KISS: ‘Smashes, Thrashes & Hits’

Released on November 15, 1988 (Mercury Records)

Review by Lance Lumley:
There are only a short list of greatest hits packages that end up being memorable for me. The same with live albums. Some fans love them, but I usually skip those two types of releases. However, 1988’s Smashes, Thrashes & Hits by KISS has many memories for me.

First, I purchased the cassette (and later the CD) from the BMG Music Club (for those too young to know what that was, look it up — it was great for a while). I was in college at Kent State University, and finally had the funds to join the club and start getting the releases I lacked in my KISS catalog. I was one of the few people in my group of friends that wasn’t a member of the club, so it felt like a rite of passage being able to get more music at a better price. Second, I was excited when I heard that drummer Eric Carr had a vocal track on the release, being that he is still my favorite drummer of all time (being an-ex drummer myself). I never got to see the band with Carr (I am still bummed to this day), not being a witness to his talent in person. I also remember seeing the video for the first single from this album on MTV in rotation when it was released (the good old days of music videos, not matter how weird some of them were).

I want to focus on the three “newer” songs in this review. The first single “Let’s Put The X In Sex” is a catchy mid-tempo song. There are some KISS fans who hate the band’s ’80s stuff, but I tend to find good and bad in each era. The song has some cheesy lyrics, but it was the 1980s — there were plenty of cheesy lyrics — and I would take this stuff over 80 to 90% of the music today that is being released. Guitar player Bruce Kulick plays a nice solo on the song (Kulick doesn’t get the credit he should). Carr‘s drumming is solid, and even though critics say the song is overproduced, the cowbell on the third verse intensifies the feel of knocking at a door that the lyrics discuss. Although the song is not labeled as great, I think it is a B grade. I can listen to it still today.

The second song, “(You Make Me) Rock Hard” is something I think could’ve been an extra track off of the previous Crazy Nights or Asylum albums. There is the 1980s production is on this as well, but I think this is the weaker of the two newer songs. Once again, I do like Kulick‘s solo on it, and while doing some research for this, I saw the video for the first time. I never knew there was one for the song. Not much to say about the video, and even Paul Stanley stated in his book that it was what “not to do in a music video.” Stanley also stated later on that he did not like either of the new songs, but in my opinion, but these were decent songs to keep the fans happy until a full album came out of original material.

After the two new songs, the album details previous released songs, although remixed. “Love Gun” and Detroit Rock City” keeps the flow of the album going after the two new songs, and the overall placing of the songs are well done. I was excited to hear “Heaven’s On Fire” at the time on the release, since I did not have a copy of 1984’s Animalize. For a fan like me that did not have the whole album, this was a real treat. “Strutter” sounds better on this release than the other remixed version on the Double Platinum package.

The topic of this release’s questionable remade version of “Beth” with Carr singing vocals is argued when this album is brought up among KISS fans. Many people took this as an insult to original drummer and singer of the song Peter Criss. In the Eric Carr book, Kulick mentions that Carr wasn’t thrilled about doing it, but Kulick states that he (Kulick) thought it was still a good opportunity for Carr to get a chance to sing on a KISS record. I agree. Carr‘s version is smoother vocally than Peter‘s (not as raspy), and when I got the release, I thought that it was going to be the start of more Eric Carr lead vocals on future KISS albums. Granted, the song is not as memorable as the original, and (I’m in the minority on this) I thought the Carr version was nice, and am glad KISS fans have it as one of the few archives of him singing lead on a KISS record. I think Carr did a very good job on it, and this was one of the reasons I was excited to get this album. Regardless of how you feel about Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley‘s choice of doing the song, as opposed to putting the original version on the album, Carr had another aspect to his talents, besides just drumming, that was finally showcased.

After “Beth,” the album goes into “Tears Are Falling,” which is a nice way to come out of the ballad and get the listener ready for the ending set of “I Was Made For Lovin’ You,” “Rock And Roll All Night” and “Shout It Out Loud.” I remember thinking when I first got the cassette of this release, it was strange that the record didn’t end with the KISS anthem of “Rock And Roll All Night.” I liked ending the album on “Shout It Out Loud” instead.

