On September 18th, 1978, 40 years ago today, Kiss released 4 albums in one day: solo albums of all the individual Kiss members. Consequently, Ace Frehley did as well. His album was the best of the four, by far.
On April 27th, 1951, Paul Frehley was born in the Bronx, New York. He got his first electric guitar for his birthday in 1965 and got hooked on the instrument. When he saw the likes of The Who and Cream perform in 1967, he decided to become a full-time guitar player. He began playing in bands and was even more determined after witnessing Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page. Around this time he took on the nickname Ace.
Despite the good will and hard work his career didn’t really take off, so when he came across an ad in 1972 from a hard rock band that wanted to mix music and theater, he got in touch. Within a few weeks Frehley officially joined the band, that consisted of bass player/singer Gene Simmons, guitar player/singer Paul Stanley and drummer Peter Criss. Together they would form the band Kiss. In the early days, Frehley’s talent for graphic design came in handy. He designed his own (make-up) mask (spaceman) and the famous Kiss logo, replacing the last two letters with two lightning bolts (⚡).
After a period of time where the band barely had enough money to eat, the band found its way to the top after the release of the 1975 (double) live album Alive!. It all changed after that. Everything the band touched turned into gold (and platinum). But, fame caught up with the band. Peter Criss was fired in 1980, because by that time he had become completely dysfunctional. Frehley’s alcohol and drug use escalated ever more. He felt increasingly unhappy in the band. Not just because of his best friend Criss leaving, but also because the band started experimenting with other kinds of music, like disco. Frehley left Kiss in 1982.
It took 5 years before Frehley’s band, Frehley’s Comet, would release their debut album, which was followed by an album and EP in 1989. In the meantime Frehley gave some attention to his graphic design talents. It even led to his work being exhibited at an art gallery.
After years of arguments and insults, generally hurled through the press (in public), the original line-up of Kiss reconvened in 1995 in honor of an episode of the music program MTV Unplugged. The band went on tour with that line-up, and they went all the way: make-up, stage and the spectacle of the older days. The result was the very successful (and lucrative) 1996-1997 Alive Worldwide Tour, which I witnessed in Utrecht. Unfortunately, I regard that show, together with a Michael Jackson show a year earlier, to be the worst show I ever saw. This could not be attributed to Frehley in any way.
However, things went wrong, again. Peter Criss quit in 2000 and Frehley followed soon thereafter. In 2009 he released the album Anomaly, which was followed by his (auto)biography in 2011, titled No Regrets. It contains an honest and open account of his life and his battle against addictions to alcohol and cocaine, which he kicked in 2006.
The original Kiss members reconvened once again on April 10th, 2014, to commemorate the induction of Kiss into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. The band didn’t perform. In August of the same year, Frehley released solo album Space Invader. In 2017 Frehley was invited as a guest on stage during a Gene Simmons show at St. Paul, Minnesota.
In my opinion, Frehley is highly underrated as a guitar player. His playing has been very important to Kiss, but also for people like Eddie Van Halen, who really listened to Frehley. In the early 1990’s Frehley received high praise from the new breed of guitar players, like Soundgarden’s Kim Thayil, Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready and Pantera’s Dimebag Darrell.
Kiss in 1978
Up to Alive II the band could do no wrong. However, the end of the golden era announced its arrival soon. The band was everywhere, causing over exposure. The band’s merchandising machine played a huge part in that. It reached its zenith in 1978: Marvel comic books (with real Kiss blood!), a pinball machine, dolls, “Kiss Your Face Makeup” kits, Halloween masks, board games, lunch boxes, cards, bedroom bed sheets and curtains, etc, etc. The official fanclub, the Kiss Army, had more than 100.000 members.
The first release in 1978 was on April 2nd: compilation double album Double Platinum. Because the album contained a re-recorded version of the Kiss classic Strutter (called Strutter ’78), may fans felt obliged to buy the album.
The band and their manager Bill Aucoin had prepared a strategy for 1978 ensuring the consolidation of their popularity and bringing new experiences for the band and their fans. Besides Double Platinum, four solo albums and a movie would be released in 1978.
Each band member would release a solo album on the same day. I was under the impression that the solo albums were partly born out of necessity. The individual members, Criss and Frehley in particular, supposedly felt trapped by the band’s restrictions. In order to keep that discontent under control, 1978 was meant to be a year of minimal band activities, giving the band members the opportunity to release the music they wanted. However, only recently I read that their 1976 contract provided the possibility of releasing 4 solo albums, counting each album as half an album within the 5 record deal.
