereeing, it wasn’t totally masking the push-pull in direction between Gene and Paul. By early April, Michael was performing double duty, running rehearsals with James House, and then moving on to Kiss sessions in the evening. Final recordings and overdubs, engineered by Dave Wittman, were completed April 13–15, and the completed songs were mastered during an eight-hour session with Brian Gardner at Allen Zentz the following day. With the tracks delivered, the band took care of other business during a period of seeming inactivity that followed. One such piece of business is alluded to in Frehley’s KISS reunion contract of 1996: That he had “retired as a member of KISS effective March 31, 1982,” though it would take a further year for his exit to be completed (separation agreement July 1, 1983) with his legal exit taking place March 31, 1983.

During that downtime, Bill Aucoin was served his termination notice, severing a decade long relationship. Aucoin Management had grown overly large in the eyes of band members, taking on numerous other artists. It was felt that Bill’s diversions were a contributing factor to Kiss losing their focus, though Michael explained that his read on Bill was that he was totally devoted to the band when he met him. Regardless, Bill’s vision, as perceived by Paul Stanley, had become blurred, for a variety of reasons, and he’d become financially reckless. His termination was simply the final step in the redefining of his relationship with the band. Bill’s contract had been renegotiated in late-1979, reducing his commission rate to 18.5% of gross “computed on a cash receipts and disbursements basis except that with respect to personal appearance tours Manager shall participate to the extent of twenty (20%) percent of Artist’s gross compensation derived from such tours and shall pay twenty (20%) percent of the costs incurred in connection with such tours” (Aucoin Management, Inc.-Kiss Management Agreement Amendment, 1/1/1980). This was a direct response to the feeling that Bill was earning far too much off the band but seems negligible other than one additional factor: A termination clause made it clear Bill only need be given 30-days-notice after July 1, 1980. There may have also been some jealousy, or a justification of the feeling that Bill’s energies were elsewhere. Aucoin was putting a lot of effort into breaking Billy Idol during 1981-2 and was starting to see the results to that investment. Before Billy, few AMI acts gained national and international traction.

The band’s business issues were a recurrent theme throughout the year. In February 1982, they’d sued Phonogram, alleging a “failure to pay $1,772,655 in royalties on the part of Phonogram on album product released between June 1977 and March 1979.” The case played out during the year. Bill’s termination also seems to have been concurrent with a change in the attitude towards the Frehley situation. In March, Ace was still being included in internal AMI memos, such as one from the producers of the “Pirates” movie who pitched a song to PolyGram for Kiss to record. However, by March/April, AMI were advertising in local press for a “strong performing, heavy metal, male, lead guitarist.” While it doesn’t specify “American Supergroup looking for…” as the post-Aucoin ad did, it does raise the question about when the search for Ace’s replacement commenced, particularly following Ace’s no shows. Trade magazine, Billboard, certainly thought so, connecting those same two dots: “An Aucoin Management ad in the Village Voice looking for a heavy metal guitarist — plus recent no-shows at the San Remo TV taping at the recent Flo & Eddie TV special — raises speculation that Ace Frehley may be leaving KISS” (Billboard, 4/24/1982). From the band perspective of hedging their bets, there may have been more an attitude toward filling his role in the studio transforming into a need to fill his boots on the road. Certainly, by June, even the mainstream media had picked up on the story. The LA Times published a piece, “Ace Frehley Leaves Kiss” on June 20. By July 8, ads started appearing in the West Coast press under the banner “American Supergroup/Lead Guitarist” with little ambiguity. Whatever the situation with Ace, he’d serve as engineer friend Eddie Solan’s wedding usher in Yonkers on May 30 (Bobby McAdams was best man).

No new Simmons songs made the cut for the “Kiss Killers” tracks — Paul’s were simply stronger and able to be fully executed within the time available. “Tell It to A Fool” and “Chrome Goes into Motion,” which had been abandoned as basic drums and bass bed tracks, are included on the Super Deluxe Edition are evidence that his ideas weren’t absent during the period or totally dismissed. In April 1982, Bryan Adams and Jim Vallance also submitted two songs, “War Machine” and “Rock and Roll Hell” for consideration. Gene quickly latched onto these, with the former firmly fitting within his sense of character. What better way to reintroduce the “God of Thunder” than through a song with that title? It was almost too perfect, though doubly delicious irony that Gene is not solely responsible for either of the songs most closely tied to his character. Paul’s writing partnership with Adam Mitchell had generated other songs, which they demoed at Adam’s house with a Linn drum machine, including “Creatures of the Night” and “Danger,” but the band were still short of suitable material for the album (“Keep Me Comin'” came much later, written at Paul’s apartment in New York). Amusingly, or perhaps somewhat misleadingly, Adam’s songs included on the 1982 albums were published via Ack-Ack Music (BMI).

Eric Carr wasn’t absent from the creative effort during the period either. “Don’t Leave Me Lonely,” which he’d written with Bryan Adams hadn’t progressed past rough demo stage. In fact, at the early stage of the project, it only had the Eric written music and chorus. The rest was completed by Bryan and Jim Vallance after Bryan returned to Canada to start work on his own album. Bryan included his version of the song on his “Cuts Like A Knife” album the following year. Included on the collection is an early drums and guitar track of the song. Previously, all that has circulated are a couple of lower-quality drum tracks, and the difference in sound quality is noticeable. The addition of even a rough guitar accompaniment gives form to the early stage of development the song idea reached during the sessions. However, conversely, it also offers illustration to why the song may not have been more formally pursued by Kiss at the time — its style has quite a different feel to the body of material that ultimately formed the album. The song wasn’t totally abandoned, and additional recording was done on the track later. Gene has also suggested that the band recorded a song, “Lipstick and Leather,” written by Australian Jim Manzie (with Kim Fowley). However, it had previously been released by The Breakers in 1980 and was used in the film, “Puberty Blues” the following year, and seems unsuited to the direction the band were pursuing.

Michael’s notes for the album offer a tantalizing suggestion: That he picked up Gene and Eric on May 15 and checked out Sunset Sound and Record One studios. Those two locations were also included in a list of studios, including Conway, Sound City, Soundcastle, and Village Recorders that he’d made days earlier… Whatever the case, it was during this studio tour, that with snare in hand the germ of the beginning of the drum part for “I Love It Loud” was purportedly born. Certainly, by the following week, a decision had been made to start rehearsals at SIR on May 26, and book Record One in Van Nuys. The recipe for the backbone of the album, was partially assuaging a deficit heard on the “Kiss Killers” tracks: The drums weren’t quite where the band wanted, and with Eric having been very unhappy with the previous album’s drum sound there was a shared desire for a big bombastic Bonham-esque sound. Shep Lonsdale was responsible for assembling a kit for Eric, using an assortment of Ludwig components, some of which had been pawn shop finds. Unlike the “Killers” sessions, two 24″ kicks were utilized (instead of one 24″ and one 22″). An assortment of toms was deployed, including 10, 12, 14, and 16″ (in place of the previous 15″) plus an 18″ floor. Other than the kicks, all were double headed (with Diplomats and Ambassadors). Finally, was the 6.5″ Yamaha wood snare with frosted head. Instead of the previous pair of 20″ crashes, Eric utilized a 16″ and 18″ medium Zildjians. He also switched from a 22″ ride to 24″ (Modern Drummer, 9/1983). Other components including 14″ high-hats and Pearl or Speed King pedals. The ambience of the room was seen as key to the sound they wanted to capture, hence the snare test. Eric’s drums were positioned on a rugged section of the tiled floor, and Niko Bolas was engaged to provide creative miking for the best combination between the ambient room mikes and close miked instruments. Michael oversaw the recording and his use of some of the best engineers available, brought an additional creativity and technical refinement to that side of the process. And then there was Eric himself, and the intention with which he played. Ultimately, all players on the record were equally focused on the mission at hand.