As an overall album, the song selection and placing of the songs, are enjoyable and run smoothly. The two new singles placed at the beginning are a good fit, so those fans that only wanted to hear the previously released songs wouldn’t be burdened (with the exception of “Beth”). The release had a nice mix of the original line-up through the Carr era. Some critics have stated that there are no songs from the Crazy Nights album on the U.S. version of this package, but I’m alright with that. Crazy Nights is a great album, where every track should be played if those want to hear songs off of it. For those who have read my previous KISS reviews on here and on my blog page, I am a non-traditional KISS fan, so that last sentence should not surprise anyone of my love for that album.

This is one of the few greatest hits collections that I still play in my music rotation. I have memories of listening to the cassette and CD many times during my college years (although I didn’t get the release until the early 1990s). It is an album filled with great reflections for me.

Review by Olivier:
Although Michael Jackson‘s Thriller may have been the first album that I ever got (from my parents), KISSLove Gun may have been the first rock n’ roll record that I ever laid hands on. My mother used to take my brother and I to a very big public library about 30 minutes from our home where we would spend hours reading comic books (bandes dessinées in French) and before long checking out various rock n’ roll records. I still remember vividly picking up KISSLove Gun album and marvelling at the very cool cover. Funny enough, I never ended up playing the record at the library but the cover made a big impression on me. Fast forward a few years to September ’84, I was totally immersed and “discovering” so many cool hard rock and heavy metal bands. My official “favorite” band was first off none other than the mighty Van Halen on the strength of 1984, who were replaced by Ratt due to the band’s stellar Out Of The Cellar, before Scorpions took their spot for a brief moment with World Wide Live. The Scorpions were quickly replaced by KISS and I never looked back publicly proclaiming how great KISS was to whomever would listen for many years.

While I was an ardent KISS follower, the truth is that I was also getting embarrassed by the band with its continuous missteps in the late ’80s culminating with the release of the greatest hits compilation Smashes, Thrashes And Hits. I admit to being spoiled back then expecting each of my favourite bands to release a brand new studio album every year. Although I had proclaimed KISS to be my favourite band, the group was slowly seemingly on the decline with every passing album. I considered Animalize a very good album. Although Asylum was initially disappointing to me, a lot had to do with the horrible glammed up fluorescent costumes that KISS adopted for that record. Over time, Asylum proved to be a durable and very enjoyable album despite the slightly poppier songs. By the time that KISS released Crazy Nights in 1987, I was quite embarrassed at calling KISS my “favourite” band. At that point, it was mainly based on KISS‘ back catalog of fantastic albums that I obtained the hard way going from one used store to another over the period of one year until I secured all those earlier albums. Back in those days, the record stores didn’t seem to carry any of KISS‘ earlier out of print albums. I had to order Music From The Elder from overseas given that that one was impossible to find at any used record store even though it was only four to five years since the record had been released. Along the way, I did find some cool pick ups like a battered copy of The Originals (1976), which was the re-release of KISS‘ first three studio albums.

Getting back to the subject at hand, I kept KISS as my “top” band on the strength of Alive! and Alive II and certainly not as a result of the keyboard infested commercially lame Crazy Nights album. I felt that songs like “Bang Bang You” were simply beneath what KISS could come up with. After Crazy Nights, I was expecting a brand new studio album from KISS but instead was served up with 1988’s greatest hits collection Smashes, Thrashes & Hits. To make matters worse, Smashes, Thrashes & Hits contained seven songs (in some shape or form) that were already contained on the compilation album Double Platinum (1978). At that time, I was under the impression that you didn’t repeat the same songs on a live or greatest hits release just like KISS had previously done with Alive! (1975) and Alive II (1977), or the Scorpions with Tokyo Tapes (1978) and World Wide Live (1985). Obviously, my impression was completely wrong as KISS ended up releasing greatest hits album after greatest hits album with mostly the same songs over and over again (rip off!).

