The Top 10 Ace Frehley KISS Songs, Ranked
May 27, 2023, 4 months ago
By Martin Popoff...
You know, they’re generally showing up as top-flight Kiss songs. But if they weren’t there, what would be in their place? Probably more good Kiss songs. In any event, we’re glad this band had four singers and three-and-a-half writers, and sure, there’s something a little wilder, a little heavier, a little more hoodlum-rocking about Ace songs, underscored by him generally singing them in that good-ol’-college-try style. To be sure there are scattered Peter Criss credits (and wicked vocals), but Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons take the lion’s share of the songwriting—maybe 80%. Still, Ace pops in regularly with key contributions, and those tend to be songs that gain a little bit of notoriety.
For the record, I’ve only included songs either sung by Ace, credited to Ace solely in terms of songwriting, or, in the case of two songs, credited to Ace and a non-band member. Ace has written a handful of songs with other Kiss members and I’ve not included those for consideration. In fact there were only three tracks that qualified that didn’t make the list, and those were the cover of the Stones’ “2,000 Man” on Dynasty, sung by Ace, the quirky “Torpedo Girl” from Unmasked, and “Into the Void,” which is the best song on Psycho Circus, which tells you something. “Dark Light” almost qualifies but it’s got Gene on it, along with Lou Reed and Anton Fig. Of note, Ace gets zero credits on Rock and Roll Over.
10. “Save Your Love”
This is a rousing traditional Kiss rocker tucked at the end of 1979’s Dynasty, one of a few songs that ought to be considered against the narrative that this is the band’s disco album, to put it as base as possible. The verse riff sounds like a Gene song, but then the chorus goes to a one-and-three beat and is melodically dramatic and metal. The bonus is that Paul joins in on vocals at this well-integrated chorus section. Also elevating the song is Ace’s angry, impassioned vocal, as if there’s some understanding there that he’s got to share the microphone with the master.
9. “Talk to Me”
Here’s a happy track that adds to the narrative that Unmasked represented the band going new wave. It’s power pop, a little like old UK glam, a little like children’s music, which makes for a yummy, charming, modest rocker that connects on an emotional level—after all most of it consists of an imploring “Talk to me,” much of it with harmonized vocals. Cool guitar solo too, followed by a sophisticated little punctuation before we’re back into another verse. Helping turn the song cheerfully anthemic (and yes, glam like Sweet and Slade and Mud) is the jungle tom beat courtesy of Anton Fig.
8. “Hard Times”
Dare I say it, but the heavy songs on Dynasty are better than all but the top couple across Rock and Roll Over and Love Gun, albums that lack Ace-ness. Anyway, this is one of them, in Ace’s hardscrabble autobiographical mode. If Frehley’s street rat lyric isn’t enough to keep you entertained, there’s moderate complexity to the riff and rhythm, as well as a fairly heavy metal chorus. Plus the resolution at the end of the sunnier verse section evokes images of “Rip It Out” from the well-regarded 1978 solo album.
7. “Two Sides of the Coin”
Here’s another one that sounds like a happy, humpy mix of a Gene song and an Ace song. But as usual with an Ace composition, there’s a non-obvious riff, and a couple or three parts that fit together nicely. But yeah, this is a rocky enough number on what is one of the lighter albums, although like Dynasty, Unmasked is not as far off the norm as folks remember it. Another fun thing here, Ace sings the chorus in an uncommonly high register for him, which weirdly reveals a different side of his personality.
I gotta confess, back in ’75 (granted, I was 12), if I remember correctly, I spent at least a couple years thinking Ace sang this, given that he wrote it. Because Peter and Ace have a similar rasp and approach. Anyway, this one sounds close to punk rock. It’s got that intensity, tempo and sort of shouty anger. Again, however, if it’s tough to articulate what it is about Ace’s writing we like, it might have something to do with a sort of street vibe. Some say it’s his roots with all the British blues boom guitarists, but I don’t hear a lot of blues in what he does, other than perhaps some of the soloing.
5. “Cold Gin”
I guess it’s harder to tell Ace’s writing apart from Gene’s and Pauls’s on the early albums, but man, “Cold Gin” fits right in as a riffy, trundling, nascent heavy metal rocker. But at this point, Ace lacked the confidence to sing, so he handed the mic over to Gene here, who… now that I reflect, I love Gene’s singing, but this is not one of his better presentations. Plus the lyrics are so perfect for Ace, being about boozing. It’s an opportunity missed, except maybe Ace would have been dead if this had become his signature song.
Ace deserves accolades for writing the flashiest, most modern, most heavy metal song across the trilogy that leads us to Alive!, and Hotter Than Hell’s “Parasite” is that song. First there’s that sinister machine gun riff, and then, like many Ace songs, an interesting, non-obvious chord structure underneath the singing, which is handled capably by Gene. Tack on a completely different musical movement for the chorus as well as the break and you’ve got the makings of an early-days Kiss classic.
3. “Strange Ways”
Okay, get this: I’ve got a shelved book I started on the greatest guitar solos of all time and it was surprising to me how many people quickly brought up “Strange Ways.” In fact in my head, it’s hanging around with “Hotel California” and “Comfortably Numb.” But I can understand why, because it’s an aggressive, blustery, rhythmic, deep grind testament to the British blues boom rockers, just as those bands were transitioning toward harder rock at the end of the ‘60s. As for the construction of the thing, this is Kiss doing doom, and it’s a master stroke having Peter sing it, because his rasp and energy and articulation helps add excitement to what is a bit of a dirge that is better built than BTO but not Black Sabbath. All told, what we get is some welcome dark contrast against the rest of Hotter Than Hell, its malevolence matched only by “Watchin’ You” and “Parasite,” the latter of which is also an Ace composition.
2. “Shock Me”
The Spaceman makes his very first lead vocal on a Kiss record count, showing up, unsurprisingly, on one of his own songs, which (also unsurprisingly), is a sturdy, likeable rocker. But “Shock Me”’s reputation as heavy is a little unwarranted, perhaps aided and abetted by its power chording in relation to the rest of the Love Gun album and to its title. The song was inspired by an occurrence at a show in Florida on December 12, 1976. During the opening song, Frehley touched an ungrounded metal staircase railing and received a heavy shock, causing the show to be delayed for half an hour, and the guitarist not being able to feel anything in his hand for the remainder of the show. It ain’t really about that—it ain’t really about much of anything—but nonetheless, “Shock Me” has become a beloved fan favourite.
1. “Rocket Ride”
Bouncing back from three albums relatively quiet, Ace turns in what is arguably Kiss’ most convincingly heavy metal song as of 1977 and really up toward The Elder. Written by Ace and Kiss utility man Sean Delaney, and sung by Ace, “Rocket Ride” is an imposing presence on the single studio side of the otherwise live Kiss Alive II album, issued October 14, 1977. The signature riff isn’t exactly Ritchie Blackmore note-dense but it’s appreciable for Kiss, and like many of the songs we’ve already discussed, things change dramatically for the verse and then again for the clouds-parting stadium rock chorus. But the guys already had us hooked at that thrilling and ascending opening sequence, phase-shifted for your headbanging enjoyment—the last time we got anything that cool was the crank-up to “Detroit Rock City.” In the end, “Rocket Ride” reminded us that the guys could compete, even if the tacit message was that it was up to the Spaceman to keep Kiss wild.