Disk 2 is where the action starts for collectors. The core inclusions for many will be the three Penny Lane demos. They sound spectacular, albeit as glorified studio demos, and there’s a certain amount of satisfaction that these are as good as its going to get in terms of sound quality. “Deadly Weapon” has circulated in unofficial remastered form, but even the very best of those efforts doesn’t match the master tapes. “Feel Like Heaven” as a Kiss recording is vastly different in character to the demo version included on Gene Simmons’ Vault or the closet 4-track abomination.  But the demo of “Deadly Weapon” is a wonderful surprise, illustrating the process the band went through in early 1981. The instrumental of “Nowhere to Run (Take 11)” may seem to be gratuitous space filling, yet providing the track stripped back of vocals and leads allows closer inspection of the underlying instrumentation. The same is the case with the “Instrumental & Background Vocals” version of “I’m A Legend Tonight (Mix 4).” Clearly, this sort of musical minutiae isn’t for every consumer or listener, but numerous musical elements are unmasked by the treatment of the material this way. Again, they won’t replace the released versions, but are magical Palantir taking the listener across dimensions and time.

Also featured on the Super Deluxe is Gene’s demo for “Legends Never Die.” While this “Elder”-era castaway was previously released on the Vault, it seems likely that the there is a plausible explanation for a seeming gap where one might be expecting a Kiss session recording instead. Eric Carr once recalled that a basic track for “When the Legend Dies” was recorded during 1982, but that Gene had taken the master multitrack to build on when he worked with Wendy O. Williams. It has also been suggested that Paul wasn’t overly fond of the song at the time. Michael’s notes indicate that a version of the song was mixed on May 24. Logically, it makes sense as to why we are left only with the previously released Gene Simmons Vault demo versions for that song and “It’s My Life” — the masters were either unavailable, no longer exist in a non-composited form, or sit languishing in some other record label (or their successor’s) archive. If these versions are the best versions of the songs available, then it makes sense that they are included on this collection to ensure that the material is represented in some form. While some may complain, it’s a matter of something being better than nothing, though the collection certainly does illustrate stratification within the Kiss catalog.

Even with the number of songs mentioned so far, Kiss were focused on only recording the very best material for the album. The introduction to Adam Mitchell had one particularly important side benefit: Vincent Cusano entered the Kiss orbit. In an interview with Tim McPhate for the KissFAQ, Adam recalled, “I was the one who introduced Vinnie to KISS… I lived up in the Hollywood hills and Gene was coming over to my house to write. I guess I mentioned this to Vinnie, and he basically just showed up at the door and said, ‘Oh, I was in the neighborhood.’ Well, if you knew my neighborhood at the time it’s not a neighborhood you just happened to be in — It was way up in the hills… Gene was in the kitchen making some granola, I think, and Vinnie knocked on the door and I went to the door, and he came in and I introduced him to Gene.” While Adam and Vinnie had only written two songs together at the time, he quickly became known to the band for his songwriting and guitar playing. And there was no doubting either talent. Vinnie had been in Los Angeles for a couple of years, but certainly wasn’t doing much other than scraping a living, though had been a member of Carmine Appice’s Rockers side-project and contributed a co-write on Carmine’s 1981 album. He was hungry and clearly saw an opportunity.

Vinnie ultimately contributed to three songs: “I Love It Loud,” “I Still Love You,” and “Killer.” The first of these, clearly has roots as “Loud and Proud” during the Warrior rehearsals at SIR married to a chant Gene he suggested he had wanted to incorporate in one of Paul’s songs. The ending fade-out and fade-in sequence was inspired by oldies which utilized a similar device that Gene had liked, such as “Good Lovin'” by the Young Rascals or the Contour’s “Do You Love Me.” Vinnie also brought in additional material that he’d work on with Warrior (either as ideas that predated his involvement with that group, or later). The Warrior instrumental for “Betrayed” was officially released via HNE Recordings in 2017, including a version with a rough vocal by Fergie Frederiksen (Trillion/Angel/LeRoux). It was clear that it wasn’t a finished song and was in search of appropriate arrangement and lyrics. The same is the case on this collection, though this time it is Paul Stanley searching for inspiration to lead to its completion. Clearly, it didn’t find a more completed form, or if it did, it no longer exists or was unavailable for some other reason. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter, but at least it’s included in a Kiss form for listener’s consideration, and its use as the first digital single from the collection provides solid illustration of the quality of the material on the bonus disks. Stylistically, it doesn’t really seem to fit with the rest of material on the album.

Vinnie’s ballad, the strong melodic “Back on the Streets,” was also given some form of consideration. Having been demoed by Vinnie in 1981, an instrumental had been recorded by Warrior along with another with Vinnie handling the vocal. As was the case with “Betrayed,” it is possible that Kiss either recorded a backing track or tried out the vocal using the Warrior instrumental — the timeline is unclear. Its absence can be surmised as simply being an item not in the archive or perhaps not being wanted. Whatever the case, with Vinnie only being involved in the sessions as a songwriter and player, there was no chance his vocal would be used; and his sole songwriting credit on the song and publishing may have offered problems, particularly with the competing strength of “I Still Love You.” The album didn’t need two melodic songs in a similar vein, particularly when one had a stunning Stanley vocal and co-writing credit. Add to that equation a possibly mercurial Vinnie not wanting substantial lyrical or arrangement changes imposed on his composition. Multiple takes of “I Still Love You” are included on the Super Deluxe, for a very good reason, better illustration the point than third-party words can. It is also not beyond reason to conclude that “I Still Love You” was constructed around the powerful drumming featured on the album, after that sonic signature and album direction had been defined. How would the delicate “Back on the Streets” have sounded with similar treatment? It would be akin to a musical Mongol Horde descending on a nunnery.

Vinnie signed a publishing agreement with Kiss on Sept. 1, 1982. Under this contract, “each shall jointly own an undivided fifty (50%) percent interest in the Compositions, including all of the worldwide right, title and interest, including the copyrights, the right to copyright and the renewal rights… SGI ¶ 4. Pursuant to the Creatures Agreement, the KISS Partnership would exploit and administer the copyrights to the Creatures Compositions throughout the world. SGI ¶ 5. Cusano was to receive fifty percent of Net Income, as defined by the Creatures Agreement, received by, or credited to the KISS Partnership from the exploitation of the Creatures Compositions. SGI ¶ 6 (citing Ex. A-31). The KISS Partnership and Cusano (d/b/a Street Beat Music) would split both the publisher’s share and the writer’s share of public performance royalties 50/50. SGI ¶ 7, 9” (Cusano v. Klein, 196 F. Supp. 2d 1007, 1009 [C.D. Cal. 2002]). Later lawsuits between Vinnie and the band would detail a messy relationship between them (which didn’t end when he officially departed the band April 13, 1984), including a March 18, 1992 sale of the certain rights from the songs to Horipro in conjunction with Vinnie’s settlement agreement with The Kiss Company (July 18, 1984). Whatever the case with any facts from that legal saga, one fact is clearly useful to extract as part of a CELEBRATION of the album and Vinnie’s first contributions to the band: “Cusano co-authored and performed three songs for the 1982 KISS album ‘Creatures of the Night’.”

Multiple takes of “I Still Love You,” “Saint and Sinner,” and “Rock and Roll Hell” form the core of an impressive disk three, a second disk of demos, rarities, and outtakes. These won’t please every consumer, but for those interested in an arcane exploration of band creativity in the studio, they are eye opening. The listener becomes a fly on the wall, almost witnessing in sonic technicolor the birth of these Kiss songs. Two takes of “I Still Love You” present a slightly different creature, albeit with the passion in Paul’s vocal very much evident. It’s still seemingly embryonic lyrically, though musically an arrangement is moving forward. It’s clear from this foundation that it can handle the heavy drumming applied sparsely through the verses but building in parallel where Paul’s vocals would ultimately soar. He’s clearly very pleased with the song’s progression, perhaps adding an exclamation to the theory regarding “Back on the Streets.” Even in the rough forms presented the piece is gorgeous though it will undoubtedly bother a handful of listeners that they’ll probably never know to whom Paul was dedicating the first take! “Saint and Sinner,” while illustrating the brutality of some of the material, musically, also includes studio banter, showing a lighter side of the musicians at work. Clearly the group is thrashing through this material, as is the case with three takes of “Rock and Roll Hell” from two different days. Of note on the latter is different lead guitar work, providing yet another stylistic contrast to the final.