Besides the novelty of it (no other band had ever released four solo albums on one day), it gave way to offering the members the chance to show and record their own preferred music and songs. The Frehley and Stanley albums were rock orientated and could, musically speaking, be linked to the Kiss sound, but the Criss and Simmons albums deviated quite a lot from the fans’ expectations.
On September 18th, 1978, the albums were released, under the Kiss moniker. The album’s titles contained the names of the band members. Record company Casablanca spent over $ 2,5 million on advertising and marketing and announced that over 5 million copies had been shipped to record stores. A problem, because none of the albums sold well (especially when held up to the standards Kiss had grown accustomed to) and the stores had to find space for the large amount of albums that couldn’t be sold. Frehley’s album outsold the other albums and the album’s single, New York Groove, was the biggest Kiss hit since Beth. None of the other solo album singles was that successful.
Film: Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park
The band was going to make a movie, meant to be a hybrid between The Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night and Star Wars. Filming started in the spring of 1978. However, the story was embarrassingly thin and underwent many adjustments. The band’s expectations were not met at all.
The movie, Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park, was broadcast by NBC on October 28th, 1978. after going through many changes (once again) the movie was released in movie theaters outside of the United States as Attack of the Phantoms. At the time I watched it at an Alkmaar, The Netherlands, cinema. If my memory serves me well, I seem to have enjoyed the movie… For years, the band was too embarrassed and annoyed to even talk about the project. By now, they seem to have made their peace with it and the movie was re-released as part of the DVD boxset Kissology Volume Two: 1978–1991.
N.B.: Maybe a separate story on the movie? I’ll keep it in mind.
1978 was a pinnacle year for Kiss. Album sales were disappointing. Adding injury to insult, all solo albums were run down by the press, Frehley’s album excluded. If the albums were bad, the movie was from another galaxy of bad. The band was ridiculed because of the absurd story, the lousy stunt-doubles, the amateur special effects and the bad to very bad acting skills. The original plan to consolidate the band’s popularity over the course of 1978, had imploded.
If there was disagreement among the members, that could only have been strengthened during the year. On the next studio album Dynasty Criss would not contribute a thing and Frehley’s discontent grew, as he saw the band moving away from its rock roots (disco entered the sound). Even more serious: the accompanying tour, called The Return Of Kiss, saw many dates not selling out anymore…
Ace Frehley – the album
But not everything was bad in 1978. Ace Frehley’s solo album was good, very good to be exact. Frehley contributed songs to Kiss from the very first album. Songs that were considered vintage Kiss, like Cold Gin, Parasite en Shock Me. According to Frehley, his album consists of a number of songs which were originally slated for inclusion on the 1976 Kiss album Rock And Roll Over.
The album is totally focused on rock and contains top notch material, mostly written by Frehley himself. The big hit from the album, New York Groove, has a r&b feel and is a cover. The album was certified platinum in November of 1978. It is also the best selling album of the four solo albums.
With the album Frehley proved he was more that just a supporting guitar player for Simmons and Stanley, who assumed Frehley would fail and offered their help (which Frehley kindly ignored). All songs are equally strong, the album’s vibe is perfect. A great number of songs are about cocaine and booze (Snow Blind, Ozone and Wiped Out). It is a shame that Frehley has never been able to match this superb debut, either with Frehley’s Comet or solo.
All songs written by Ace Frehley, unless stated otherwise.
- Rip It Out *
- Speedin’ Back To My Baby **
- Snow Blind
- What’s On Your Mind?
- New York Groove ***
- I’m In Need Of Love
- Wiped-Out ****
- Fractured Mirror
|*||Ace Frehley, Larry Kelly, Sue Kelly|
|**||Ace Frehley, Jeanette Frehley|
|****||Ace Frehley, Anton Fig|
Do you own one (or more) of the the 1978 Kiss solo albums? Do you consider Ace Frehley to be the best of the four or do you have another favorite? Let me know!
Kiss – Solo albums image: apple.com/apoplife.nl
Ace Frehley – Without make-up 1978 image: levyhyllyntakaa.blogspot.com
Ace Frehley – With guitar collection 1978 image: imgur.com
Ace Frehley – No Regrets image: amazon.com
Kiss – Merchandising 1978 image: kissmerchandising.com/pinterest.com/apoplife.nl
Kiss – Giving blood and adding it to the comic book ink image: pinterest.com
Kiss – Solo albums – Ad & Kiss – Solo albums – Promo images: pencilstorm.com
Kiss – Attack Of The Phantoms image: comingsoon.net
Kiss – Ace Frehley image: apple.com
Kiss/Ace Frehley – New York Groove (blue vinyl single) image: discogs.com
Gibson Ace Frehley “Budokan” Les Paul Custom guitar image: gibson.com
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