KISS: ‘Dynasty’

KISS
DYNASTY
Released on May 23, 1979 (Casablanca Records)

Review by Lance Lumley:
It’s Saturday Night in 1979! After working all week, it’s time to put on our big collared shirt along with a gold necklace, throw on our favorite leisure suit, go to the club, and dance away our blues. The club blares our favorite disco songs by Donna Summer, Gloria Gaynor, and, of course, KISS! Stop the eight track player! KISS? Yes, the makeup wearing, blood spewing hard rock group was in on the current music style of the late 1970s (or were they?). When KISS fans think of the album Dynasty, fans mostly say “Oh the disco album.”

But was Dynasty really a disco album? The album did have the single “I Was Made For Lovin’ You,” which had the drum beats of a disco song, and ended up being one of the band’s top selling worldwide songs. Along with the album cover being one of the most recognized covers from the band, is it fair to call the album disco?

The opening track “I was Made For Lovin’ You” was written after one of Paul Stanley‘s trips to the night club Studio 54 in New York. Stanley, with pressure from the record label to produce a hit single for the band, wrote a good pop song with a dance beat to it. The song seems to be a polarizing song for the KISS Army (some love it while others cringe at it), but fans know the melody and the chorus decades after the release, which gives the longevity of the song merit. Do Queen fans blast the group for “Another One Bites The Dust” which was a dance hit for the band, as much as some KISS fans show passionate distain for “I Was Made For Loving’ You,” calling it disco? In his new book, Stanley writes that he “needed to write” the song because of where he was at personally and musically at the time, along with stating that KISS were always about no rules and no boundaries so who’s to say it wasn’t a KISS song for that time in the career of the band?

The next track, a Rolling Stones cover of “2000 Man”  is one of my favorite songs that has guitarist Ace Frehley on. I admit that Ace was one of my least favorite characters in the KISS line-up. I wasn’t into the “Space Man” gimmick, nor the sound of his voice, but on Dynasty, Ace is the best performer on the album. This song is better than the folky Stones‘ version (I am not bashing The Rolling Stones as I love most of their stuff), but this song seemed to be made for Ace. You can not see any other KISS member singing lead on this track. It was tailor made for him. The song rocks.

My favorite track off of the album has always been “Sure Know Something.” The bass slow groove on the song carries the tune (where one could point again to a disco vibe, but it’s not really in my opinion). The dynamics on the song, starting out mellow, then kicking it up during the chorus, also creates a perfect song that shows layers to the total package of the song. I always liked the line “I’ve been a gambler, but I’m nobody’s fool.” This is one of the songs Stanley is great on, and is one of my all-time favorite Paul songs. When the Unplugged album came out, I loved the song even more, for them choosing a rarer track to play.

If there is a hidden track on the album that doesn’t get enough credit for, it’s “Dirty Livin'” with drummer Peter Criss singing lead. Historians of the band will know that this was the only song Peter played drums on, with Anton Fig doing the rest of the work on the album. Peter, along with the other members of the band in their various books and interviews, have stated that he checked out of the band by this time. After trying to keep the band connected preventing a break up, each member recorded their 1978 solo albums, only to come back for the Dynasty sessions with nothing resolved in attitudes and focus in the band. To keep Criss happy, the band even used Peter‘s choice of producers, which ended badly for Criss in the overall scheme. The song itself is a wonderful pop sounding song, which is an ode to the drug scene in New York. Proving that Frehley has the most solid work on the album, the listener needs to only hear the dynamite guitar solo work on the record. When I bought the cassette of the album (reading my other reviews on KISS, you’ll know I was late getting my membership in the KISS Army until the late 1980s), I noticed that the song was different from the rest of the tracks, which makes sense now with Criss being absent on the other songs. This song fit the KISS mode of songs in my opinion.

Getting back to the question of if this is a disco album, the Gene Simmons led “Charisma” should end that debate. The chugging rock rhythm doesn’t have the normal disco style that is recognized with the genre. This song makes me wonder if this was a leftover from Gene‘s solo record, because it seemed to have fit on that release. Even though the chorus is a little boring to me (just repeating the title word over and over), this is defiantly a song only Gene should be singing lead. Ace, once again, shows a wonderful solo can make or break a song. Even though the song has the 1970s sound to it, with its heavy production (especially during the break where the vocals take over the song), it is still a song that I can listen to on the release. It’s a not a great Gene song, but it’s not a bad one.