This disk includes three previously released tracks. The “I Love It Loud” single edit simply omits the fade-out/fade-in featured on the album version and ends on the first fade-out. There’s slightly different EQ in the mastering of the single version, though it was previously issued as both 7″ and later CD single (as part of the “Casablanca Singles” collection). Its inclusion is a matter on “completeness,” though it does seem somewhat superfluous. That can’t be said for the inclusion of the 1985 remix of the title track. That song was the only true remix for the 1985 PolyGram reissue, so is a mandatory addition. The difference with the original mix can noted by the noticeable change in intro and ending reverb of the wash of Eric’s booming drums. On the original mix it is almost savagely unrestrained at times. Additionally, there were re-EQ differences that affected the overall sound of that song and the rest for the 1985 edition. The purpose, according to Eric, was simply a matter of rolling back some of the low-end to bring the overall sonic signature more in line with that of “Lick it Up.” The alternate mix #19 “Creatures of the Night” is slightly brighter with bass and guitars more in front of the drums. The differences are subtle, but ear candy for the eagle eared. Alternate mix #21 of “I Love It Loud” presents a different balance of the ambient room mikes on Eric drums and is cavernous rather than booming. The lack of the fade-out-in at the end suggests more affinity with the single rather than album version. Finally, the full-length version (mix #11) of “War Machine,” extends the outro soloing section by more than a minute before the usual ending. It’s a substantial amount of additional lead work, and some underlying vocals, cut from the album version. Here, listeners get to hear some of the sort of material often removed during mastering, where the fat is trimmed from the steak.

In 1982, “Partners in Crime” had purportedly been remixed for possible inclusion on the album. It was hardly surprising with one review singling that track out as “a slowish, swaggering macho leer which lurches along” (Sounds). Dynamically, it also fit in with an underlying theme of the material on “Creatures.” Ultimately, plans for the inclusion of any “Kiss Killers” material were abandoned, and the remixes remained unused until 1990. Other than the different, beefier, drum track and more “Creatures”-like sound, the more prominent bass playing over the slightly extended outro is featured higher in that mix. Additionally, the song has a slightly slower tempo and is missing the opening “alright” on Paul’s vocal. That alternative version for “Creatures” is represented by “Partners in Crime (Alternate Mix 16B)” on the collection. It’s essentially the same as previously used as a B-side, albeit remastered and containing the count-in. Any remix of the other “Kiss Killers” songs would have been generally pointless due to their stylistic differences. Nor would re-recording have made sense with the direction between either recording project differing.

Even without Ace Frehley in the picture, Kiss had managed to record a fresh and dynamic album with a new, and in their view, untested producer. The issue over the lead guitar had been dealt with rather more succinctly than in the manner Paul suggested in interviews, “When I couldn’t handle things — and I don’t consider myself the ultimate lead player — another friend of ours came in and gave a little help… nobody you’d know” (Kerrang #32). The guitarist question was rather more complex and is split into two parts: In the studio and concurrently (in some cases) with the search for a replacement for Ace. With Ace’s status unresolved, contingencies needed to be made and Gene and Paul started auditioning possible replacements. Some were informal, a matter of band members checking out some player in their local club performing with their current band. They certainly listened to tapes. And most certainly, a plethora of guitarists were rehearsed with or given tryouts, at SIR, in the recording studio, and elsewhere. It’s important not to muddle all those players with the work going on in the studio. Michael was adamant about the process in the studio, commenting, “it would be incorrect to characterize it as a cattle call.” He went on to explain that one several songs there was a requirement to fill a very specific sonic need, in other words it was a question about how to best serve the song and was not random. For “I Still Love You,” Michael immediately knew that the song was perfect for the sort of playing Robben Ford had provided on other projects. He also played on “Rock and Roll Hell.” The same was the case with some bass playing, with Mike Porcaro and Jimmy Haslip being brought in. Again, Michael had utilized their services, and their style of playing not only better served the song but allowed him to bring some surprising elements to the overall performance. A matter of necessity, with the first inklings of Gene’s outside distractions becoming evident and the distraction of his ongoing relationship with Diana Ross.

Guitarist Steve Farris had sent a demo tape in. He received a call from Paul Stanley inviting him down to the Record Plant, where they were recording with Bob Kulick. His “audition” basically entailed plugging in and performing two takes of a solo. The second turned out to be the keeper for the “Creatures of the Night” song. Gene, Paul, and Michael were enthused by what he’d played, and the eight-bar solo was enough for him to earn a musical audition with the band a couple of weeks later. That went less well, with Steve not being a singer — a prerequisite for the role, so after a performance of “Honky Tonk Woman,” he was only retained for additional session work, though Sept. 6, when he departed to join up with the Eddie Money touring band in Casper, WY. Steve Hunter was contacted on multiple occasions during the sessions, along with other session players, some of whom recorded material that was discarded (its unknown whether Steve did any session work for Kiss, or Michael was attempting to contact him for other matters). Even Eric Carr ended up performing an instrument other than drums on the album, with his attempt at bass for “I Still Love You” being deemed most suited to the song. Adam Mitchell, too, added some guitar for the end lick on “Creatures of the Night,” and Gene contributed rhythm guitar on “War Machine.”

Literally dozens of other players were auditioned in various ways, but there always seemed to be a matter of indecisiveness by Gene and Paul, and some detail, seemingly minor or not, prevented them from committing to any of the talented players they encountered. A then much too young Doug Aldrich made it out of the SIR rehearsal studio into the studio proper as part of his audition. He has recalled being played material by Gene and asked to try a spontaneous solo for it. Another youngster, Adam Bomb, rehearsed with the band, but his physical stature was not what the band were looking for. Michael Angelo Batio, later in Nitro with Bobby Rock, was also deemed too young. Others who either rehearsed with the band or tried out material to backing tracks included Marq Torien, John Verner, Punky Meadows, Richie Sambora, Michael Ray, and Robbin Crosby. Ultimately, though, Vinnie would be well placed, by default, for the position. By September 23, Vincent Cusano was signed as the band’s guitarist, for a tour some months away. As the album sessions wrapped up in Los Angeles, the process of trying out guitarists continued in New York into the fall, where the album’s final track, “Keep Me Comin'” was recorded. One prospective guitarist, Tommy Lafferty, recalled being invited to attend the Van Halen show at Madison Square Garden, following his audition at SIR (Oct. 8), indicating how late auditions were taking place. Yet another song, “Not for the Innocent,” recorded late in the sessions, remained in a glorified studio demo form. It has long circulated but is included on the Super Deluxe Edition providing a fascinating contrast and connection between the “Creatures” and “Lick It Up” albums, particularly with Gene and Paul trading off on the lead vocal. Musically, the band’s rehabilitation was started, but the process of rebuilding their brand’s status would remain their mission for the rest of the decade. This demo illustrates the symbiosis between the two albums, while highlighting the sonic differences.

Album mixed by Sept. 20, and test pressings ordered. A world debut party for the album was hosted at Much More Records in Richmond, VA on Oct. 22, though Ace reportedly missed his flight, holding up the start for two hours and shortening the opportunity for Q&A and autographs by the 300 attendees. The group then joined WRLX radio for a live interview. Released on Oct. 25, 1982, “Creatures of the Night” took until May 29, 1994 to be certified Gold by the RIAA. By Oct. 1983 the album had shipped around 422,664 copies internationally, where nearly a quarter of which were in Brazil alone (helping explain the 1983 visit). Contemporaneous sales were purportedly much less than its predecessor, a result of the change in the musical playing field and the damage inflicted by the previous three years of activities. In the SoundScan era the album sold 161,000 units between 1991 and March 2012. On the charts, the album reached #45 (1/29/1983) during a 19-week run on the Billboard Top 200 charts.

