3 Songs You Didn’t Know Peter Criss Wrote for KISS

When people think of KISS, frontmen Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley likely come to mind first. The theatrically sinister Simmons, especially—with his infamous demon makeup and abnormally long tongue—has shocked and rocked audiences around the world since the mid-1970s.

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But as unabashed Beatles fans, it only made sense for the members of KISS to share the creative spotlight (the Beatles, too, featured two established frontmen, but all four members sang lead). KISS’ drummer, Peter Criss, is best known for his heavy jazz-influenced grooves behind the kit. But his way with melodies and words is also underrated.

Criss grew up in Brooklyn, which allowed him to cross paths with drummers as iconic as swing legend Gene Krupa and New York Dolls member Jerry Nolan while just a teenager. He got his start playing in the art-rock act Chelsea, which eventually changed its name to Lips. After that band broke up, he placed an ad in Rolling Stone to see if anyone in town was looking for a drummer. It was answered by KISS members Simmons and Stanley, who were looking to flesh out their lineup. After jamming together and proving his talent, he joined the band and was an official member until he was fired for unspecified reasons in 1980. Criss rejoined when the band’s classic lineup reunited in the mid-’90s, and left the band again in 2001. He later came back for one more stint that lasted from 2002 to 2004.

While Criss’ road with KISS was rocky, his skills as a drummer and songwriter hold up when revisiting his recorded work. He’s gone on to release five solo albums, starting with his 1978 self-titled debut, which was released on the same day as the other three original members’ first solo platters.

Here are three songs you might not have known the “Catman” co-wrote that were recorded by KISS.

1. “Beth” (1976)
Written by Peter Criss, Stan Penridge, and Bob Ezrin

Some of KISS’ biggest hits, like “Rock And Roll All Nite” and “Detroit Rock City,” are pretty rowdy. But the 1976 radio smash “Beth” showcases a softer, more romantic side of the band. It peaked at No. 7 on the Billboard Hot 100, and was christened with a gold record by the RIAA. The Destroyer cut is sung by Criss, who composed it in tandem with friend Stan Penridge and the album’s producer, Bob Ezrin (Pink Floyd, Alice Cooper). “Beth I know you’re lonely / And I hope you’ll be alright / ‘Cause me and the boys will be playing all night,” he tenderly sings in the song’s final verse. If you thought the drummer of a hard rock act would only be good at writing angsty stadium anthems, take a listen to “Beth.”

2. “Baby Driver” (1976)
Written by Peter Criss and Stan Penridge

KISS’ 1976 album cut “Baby Driver” is expansive and smoky, and again features Criss on lead vocals. While it wasn’t chosen to be a single from the album, it’s still a strong track. He wrote the song from Rock And Roll Over in tandem with Penridge, a close collaborator over the course of his career. “Go baby driver / Don’t want to sleep alone / Ooh, what a rider / Push that pedal to the floor, yeah,” he sings in the opening lines. His passionate vocals are supported by a chugging groove and electrifying guitar lead, making for an unheralded album highlight.

[RELATED: The Origins of KISS]

3. “Dirty Livin’” (1979)
Written by Peter Criss and Stan Penridge

The biggest song from KISS’ 1979 album, Dynasty, is the disco anthem “I Was Made for Lovin’ You.” The certified gold single peaked at number 11 on the Billboard singles chart, and has racked up over 613 million YouTube views as of this writing. But the album also contains a standout Criss track, “Dirty Livin’,” which would prove to be his last appearance on a KISS album until the reunion album Psycho Circus was released in 1998.

Criss brought a disco-inspired demo of the song to the table when the band began writing the album, but the final version ended up more quintessentially “KISS.” It’s also the only track on the record that features Criss on drums, as the tides were already turning toward his leaving the group. But his pounding beat rests atop Simmons’ funky bass line as if nothing were amiss. “Dirty livin’, ahh, dirty livin’ / I can’t wait any longer to set myself free,” he sings prophetically on the chorus, leaning into the playfully seedy energy that keeps KISS so fun to revisit to this day.

Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

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