There are two groups of music fans when it comes to Kiss co-founder and all-around weird guy Ace Frehley — those who love his songs and those who only think they don’t love his songs. I am firmly in the former camp, and have been for around 30 years.
While I would never make the argument that Frehley is one of the 10 or 20 greatest rock guitarists ever from a purely technical standpoint, I’ve always loved his playing style. It’s one of the big reasons Kiss became such a phenomenon in the ’70s, as much as Gene Simmons would like to forget it. And he’s actually a very good songwriter when he puts his mind to it.
To prove my point, I’ve assembled a group of 10 Frehley compositions that showcase his unique songwriting and playing gifts. They cover some of his best material from Kiss and his on-again off-again solo career.
Inspired by a near-electrocution at Kiss concert in December 1976, “Shock Me” has been Frehley’s signature song since it appeared on Kiss’s outstanding Love Gun album. Not only is it an excellent tune, it’s notable for being Frehley’s recorded debut as a lead vocalist. Speaking of which, legend has it that Frehley was so unsure of his singing ability that he recorded his vocal track while lying on the floor. Of course, he could have been fall-down drunk at the time anyway.
Frehley wasted absolutely no time blowing the doors off his Kiss bandmates on his 1978 solo album, one of four the band released in September of that year. In fact, the entire album is a scorcher from start to finish. I can hardly blame the guy for thinking he could leave Kiss and find success as a solo artist based on this LP. Kudos also to drummer Anton Fig, who matches Frehley step for step in instrumental virtuosity.
#3. “Cold Gin” (from Kiss, 1974)
I know what you’re thinking: Ace Frehley wrote a song about alcohol? The hell you say! Yup, it’s true. Alas, although this is one of Ace’s most recognizable and kickass songs, he didn’t feel up to singing on it and handed that job to Gene Simmons. It wasn’t until Ace left Kiss in the ’80s that he started singing this in concert.
#4. “Save Your Love” (from Dynasty, 1979)
If you want a kickass breakup song for your mixtape — or whatever it is you kids make these days — look no further than “Save Your Love,” the last track from Dynasty. It’s not quite as aggressive as “Rip It Out” but it is twice as bitter, and features some fine group vocal harmonies.
#5. “Fractured Mirror” (from Ace Frehley, 1978)
Lest you get the idea that Ace Frehley is all about hard rock swagger and smoking guitar solos, he ended his first solo album with this rather ambitious instrumental. It unfolds gently, with increasing layers of instrumentation building on a single, repeating guitar lick before exploding like a really trippy firework. Frehley liked the composition so much he added three more songs to the unofficial “Fractured” series on subsequent solo records, but the first is still the best.
Not only was Trouble Walkin’ just what this Frehley fan needed after the keyboard-heavy, glam metal gloss of 1988′s Second Sighting, it’s arguably the Space Man’s best album other than his Kiss solo disc. I’d even go so far as to say that this song, co-written by Frehley and longtime songwriting partner Richie Scarlet, is the hardest tune in Frehley’s arsenal. Sadly, Trouble Walkin’ was to be his last solo record for two decades.
#7. “Rock Soldiers” (from Frehley’s Comet, 1987)
By the time Frehley’s Comet was released in the summer of 1987, the world at large hadn’t heard from Ace since his departure from Kiss nearly half a decade earlier. This is the song that greeted fans when he finally emerged with his first post-Kiss solo record. And while the lyrics are rather clumsy (hey, no one claimed he was Bob Dylan), they get the message across perfectly. Ace was in fact back, and he told you so.
Man, when I think of the music Kiss could still be producing with Ace in the band, it makes me a little sad. And when I think of all the years that went by after 1989 with so little new Ace material, it makes me sadder. But man, was 2009′s Anomaly ever worth the wait. It’s easily the best record any member of Kiss has been associated with since the early 1990s.
#9. “Snow Blind” (from Ace Frehley, 1978)
Truthfully, I could have filled out most of this list with tracks from Frehley’s superb ’78 solo record and still had a damn good list. But since I’m limiting myself to three, “Snow Blind” has to get in. Not only is it one of the best songs on the LP, it features my favorite bridge section on it. Oh and don’t let the video below fool you — Ace plays everything on this track except drums.
#10. “Rocket Ride” (from Alive II, 1977)
This was the only song from the studio side of Alive II Frehley wrote or performed on, and it’s easily the best. Many Kiss fans have postulated that the studio portion of the LP is the true end of the classic Kiss era — as the four solo albums came out next year and Peter was not really involved in any Kiss-related recording after then — and I can’t really argue.