The album was supported in the U.S. by a single, “I Love It Loud,” notable for being only the second commercial 7″ to feature a picture sleeve. The single didn’t chart, but “bubbled under” on the Hot 100 for nine weeks, peaking at #102 (2/5/1983). An accompanying music video, directed by Philip Davey and produced by John Weaver, only managed to get into light rotation on MTV (receiving one or two airings per day). Frehley was also present for the band’s major press conference at Zeotrope Studios in Los Angeles on Oct. 28. The second question asked touched on Ace’s status with the band, with him taking advantage to explain his status: Earlier that year, he’d totaled his 928 Porsche, and no one knew what was going to happen with him, so the guys covered their end. But he was pointedly described as “fine” at that time… It was a sloppy and awkward excuse at best, one they quickly moved on from. While the album was successful creatively and sonically, commercially it was still damaged goods, not given a chance by many. Paul was somewhat fatalistic about its reception, noting that an abused friend was hardly going to come rushing back into the band’s arms on the first attempt at reconciliation.

For many years an enigmatic image of unknown providence has circulated on the internet. On the back of an album cover, in addition to a different track sequence for the album, four additional titles are listed. They’re crossed out and were clearly never featured on any version of the album: “Partners in Crime,” “Back on the Streets,” “Don’t Leave Me Lonely,” and “Betrayed.” That image suggested to many that the songs were fully recorded to the same standard as the album tracks but were left languishing in PolyGram’s purgatory. Several of these songs have already been discussed. “Back on the Streets” remains an enigma, but there is more than enough fact available to explain why some form of the song was not included on this collection. It was written in 1981 by Vincent Cusano and Richard Friedman, and by the following year was fully formed in terms of its arrangement, but more particularly the vocal phrasing. What is unknown whether any Kiss demo survives from 1982, or if it is an omission purely due to one of the songwriters and publishing in question. Simply put, it doesn’t matter. The song had been published and stood no chance against the Paul co-written “I Still Love You,” which fit the overall stylistic dynamics of the album far better.

“Back on the Streets” was more melodic pop oriented, and if Paul wasn’t happy with his vocal, it’s not clear whether it was actually committed to tape or saved. A Kiss version may not even have been recorded in the first place! It’s important to remember the history and timeline. Following his introduction to Kiss, Vinnie was only a co-writer. He was NOT in the running for consideration as a replacement for Ace, due to his stature and look. As a result, Gene Simmons passed his name on to the guys in New England (also represented by Aucoin Management), who’d then recently seen their guitarist depart. Vinnie hooked up with them and brought in a batch of his songs not liking theirs. He also didn’t want to be in New England (band or location), so persuaded them to relocate to Los Angeles and build a new band, Warrior, from the ground up. Scoring a demo deal with CBS records, the band started working on material at SIR, while Vinnie pulled double duties with Kiss as a session player. The guys in Warrior loved Vinnie’s material, and it was coming together nicely with Vinnie on vocals.

When CBS passed on the six-song demo Warrior recorded at the Record Plant, Vinnie started shopping it to other labels. But none were interested. Not surprisingly, with Kiss’ efforts to find a replacement for Ace, Vinnie was in the right place at the right time, with the right situation, and was offered the role of touring guitarist in September 1982. Ultimately, if any Kiss version from 1982 even exists, it’s not in the archive or was not available for the Super Deluxe Edition. Following a history of legal and other drama it wouldn’t be shocking that there might have been a reticence to even acknowledge the song, clearly still referred to as “Vinnie’s ‘Back on the Streets'” later in the year. With Vinnie actively pitching Warrior material, once that band started working, the song may have been pulled back from Kiss anyway had any basic recording work been done on a track prior to Warrior and/or the emergence of “I Still Love You.” It seems plausible that the song could have been included in material initially offered to the band, since it predated Vinnie’s involvement with Warrior. It’s important to note that the stories surrounding this song, and some other material, may also have become conflated with the next album, since there is documented cross-over between the pair. For that, we’ll have to hope additional specifically factual information surfaces. Until then, only supposition remains. And hope…

Kiss had to tour in support of “Creatures.” They’d violated the terms of their 1980 PolyGram, even with justifications, by not playing at least 20 major dates in the Territory in 1980, 1981, and 1982 (PolyGram / KISS Agreement, 4/1/1980, Section 2.b.ii.). By the time the tour took place it had been more than three years since they’d last played many of the markets they’d visit. As had been the case following the band’s touring hiatus in 1979, Kiss knew they had to take the “show of shows” out on the road, and not only meet the expectations of fans old and new. The reality was that the band was in no position to scale things up, and instead had to do more with less. Paul explained the situation, “You constantly figure that you have to top yourself each time you go on tour. And l know this from other bands too, because I was with some friends a few nights ago that are about to go on tour. What happens is when you start thinking each tour has to be bigger — not necessarily better, but somehow you equate bigger and better as the same thing — you dig yourself into a hole that almost makes it impossible to tour. We wound up in the position where we were in Australia with a huge tour and eleven trucks — and you just can’t do that” (Sounds, 12/18/1982).

The band debuted the new stage during their Oct. 28 press conference at Zoetrope Studios, showing off some of the pyro and tank effects. The declared intention for the tour was simple: The stage built on ideas originally designed for an unspecified Kiss tour by Mark Ravitz earlier in the year. Even though it was essentially a simple design, the militaristic stage exuded “heavy metal” with a central tank-turret drum riser and tank-tread side stages. Additional dead space on the stage was filled with amplifiers and numerous flash-pots, while the omnipresent lighted KISS logo filled the background. As would be noted throughout the tour, the lighting was, as was expected from the band, impressive when combined with the other elements of the show. The stage became a regular selling point for the tour, “The simplest way to describe it (the staging) is that it’s the biggest (military) tank you’ve ever seen in your life. The entire stage is a tank, with the drums on a revolving turret and treads that run from the front of the stage to the back. We’ve got a guy who designs tank simulators for the Army and we’re using some of the effects that they use to simulate combat” (Indianapolis Star, 12/5/1982).

According to Paul, “We’re going to be going out and blowing more bombs; be louder than ever, do the show everybody expects from us” (Press Conference). When asked about whether the tour was timed with the slump in the industry, Paul responded, “This new tour is timed with our 10th anniversary and with a new album. This album seemed really ideal to go out with on tour, because pretty much it’s the ballsiest thing out there, so it’s ideal for playing live.” Gene chimed in, “I say, ‘The Hell with bad times.’ We’re going to go out on tour whether or not the times are good or bad. And fuck the bad times.” Perhaps most telling was Ace’s follow-up: “Even though we’re going to lose millions, right? Who cares? It’s only money.” With his body language, the quip seems more serious than the attention a seemingly flip comment. It was somewhat an ironic observation, given some of the grounds used to justify firing Bill Aucoin. At that time, the band were under the impression that the tour would be starting in Dallas, where they had been rehearsing.

Ace though, continued to keep up appearances in the press portraying himself as a member of the band. He joined them for the European promotional tour (staring November 20) where the band made several television mimed performances. Paul recounted, “He said to me, ‘I’m on the verge of a nervous breakdown. I can’t do this anymore'” (“Face the Music”), even if he’d kept things together during Europe. Interestingly, during that promo tour, in a piece written by Dante Bonutto, an enigmatic suggestion was raised, “While the last few months have been fairly traumatic for Ace … he’s still managed to come up with some new songs, seeming particularly pleased with a freshly written opus called ‘Rockin’ with The Boys'” (Kerrang #32). Before long that title entered Kiss mythology as the title of an abandoned EP or album… Returning to the U.S. on December 3 there were less than three weeks before the scheduled start of the tour. For Ace, there was no other option. In his mind his future was clear, were he to remain in the band: “I knew that if I didn’t leave the group, I was going to die. Everything about my life was in disarray at that time. I felt no connection to KISS anymore and wasn’t happy with the direction the band was taking” (“No Regrets”). Phonogram certainly knew and sent a 30-day contractual termination notice to the four members of the original Kiss partnership on Dec. 13. From January 14, the band’s 1980 contract with the labels would redefine the “Artist” as Gene and Paul only. Whatever the fallout from the lawsuit against Phonogram and Ace’s departure, from that point Kiss was Gene and Paul plus whichever sidemen they employed.

