Rock And Roll All Nite

KISS Albums Ranked Worst To best

by Christopher Thelen

They have been opening their concerts for over 40 years now with the line, “You wanted the best, you got the best!” But, how many studio albums from the legendary hard rock group Kiss can actually live up to that bold statement?

There is no denying that the recorded output from Kiss has been cyclical over the years; some albums are met with near universal acclaim, while others are almost completely reviled. But what albums truly contain the best work of this band?

That's where I come in; presented for your perusal (as well as certain disdain I'll get from some diehard fans), I'm listing what I consider the band's albums in “worst to first” order. To compile this, I've re-listened to every album in order to get a fresh opinion of the work, as well as to have a solid reference point for me to determine if album “A” is truly better than album “B”.

For the purpose of this particular list, I am choosing to focus only on the studio efforts from Gene, Paul, and their rotating cast of support musicians. (No diss meant towards Ace or Peter; it's just that these particular roles have changed often over the years.) Only the original releases are being considered – meaning the reissue of Destroyer is not being ranked.

I am also electing to include the four solo albums from 1978 in this retrospective, for the simple reason that they were touted as being part of the Kiss catalog upon their release. (Note that no other solo effort from any past or present member of Kiss has included the band's logo like these four albums did. 'Nuff said.)

“But,” you may say, “other albums like Alive II contained new studio material!” This is true. In order to make this particular list, at least half of the material on the disc had to be new studio material. That would disqualify albums such as Alive II, as well as the infinite number of best-of compilations that continue to pop up. (Just as well, as I cringe every time I hear “Let's Put The X In Sex.”)

Finally…I should note that I actually wrote this before the “End Of The Road” tour kicked off, and it’s been floating around my hard drive since then. (Hey… I’ve been busy.)

With no further ado, let us dive in, shall we?

kiss_elder_15024. Music From “The Elder” (1981)

Take away the insipid idea of the music being a concept for a film which was never made, and… okay, this album would still suck. It doesn't matter what order you shuffle these songs, poor songwriting and half-hearted performances aren't going to turn shit into gold. Yet there is one promising track on the disc – and, ironically, it comes from Ace Frehley, who was essentially out the door by this time. Eric Carr had to be wondering what he signed up for when this one came out. Worth Checking Out: “Dark Light,” “Escape From The Island”

23. Unmasked (1980)kiss_unmasked_150

A Kiss album in name only, this features no input from Peter Criss, further cementing the idea that the band had become the “Gene & Paul Show” (with occasional contributions from Ace Frehley). Musically, they were adrift, with no idea which direction they should go, and the end result is just as disjointed as one could imagine it to be. Unlike early Kiss albums, this was predictable, sterile, and unexciting – in short, everything that Kiss wasn't supposed to be. Worth Checking Out: “Shandi,” “Tomorrow”

kiss_animalize 22. Animalize (1984)

The revolving door of lead guitarists continued on this one, as Mark St. John made his sole appearance as a member of Kiss (though his exit was due to illness), but it's too bad he couldn't have made his mark on a better album. With Gene Simmons more interested in playing actor rather than focusing on his band, it was left mostly up to Paul Stanley to push this one forward – and the end result is forgettable. Worth Checking Out: “Heaven's On Fire,” “Thrills In The Night”

21. Dynasty (1979)kiss_dynasty_150

This is where the wheels really began to fall off the Kiss juggernaut. Trying to capture the modern popular musical flavor of the day in lieu of the hard rock they had become known for was a massive failure with “I Was Made For Lovin' You,” and from then on, the album was never able to recover. The fact that this was the first album that didn't feature all four members on the entire album was further proof that the decline had started. Worth Checking Out: “Magic Touch,” “Hard Times,” “X-Ray Eyes”

kiss_petercriss_15020. Peter Criss (1978)

It's too easy to just beat up on this album, simply because it's the drummer's solo effort. If this disc proves anything, it shows that Criss was dependable for the occasional contribution to Kiss, but when it comes to a whole album of such songs, it tends to show the limitations of both his singing and his songwriting (despite relying on outside songwriters for four of the disc's ten tracks). Worth Checking Out: “That's The Kind Of Sugar Papa Likes, “Easy Thing”

19. Revenge (1992)kiss_revenge_150

Yet another transition album, albeit one out of the band's control as drummer Eric Carr died following a battle against cancer. Unfortunately, it serves as yet another slide backwards into potential oblivion, as there is precious little here to keep the listener's interest. Not even Vinnie Vincent's brief return as a songwriter helps this album out. Nearly 20 years into their career, and they still had to rely on cover songs (“God Gave Rock 'N' Roll To You II”)?!? Puh-leeze. One notable saving grace, though, is the raw, almost unpolished sound of “Domino” – a definite, and welcomed, change of pace for Kiss. Worth Checking Out: “Unholy,” “Domino,” “Every Time I Look At You”

kiss_monster_150 18. Monster (2012)

