Being a ten year-old boy in 1976, it is more than understandable that my first favorite band was KISS.
I wasn’t old enough to be a fan from the outset—the band’s self-titled debut being released when I was not quite eight—and it might surprise rock historians that I think my timeline with the band was better than it would have been had I been a little older.
I missed the heyday firsthand, but I got to see the band go through hardship, line up changes, and stylistic changes on the way to recreating themselves as a classic hard rock band.
That recreation began with Dynasty in 1979, when the band tried to grab their previous glory with disco-based rock. Next came 1980’s Unmasked, which was the closest thing to a pop album the band ever released–and which was reviewed on this site last year–and 1981’s The Elder, a failed attempt into the world of fantasy concept albums.
Drummer Peter Criss left during the recording of Dynasty—he’d be credited as a member of the band through Unmasked—and lead guitarist Ace Frehley felt himself alone in the band and soon followed suit, being pictured on the cover of Creatures, while he didn’t play on any of its tracks.
This set the stage for 1982, a new band (the touring band that came out of the turmoil included Eric Carr on drums and Vinnie Vincent on lead guitar), and the return of KISS as a hard rock band. The thing was, this hard rock band was a better one than they’d been in the 70s.
I know, right? How audacious I must be to consider the band that created 82’s Creatures of the Night better than the one that did Destroyer and Love Gun, and maybe I’m wrong, but I’ll put Creatures up against each of the classics any day.
Even if I can sometimes think Destroyer is a better album, it doesn’t have the history for me that Creatures does.
When I’m your fan, I’m rooting for you, and coming on the heels of the failures of Unmasked and The Elder, KISS needed a win, and I was really rooting for them to have one with Creatures of the Night.
What they got was a win, but it really wasn’t. They got a win in that they released what is arguably one of the best rock and roll albums they ever recorded, but they lost when it came to sales. The strength of the album didn’t matter, because much of the fan base had been alienated in the five years since the band had last recorded a hard rock album.
Still, the album was strong, and I, not knowing anything about the continuing to wane sales–Creatures wouldn’t be certified gold in the United States until 1994–or that the tour became the first KISS tour to end incomplete and bankrupt, was pleased with the band for their efforts and output.
“I Love it Loud” was the first single off the album, and I heard it for the first time one day after school on Rock 105. Then it was on; I knew that my heroes had finally gotten back to their hard rock roots, even though I’d only heard the one song.
Not long after, I got my first copy of the album. Steve was at school at Grenville State, and he taped a copy from a guy named Bob Dinkler.
Listening to it that first time was one of the greatest musical events of my formative years. With some albums you have to listen them a number of times to appreciate their greatness. That was not the case with me and Creatures. I thought that “I Still Love You” was a bit of a drag–still do–but just that; the rest of it was pure and simply well made hard rock music.
There’s one sure way to tell that Creatures was a hard rock album, and that is that Gene sang lead vocals on more tracks (five) than Paul (four). That didn’t happen often; in fact, that might have been the only time it did happen. Still, despite the down turn of “I Still Love You,” Paul brought plenty of his own rock and roll to the tale. Writing with Adam Mitchell, Paul brought the title track as well as the standout tracks “Keep Me Comin” and “Danger.”
And then it was Gene’s turn, and he, writing some with Vinnie Vincent, one track with Mikel Japp, and even a couple of songs with Bryan Adams and Jim Vallance, offered perhaps the strongest collection of songs that he ever put on any KISS album. “Saint and Sinner,” “Rock and Roll Hell,” “I Love it Loud,” “Killer,” and “War Machine” are splendid heavy metal music across the board.
And that is Creatures of the Night. At nine tracks, it’s as short an album as KISS ever put out, but even with what had then become the obligatory softer track, it’s a bastion of American hard rock music in those 70s into 80s days, when what had been was giving way to what was going to be.
This is the album that I want to give people who have some preconceived notion that KISS never played any great rock and roll. This album proves that they did; this album is great rock and roll.
The best thing about it right now is that it’s right here. All you have to do is click on the link below, and in 40 minutes you’ll understand what gave this pen the push.
Much love, my friends. Rock on.