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Kiss’ Top 10 Albums Ranked

The absolute cream of the Kiss crop

It’s been more than 40 years since Kiss released their debut album, and about 38 since music fans began debating whether the makeup-smeared New York City-bred foursome are rock & roll deities or merely false prophets in platform heels. The induction this year of the band — whose original lineup consisted of Paul Stanley, Gene Simmons, Ace Frehley and Peter Criss (a.k.a. the Starchild, the Demon, the Spaceman and the Catman) — into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame seemed to bring about a ceasefire between the Kiss Army and the band’s detractors, though only momentarily. And so the critical battle rages on, even as the fact remains that beneath the mounds of makeup and masses of merchandising lies a glitter-strewn heap of very, very good music. You want the best? You get the best. Here are the Top 10 albums (solo efforts not included) from the group many believe was, is and forever will be the Hottest Band in the World.

Courtesy Mercury Records

6

‘Dressed to Kill’ (1975)

If not as strong songwriting-wise as Hotter Than Hell, Dressed to Kill is certainly a more focused and sonically stronger album. Not to mention more upbeat — tracks like "Love Her All I Can," "Room Service" "Anything for My Baby" and the definitive closer, "Rock and Roll All Nite," are pure power-pop euphoria. Overall, it's an album that sounds made for the stage, which, in essence, it was — while Kiss were still struggling on the charts, they were fast becoming a hot ticket on the touring circuit. Which also explains the multiple odes to road spoils in songs like Simmons' "Ladies in Waiting" and Stanley's "Room Service," in which the Starchild gets his rocks off in hotel rooms, on airplanes and even in his hometown, with a "sweet sixteen, lookin' hot and mean." Until, that is, he "see[s] her dad, gettin' mad."

Courtesy Mercury Records

5

‘Hotter Than Hell’ (1974)

The production (not to mention the album art) leaves much to be desired, and the record itself basically tanked upon release, but Hotter Than Hell boasts more than its fair share of Klassic Kiss Kuts. The title track and "Got to Choose" are first-rate riff-rockers, with a glammy grooviness that's only enhanced by the fact that both sound as if the band is playing at half-speed. Frehley-penned cuts "Parasite" and "Strange Ways," meanwhile, show Kiss toughening up their sound from their just nine-months-old debut — so much so that the two tunes were later covered by Anthrax and Megadeth, respectively. And then there's Simmons' "Goin' Blind," a song so ominous and oozy that not one but two grunge-era acts — the Melvins and Dinosaur Jr. — took stabs at it in the early Nineties.

Courtesy Casablanca Records

4

‘Love Gun’ (1977)

The final studio effort of Kiss' glory years, after which they took a swan dive into a mucky pit filled with solo albums, disco balls, band-member switcheroos, concept records and all other manner of musical hijinks. And yet, not only are many of the songs top notch (opener "I Stole Your Love," the title track) but Love Gun also ranks as a true group effort. For the first time, all four members contribute lead vocals (Ace Frehley's "Shock Me" is a particular highlight — just ask the boys in Buckcherry, who basically rerecorded it as "Lit Up"), and they also lend one another a hand instrumentally, with Stanley playing a little lead guitar and bass and Simmons pitching in with some six-string rhythm work. Producer Eddie Kramer even jumps in on the action, adding some rollicking one-chord piano to Simmons' lascivious "Christine Sixteen." Recalled Kramer, "[Gene] actually coached me on how to play like a Neanderthal person."

Courtesy Casablanca Records

3

‘Destroyer’ (1976)

Alive! established Kiss as the Hottest (Live) Band in the World, and they chose to follow it by doing a virtual 180, offering up their most indulgent studio creation to that point. With Alice Cooper/Lou Reed producer Bob Ezrin in tow for Destroyer, the arrangements became more intricate and the sounds more diverse, with the band and producer introducing strings ("Beth"), car crash noises ("Detroit Rock City") and even the Brooklyn Boys Chorus ("Great Expectations") into the mix. Add in the Simmons calling card (though Stanley-penned) "God of Thunder," the soon-to-be live staple "Shout It Out Loud" and the positively explosive "King of the Night Time World," and you have an album that shows Kiss at the top of their game, even as cracks were beginning to appear — session ace Dick Wagner was brought in to track some guitar parts (on "Sweet Pain" and "Beth") after Ace Frehley failed to show up to the studio.

Courtesy Mercury Records

2

‘Alive!’ (1975)

The exciting cover shot alone was enough to put asses in arena seats, even though it's about as "live" as some of the sounds on this concert document. But Kiss were always masters of illusion, and with this 1975 double album they brought all the bomb-exploding, light-strobing, fire-breathing, blood-vomiting, greasepaint-streaked madness of the Kiss live experience direct to every teenager's bedroom, up through their oversized headphone cans and straight into the collective bloodstream. The track list is a veritable cherry-picking of the best tunes from the band's first three albums, with amped-up tempos and jacked-up crowd noises correcting the unjustly limp studio performances that saddled some of the originals, in particular the Hotter Than Hell material. And the version here of "Rock and Roll All Nite," hotrodded with a now-iconic Ace guitar solo, has since surpassed the studio take to stand as the definitive arrangement of the song. 

Courtesy Casablanca Records

1

‘Kiss’ (1974)

Kiss' debut crackles with an energy and exuberance that even the much-lauded Alive! doesn't match. And  song-wise, there ain't a stinker in the bunch (and, yes, that includes the reissue, with the super sugary cover of the Bobby Rydell hit, "Kissin' Time" tacked on). Leadoff cut "Strutter," a Stanley/Simmons glam-pop nugget that kinda sounds exactly like its title, remains perhaps Kiss' finest recorded moment, though track two, "Nothin' to Lose," runs a close second, with a buoyant, bass-led melody line, euphoric Beatles-y falsetto harmonies and the Demon, Starchild and Catman all trading off vox about trying to get in the back door. It's the true "Love Theme from Kiss."

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