“Magic Touch” could have been on any of the band’s 1980s songs in my opinion. This song is overlooked in the whole KISS catalog, not just on Dynasty. I think this is Paul‘s best song (besides “Sure Know Something”) of the songs he sings on this release. The song could fit well on the Asylum album. I kept replaying this song during my listening for this review, and it’s growing on me more and more. Currently, it may be my favorite Paul songs. The catchy melody and chorus makes it hard not to sing along with the record.

Ace takes over again on “Hard Times.” Once again, Frehley is the one that shines all over the album. Although I’m not a fan of the actual lyrics, to me they seem a little goofy. I was never one to encourage getting “spaced out” (however you want to interpret the lyrics). This is a solid rock song, and I remember my best friend singing this song all the time when we would hang out on a summer day in Columbia, Ohio (he hated KISS but loved Ace and this record). Once again listening to this song can debunk the idea of the label of disco.

“X Ray Eyes” again, could only be sung by Simmons. I could relate to the Demon character, being a fan of horror films, which made Gene my second favorite of the KISS members (Eric Carr being the first). The song is, again, a rock song, not dance. In my opinion, this song is the best of the Gene songs on the record. And again, I can hear the different style of drumming that wasn’t there on “Dirty Livin,” which made me think it wasn’t Criss on the record. Also, not being a huge Frehley fan, the solo on here brings the added intensity to the song, which I have to give nods too.

The album ends with “Save Your Love,” which Frehley sings lead. I like albums that ends with a rocker, instead of a ballad. Not many acts can end (and even start) a record with a ballad and make the album as a whole work. After revisiting this release for this review, I can (again) state that Ace shines throughout this album. I try to keep reviews, either here or on my blog page, honest, and I can not deny this is Ace‘s album. I am not crazy about the chorus on the track, which seems to lack the intensity as the rest of the song, but it is a solid rock song, which is the perfect ending for the album. I don’t think this song could fit anywhere else on the placement on the record.

I was not listening to much KISS in 1979; I only had exposure to them when visiting my cousin’s house, who was a big KISS fan, so I was not aware of the release, and the backlash the band got for the record at the time. Then again, some fans revolted with the release of Destroyer with all the orchestration on the product, yet it still held up overall decades later. Stanley writes in his latest book that making Dynasty, Unmasked and The Elder were all decisions made where he was at in that moment of time in his life. If it wasn’t for those albums, the band would not have moved into the path that led to Creatures of The Night, Lick It Up and the other 1980s releases.

As for this being the disco record, besides “I Was Made For Lovin’ You,” “Dirty Livin” and (arguably) “Sure Know Something,”  the rest of the record has late 1970s style rock and pop sound to it. The album is wrongly labeled (this is not all fast drum beats and talking about dancing the night away, say like The Village People records). Listening to the record, as a whole, the listener can see that the cracks in the band was evident that could not be replaced. The listener can hear the different drumming that was not in the typical Peter Criss vain, along with the subpar Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley songs, compared to the last studio record two years earlier with Love Gun. Even though the band was pretty much doing its best to save what they had after the attempts to satisfy each other by doing the solo records, Dynasty is a historic record that led to pretty much the end of the original line-up (I’m not counting Unmasked which Criss was not involved with but was still technically a member). The songs are not all on the KISS level, but it still has a short run time, which makes listening to the whole thing not a waste of time or making the listener to run and skip tracks.

The classification on Dynasty being disco is laughable to me; this record is filled with the expertise of great rock guitar playing from Ace Frehley throughout every song. The fact that Ace was not one of my favorites in the band proves that this was a remarkable batch of songs that he sparkles on at full-length. Regardless of what the internal problems in the band were, Ace Frehley , even with his departure an album later, carried the banner of the band strongly and efficiently, regardless of his thoughts on where the location of the group was heading.

Review by John Stoney Cannon:
The four giant faces grabbed from the corner of my eye. Grabbed so hard, I nearly stumbled to the German asphalt beneath my off-white Nike sneakers. From a stack of posters in the back of a mini-wagon glared the four huge made up faces that would within days adorn every large post and wall allowing the pasting of concert posters. Faces that would tease my very heart with a concert that would never actually happen.