Ace was given a path back, with his departure being explained as possibly temporary. Industry press reported, “Guitarist Vinnie ‘Wiz’ Vincent is replacing Ace Frehley on the current 100-date KISS tour, though Frehley may do some isolated concerts with the group and will continue to play on KISS albums. According to a release from the band, Frehley has not yet recovered enough from an auto accident last year to undergo the rigors of the road. In the KISS shows, Vincent wears a costume based on an ancient Egyptian motif” (Billboard, 1/15/1983). At the time Paul was more expansive about Vinnie: “He’s a friend of a friend of ours. He’s been living in Los Angeles, but he grew up on the East Coast like we did. His background is basically ours… He was already writing some songs and doing some solos on ‘Creatures,’ so when Ace saw he couldn’t do this tour, we asked Vinnie to replace him. He was the natural choice” (Huntsville Times, 1/21/1983). With Vinnie “in,” shows in many markets still advertised shows using older stock photos available to the newspapers — some including Ace, and some even with Peter era lineups. But many used an accurate lineup photo that included Vinnie. There is no doubt, still, that many fans would still have been shocked and confused to see a strange unknown figure on stage as the band they thought they knew performed.

From the beginning the tour had issues, with the first show being cancelled due to weather preventing the band and equipment from converging in the same place at the same time. Religious protests, which the band had previously experienced and were becoming more en vogue, and being targeted at rock groups in general, followed the band through many of the markets they visited. As the saying goes, any press is good press, though the accompanying news articles did little to raise interest in the tour. Nor did the inclusion of the Plasmatics, adding an extra level of schlock/shock with Wendy O. Williams’ stage antics, entice more prospective patrons to purchase tickets. In some markets she received more press coverage than the headliner. The first month of the tour was certainly affected by an overall touring slump throughout the industry, though it had started to ease the following month (Billboard, 2/12/1983). From available stats, the tour averaged 59.12% attendance per show. That sort of mediocrity was not what the band were looking for. Even their first visit to South America, which should have provided a pleasurable adventure, turned into an unpleasant struggle; one pitting the band against the climate and culture, judges, and promoters — even if the tour saw the band playing to some of their most massive audiences in years, if not their career. According to Paul, “The ‘Creatures’ tour did horrendously in most markets. Before we went on stage, we’d hear ‘You wanted the best, you got the best, the hottest band in the land…’ and we’d walk out to find nobody was there. Sometimes there would be only a thousand people in an arena that could hold eighteen thousand. We had packed the same venues a few years before, but now, if I threw my guitar pick too far, it sailed over people’s heads and landed on the floor” (“Face the Music”). It wasn’t much of a celebration of the band’s 10th anniversary, though by the end of the struggle there was a new clarity for the band…

The Super Deluxe Edition includes a two-disk live celebration of the tour, including all the album tracks performed live. Unlike the previous “Destroyer” Super Deluxe Edition, the recordings are previously unreleased soundboards captured by the band’s sound engineer. Opinions will naturally vary as to whether single show should have been featured, or multiple shows included. From this perspective, celebrating the tour in its entirety makes sense within a box honoring the album. Add to that the fact that all the soundboards utilized were previously unreleased, though each had flaws and dynamic differences in mix and performance. Constructing a representation of the tour gives a listening experience that can be enjoyed on its own, repeatedly. It’s very much an honest soundboard, which some erroneously equate with sonic perfection. The selections from the varying shows have been balanced nicely and melded together to present the power and raw aggression surging through the amplifiers. The live version of “I Love It Loud” from Rockford was issued as the second digital single from the collection on September 30. Rockford was the third night of the tour, attended by a paltry audience of just 3,500, but one wouldn’t be able to tell that from the sound of this performance. Sioux City only had a slightly larger audience, at 4,934, and Houston a whopping 5,975. Large crowd or small, Kiss were determined to win over every attendee and give them their money’s worth. Even with that small attendance, the show was profitable for the venue. More importantly, the arrangement of the song is the full version rather than the later shortened one. As a soundboard, the song illustrates the treat fans are in for with the assemblage contained within the Super Deluxe Edition. There’s power that’s been boosted with a touch of bass, and the mastering has raised the base volume somewhat. It fully presents what was billing itself as “The Loudest Band in the World,” though might be a bit excessive some aged eardrums. That said it’s impossible to not note some of the cringe-worthy raps and unfortunate removal of Vinnie’s guitar solo, but the former is a product of the times and the latter not particularly surprising when one considers the post-84 relationship. There’s certainly more than enough lead work of Vinnie featured on the set.

For good measure, six additional live cuts from the tour are included. Notable among these is the performance of “King of the Night Time World,” previously unknown to have been performed by this lineup. The Sioux City performance of “Rock and Roll Hell” is also a standout. The set concludes with the tour sound effects as a bonus. The 10-minutes of audio provides sonic illustration to some of the underlying embellishments only partially noticeable during the tour, for those in attendance. Now they get to hear exactly what they might have only slightly noticed at the time. It’s a nice touch, though they’ll likely be the first victims of pruning when fans customize their play lists. Finally, the set includes a sixth disk, the Blu-Ray audio featuring the album in 48kHz 24-bit Dolby Atmos, 48kHz 24-bit Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround, and 96kHz 24-bit High-Resolution PCM Stereo mixes. The mixes do not have the same excitement as the cinematic Destroyer, and there has been complaint about the wildly varying base volume level between them, but they do provide an additional audio insight into the album’s layers. Also included on the disk is the music video for “I Love It Loud.”

Everything stated about Michael James Jackson at the beginning of this article equally applies to the late Eric Carr. He should also still be with us as we celebrate his favorite Kiss album. The “Creatures of the Night” 40th Anniversary Super Deluxe Edition is also more than a fitting monument to his decade long tenure with the band, that witnessed transformation and struggle faced with determination, dedication, and humor. Michael gets the last word: “Eric cared about being a member of Kiss, more than I thought he cared about anything else in life. Kiss was his passion, it was his dream, and he was a very good player. He was willing to work hard and try and become a better player at virtually any moment and every moment… He really loved the kids and being a part of it. Those drums on ‘Creatures’ would not have sounded … the way they did it if it was somebody else was playing because Eric played with a lot of heart and great deal of intention.” Nor would “Creatures” be without the efforts of Michael, Gene, and Paul. The fans have rightfully elevated the album to a superlative level within the ranks of Kiss’ studio recorded output. Clearly, the thinking within the Kiss camp was that they’d had a productive year with Michael James Jackson. He was retained in December 1982 to deliver the next Kiss album no later than Oct. 31, 1983 (interestingly, Ace’s future was clearly still in question at the time the contract was signed as he was included, along with Vinnie, in the band definition). But that’s another story for different occasion …

So, after all that word salad, how does the “Creatures of the Night” Super Deluxe Edition measure up? Without any doubt, it covers as many of the bases as possible. Separating what fans think exists with what does exist, as proven by the collection, it’s a winner in nearly every aspect of its musical components. The remaster does the album justice. The demos, rarities, and outtakes tell the story musically of the period in which the album was constructed, and the album’s path to form. And the live show tells the story, nearly fully, of the challenging tour supporting the album. Are there items that could be quibbled over. Absolutely! No Kiss product reaches realization without some attached drama. But, regardless of what we think, or what we may know, the matter of the fact is that there is now a second expansive archival treatment for a Kiss catalog title. Anything missing is missing for a reason, whether we like it or not. Hopefully, the inclusions of so much previously unheard material will assuage those gripes. And equally, since this review is only interested in the music and history, the packaging and physical items will do the same and enhance the experience of reliving this amazing album and time. Words don’t matter a damn, set aside five-and-a-half hours, and envelop yourself in the bombast of “Creatures of the Night!”

