Gene Simmons, aka The Demon from Kiss, was (and still is) a savvy businessman who knew how to take a rock band from New York City and turn it into one of the most popular musical acts of all time. He, along with Paul Stanley, was responsible for many top-ten hits that appeared on various music charts worldwide. When it came to the songs he either wrote or sang in, that was just a tap into the genius of a man who knew how to stand head and shoulders above everyone else.
Before becoming the infamous Gene Simmons, Chaim Witz was born into a Jewish household on August 25, 1949, in the Israelian community known as Haifa. His Hungarian mother was a Nazi concentration camp survivor that managed to survive the Holocaust with her brother. When he was eight years old, he, his mother, and his uncle moved to the United States of America with the hope to live a better life. That new life began in New York City for Witz as Gene Klein. While growing up, Judaism was the religious practice that was followed by Gene’s family.
He also grew up as a typical American kid who took an interest in music and fancied perhaps he’d one day have a band of his own. Along the way, he was a college student and did a variety of odd jobs. Like most young fans of 1960s music, Gene was taken in by the Beatles and how well they carried themselves as a band. It was enough for the young man to hook up with a few different bands before he and a certain Stanley Eisen put together Wicked Lester.
Kiss of Success
Like Gene Simmons, Stanley Eisen legally changed his own name. Also like Simmons, he was a huge fan of the Beatles. It was their influence on him that prompted Stanley to change his first name to Paul in his own way to pay homage to Paul McCartney. Now known as Paul Stanley, he and Gene Simmons answered a magazine ad that was placed by Peter Criss. As a trio, they went on the hunt to find a lead guitarist. Paul “Ace” Frehley would be the man who beat out the competition in an audition that would secure him as the fourth man in a lineup that became Kiss.
As a group, Simmons knew they needed to make a big impression as New York City was loaded with competitive musicians who were seeking to make a name for themselves as well. Aside from coming up with original music, the use of face paint and costumes to look like comic book characters was a stroke of marketing genius. Also, taking a page out of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ book, Kiss burst onto the music scene as a shock rock band that made full use out of special effects in their performances.
With Peter Criss as Catman, Ace Frehley as Spaceman, Paul Stanley as Starman, and Gene Simmons as Demon, Kiss made a huge impression on an audience that either became loyal fans or chose to have nothing to do with them. Among the four men, the decision to call himself Demon was a controversial one as mainstream society at that time frowned upon anything that seemed too ungodly for their taste. As for the impressionable fan base who chose to keep religious beliefs out of enjoying good music and a good show, they didn’t care. Kiss represented the freedom of creativity, as well as the right to steamroll their way as an elite rock group worthy of fan admiration and glory.
This was a formula that worked well for Kiss until 1983. As the world leaned in favor of new trends, Gene Simmons and his bandmates decided to “unmask” themselves by doing away with the face paint and the costumes. Once again, this was a form of marketing genius as Kiss was able to make an impressive comeback that would revive the energy of a group that once upon a time had Peter Criss and Ace Frehley missing from its core lineup. Throughout the entire span of Kiss’s career as a group, Paul Stanley was usually the charismatic frontman that was recognized for his incredible singing talent. At the same time, Gene Simmons was known as that weirdo on the stage with a long tongue and demonic-like personality. He, as well as Peter Criss and Ace Frehley, also performed as lead singer from time to time. Some of Kiss’s greatest hits had Simmons either take on the lead vocalist role on his own or share it equally with Paul Stanley.
Fans of the reality television series, Gene Simmons Family Jewels, are likely to remember how this musician managed the personal and professional chapters of his life. He, along with long-time love Shannon Tweed, revealed bits of themselves to an audience that tuned in from 2006 until 2012. During this time, fans got to see how a simple bass guitarist from Kiss went from some poor Jewish kid barely able to make ends meet to becoming one of the savviest businessmen in what truly is a great rags-to-riches story. The man’s legacy doesn’t just stop with his brand of music. It’s seen in his wife, his children, and all the business endeavors he became involved in. Personally speaking as a fan, sometimes it’s easy to forget this is the same guy who started off on stage with three other guys who had a thing for comic books and rock music.
For someone like Gene Simmons, when the personality seems larger than life it’s way too easy to draw in so much admiration and criticism at the same time. Even as a bass guitarist who could sing with Kiss, Simmons did so much more than stick his tongue out. He also used it to make statements that were favorable among those who agreed with them, as well as unfavorable among those who don’t. Staying out of scandals and tabloids was out of the question when it came to Gene Simmons.