Long before I ever put a name to it, I was familiar with the music of KISS.  Long before I could claim being a fan, I was obsessed with a KISS tune that I painstakingly taped off the radio and played until it drove my folks nuts.  Long before the ill-fated European leg of the Dynasty tour was announced, I was a full-blown KISS fan which by 1980 was hardly a cool thing among my fellow American friends.  Yeah my German pals were certainly sucked in by the new groove of “I Was Made for Loving You” but for me it was just another cool, fun blast of one of many rock and roll bands I was nuts about. My tastes for rock and roll were all over the map and Dynasty was just another record to sweeten many moods that other acts like Angel, Boston, Cheap Trick, Ted Nugent, Styx, Van Halen, and more.

But KISS were something more, like a massive extension of my musical upbringing of early glam and glitter artists David Bowie, T. Rex, Sweet, Alice Cooper, and fellow Big Apple rockers, the New York Dolls.  The music was loud, simple, catchy, imaginative, and a perfect escalator to harder rock and roll from the bubblegum sounds I was always drawn to. Yeah I have always been a hook and melody junkie and like other rock bands I loved, KISS had ’em in spades, but wrapped up with blood, fire, and big loud as hell amps.  It was kinda like someone took the Bay City Rollers on a weekend sex, drugs, and rock n roll bender and poured the results into a blender. KISS‘ appearance on the 1976 Paul Lynde Halloween Special was my version of what The Beatles on Ed Sullivan were to kids back in the sixties and seeing KISS in concert the first time shortly after, the equivalent of screaming fans first witnessing the original Fab Four in the nation’s capital in 1964. Some may label the comparison blasphemy but by the time KISS‘ “heavy metal Beatles” vision conjured up their own take on the Hard Days Night flick via TV movie Kiss Meets The Phantom of The Park, I was such a diehard KISS fan that I toted my KISS records everywhere.  Not cassettes, records.  No portable turntable.  Just the records.  Sounds insane and yeah, it was.

Maybe the fact that I grew up on so many different styles of music made it easy to love the many sides and personalities of KISS and it was because of that variety, I fell in love with the band in the first place.  Why my own daughter, years later, would sing her little heart out in the car whether rocking out to “Strutter” and “Rock And Roll All Nite” or swaying along to “Hard Luck Woman” and “Beth.” Generations fill concert halls to this day because KISS offer a soundtrack for the masses. Yeah, I loved all four solo albums and my German edition of Best of The Solo Albums is still amazing to listen to and look at so digging that so-called disco sound on Dynasty was no big deal.

Matter of fact, I didn’t find a KISS album I didn’t for the most part dig until Carnival of Souls.  Yep, even Music From The Elder so, not only did I love Dynasty, I played the ever loving KISS outta it! To this day, I can put on the vinyl version and wonder right off the bat “who in their right mind can’t hear that “I Was Made For Lovin’ You” rocks?” I dunno. Maybe I’m the only KISS fan who hears the chugging guitar and rumbling bass, not to mention killer guitar solo. Yeah there’s those “do do dos” in there but no one called it disco when Lou Reed had some and KISS‘ nod at disco is way more rock n’ roll, not to mention Lou came up in the underground scene that created disco! Disco KISS even out rocks Lou Reed with that heavy of metal bands Metallica. OK, maybe that’s a bad comparison cuz Lulu is garbage even by artsy fartsy standards but enough of those other acts, this ‘view is about “the hottest band in the world” and the Dynasty they created.

After a crazy six years taking a blood, sweat, and fire fueled rock and roll machine from zeros to biggest band on the planet via a work ethic that would make today’s bands curl up in the fetal position and cry (including six studio albums, two double live releases, double and triple commemorative retrospective records, four solo albums AND  a couple comic books and made for TV movie), KISS had little left to prove and new ground and new fans to seek. After years building his confidence as a writer and vocalist, part of that new ground was taking advantage of guitarist Ace Frehley‘s creative surge. On Dynasty, for the first and last time ever, the Spaceman floated near even with co-founders Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons, contributing as many originals as the Demon and finding himself front and center just as many times (three) as the Starchild. By contrast, drummer Peter Criss was not only once again relegated to only a single songwriting credit and lead vocal, it was also the Cat‘s sole drum contribution on the entire album. Yeah, Criss was running out of lives as far as KISS were concerned and although his likeness appeared on the next album Unmasked, his only real connection was to the title itself as nearly a year to the day after the release of Dynasty, Criss packed up his makeup kit and would remain officially unmasked for over 15 years.