For an album that features a track called “Back To The Stone Age,” it sure feels like Kiss stepped back into something with this release. Never mind the more muddied production sound, the songwriting on this one is simply uninspired, leading to similarly uninspired performances. All in all, a bit of a sonic mess (to partially borrow their previous album's title). If anything, Tommy Thayer's strong contribution to the album with “Outta This World” makes me wonder whether this disc would have been better had he contributed more… and whether Kiss could actually survive without Gene and/or Paul as they've hinted in the past. Worth Checking Out: “Hell Or Hallelujah,” “Outta This World”     

17. Hot In The Shade (1989)kiss_hotintheshade_150

The final full album that featured drummer Eric Carr (and, I believe, the only time he was featured as lead vocalist), Kiss leaves the '80s the same way they came in – with bland, uninteresting material. The longest Kiss album at 15 tracks, they easily could have pared this down to a 10-song disc, though I question whether it would have been that much better. Then again, leaving “Love's A Slap In The Face” off would have helped. Worth Checking Out: “Hide Your Heart,” “Forever,” “Little Caesar”

kiss_hotter 16. Hotter Than Hell (1974)

It's not that the material on this album is particularly bad, it's that it features one of the WORST production efforts I've ever heard in my life. Featuring less notable material than the debut effort (and significantly more filler), this one is a step backwards for the band (even when it was out of their control). Worth Checking Out: “Parasite,” “Hotter Than Hell”

15. Lick It Up (1983)kiss_lickitup_150

It never fails…good songwriting gets bad production, while great production features weaker songs. The first album featuring the band without makeup (and the final album with Vinnie Vincent as lead guitarist), the title track is probably the best song on the whole disc. With the exception of the abysmal “All Hell's Breaking Loose,” the Paul Stanley-penned songs are the highlights of this collection. It's a definite step backwards after the return to their hard rock roots on Creatures Of The Night. Worth Checking Out: “Lick It Up,” “Exciter”

kiss_sonic_150 14. Sonic Boom (2009)

After almost a decade of studio inactivity, Kiss returned with, well, about half of a fantastic album. For every “Modern Day Delilah” and “Never Enough,” though, there was a “Stand” and “Danger Us” which dared to suggest that all the progress Kiss had made on their previous two studio albums was all for naught. This album, unfortunately, smacks of what could have been in terms of songwriting. Musically, Tommy Thayer melds well with Stanley, Simmons and Eric Singer… though Thayer is the stronger singer and songwriter of the two newest additions. Worth Checking Out: “Modern Day Delilah,” “Russian Roulette,” “Never Enough,” “Say Yeah”

13. Gene Simmons (1978)kiss_genesimmons_150

As one of the two main songwriters in Kiss, Gene Simmons's solo album should have been the one that sounded the most like Kiss. However, he dared to move across the musical spectrum with this effort – not a terrible idea, to be honest, but the execution left a lot to be desired. Even utilizing superstars like Donna Summer and Cher as part of the musical scenery doesn't help a whole lot. Worth Checking Out: “Radioactive,” “True Confessions”

kiss_crazynights_15012. Crazy Nights (1987)

It's not the addition of keyboards that weakens this disc, nor is it the introduction of a radio-friendly sound (which, in all honesty, Kiss had been chasing since at least Asylum). Where Crazy Nights goes wrong is in over-reliance of using outside songwriters to co-author these tracks with very little ingenuity to them. At least Simmons isn't responsible for the most blatant “think with your dick” song in “Bang Bang You” – honestly, Paul, what in the hell were you and Desmond Child thinking?!? (Then again, “Reason To Live” is one of the better Kiss songs they had cranked out in some time, so maybe there was method to that madness.) Worth Checking Out; “Crazy Crazy Nights,” “No No No,” “Reason To Live”

11. Dressed To Kill (1975)kiss_dressed

This album stands out for two reasons: improved production quality and less plodding, more uptempo numbers. It still showed a band in growing pains, but most definitely coming into their own. Still a bit too much filler on this one, though. If for only one thing, this disc will be remembered for giving the world “Rock And Roll All Nite,”  which is really not a bad thing. Worth Checking Out: “Room Service,” “Rock And Roll All Nite”

kiss_psychocricus_15010. Psycho Circus (1998)