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Review: Destroyer 45th Anniversary Edition, The Vaults Are Opened (Finally)!

The vaults finally open and Kiss and Universal Music unleash the studio album that firmly established Kiss as superstars, with a little help from the magic of Bob Ezrin. Packed with hours of alternative versions plus an exquisite new surround mix, does this release align with the stature the album has already attained?

Street date: Nov. 19, 2021

Formats:
• Super Deluxe 4-CD + Blu-ray Audio box
• Double black vinyl
• Limited edition yellow/red Double vinyl
• 2-CD set
• Digital / Streaming

Words like “seminal” or “iconic” are often lobbed around haphazard, diluting the value of the superlatives as trite throwaways. But with KISS the rules don’t apply, and perhaps have never applied. After all, rules were made to be broken. Pressing “play” on the new KISS “45th Anniversary Super Deluxe Edition” of “Destroyer” may not take you back to 1976, with the KISS Army circa 2021 spanning multiple generations. However, you’re nearly assured being transported to a warm and happy place, if you’re willing to set aside expectations and preconceptions, and weigh this package for what it is: A victory for fans, particularly those of a diehard persuasion, simply through its very existence. “More” is the never-ending demand of those who are never satisfied – that’s not a judgment being passed, just a simple observation. When the proverbial “vault” doors officially first creaked open in 1989, it provided little more than a tease. Fans waited until 2001 for a meaningful mass of material to feed their insatiable appetites for the band’s music. Since then, there have been various efforts with an expanded treatment of “Love Gun,” the KISSology series, and several compilations with bits and pieces included. But while other bands have jumped in to expanded releases, KISS fans have watched jealously and waited impatiently. Now, Universal and KISS are digging deep, and hopefully rebooting the KISS legacy catalogue with a suitably fitting starting point. “Destroyer,” as the band’s signature studio album, is the perfect candidate.

This 45th anniversary edition will be available in multiple formats: Double vinyl, 2-CD, and digital/streaming, plus a super deluxe edition which features 4 audio CDs and a Blu-ray audio disk. That latter disk features Steven Wilson’s Dolby Atmos and 5.1 surround mixes of the original studio album (plus 2 bonus tracks). One of those bonus tracks, the original guitar solo version of “Sweet Pain” was originally released on “Destroyer: Resurrected.” For those lacking the specialized equipment to enjoy Wilson’s mix, the other four CDs include more than enough material to satisfy that hunger for archival material and fully celebrate the era in which it was created. The Super Deluxe is crammed full of era specific KISS ephemera, notably a complete recreation of the original KISS Army Kit (sans “Beth” 45). Other items of particular interest include a KISS logo Iron-on, KISS Army Sticker, 8×12″ Destroyer Foil Flyer, a reproduction of the incredibly rare “Destroyer” Canadian Flyer, newly created band member trading cards, posters, reproduction stage blueprints of the amazing “Destroyer” tour stage, a reproduction “Destroyer” tour program, and more. Impressively, the package is supported by a 68-page hardcover book with extensive “liner notes by Paul Elliott & Ken Sharp featuring interviews from Gene, Paul, Ace, Peter, then-manager Bill Aucoin, album producer Bob Ezrin, and many more about the album’s writing and production process, U.S. and European tours, photo shoots, promotional stories, band member memories from their TV appearance on The Paul Lynde Halloween Special, and an intoxicating amount of unreleased photos and imagery” (PR). All that is fun, but it is ultimately the music that matters.

The new Abbey Road remaster of “Destroyer” takes the album to a new plateau in terms of its sonic fidelity, while maintaining the integrity of producer Bob Ezrin’s original intention. Bob was given his opportunity to revisit “Destroyer” in 2012, with “Destroyer: Resurrected,” but the new remaster makes no changes to the underlying structure. That 2012 treatment had plusses and minuses – it allowed the producer to revisit the album with the benefit of hindsight, new perspectives, and new technology. It was something of a double-edged sword, with it changing the dynamic character of some of the material, while peeling back the layers on the sonic tapestry. Ultimately, it was found to be an uncomfortable listening experience for some, with decades of the album’s sound so firmly engraved in the mind. It was certainly a worthwhile exercise, and perhaps it should have been included here as a matter of completeness. The Abbey Road remaster doesn’t aim to change that original feel, it neither adds to nor subtracts from the original. It simply polishes the gem, removes all dust and blemishes, and restores the album’s shine to a pristine state perhaps last heard on studio monitors in early 1976, before the process of manufacturing and duplication started the inevitable process of chipping away the façade. “Destroyer” is KISS’ gleaming trophy of creative performance and execution, and this superlative 2021 remaster presents it in grandly exquisite form.

Consuming audio is a highly subjective experience tied to the ears, brain, and the equipment used by the consumer. In this reviewer’s case, the ancient advice of listening to this album with headphones first was followed. Block out as much extraneous noise and become enveloped within the full sonic majesty and embark on an aural adventure. As the album commences, the first thing that jumps out is the incredible clarity of the standard album. There have been numerous remastering treatments of the material over the decades, but Bob’s already excellent mixing is presented with absolute perfection. The result is stunning, most obviously on the grand cinematic pieces such as “Detroit Rock City” and “King of the Night Time World,” but even the bombastic anthems such as “Flaming Youth,” “Do You Love Me,” and “Shout it out Loud” ring out timelessly. Even the least refined of the album’s tracks, “Sweet Pain,” sounds glorious. The mastering levels are not displeasing – in other words, it has not been brick-walled to death and the listening experience is gratifying.

Underneath the hood, Peter Criss’ powerful drumming drives the whole album, and he remains this reviewer’s MVP for the album. Gene’s bass growls nicely providing a throbbing undercurrent of emotion. This rhythm section is locked in, and it matters not a damn how much pain was endured during Bob Ezrin’s “boot camp” to for the individual band members to reach that point. In this case, the end truly justifies the means. “Beth” remains the band’s keystone, the full representation of their unexpected transition from stars to superstars, and firm illustration of the album’s demarcation line between original era and what soon followed. The album concludes with the original ending montage, “Rock and Roll Demons,” providing a satisfying sigh to a 35-minute marathon.

For diehard collectors, CD2 is where the action starts. The band has dug into their collections, to provide a taste of the demos recorded in preparation for the new album sessions. It is a brave artist who displays their raw creations, crafted early in the creative process for a project and remember: The band had essentially been on tour continuously supporting the “Dressed to Kill” and “Alive!” albums with only short breaks during 1975. It is the raw clay or rough block of stone, prior to Bob’s influence becoming paramount, that some of the material represents; before application of the musical chisel or warm hands molding, reshaping, and crafting into form. Those raw sketches illustrate all that went into that process of transformation. Here the listener witnesses the raw ingredients, the DNA of “Destroyer.” Lead-off track, “Doncha Hesitate,” previously issued on KISS’ 2001 Box Set, benefits from the fresh sonic mastering. It’s still a fun and catchy song, even if it feels somewhat like a leftover or transition from the previous album’s ethos. With its pop overtones and hooks, it’s in stark contrast as a reject to the resulting album. “God of Thunder and Rock and Roll” is Paul’s upbeat and almost danceable original full title for “God of Thunder.” Once refined, it would be given over to Gene, becoming his signature song. The original illustrates a different vantage point of the same perspective, though one must remain relieved at Paul’s willingness to surrender to Ezrin’s judgement that it needed a demon to voice it. “It’s The Fire” remains a fan favorite, and fortunately the sonic quality is a quantum leap from the unofficial copy that has circulated for many previously. Paul’s influences are a bit more transparent with references to Bachman-Turner Overdrive and Free. But nothing can detract from it’s fun rock ‘n’ roll romp. Like “God of Thunder,” Paul’s up-tempo demo of “Detroit Rock City” is another illustration of how Bob Ezrin’s input took material from the basement to the stratosphere. “Love is Alright” concludes Paul’s demos for the album (even though it’s a Gene song). Most of the demos on this CD were recorded at Magna Graphic Studios in mid-1975, with road manager J.R. Smalling filling in for Peter Criss (he was purportedly on vacation during one of the band’s infrequent downtimes that year when the recordings were made).