A few days before the album’s May 23rd, 1979 release, KISS tossed out the single and Dynasty opening track “I Was Made For Lovin’ You” and despite any following criticism, ended up with a classic song that the band to this day still rocks out live. Full and different, the song continues a pattern started on the solo albums with each instrument being allowed to breathe creating a deeper yet fuller vibe. Despite less writing and vocal contributions, Simmons stands out as the bass guitar throughout Dynasty is as solid and impactful as on his solo record. The same can be said as far as the melodies on Stanley‘s solo album and the guitar and new confidence of Frehley‘s — with the first single off of Dynasty, it’s obvious how much of the progress and creative output from those solo albums carried over including the confidence to not be tied completely to the band’s legendary past.  Call it disco, Euro pop, whatever. “I Was Made For Lovin’ You” is all KISS from chugging guitars, floating thumping bass, powerful lead and backing vocals, and of course, a bitchin’ guitar solo.

Now one can only speculate that the choice to cover the Stones‘ “2,000 Man” is purely based on Ace‘s futurist onstage persona but, as the years have shown, out of all the members of KISS, Ace is the most capable of taking a cover and totally owning it. Out of all the covers KISS have tackled, only this one has stuck and along with future Ace covers like “Do Ya” and “Fox On The Run”, “2,000 Man” rocks so much that it’s easy to forget that it’s not an actual KISS original.

Second single “Sure Know Something” takes up right where Stanley‘s solo album left off. Repeating the often used technique of slow build to a power chord heavy chorus, it falls in well with solo tracks “Tonight You Belong to Me” and “Take Me Away (Together as One).” What is interesting here is that while Frehley proved to be a favorite among KISS fans, it was still obvious to Casablanca (and producer Vini Poncia) that Stanley‘s tunes were still the most marketable as far as radio and the public in general. Yeah, the idea being Ace rocks balls, Paul writes hits.

Speaking of Poncia, dude must have really felt strongly about the songs chosen for side one. Included are both album singles and of the three originals, he managed co-writing credentials including not only the singles but side one closer “Dirty Livin'” so yeah, talk about working hard to make a dime. At the end of side one, Criss makes the most of this brief time on Dynasty making this last true appearance on a KISS album count. “Dirty Livin'” is classic Cat from the swing of the drums to the scenes of the streets topped with that rasp in the vocal. It’s funny seeing Stanley front a soul band these days as the role is better suited for Criss but back in ’79, no one could have asked for a better parting shot from the Cat than this one.

Even back before KISS would basically become a two vocal band, I never would have bet on there being a side of a KISS record without a lead vocal by the Demon but on Dynasty, it took a flip to the second half to finally hear Gene utter a few syllables and as usual it was about women, or shall I say why he felt he was God‘s gift to them. Yeah, the word play is catchy cool but the opening chug of the bass and guitar on “Charisma” is what grabs starting off the side much like the opening chug of solo track “Radioactive.” On both songs, I could easily just enjoy the opening chords and in 1979, I loved that kick in so much that when I dubbed Dynasty onto cassette (for boombox purposes only), I recorded side two first so the tape started off with “Charisma.”  Chugga chugga chugga HA! Much like Criss, Simmons made good use of his less than usual time and to this day, this is one of my fave Gene tunes. Not quite as cool as say “Goin’ Blind” but definitely way better than anything off Asshole. Yeah, I know, hard to believe right? Lol.

With his last tune on Dynasty, “Magic Touch”, Stanley shoots the biggest nod to his quarter of the KISS solo albums from the previous year. Perhaps even more obvious are the hints of where the Starchild would be heading musically in the following decade. Gone soon would be the star but in its place, a renewed energy that would be heavily relied on to carry KISS through the ’80s. Ironically this track, the only one not chosen as a single or featuring a co-writer from the trio of songs featuring Stanley, is arguably the best one. OK, so “I Was Made For Lovin’ You” is a worldwide pop culture classic but so is Rod Stewart‘s “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy”. Hardly Rod The Mod‘s best tune and in my opinion the same came be said of Stanley‘s songs on Dynasty.  Argue all you want, overall “Magic Touch” is a far better tune.

