KISS: The Top 10 Songs of The No Make-up Years
The ridiculousness of spectacle was the draw. An over-the-top stage show featuring face-painted caricatures singing disco songs in the key of rock while dressed for Halloween was what fans of the band KISS paid to see. Then, the face paint went away, and fans were more focused on the music.
Frontman Paul Stanley and bassist Gene Simmons not only kept the carnival rolling but proved to the world that they were actually a talented rock and roll band. Starting with 1983’s ‘Lick It Up’ and ending with 1997’s ‘Carnival of Souls,’ they released seven albums during those exposed-face years.
Here are the Top 10 KISS songs from the No-Make-Up Era:
10: “Tears Are Falling” - ‘Asylum’
‘Asylum’ was the first album that featured Bruce Kulick as their official, full-time lead guitarist until the original band members reunited in 1996, and “Tears Are Falling” features the best chugging riff on the album. Paul Stanley wrote this one solo - one of the rare times since the band’s origin - and it shows in the lyrics and his vocal performance. This is the best song on the album, and it’s even better if you can ignore the way they’re dressed in the video. It got heavy rotation on MTV, so you’re probably very aware of what I’m talking about.
9: “Unholy” - ‘Revenge’
Released in 1992 as the opening track and first single from their ‘Revenge’ album, “Unholy” dives deeper into the darkness, into the occult, than we typically expect from the band who was at one point full-on disco. It was released in the United States as a promotional single, but it broke the top thirty in five countries, reaching number two in Norway.
Gene Simmons sells the idea of the being “Knights In Satan’s Service,” singing lyrics about demonic possession, blasphemy, and temptation. The lyrics suggest that the narrator has given in to the "unholy" and "evil" forces around him, leading him down a path of corruption and sin. The video didn’t receive the mainstream exposure you might expect from a KISS single. It sparked protests outside of MTV studios because it showed children dancing on pentagrams and twins casting demonic shadows. It was played regularly, outside of primetime, during the Headbangers Ball program.
“Unholy” is one of the heaviest songs in their whole catalog and shouldn’t go overlooked simply because it was on the ‘Revenge’ album.
8: “All Hell’s Breakin’ Loose” - ‘Lick It Up’
This is one of four songs in the band’s history that all four members shared songwriting credit. Since drummer Eric Carr originally wrote the riff as an out-of-the-box classic rock
song before Paul and the rest of the band gutted and twisted it into knots, he wasn’t happy about it. The end result is an interesting KISS song, that features song bad Paul Stanley pseudo-rap, but the riff is catchy enough and it’s easy to digest. That’s the basic KISS formula.
7: “Crazy Crazy Nights” - ‘Crazy Nights’
The ‘Crazy Nights’ album was my introduction to them, and “Crazy Crazy Nights” was the very first song I heard (it’s the first track on the album). I immediately loved it, and it’s what I think of when I think about the band. Though the nostalgia factor plays a role in the inclusion of it on this list, it’s a great track regardless and peaked at number four on the UK singles chart when it was released. It was their highest-charting single in the UK, and though it didn’t climb higher than number sixty-five on the US Billboard charts, it’s a great rocker track that represents what KISS was, and is, all about: honest cheesiness.
6: “Forever” - ‘Hot In The Shade’
How could this KISS power-ballad, co-written by Michael Bolton - yes, THAT Michael Bolton - not make this list? It flows beautifully, features an equally beautiful Bruce Kulik acoustic solo and it’s one of Paul Stanley’s most heartfelt recordings.
The video received heavy airplay on MTV after fans made it the most requested song frequently, and it peaked at number eight on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
Seeing the look of joy on Gene’s face in the official video makes me wonder if it’s genuine or sarcastic, and that adds some fun to it. Every KISS fan has sat back and relaxed to this one, I’m sure. It’s a classic.
5: “Thou Shalt Not” - ‘Revenge’
This is classic, evil Gene. The ‘Revenge’ album showcases a lot of Demon Gene as six of the twelve tracks feature him as at least co-lead vocals. His writing and vocal style bring the heaviness and a much-needed balance to the band. You can almost always tell a Gene song from the opening riff before a word has been sung. Bruce provides his usual quality guitar solo in this one, utilizing a throaty wah-tone.
4: “God Gave Rock ‘N’ Roll To You II” - ‘Revenge’
This song pays tribute to two things: the original 1973 song, “God Gave Rock And Roll To You,” written by British rock band Argent, and to former drummer Eric Carr who passed away in 1991 after a battle with cancer. Bruce Kulick talked about how much Eric was loved and missed: “He played his heart out. He had more energy than I did. I couldn't believe it, but it meant a lot to him. You can see in his face in the video and photos that it's kind of drawn. You can tell that he wasn't healthy and fighting a disease, but I must say that he was very brave.”
The song is featured on the soundtrack to the 1991 film ‘Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey’ and the official band video includes footage from the film. In their tour history, it’s their second-most song used to close out shows, only behind “Rock N Roll All Nite.”
3: “Heaven’s On Fire” - ‘Animalize’
“Whoah-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh!”....and off they go. This was the best song on a much-maligned ‘Animalize’ album and peak KISS. The song reached number eleven on Billboard’s Hot 100 Mainstream Rock chart and is one of the select few tracks from the non-makeup era that they continued to play after the re-embrace of their face paint.
It was easily the biggest hit on the album, and the video unsurprisingly got heavy play on MTV. Paul Stanley checked a lot of his machismo at the door for this one, and Whoah-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh is this a great classic rock track.
2: “Domino” - ‘Revenge’
Another great, groovin’ Gene track deserves this spot on the list. A song about a young girl - too young to vote - who is Gene’s expensive bad habit. Out of the gate, it has an almost ZZ Top feel, and carries a great bluesy feel throughout; definitely, a different vibe than the band usually provides. Bruce’s inspired guitar work is excellent. This is my favorite track from the bare-faced era.
1: “Lick It Up” - ‘Lick It Up’
The video starts with a young lady climbing out of a manhole cover into a post-apocalyptic world where the band is roaming the street amongst human skulls and small fires while a separate group of young women are huddled around a fire. Amongst all the strangeness, the most noticeable thing is the pair of leopard print boots that Paul Stanley is wearing. It’s pure comedy gold.
That being said, “Lick It Up” is a very popular track that the band has played for live audiences more than fifteen hundred times as of December 2022, making it one of their most performed songs. Commercially, it failed to climb above number sixty-six on the American Billboard Hot 100, but broke the top forty in several other countries. It was their biggest hit from their sans make-up debut and is a fitting number one on this list.