Regardless of what’s said about him, there’s no denying the success he had with and without Kiss as part of the picture. In 2014, he and his bandmates were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. This, along with many awards and accolades, recognized Simmons and Kiss as one of the most popular rock groups in history. As he, Paul Stanley, Eric Singer, and Tommy Thayer embark on a farewell tour that’s scheduled until 2023, this new lineup intends to keep on rockin’ until it reaches its fiftieth anniversary as a band. Singer replaced Peter Criss as Kiss’s drummer in 2004 while Thayer replaced Ace Frehley as lead guitarist in 2002.
Top 10 Gene Simmons with Kiss Songs
#10 – Kissin’ Time
Peter Criss, Paul Stanley, and Gene Simmons shared the duties of lead vocalist for the single, “Kissin’ Time.” This was a Bobby Rydell original that was released in 1959 before Kiss jazzed it up as a hard-rocking number in 1974. This came from the band’s self-titled debut album, which struggled at first as a commercially successful release. Kiss’s version of “Kissin’ Time” was altered in order to best suit the trends of the mid-1970s, as well as the shock rock image the four men from New York portrayed. In a way, “Kissin’ Time” served as a prelude to “Detroit Rock City” as references to Michigan’s big city were included in the song’s lyrics. Their version only peaked as high as number eighty-three on the US Billboard Hot 100 but this was somewhat to be expected as it appeared mainstream radio wasn’t very eager to give it much airtime. That changed in 2006 when Kiss embarked on its Rising Sun tour. Although “Kissin’ Time” may not distinctly put Gene Simmons above Criss and Stanley as the lead vocalist in this number, it did stand out as an example of how tweaking an already great song into an entirely new entity was enough to call “Kissin’ Time” as their own.
#9 – Nothin’ to Lose
“Nothin’ to Lose” was a debut single Kiss released in 1974. Written by Gene Simmons, then performed by him as one of the lead vocalists, it was a sexually suggestive song that tapped into going into new territory as a couple. The inspiration behind its lyrics came from a previous relationship Simmons had with a girlfriend. Sharing the role as lead vocalist with Simmons were Peter Criss and Paul Stanley. Although “Nothin’ to Lose” failed to chart, it did become a popular favorite among the fans, especially in live performances during the earlier years of Kiss’s career. This song marked the beginning of a group that specialized in shock rock as larger-than-life personalities who treated their musical careers as a “do it all or not at all” concept.
#8 – Domino
On the US Billboard Mainstream Rock chart, “Domino” peaked as high as number thirty-six when it was re-released as a single in 1992. From Kiss’s sixteenth studio album, Revenge, this was a song that was performed by Gene Simmons as the lead vocalist. Although Paul Stanley was still in the lineup and recorded with his bandmates for Revenge, this was one song that he took no direct part in. For Simmons, “Domino” was the spawn song from “Deuce” and “Nasty Nasty.” Both of those songs were also written by Simmons. “Domino” was about a woman that apparently turned the narrator’s life around into a topsy turvy. As a music video, “Domino” didn’t receive nearly as much attention from MTV as it was favoring the surge of grunge music that was taking the American audience by storm at the time. This decision, as well as the radio stations doing the same, played a factor in the song’s performance on the music charts. Among the fans who relied on streaming and downloads, “Domino” became a favorite. While its not played often even by Kiss, the appeal of this song highlighted a human side to Simmons that’s sometimes overlooked due to tabloid scandals and other media-related news stories.
#7 – Christine Sixteen
Rock songs singing about teenage girls aren’t uncommon. Gene Simmons’s “Christine Sixteen” joined the list of singles that looked upon these young beauties with favor as they were inching closer to womanhood. Whether he was singing as an adult several years older than her or just a few years older, “Christine Sixteen” was all about hanging around to gaze upon a collection of these young women as they went about their business as high school students. Despite its controversial subject matter, this became a solid hit for Kiss once it was released as a single in 1977. On the US Billboard Hot 100, it peaked as high as number twenty-five. On the Canadian Singles Chart, it was a number twenty-two hit. It was also a number forty-six hit in Germany and a number ninety-nine hit in Australia.
#6 – I Love it Loud
In 1982, “I Love it Loud” was released as a single with Gene Simmons serving as Kiss’s lead vocalist in a song that narrowly missed becoming a hit on the US Billboard Hot 100. It did become a popular tune in Canada as it peaked as high as number forty-five on its Top Singles chart. It also became a minor hit in Australia after charting as high as number seventy-six. Simmons, along with the guitarist Kiss had at the time, Vinnie Vincent, wrote this song together. What made this song an easy favorite was how it faded in and out while Simmons powerfully belted out the lyrics like wake-up calls. At the time, this was a new Kiss lineup as Peter Criss and Ace Frehley were out and Eric Carr and Vinnie Vincent were in. Also at the time, these four men still sported the trademark look of face paint and spacey costumes before it was dropped in 1983.
