Released: September 18, 1983
Label: Mercury Records[/alert][/one_third]Upset with recent failures to go gold, KISS was sensing that it was time for a change. The band had grown weary of the carnival like atmosphere of their stage show and felt that their calling card had become the source of derision from the rock press. Sonically, they had radically changed their sound with each of their last three albums but now it was time to visually alter their look. For the first time since their early days playing in ratty clubs in Long Island and the outer boroughs of New York City, KISS would perform without its makeup.
Musically, Lick It Up was not much of a departure from Creatures of the Night, building on the albums pop metal sound. New lead guitarist Vinnie Vincent had a huge hand in new album with writing credits on 8 of the album’s 10 songs. However, tensions between him and Gene Simmons & Paul Stanley quickly arose. Simmons forced Vincent to slow down his typical mile a minute greatly to replicate Ace Frehley’s unique “monster plod” playing style. Vincent refused to sign any contracts to make his employment official. There were many disputes about his pay and his role in the band that led him to never officially becoming a member of the band (even though he’s credited as lead guitarist in the album’s liner notes).
KISS scored a big publicity coup when MTV agreed to air the band’s public unmasking in September of ’83. Though it was hardly the bonanza the revelation would have been if it happened four years earlier, it still brought the band back to public’s consciousness.
Fans who had missed the release of Creatures of the Night were pleasantly surprised that the band had returned to its original hard rock sound. Lick It Up doesn’t sound very different from the previous album and wasn’t a great improvement (if it was even one at all) but KISS fans who weren’t aware of their most recent work found it to be a breath of fresh air. Lick It Up became the first KISS album in three years to go Gold. Paul Stanley said in an interview that, as a result of the MTV Age, people were now beginning to listen with their eyes instead of their ears. The only reason he thought that Lick It Up had sold that much more copies than Creatures of the Night wasn’t because it was a better album but because KISS took off its makeup. That visual impact was enhanced by the fact that the videos for the albums two singles; “Lick It Up” and the bizarre proto rap-rock song “All Hell’s Breakin’ Loose” were in regular rotation on MTV.
During preparations for the band’s first non-makeup tour, the band was unsure which of its signature songs to retain and which to drop. Quickly, it was decided that “God of Thunder”, which featured Gene Simmons’ blood spitting routine would be dropped from the set. The Demon however retained his fire breathing shtick. They also retained Eric Carr’s war tank drum kit. Other than that, the band’s theatrics had been reduced for financial reasons during the Creatures of the Night/10th Anniversary tour so it was more or less a straight ahead arena rock show at that point anyway.
The bigger problem that emerged during the tour was Vinnie Vincent’s behavior. He was still upset about not receiving a bigger share of the band’s profits and behind the scenes, many claimed that The Ankh Warrior would proudly boast that he was the one solely responsible for KISS’ resurgence. He would showcase his “genius” during increasingly long guitar solos during KISS shows. Eventually, he began ignoring Stanley’s commands to stop, so the band could go into the next song, leaving the band on the stage to look silly while the Ankh-man shredded up a storm. The band kicked out Vincent after the European leg of the tour but since there was only a month between the end of that and the beginning of the North American leg of the tour, they were forced to bring Vincent back due to the lack of being able to find a replacement.
After a show at the Los Angeles Forum, Vincent and Paul Stanley had to be restrained from fighting each other by Eric Carr, Gene Simmons, and a number of roadies. During one of the last shows of the tour in Quebec City, Vincent burst into an impromptu guitar solo at the end of the show, leaving the rest of the band onstage doing nothing. Needless to say, Vincent was immediately fired by the band at the end of the tour in Spring of ’84. He later would form one of the more ridiculous hair metal bands of the ’80s, The Vinnie Vincent Invasion. Somewhat ridiculously, he would manage to get fired from the band he formed a few years later. Surprisingly, this won’t be the last we’ll see of The Ankh Warrior…
Lick It Up had proved to be a modest artistic and commercial success but far from the smash hit that they were looking for and a far cry from their event albums from the ’70s. With a new lead guitarist, KISS was opening to recapture the magic that had made them America’s most popular band a half decade before.
Hair Metal Era
Released: September 13, 1984
Label: Mercury Records[/alert][/one_third]We are now officially entering an era of KISS I don’t particularly care for… the hair metal years. Lick It Up was a modest success for KISS but was a far cry from their monster hits of the ’70s. KISS wanted to get back in the studio to start recording a follow up to try and continue their resurgence. First came the matter of replacing temperamental lead guitarist Vinnie Vincent. Hundreds of guitarists auditioned for the job. It was still a coveted job even though KISS was no longer the biggest band in America. A band who plays to half full arenas is still a band who plays arenas. Southern California axeman Mark St. John won the position. Stylistically, St. John was more similar to Vincent than original guitarist Ace Frehley. He was a highly technical, mile a minute shredder but had a less distinctive style than either of his predecessors.
At this point, Paul Stanley was carrying the band, musically speaking. Gene Simmons had begun pursuing an acting career, much to Stanley’s chagrin, which left The Demon unavailable much of the time. He was absent on all of the tracks except for the four songs that he sang on, with Paul Stanley or former Plasmatics bassist Jean Beauvoir playing bass on rest of the album. Creatively, Gene’s mind seemed in other places in the ’80s and it’s kind of obvious why all of the singles on all of the albums in the ’80s after Creatures of the Night were Paul’s songs.
Unfortunately for KISS, the third time wasn’t the charm in finding the right guitarist. St. John was upset about being overworked (he claims he would have to record for eight hours with Stanley then grab a cab and record eight hours with Simmons) and like Vincent, wasn’t happy about having to replicate Ace Frehley’s style.
KISS released their twelfth album Animalize in September of 1984 and its first single, “Heaven’s On Fire”, might be the definitive song of the band’s non-makeup era. The video was in constant rotation on MTV and that exposure helped the album become KISS’ first album to go platinum in five years and their biggest hit overall since Alive II. Animalize marked the first time Gene Simmons had to wear a wig, making him the source of much derision by Paul Stanley. Given the pants Stanley’s wearing and how he’s dancing in this video, he’s hardly the person who should be making fun of someone for looking goofy.
Right before the band was set to go to Europe to begin touring for the album, Mark St. John’s hands began to swell massively as a result of arthritis and he was forced to the sidelines. KISS panicked and wondered if they would be able to find a replacement on such short notice. Luckily, longtime KISS hired hand Bob Kulick told the band that his younger brother Bruce (who did some session work on Animalize) was available and he filled in for St. John on the tour. His easy going temperament and professionalism quickly endeared him to Gene & Paul. So in December of 1984, they officially named Bruce Kulick as their new guitarist. Besides, Eric Carr, Bruce Kulick is the one dude in the history of the band who I haven’t heard shit on by other members in their autobiographies. In fact, he’s the one member that Peter Criss doesn’t have any dirt on in his smack talk filled autobiography. He was definitely a breath of fresh air after the insane experiences KISS had with their last three guitarists.
Animalize was a surprise success and continued KISS’ upward momentum in the mid ’80s. But the lack up of a hit follow up single to “Heaven’s On Fire” had KISS back in the studio soon after the tour ended. If Animalize had seen KISS dipping their toes in the world of hair metal, their next album would see them diving in head first.
Next time on Connor’s KISS Korner: Gene and Paul (and Bruce and Eric) go glam… again. KISS enters the Asylum.