Smashes, Thrashes & Hits contained two new songs — “Let’s Put The X Into Sex” and “(You Make Me) Rock Hard” which were cringe worthy to my ears at the time. The videos were even worse with Paul Stanley clearly usurping the leader role in the band and putting Gene Simmons to the sidelines in a major way. It wasn’t Stanley and Simmons‘ band anymore. It was Stanley with his backing crew. How much of a backseat did Simmons take on Smashes, Thrashes & Hits? Simmons only handles the lead vocals on four songs compared to Stanley‘s nine (I consider “Shout It Out Loud” as co-lead vocals for the duo). To make matters worse, Stanley didn’t even have a guitar anymore on the two videos as you could see him just shaking and dancing while singing the songs. Ugh. Over 30 years later, I enjoy both of these tracks but the videos, and particularly the one for “Let’s Put The X Into Sex”, are still painful to watch.

As far as the rest of the songs on Smashes, Thrashes & Hits, it was really one song from each of KISS‘ last studio albums with Unmasked and The Elder getting snubbed. I remember being almost offended that KISS had re-recorded “Beth” with drummer Eric Carr handling the lead vocals. At the time, it seemed a real slap in the face to original drummer Peter Criss who was of course no longer in the band. Seeing how Carr passed away from cancer a few years later, I started viewing the song in a different way as it now represents a nice memory of someone whom I consider to be the best drummer that KISS ever had. I suspect that  KISS are now a tad embarrassed with Smashes, Thrashes & Hits and particularly the two new songs and videos in support of that album. Those songs were not included during KISS‘ tour in support of Hot In The Shade (the first time that I got to see KISS live) and have been very rarely included in KISS‘ setlist over the years.

At the end of the day, Smashes, Thrashes & Hits ended up being a pivotal album for KISS as they started righting the ship later on and getting away from the cheesy stuff with Hot In The Shade (1989), Revenge (1992), the very cool Kiss Unplugged (1996) and the hugely successful reunion tour starting in 1996 that saw Stanley and Simmons reunite with Ace Frehley and Peter Criss. Smashes, Thrashes & Hits will always remain in my eyes one of the blemishes in KISStory.

Track List:
01. Let’s Put The X In Sex
02. (You Make Me) Rock Hard
03. Love Gun
04. Detroit Rock City
05. I Love It Loud
06. Deuce
07. Lick It Up
08. Heaven’s On Fire
09. Calling Dr. Love
10. Strutter
11. Beth (with Eric Carr on lead vocals)
12. Tears Are Falling
13. I Was Made For Lovin’ You
14. Rock And Roll All Night
15. Shout It Out Loud

Band Members:
Paul Stanley – vocals (1, 2, 3, 4, 7, 8, 10, 12, 13, 15), rhythm guitar, bass (1, 2, 3, 12, 13)
Gene Simmons – vocals (5, 6, 9, 14, 15), bass
Bruce Kulick – lead guitar (1, 2, 12)
Eric Carr – drums (1, 2, 5, 7, 8, 12), vocals (11)

Additional Musicians:
Ace Frehley – lead guitars (3, 4, 6, 9, 10, 13, 14, 15)
Peter Criss – drums (3, 4, 6, 9, 10, 14, 15)
Vinnie Vincent – lead guitar (3, 7)
Mark St. John – lead guitar (8)
Anton Fig – drums (13)
Vini Poncia – keyboards (13)
Dick Wagner – acoustic guitar (11)
Bob Ezrin – piano (11)
Phil Ashley – keyboards (1, 2)

Engineered by Dave Wittman (1, 2)
Vocal track engineered by Ben Kape (2)
Digital remixes by Brian Foraker assisted by Paul Wertheimer
Mixed by David Thoener (1, 2)
Mixed by Dave Wittman (8, 11, 12)
Mixed by Frank Filipetti (7)
Mixed by Jay Messina (13)
Mastered by George Marino

Band Websites:
Official Website

Reviewed by Lance Lumley and Olivier for Sleaze Roxx, November 2018

KISS‘ “Let’s Put The X Into Sex” video:

Kiss – Let’s Put The X In Sex

Music video by Kiss performing Let’s Put The X In Sex. (C) 1988 Mercury Records

KISS‘ “(You Make Me) Rock Hard” video:

Kiss – (You Make Me) Rock Hard [Official Music Video]

Music video by Kiss performing (You Make Me) Rock Hard. (C) 1988 The Island Def Jam Music Group#Kiss #RockHard #Vevo