Paul Stanley: My Life In 10 Kiss Songs
The Kiss singer and guitarist looks back at the 10 songs that built his career
Paul Stanley has watched the band he formed with partner-in-crime Gene Simmons more than 40 years ago mutate from scrappy New York Dolls clones into one of the most iconic American bands ever.
If Simmons is Kiss’ hyperactive mouth, then Stanley remains its beating heart – he’s one that kept the flame burning through the lean times of the 80s and 90s, and he’s here to look back over the band’s illustrious history. With more than 20 albums to their name, that’s an awful lot of music to take in, so to make it easier for him, we’ve boiled it down to 10 pivotal songs.
Rock And Roll All Nite (1975)
Rock and Roll All Nite is astounding, in that every night we play it, it brings on a euphoria and a feeling of abandon in the crowd, everything that was it supposed to do. It was meant to be a rock anthem that would sum up the philosophy and common point of view between Kiss and our fans. I remember sitting with my guitar in my hotel room in what was then the Continental Hyatt House, on Sunset in LA, and trying to figure out how to encapsulate what Kiss is about and what our fans are about, and very quickly I came up with the melody, the chords, and the way the lyric and hook would repeat. Gene had a song called Drive Me Wild and I basically took his verse and put it to my chorus, and that is Rock and Roll All Nite.
Detroit Rock City (1976)
Once again, this was a calling card of sorts for Kiss. I always believe that albums, particularly ours, should start with a song that captures the spirit of what you’re going to get on the rest of the album, and Detroit Rock City was very much that for Destroyer. The surprise was that when radio stations got the single, they flipped it over to play Beth [the single’s B-side] and lo and behold we got a massive hit with a different song. It’s funny, because back then when you put out a single to radio and to the public you chose a B-side that was the weakest track on the album, or at least the track that was least likely to ever make it onto the radio, and yet we ended up having a massive hit with this song that we never imagined connecting. You can plot your career so carefully, but sometimes those happy accidents end up helping to determine where you’re going to go. This TV performance was huge for us: after this, we were genuine superstars.
Tonight You Belong To Me (1978)
I wasn’t trying to compete with anyone on my solo album, except with myself to write the best possible songs. Tonight You Belong To Me is a song that started out as an acoustic guitar chord pattern, kinda as a prelude to all hell breaking loose, like with I Want You or Black Diamond, which was a set up I used sometimes. It’s a song that’s about a dramatic and tumultuous relationship I was in at the time, where I knew that the next morning it was going to be over. Everyone has had that night at the end of the relationship where it’s that awkward last night, when the cards have all been laid out, but you think ‘Well, whatever happens tomorrow I can’t control, but tonight you belong to me.’ The relationship didn’t work, but at least I got a great song out of it.
I Was Made For Loving You (1979)
I Was Made For Loving You came out of a time when the band was a bit lost: we’d reached a point where we had kinda forgotten why we were Kiss, and why we loved doing what we did. We were all, in some ways, drunk on success: there were sycophantic friends around, there were drugs, there was alcohol, there was every kind of vice that fame brings with it. At the time, I think we had maybe lost some of our rock edge and were a bit more concerned about getting peer acceptance, and that’s always a poisoned idea, because you should never forsake the people who love you for ones who don’t. It was written at a time when I was hanging out at [infamous NYC nightclub] Studio 54, and I was thinking ‘Gee, I could write one of these songs.’ All the songs at Studio 54 seemed to be about ‘tonight’ – about having a good time in the present rather than thinking about the future – and so I went home, set the drum machine to 126 beats per minute, and got to work. Like many of the songs on Dynasty, it didn’t particularly sound the way I had hoped, but nonetheless it was great song, and a huge worldwide hit. But if it’s not to everyone’s taste, I understand.
My background is as much singer-songwriters as it is hard rock, and as much Motown and Philly Soul as it is hard rock: my influences have always been quite diverse. I’ve always believed that if you only listen to one kind of music you’ll produce pretty defective songs in the sense that they’ll have no breadth. And a song like Shandi basically comes from me sitting with a 12 string acoustic guitar. Before I could plug into a Marshall amp, I used to have a harmonica around my neck and an acoustic guitar and I used to go to Greenwich Village to see singer-songwriters, and Shandi is part of that tradition. Lyrically it’s about a relationship, one of those relationships where you just keep going on even though you kinda know it should be over, where you should really be saying ‘Goodbye’ rather than ‘Goodnight’, but you can’t end it.
It's from Music From “The Elder”. Hmmm, this isn’t one of my favourites. Gene has written some very good songs, but to me this isn’t one of them. I think it was an attempt to write an anthem, but it’s a bit light-hearted, and it sounds a bit like a commercial, it doesn’t really have any gravitas or depth to it. Gene has written great songs, but that’s not in my top 10.
Lick It Up (1983)
I love Lick It Up. The interesting thing with a band like us is that songs don’t become ‘classic’ overnight, it takes years for songs to take on classic status, because often they’re a snapshot of a certain time in your life. There are songs on Sonic Boom and Monster that’ll be regarded as classics some day, but it might take a little time. Lick It Up is a very simple song, a song which used tried and true elements, but all great songs have a great chorus, and the challenge is to find a verse and a bridge that takes you to that special place, and Lick It Up has all of those. It’s a song that goes down a storm at this point. Is Vinnie Vincent on my Christmas card list now? No, he hasn’t been on there for quite a while.
Crazy Crazy Nights (1987)
It’s a simple, celebratory song. One of my issues with an album like Carnival of Souls was the idea that we needed to do an album that was kinda morose and down: I was thinking ‘What do we have to be morose or down about? We’re wealthy, we’re happy, we’re healthy…we’re in Kiss!’ So, Crazy Nights is a celebration, a song about standing up for who you are, and understanding that you’re not alone, that there are many like you. We played a TV show a number of years ago with Queen and Brian [May] came over and said ‘Are you going to play Crazy Crazy Nights? Because that’s my favourite song.’ That was very funny to hear from him. It’s a good song, a proud song. There’s a difference between trying to be anthemic and pandering, and I don’t think Kiss ever try to ingratiate ourselves.
Modern Day Delilah (2009)
I think it’s important – particularly for a band that’s as good as we are live – not to rely on nostalgia. We’re thrilled and proud to play the old songs, but at the same time, we can stand on the songs that we do now. Modern Day Delilah is just a super track. Funnily enough I just heard it last week at a social event we were at, and I immediately thought ‘Gee, this is really, really good.’ We made a conscious decision to narrow the writing pool and outside input on Sonic Boom, and indeed Monster: I was adamant that the only way I was going to be part of the album was if I produced it and if we stuck to some rules, namely no outside writers, we play as a band and we hand-pick the best songs. The idea that anyone is entitled to songs on the album, or that everyone should have a quota, is nonsense: you earn a song on the album because it’s good. Democracy doesn’t work for bands: we can all get in the car, but someone has to drive. Modern Day Delilah was a great re-introduction for people to see that this band is more than alive and well.
Hell Or Hallelujah (2012)
I love Hell or Hallelujah, we play it every night. Once again, it has all the elements to me of what makes Kiss great. And again, I love starting an album with a calling card song, and this does that. I think it has elements of where we came from, and it touches upon some of the bands who inspired us, and it’s a modern Kiss classic.