A “reunion” album in name only. The original foursome play together on all of one song, and it's not among the album's best, but this is still surprisingly a better album than many people admit to. I still cringe, though, at “I Pledge Allegiance To The State Of Rock & Roll,” a lame title that really does distract from a song which isn't too bad. Still, I'd have gladly sacrificed some quality of the overall product if this had been an actual reunion album. Worth Checking Out: “Psycho Circus,” “We Are One”

9. Creatures Of The Night (1982)kiss_creatures_150

A return to their hard rock roots was a welcome change for the band, even if their lineup was still in flux, with Vinnie Vincent (as well as a few other hired guns) taking over the lead guitar role. This disc marked their strongest album as a band in a five-year span. It's not a return to form for Kiss, but a definite step in the right direction. And with a better production job, it might have been an even better album. Worth Checking Out: “Creatures Of The Night,” “I Love It Loud,” “Danger”

kiss_acefrehley_1508. Ace Frehley (1978)

Frehley might not have followed the cock-rock style of songwriting that Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons seemed to worship, but what he lacked in that regard, he made up for in songwriting. Frehley might not have been the strongest singer in Kiss, but he showed his contributions were worthwhile. Easily the most accessible of the four solo albums. Worth Checking Out: “Rip It Out,” Fractured Mirror,” “Ozone”

7. Asylum (1986)kiss_asylum_150

Let's be honest: the '80s output of Kiss tends to be severely maligned. But of their releases during this period in their career, this one proves to be the most solid. Featuring the official debut of Bruce Kulick as lead guitarist (and, until Eric Carr's death a few years later, stability to their lineup), the band finally sounds like they're firing on all cylinders again. Granted, it's still not as good as their classic material, but some of these tracks deserve to be held in the same regard. (I'll admit, I've never liked “Tears Are Falling,” though.) Worth Checking Out: “Trial By Fire,” “I'm Alive,” “Love's A Deadly Weapon”

kiss_s-t 6. Kiss (1974)

The debut effort from the band is a bit plodding at time – the songs just didn't have the energetic snap that they would develop over the years – but the overall effort proves to be well worth the time to listen to. That is, once you get past the abysmal “Love Theme From Kiss” and “Kissin' Time.” Worth Checking Out: “Strutter,” “Cold Gin,” “Deuce”

5. Love Gun (1977)kiss_lovegun

After a few solid albums, the cracks in the Kiss veneer began to show with this release. There were still some great tracks to be found, but it felt like many of the songs seemed rushed and half-baked, and the inclusion of a gender-modified cover of “Then She Kissed Me” suggested harder times ahead for Kiss. Worth Checking Out: “Shock Me,” “Christine Sixteen,” “Love Gun”

kiss_carnival_150 4. Carnival Of Souls: The Final Sessions (1997)

For what was essentially a throw-away album, originally junked after the original line-up reunited, then released after bootlegs began circulating, I have to hand it to Kiss for actually trying something completely new with their sound… because, dammit, it works! Here, it actually sounds like the band is interested in the songs themselves, to hell with pop sensibility or chart position. The more grunge-like sound to the band actually fits them surprisingly well. One can only wonder what would have happened had either this album been promoted with a full tour, or if Kiss had continued pursuing this avenue of their music with future releases. Worth Checking Out: “Hate,” “Childhood's End,” “Jungle, “I Walk Alone”

3. Paul Stanley (1978)kiss_paulstanley_150

Arguably the strongest of the four solo albums, Stanley also held the distinction of being the only one to use all-original material on his disc. That alone is not the reason his disc ranks where it is; the fact that it sounds the most like classic Kiss is more indicative of its power. While the music on this one is enjoyable, the one negative is that there isn't a real stand-out track (despite it spawning a Top 50 single with “Hold Me Touch Me”). Worth Checking Out: “It's Alright,” “Move On,” “Ain't Quite Right”

kiss_destroyer 2. Destroyer (1976)

The album where Kiss finally hit their stride, both in terms of songwriting and performance. Yes, the orchestration may have been a bit much at times, but there is no denying that this disc – with perhaps one or two small missteps – is the one which made Kiss superstars. And, frankly, this disc backs it up with hit after hit, even working in a successful ballad! Worth Checking Out: “Shout It Out Loud,” “King Of The Night Time World,” “Beth”

1. Rock And Roll Over (1976)kiss_rock

This may be seen as sacrilege among diehard Kiss fans, but I've always enjoyed this album more than Destroyer. Maybe it's because it was the first Kiss album I ever owned, maybe it's because I felt that there was almost no filler on this particular album. Maybe it's just that Kiss took the lessons they learned on Destroyer and filtered them even finer to create a solid, rocking disc. Whatever the case, even with slightly weaker production, it remains a favorite.Worth Checking Out: “Calling Doctor Love,” “Ladies Room,” “Hard Luck Woman”

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