On September 18, 1983 KISS did two things: for one, they released a brilliant album in Lick It Up.Secondly, this was the day they would truly be Unmasked for real, as all four members appeared on MTV with the late J.J. Jackson sans make-up. This was a landmark undertaking for the band, and we all knew the album couldn’t suck, because that would be a PR nightmare. The previous record Creatures of the Night was a fucking home run, whether or not the record-buying public knew it, and this album proceeded to build on that sound.
KISS was harder, heavier, and dirtier than any of us could remember. I remember one of my grade school buddies selling me a cassette copy for five bucks, then my Mom finding out and making me return it and get my money back. Oddly enough, a few years later my Dad was with me at Busy Bee Flea Market during my KISS vinyl resurgence, and we came to a certain booth that had a lot of KISS albums. He goes, “Pick out the album you want, son.” Well, I wavered back and forth between Alive! And Lick It Up, and he saw that. He goes, “Damian, why don’t you go get us a seat at the food area?” He did this because he wound up buying me both for Christmas, but I digress…
As soon as opening track “Exciter” started I knew we were in for something special. The riff was hot, Rick Derringer came in to lay down the solo, and Paul Stanley sang like a man possessed. The same can be said for “Not For the Innocent” and Gene Simmons. It’s like the two of them had new life. And I’ll never say something stupid like the make-up was holding them back or anything, but I really feel that these two guys felt liberated and free, and quite honestly didn’t give a fuck, so they were just gonna go for it. That’s my take, anyway. “Lick It Up” was then, and is still now, one of my all-time favorites in the pantheon of KISS songs, and whether I’m alone or at a show, I still do the up-down guitar thing they used to do, because it means so much to me.
“Young and Wasted” is one of those songs that kicks ass, even more so live. Between that sidewinder riff and Gene’s killer vocal, it’s just a great tune. Drummer Eric Carr also struts his stuff on this one, as does Vinnie Vincent, albeit briefly. Don’t worry. He has plenty of time to shine all over this disc. We’re off to the races with “Gimme More”, a track that is very much in line with its successors “Under the Gun” and “I’m Alive” in that it’s hard, fast, and heavy, and smack dab in the middle of the record. I always felt like these were statement songs from Paul, and what statements they were!
Side Two opens with “All Hell’s Breakin’ Loose”, another one of my favorite KISS songs that I would kill or die to hear live just one time. Paul’s spoken-word verses still resonate with me to this day, but 10-year old me was REALLY enamored with this one. And while the solo is tame by Vinnie Vincent standards, it still hits the mark. The guy had a tendency to overplay, but here he takes a simpler approach and just nails it. And now we come to one of those songs that hits me right in the heart with “A Million to One.” I can remember crying in my bedroom after my girlfriend broke up with me in 9th grade to this one and thinking, “Someday she’ll come around!” (she didn’t). No matter though, ‘cause this song fucking kills!!
What’s odd is that the final three songs are Gene songs. The album is split 50/50 as far as who sings lead, but this track setup had never happened before. But that’s okay because “Fits Like a Glove” is white-hot and razor-sharp! I was lucky enough to catch it live in January of ‘88 and it was every good as I imagined it would be. “Dance All Over Your Face” is one that I truly didn’t get until freshman year, but it’s fucking badass. And then we come to closer and the song that should be the National Anthem of Rock…”And On the 8th Day.” Gene sings with more conviction than ten of his peers combined, and Vinnie lays down the perfect solo. Paul chimes in towards the end, putting the cherry on top of this rock anthem that is STILL in heavy rotation here at A&GS HQ.
So there you have it. My take on Lick It Up from KISS. At the end of the day, the guys were making a profound statement, whether most of you realize it or not. They didn’t NEED the make-up to write great songs. The old image worked fine for nearly 10 years, but it was time for KISS to forge a new path. And to me, this was absolutely the right way to go. I still get every bit as excited when I play this record as I did when I was 10. Between that, and the memory of my Dad buying me a vinyl copy in 1986, this will forever be a Klassic Album. ~dc