As is the case with Paul Stanley, Gene Simmons’ demos start with “Bad Bad Lovin'” and “Man of a Thousand Faces,” which have previously been released on the 2001 KISS Box Set and Gene’s “Vault” (albeit in an edited form as “Man of 1,000 Faces #2”), respectively. In the case of the latter, the listener is now being given the original full-length version. Where Paul’s songs are more fully formed in later years, Gene has something of an advantage at this time with his demos of “Man of a Thousand Faces,” “Burnin’ Up with Fever” (also unedited versus the Vault), and disc closing track, a stereo version of “True Confessions,” is another demo previously released (in mono) on Gene Simmons’ “Vault.” However, none of those songs were deemed suitable for use on the album. Some of Gene’s other musical ideas from the period, such as “Rock and Rolls Royce,” “Mad Dog,” and “Bad Bad Lovin’,” represent a potpourri of ideas later recycled into an assortment of other KISS songs – generally being completed for the “Rock and Roll Over” album. Only “Mad Dog” was developed from Gene’s Magna Graphic contributions (though minor elements of “Night Boy” turn up in “Sweet Pain”). The point for collectors will be that other than multiple takes of several of the songs, the full known Magna Graphic demos are represented in their very best sound quality.

The third disc is a bit more hit and miss for the hardcore consumer. Single edits were usually the result of a sledgehammering of a statue, a seemingly random slicing of the original song to shoehorn it into a radio friendly duration – not that there was that much airplay for KISS. The positive is that the completeness of the collection is enhanced by their inclusion. That the edits and mono mixes may become a bit tedious may be a downside for some but remember that the mono mixes once served a specific purpose and may remind other listeners of the way they first heard the album. The new acoustic mix for “Beth” is personally not as uncomfortable as the tweaking Bob Ezrin performed on “Destroyer” in 2012. It’s certainly an interesting novelty none-the-less, and a beautiful homage to the song that served as a lifeline for the band in August 1976. It is a completely different creature to the acoustic version recorded in 1978 for the band’s TV movie, though without hardcopy of the liners it’s not possible to determine the sources of the component parts. Admittedly, some content on this disc has circulated for decades, though unofficially. Diehards should take note that there will always be something “old” to them that might be new and interesting to someone else. Presenting material in its best sonic clarity makes the inclusion of the live instrumental rehearsal of “King of the Night Time World,” a song by another band being adapted by KISS, fascinating.

For the most part, the bonus material is of exceptional quality and diehards will be best served to remember that they may have been spoiled by having some of the material in similar quality previously. Gathering it all together in one place brings a finality to the release history of the album. And there will be some tracks that blow their minds, in terms of upgrades to fidelity. Instrumentals of “Do You Love Me?,” “Detroit Rock City,” and “God of Thunder” provide a glimpse at the musicianship masked underneath the vocals, and allow full appreciation of the growth experienced by the band members during these sessions. Both vocal and instrumental versions of the unused and discarded externally sourced “Ain’t None of Your Business,” with Peter Criss vocal, deliver on the promise this collection offered. Alternate mixes of “Do You Love Me?” (with a fun ending), “King of the Night Time World,” and “Shout It Out Loud” (with more prominent piano and a fun count-in) also provide surprising previously unheard elements from the recordings. Early versions of “Great Expectations,” “Flaming Youth,” and “Do You Love Me?” are also fascinating insights to the creative development of the songs during the sessions reflecting subtle changes songs underwent.

The final CD features a live recording from L’Olympia in Paris, from 22 May 1976. It will be the most divisive musical content presented in the collection. On the one hand, it is a properly mastered version of the best sound quality version of that show. On the other, while it is the classic “Stoned in Paris” bootleg, it has circulated for decades in very good sonic quality and isn’t really a “Destroyer” live recording per se. The European tour in May-June still saw the band in transition from the “Alive!” period, even though some new songs had been added to the set from March onward. The true “Spirit of ’76” tour didn’t commence until July, following extensive rehearsals on a brand-new stage with a proposed set list that included no less than seven songs from the album: “Detroit Rock City,” “King Of The Night Time World,” “God of Thunder,” “Sweet Pain,” “Shout It Out Loud,” “Do You Love Me?,” and “Flaming Youth.” If recordings featuring those songs were not available – or not extant – that is one matter, but there are certainly several soundboards and videos from the tour (Toronto, Anaheim, Jersey City, Houston, Richfield). It may simply be a case that they were unavailable or deemed unsuitable for any number of reasons. The inclusion of this show is certainly not a blemish on the overall product, though perceptions will likely be polarized. It’s difficult not to think that if KISS have created a “From the Soundboard” series, that recordings such as these could better serve as part of a throwaway “Official Bootleg” series. Only the absolute best should be presented within a “Super Deluxe.” Listeners do get live versions of “Flaming Youth,” “Shout It Out Loud,” and “Detroit Rock City,” and they have NOT been artificially enhanced as were the live tracks for the “Love Gun” deluxe. That is another win, and the recording certainly has character!

The final disc, the Blu-Ray audio disc with Steven Wilson mix was not available for review, but Wilson’s reputation is such that it may motivate this reviewer to invest in the requisite gear to enjoy that effort, though it will also be available via Dolby Atmos streaming. It includes as an additional bonus the original guitar solo version of “Sweet Pain” with Ace’s guitar work. That returns me to my earlier point that “Resurrected” ought to have been included for completeness, but then again most who wanted that will already have it and it might have had a negative impact on either bottom line or price point. With the super deluxe at a price premium, a more condensed “Deluxe Edition” will also be available. It marries the remastered studio album with a nice selection of the bonus material. It serves as a well-balanced sampler. Also available is a 2LP edition that omits the four live tracks from Paris on the deluxe edition.

I don’t do ratings. Suffice it to say, this release more than exceeds my expectations and there’s clearly been care and consideration in its crafting. But it’s not perfect, so while I hope it is only the first of many, I also hope that feedback is at least considered.

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Review: Paul Stanley’s Soul Station

I wasn’t sure if I was going to review Paul Stanley’s Soul Station. Frankly, the music he’s been covering really isn’t in my wheelhouse. I’ve heard some of the original tracks over the years, hell, it’s hard not to have. But Paul Stanley? The ringmaster of the psycho circus, the officiant at electric communion… Paul Stanley in a lounge jacket?!?! When he announced Soul Station in 2015, I was a bit confused. Why? WHY?! (Insert Japanese 1997 commercial here). I also wasn’t sure if Paul Stanley was the right person to be giving a tour of soul. I mean, “lemme year ya peeeple!” It is so absurdly out of left field in some ways, it’s almost perfect for the COVID-CANCEL era. Maybe there’s hope for Sade’s grindcore cover project after all, heck Pat Boone did go metal and I did listen to “LuLu!” Once.

Joking aside, I gave the project a chance. Paul has been a central part of the soundtrack of my life for over 35 years, he’s always been there for me, just a press-play away. So, when he does something, I pay attention whether it’s cooking (for which I need no help), painting (not interested, other than Dendy Sadler), or pontificating on Twitter (which generally causes me to have to bring out the banhammer). I found Soul Station middling when I watched videos from early performances. New shows, new videos, new songs to check out, that I was grateful for. Any personal feelings didn’t stop me from planning to attend a show. Perhaps I needed to be there, enveloped in the moment, to “get” it. That run of shows was cancelled, and since then he’s only performed in Japan. I’ll also admit that doing many KISS-related things over the past two decades has been overcompensation for all that I missed during the two decades prior to that.