From this point, Ace kind of takes over, sandwiching Simmons tune “X-Ray Eyes” with a pair of cool rockers that are straight up Ace‘s. On “Hard Times”, Frehley takes the clever catchy rhyming style of his solo album, seasons it with a bit of his own New York Groove, and steals a bit of the thunder from fellow bad boy Criss with his own street wise tune. Despite Peter maybe having the edge as far as childhood gang toughness, when it comes to telling the tale, the Cat is no match for Space Ace. Frehley may come off as wacky, even scatterbrained but underneath the stagger lies a lifetime of clever swagger. This fact even extends to closer “Save Your Love”, a guitar driven track with pounding simple chant chorus. While Simmons teases what’s to come on Unmasked with “X-Ray Eyes”, Ace‘s one-two punch on the second half of Dynasty sets fans up for the eventual coming of Frehley’s Comet. Yeah, he may have had to swerve that Delorean a bit to fit into the whole Music From The Elder concept but on DynastyAce once and for all found that groove that would be like wrestling’s NWO4 life.  Too bad for wrestling fans that over the years their beloved NWO would not be nearly as durable as Frehley‘s style and sound.

Back in 1979, when KISS‘ seventh studio album came out, I was all over it. While some of my pals had already jumped off what they considered a sinking KISS ship, I rowed faster and kicked harder. My first copy of Dynasty was picked up through what I’d like to call a stroke of early teen con genius when I managed to convince the clerk in the audio department of the Post Exchange to let me swap a James Gang record I won in a youth pool tournament for it. Yeah, the rules may have said I could only swap out for the same record but the older kid behind the counter I guess felt bad about that sad look on my face and mere hours later, the nine great tunes from KISS‘ 1979 release were blaring from my turntable. Sadly, I was not so lucky with the concert tickets I got shortly after for my birthday. As KISS fans know, after touring America then touting an upcoming European tour, Peter was gone, the tour was canceled, and the best I could do was exchange those holy gems for a couple of tickets to see Styx on their Cornerstone tour. Not bad but a consolation prize compared to the chance to see KISS. Guess I can take solace in the fact that in the years to follow, I’d get to see the band in concert more times than really should be deemed necessary.

Even now, I love KISS and of course, their classic seventies albums rock including Dynasty, which is still a record I love to turn up and rock from start to finish. Every song has a place and is perfect for KISS in 1979. Living in Germany and far from my birthplace made that album, and others, even more personal. It stands as a timepiece of good things and bad. The last part of life as a military brat and a piece of the soundtrack of my own early teen party before the exciting yet sometimes confusing period of adolescent change. So maybe in 1979, to the older kids bands like Cheap Trick and KISS were no longer cool but if KISS taught us anything, it was to stick with what you dig and never let anyone keep you from it. Which maybe explains why 40 years later, I’m still spinning my KISS records and many of those naysayers have proudly graduated to rocking bands like Nickelback and Florida Georgia Line. Oh woe is me, I coulda been a contenda… Instead, all I ended up with was a Dynasty.

Track List:
01. I Was Made for Lovin’ You
02. 2,000 Man
03. Sure Know Something
04. Dirty Livin’
05. Charisma
06. Magic Touch
07. Hard Times
08. X-Ray Eyes
09. Save Your Love

Band Members:
Paul Stanley – vocals, rhythm guitar, lead guitar (3), bass (1)
Ace Frehley – vocals, lead guitar, all guitars (2), bass (2, 7, 9)
Gene Simmons – vocals, bass
Peter Criss – drums (4), percussion (4), lead vocals (4)

Additional Musicians:
Anton Fig – drums (1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9)
Vini Poncia – backing vocals, keyboards

Production:
Produced by Vini Poncia
Engineered by Jon Mathias and Jim Galante
Mixed by Jay Messina
Mastered by George Marino

Reviewed by Lance Lumley and John Stoney Cannon for Sleaze Roxx, May 2019

KISS‘ “I Was Made For Lovin’ You” video:

KISS – I was made for loving you Official FULL HD

Read for Lyrics* Mmmm yeah Do, do, do, do, do, do, do, do, do Do, do, do, do, do, do, do Do, do, do, do, do, do, do, do, do Do, do, do, do, do, do, do Tonight I wanna give it all to you In the darkness There’s so

KISS‘ “Sure Know Something” video:

Kiss – Sure Know Something (Official Video)

Uploaded by Jean Henry on 2014-06-22.