#5 – Unholy
Even though he was fired from Kiss in 1984, Vinnie Vincent co-wrote with Gene Simmons to write “Unholy,” a song that appeared on the 1992 album, Revenge. This came at a time when Kiss finally returned to the hard-rocking roots that made them famous back in the mid-1970s. The origin of this song came from Wicked Lester’s “Keep Me Waiting” while Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley were in that band. This was before Kiss made its debut in 1974. As a song, “Unholy” became one of the heaviest rock songs Kiss ever produced and this became a major fan favorite across Europe. It peaked as high as number two in Norway, at number nineteen in Sweden, and at number twenty-six in Germany, the Netherlands, and the UK. Its music video featured children dancing on pentagrams, which at the time was too sensitive for networks like MTV to air it. There was a backlash from communities who were offended by what they regarded as demonic content.
#4 – Let Me Go, Rock ‘n’ Roll
“Let Me Go, Rock ‘n’ Roll” got its start when Gene Simmons penned the lyrics down during a lunch break he had at a day job he had at the time. In 1974, it was recorded and released by Simmons as the lead singer for Kiss. From the band’s second studio album, Hotter Than Hell, it was released as a single but failed to make an impression on the music charts. However, this became a major fan favorite as it’s since become a staple in their live performances. True to Kiss form, “Let Me Go, Rock ‘n’ Roll oozed with sexual excitement and innuendos. Before “Rock and Roll All Nite,” this was the closing number Kiss performed before calling it a night. Since then, “Let Me Go, Rock ‘n’ Roll” serves as a lead to what became one of Kiss’s signature hits.
#3 – God Gave Rock and Roll to You II
The original “God Gave Rock and Roll to You” was recorded and released as a hit single by Argent in 1973. It was later covered by the Christian rock band, Petra, in 1977. “God Gave Rock and Roll to You II” was Kiss covering the original that later paid homage to their former bandmate, Eric Carr. In November 1991, he passed away from heart cancer, three months after Kiss covered this fan favorite. Carr was Peter Criss’s 1980 replacement as Kiss’s drummer until his medical condition caught up with him and claimed his life. As part of the Kiss lineup, he was known as The Fox as he donned the traditional black and white face paint that allowed him to express himself visually. The music video, “God Gave Rock and Roll to You II” had Carr sporting a wig as the chemotherapy he was taking at the time caused his hair to fall out. Although seen in the video drumming, it was Eric Singer whose performance was actually heard. He became Carr’s replacement that would keep Kiss rockin’ forward. This was a song that had the role of lead vocalist shared between Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley, along with Bruce Kulick. From 1984 until 1996, Kulick served as Kiss’s lead guitarist.
As a Kiss single, “God Gave Rock and Roll to You II” became a number twenty-one hit on the US Billboard Mainstream Rock chart. It was especially popular across Europe, peaking as high as number four in Switzerland and the UK. It was also a top ten hit in Germany and Ireland, and a top twenty hit in Australia and Austria. What made this song stand out was the heart and soul poured into a song every band member from Kiss knew would be Carr’s last. Even he gave it his all and we, as fans, were blessed enough to hear it.
#2 – Calling Dr. Love
In 1976, Kiss released its fifth studio album, Rock and Roll Over. The studio recording of “Calling Dr. Love” was featured in its tracklist and was released as a single. In 1977, a live version of it was released on Kiss’s sixth studio album, Alive II. On the US Billboard Hot 100, it became a number sixteen hit. In Canada, it peaked as high as number two. Sung by Gene Simmons as lead vocalist, “Calling Dr. Love” became his signature song, as well as an all-time Kiss classic. Written by Simmons, the inspiration of the lyrics came to him from movie scenes that had somebody on the intercom paging its medical team for assistance. In order to “Kiss it up,” Dr. Love became the hero of a song that easily won over the fans.
#1 – Rock and Roll All Nite
“Rock and Roll All Nite” was a single Kiss released in 1975 from the album Dressed to Kill. On the US Billboard Hot 100, this anthemic rock song peaked at number sixty-nine upon its first entry, then as high as number twelve upon its second entry. This song became a cult classic that’s since stood the test of time. Led vocally by Gene Simmons, “Rock and Roll All Nite” stated the obvious as a song where it’s treating every single day like a celebration. Rockin’ it out all night, then partying all day was the whole point Kiss was trying to make. Since 1976, Kiss usually closes their live performances with this song before sending their happy fans home.
The write-up for “Rock and Roll All Nite” had Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley collaborate on a song that came to them while performing a concert in Los Angeles, California. The two were also inspired by Slade’s “Mama Weer All Crazee Now,” as well as an old Kiss song, “Drive Me Wild.” With the British Phonographic Industry, “Rock and Roll All Nite” became certified silver, marking it the first time Kiss would see a single sell enough copies to regard it as a big commercial hit, even though it never did appear on the official UK Singles Chart.
Top 10 Gene Simmons Kiss Songs article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2022
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