To a certain extent, I’ve been a bit dubious of the seeming narrative being constructed around Paul’s “love of soul” when any hints of such have not penetrated my brain over the decades. But at the end of the day, I really don’t care. If the narrative is honest, great, if it’s a stretch used to justify the project, whatever. After all, Paul Stanley is the artist, and regardless of stature or longevity, putting oneself out on a proverbial chopping block of public critical evaluation requires a massive ego, ambivalence, or perhaps even obliviousness. Then again, he’s a lead singer and does wear masks.

The album kicks off with the Spinner’s “Could It Be I’m Falling in Love,” and I’m really not sure how well it works as an opening track for the album. Maybe I’m stuck in a neanderthal rock paradigm, expecting a bombastic declaratory opener to throw down the proverbial gauntlet, and perhaps it is, and I’m simply not tuned into the right channel. It seems solid enough, from a musical perspective. It’ll be a recurrent theme that the musicians involved in this project are top notch, and that a great deal of thought has been put into the presentations. But this song simply doesn’t have any sort of fireworks, ebbs and flows, just decaffeinated. It’s not that it’s a bad performance either.

“I Do,” the first of Paul’s originals follows. The fact that there are five originals on the album is, for me at least, its main selling point. New music. Anything! New songs written by Paul Stanley, and it is these that I was most curious about. Fans had been teased parts of this song when Paul released his “In-Studio Documentary,” the sort of thing that we’ve begged from KISS throughout their history. It provided a fascinating insight into the shared creative process making it clear that Soul Station isn’t a journey travelled alone. It takes a big ol’ brass pair to include originals in the style of the covers, particularly crossing over genres. But it feels like this one is “Paul Stanley being Smokey Robinson,” and I am really not a fan of this style of falsetto. While not to my taste, there is no denying that the song is absolutely beautifully written, arranged, and recorded. But it almost seems *too* thought out in parts. I’d like to hear this one done live for a more organic presentation, but I still probably wouldn’t like the vocal.

Another original, “I, Oh I,” follows. This one was simply stunning from the very first listen. My first thoughts were: “Paul Stanley wrote this? PAUL STANLEY WROTE THIS!!!” 50 years into a career, and Paul Stanley can still leave my jaw agape, throwing a knock-out punch that leaves me hitting the floor from a literal sonic boom. It’s musical Muhammad Ali, “Dance like a butterfly sting like a bee!” Bewm! It illustrates that Paul’s songwriting skills are getting finer with age, yet should we be surprised? He once set himself a task to write a song in a different style and came up with “I Was Made for Lovin’ You.” He’s surprised so many times, I’m surprised I’m surprised! But 50 years into his career his creativity and songwriting skills are not diminished. A band video was released for this one, and I can’t now NOT see the expressions of joy on the faces of the vocalists while singing this one. That said, there are echoes of other things I’ve heard before, even if I can’t immediately pinpoint them. Or perhaps that is the point, and it encompasses and communicates Paul’s universal inspirations that are now part of the cosmic musical continuum. Or we simply overthink things too much!

Now I get the full Smokey… “Ooo Baby Baby.” Don’t like it, and never liked the song. Period. Too syrupy for my tastes. Moving on quickly… “O-O-O Child” was the first single from the album, and I’d guess it has served as most people’s introduction to the album versions of the songs. I’d heard this one from one of the live shows, and it has been an introduction to a song with which I wasn’t initially familiar. I do think that this would have been a better lead-off track for the album proper, but that might be old-fashioned thinking. It’s a good up-beat mid-tempo song that allows Paul’s voice to take center stage. That’s very brave, noting some of the challenges he’s had over the past decade. But again, the video performance is now imprinted on me, and the smiling happy faces expressing the same feelings this song presents. I hear autotune, more so on another vocal, but the crafting of this is very well done. It was a perfect choice for the first single.

“Save Me (From You)” is another original and is simply one of the finest songs Paul has written during his 50-year career. I never thought I’d say that in 2021 about a song from a soul song cover album. I was speechless following my first listen; I am still simply aghast and floored each time I hear this song. It’s a hybrid, it’s an inexplicable cross-genre mongrel, combining a 70s disco backbeat with 60s girl-group harmonies and a lounge vocal with flair chock full of Stanley panache with an essence of soul. The backing vocals season perfectly and a glorious guitar motif surfaces throughout, even if there are plenty of echoes where one could hear the Pet Shop Boys slaying this. It alone is worth the price of admission for the album, even if I wish his vocal had a touch more fire.

I’m not saying a word against the Temptations and “Just My Imagination,” but the highlight of this one is Eric Singer. I don’t know what his future holds, but I hope we get to hear more of his vocals on projects. It’s followed by “Whenever You’re Ready (I’m Here),” another original. This time Paul duets with the amazing Crystal Starr. The arrangement is spectacular, and (rightfully or wrongly) I had visions of the dynamics of Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga’s “Swallow” performance at the 2020 Oscars. There could easily be a similar power here. And Paul Stanley wrote it!

With “The Tracks of My Tears,” I have nothing to add about Smokey. It’s a great song regardless and Paul certainly does it justice. But as is the case of many a cover, there’s no beating the original even if the intent is to honor or remind us of the song. Equally, I’m not sure of any point covering “Let’s Stay Together.” The original is massive. As much as I love Paul Stanley, I’m not sure this one should have been touched. I guess I’m into a dark part of the album, with “La-La Means I Love You” simply being annoying to me. Hadn’t heard that one before, don’t like, and don’t feel it added to my musical education on this journey. Falsetto, autotune, annoying backgrounds… But I guess if Paul likes it, that’s really nice…

Fortunately, “Lorelei” comes along and saves me (from the others). From the first notes, you can tell it’s going to be special. It’s Paul Stanley on his white stallion, wearing purple headband, ready to ride with flaming sword held aloft. Sorry, phased out there… But the song provides another moment of amazement, in that I’m listening to another incredible new Paul Stanley song in 2021. It’s spectacular, and I feel I can’t find the right superlative to use. The backing vocals are great in the beginning, but get a bit grating towards the end, though Eric’s prominence is nice. There’s nice guitar work too.

I’ve been polluted by hearing the Judas Priest-Stock Aitken Waterman version of “You Are Everything,” and the world has not been quite right since. I don’t much care for the song, again it’s syrup, but does have a nicely stated guitar solo. It seems a bit of a stretch vocally, particularly in relation to the style and phrasing. Then we reach the conclusion, the Four Tops’ “Baby I Need Your Lovin.” That’s pretty much holy ground for the genre IMO. It’s a good closing track and should provide a good sing-along section when performed in concert for a massive gang chorus. It also seems to be more from the gut singing than the style on most of the album, so perhaps it’s for this reason it’s more comforting at the end of the adventure.

Sadly, I think many will have made up their minds about this album before hearing a note of it. I’ve taken my time to digest, re-listen, and didn’t want to give it short shrift. Paul Stanley meant too much to me for that. I will never be a fan of soul, and this album doesn’t convert me. But it did introduce me to some new songs that I hadn’t heard. It also made me spend two weeks writing and researching the “song stories” for the website, which was a nice break delving into something new and different, and finding some Paul interviews of which I wasn’t previously aware. I split the material on the album into two obvious categories, the originals, and the covers. Therefore, I find little point in the covers. Honestly, the original artists are monsters in the genre, and rightfully so. Just like I don’t have any KISS tribute albums in regular rotation, I give them a listen and quickly go back to the originals for the same reason. That said, I’ve given “Soul Station” far more listens than I’ve given most KISS tribute albums, and that’s probably because of the original songs, and the near flawless track sequencing (opener excluded). The covers I’d rate 5/10, neither spectacular nor horrible and Paul is highly respectful of the material.

The originals, on the other hand, are 10/10. While Paul Stanley may not have a hit with any of these songs with his name attached, I don’t doubt their potential for a minute. They are spectacular. Go listen to them again, NOW! As for you, I’m not trying to persuade you of anything. Listen, not listen, I care. I’m glad I did.

Buy the album here: https://www.amazon.com/THEN-Paul-Stanleys-Soul-Station/dp/B085LGWGQX/?tag=thekissfaq-20

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