I’ve been watching Gene Simmons Family Jewels on and off since the series began, and for some reason, there was a bit of a marathon session last week. All the KISS merchandise shown in Simmons’s office on the show got me thinking about the amount of cash I laid down at the register for KISS stuff when I was but a boy. In sixth grade, KISS was a band that I worshipped, and my friends worshipped them too. We used to paint our faces (probably like millions of KISS fans), play air guitar to KISS records, and generally act like idiotic fanboys. And when not doing these things, it seemed like all we talked about was KISS. I wanted to play bass because of Gene Simmons, but my parents didn’t have enough money to pay for lessons. I used to mow lawns in my neighborhood to get money to buy the occasional KISS LP (Alive!, Destroyer, and Rock and Roll Over), posters of the band, Creem and Circus magazine (always great sources for KISS pics), and I even wanted to see them when they toured in support of the album Love Gun. Alas, my parents wouldn’t let me go.

The only one who’s more disappointed
that I couldn’t go see the Love Gun tour
in this pic was my dog. (c. 1977)

I bring all this up because even though KISS went from a rock band to a cartoonish joke to a moneymaking machine, they were, for many boys and girls growing up in the mid-’70s, the “hottest band in the land.” KISS was no joke to those of us who loved them for the makeup and the amazing stage shows. However, despite all the antics, it really was the music they made in their heyday (1974-1977) that fired up our young imaginations and fueled my preteen entry into rock music. What’s fascinating is that after all these years KISS still has the power to grab the spotlight and take us back to a time when we wanted to rock and roll all night and party ev-uh-ree day! (Sorry, I couldn’t help myself there.)

For this mix, I contacted a couple of my friends who are huge KISS fans, and together we cobbled together our top six KISS songs of all time.

“Deuce” [Live]

“Deuce” is probably my favorite song KISS does “live.” In this version, from 1975’s Alive!, the crowd is clearly fired up (thanks to overdubs), the band is doing an amazing job breathing new life into a song that really wasn’t all that great when it was originally done in the studio in ’74 (thanks to overdubs), and they have the great intro done by Jr. Smalling (thanks to an overdub). The whole album isn’t really live, but rather a re-creation of live performances that has a few live elements thrown in so KISS could put the “alive” appellation on the album cover. But, be that as it may, I still love what they were able to create with what they had.

“Nothin’ to Lose”

Well, if you believe Gene Simmons, this song is really about anal sex. Of course, listening to it when I was in sixth grade, I mindlessly repeated the chorus and thought it was just an awesome song. Doug, my sixth-grade bud, probably had no idea what it meant then as well, but for him this is one of the top KISS songs of all time.

“Hard Luck Woman”

This is also Doug’s choice. It’s one of those “softer-side” KISS songs that sounds an awful lot like early Rod Stewart.

“Shock Me”

My friend John is probably the biggest KISS-aholic I know. We work for the same company and have many parallels in our lives: we’re both guys who stumbled into a career in radio, we’re both deeply passionate about music, we both play instruments (in my case, not very well), and we both love KISS (though, truth be told, I think John loves them more than I do). John picked “Shock Me” for our mix; it’s noted for Ace Frehley’s lead-vocal debut.

“Makin’ Love”

The lyrics KISS writes are about as subtle as an anvil hitting your head. But still, John has picked a winner with this rocker that closes an LP I probably listened to more than any other KISS album. Plus, there’s a great, overblown drum fill right near the end of the song. Go, Peter Criss!

“Detroit Rock City”

As a single, this song tanked. However, I just love the fact that KISS constructed a “story” around it Á¢€” which comes to a tragic end. Taken from an event that actually happened to a KISS fan on the way to a show, the band used Detroit as the backdrop for the song because they wanted to write a tribute to a city that’s been a big supporter of rock music. One of my favorite parts of “Detroit Rock City” is the grooving bass hook Simmons is able to spike in there after each verse.

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