Monday, July 11, 2022

The Romantic Starchild: Kiss, "Paul Stanley"

Kiss, Paul Stanley CD (Mercury, 1978)

In 1978, after the release of million-selling Alive II the previous year—and while they were producing their television movie, Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park—the members of Kiss each released a solo album. Each record featured a portrait of the individual member painted by Eraldo Carogati and included an insert poster that, when combined with the others in the series of solo albums, formed a mural of the band in all its rock ‘n’ roll glory. As a young, grade school-aged record buyer, my only piece of that mural (the Paul Stanley piece, I believe)—as well as the oversized poster included with 1979’s Dynasty—ranked among my prized possessions.

According to a 2020 Rocking in the Norselands article, the band’s solo records were in part contractual obligations but also offered the hard-rocking and -working foursome some time off from the band and an opportunity to exert more creative control as individuals. Kiss members Ace Frehley and Peter Criss were particularly frustrated with their limited creative input to the most popular band in America.

Guitarist and romantic Starchild Paul Stanley’s nine-song outing featured all original songs, most of them written by Stanley but several cowritten with Mikel Japp, a Welsh musician who also wrote songs for Kiss and British rock act The Babys. Perhaps the most Kiss-like of the four solo albums, the resulting songs suggest that Stanley was quite satisfied with his creative involvement. While slightly slower and more mellow than some Kiss records, there are a couple of notable songs among the playlist.

“Wouldn’t You Like to Know Me?” might be my favorite track. Though no one else from Kiss performs on the album, it’s pretty much a Kiss song but also feels adjacent to power pop or musicians such as Elvis Costello or Cheap Trick. I can easily imagine another band covering it without embarrassment. Later in the album, “It’s Alright” is also a simple, rollicking pleaser that very much feels within Kiss’ wheelhouse.

Unfortunately, despite a marketing investment by Casablanca Records of $2.5 million, the records didn’t do that well. Stanley’s sides reached No. 40 on the Billboard 200 and haven’t really had any lasting impact beyond the release of four solo records on the same day. (Green Day’s 2012 trilogy of albums Uno!, Dos!, and Tre! gently approached the concept.) Some critics contend that the solo albums and TV movie signify the beginning of the end of the band’s massive popularity.

Besides, what better way to test the mettle and popularity of a band’s members individually than to release solo albums at the same time? Stack ranking their sales is a natural next step. Similar to reality TV shows such as Survivor, it’s a savvy and not-so-subtle way to thin the herd and identify top talent. A 2021 Spinditty piece suggests that that might not be too far off the mark: “​​[T]he band was beginning to rot from the inside. As Kiss got bigger, interpersonal relationships between the four members were getting progressively worse. Where once the quartet's motto had been ‘All for one, one for all,’ their massive success had seemingly given each member a new philosophy: ‘What's in it for me?’” 

It wasn’t that many years before Criss and Frehley departed Kiss, with Gene Simmons and Stanley remaining to align with a number of largely interchangeable members for future releases. Criss and Frehley both eventually returned in the late 1990s to reprise the classic lineup.

Perhaps to bolster his position on the island that was Kiss, Stanley didn’t stack his solo release with an all-star cast of performers and didn’t include any cover songs. The backup band, while far from nobodies, stopped short of posing any risk to or eclipsing Stanley’s talent. Guitarist Bob Kulick, who had auditioned for Kiss but was passed by for Frehley, played uncredited on several Kiss releases and also performed with Meat Loaf’s touring band and W.A.S.P. (Interestingly, Kulick’s brother Bruce later joined Kiss.) Guitarist Steve Lacey also performed on Gene Simmons’s solo record before turning to composition.

Bassist Steve Buslow also played with Meat Loaf, as well as Bonnie Tyler, while bassist Eric Nelson recorded several records with Nick Gilder. Drummer Richie Fontana played with Laura Branigan, while drummer Craig Krampf established a relatively impressive career as a session musician with Steve Perry, Kim Carnes, The Motels, and Alice Cooper. And piano man Doug (“The Gling”) Katsaros went on to score for animated series such as Bucky O'Hare and the Toad Wars! and The Tick.

Of the personnel on Stanley’s solo album, Carmine Appice—who only played on one track, the dreamily yearning “Take Me Away (Together As One)”—offers the most impressive, wide-ranging, and long-lasting resume as a musician. Dating back to the 1960s, Appice performed and recorded with Vanilla Fudge, Cactus, Rod Stewart, King Kobra, and others, also releasing solo recordings of his own. He remains active to this day, and Cactus’ Tightrope came out just last year.

What was Appice doing hiding on Stanley’s solo album, gracing just a single song? He might be the best musician ever to perform in Kiss, even if briefly, almost an afterthought. Listen to that song, paying close attention, just to appreciate Appice’s drum work.

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