The 5 KISS Songs with the Bitchin’-est Guitar Riffs

Everybody knows about the kabuki-esque makeup; the cartoon personas of the Starchild, Demon, Spaceman, and Catman; and the eye-popping live show that’s more P.T. Barnum than the Stones. But ask any true KISS Army recruit and they’ll swear that, beyond all the bombast, it’s the music—and especially the muscular crunch of Paul Stanley’s and original lead guitarist Ace Frehley’s guitar work—that cemented their undying loyalty to the “Hottest Band in the World.”

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They’ve endured personnel changes, band members passing, the ditching of their trademark (literally) makeup, the re-embracing of their trademark makeup, and they finally came out the other side as Rock & Roll Hall of Famers (against the institution’s much-publicized better judgment—i.e. lamer judgment). Let’s look at the five KISS guitar riffs that were (probably) the most responsible for inspiring a throng of KISS cadets to ask for guitars for Christmas.  

1. “Rock and Roll All Nite” (1975)

The closing track from Dressed to Kill, this anthemic rocker came about because the president of Casablanca Records, Neil Bogart, was unhappy with the performance of the band’s albums compared to the great ticket sales they were commanding. He instructed the band to come up with an undeniable anthem. Gene Simmons credits Slade’s “Mama, Weer All Crazee Now” as a primary inspiration.

After the anticipatory drum rumblings that start the song, the guitar part’s crunchy blues chords aren’t necessarily so special. But the way they ring out and leave room for people to sing along inspired more than a few youngsters to think, “Hey, why couldn’t I pick up a guitar and play like that, too?”

2. “Detroit Rock City” (1976)

It’s Side One, Track One on the breakthrough studio album Destroyer. “Detroit Rock City” was actually inspired by an event that occurred far from Michigan. Someone was struck and killed by a car outside the arena where KISS was performing. The song had been started as a tribute to the Motor City, which had been good to KISS from very early on, so it was completed without changing that theme.

The fiery number begins with a “news report” and the sound of a car starting. The sounds of KISS are being broadcast through the radio as the KISS fan behind the wheel sounds like he’s enjoy his joy ride. The famous DUH-nuh, DUH-nuh, DUH-nuh, DUH-nuh guitar riff starts, and then the harmony riff joins in. A simple yet unforgettable riff that urgently drives the song toward its inevitable skidding, deadly end.

[RELATED: Behind the Meaning of “Detroit Rock City” By KISS]

3. “God of Thunder” (1976)

Also included on the album Destroyer, “God of Thunder” was released as a B-side to “Flaming Youth.” But the she song took on a life of its own at shows and on KISS live albums. Naturally considered to be the signature song of the Demon, Gene Simmons famously swoops up to the rafters at concerts after spitting blood during his bass solo to perform “God of Thunder” on a high riser above the band and crowd. The repetitive, bass-heavy, and perhaps most crucially for young guitarists, fairly simple guitar riff weaves through the entire song. Fun fact: Paul Stanley wrote the tune for himself, but producer Bob Ezrin quickly helped him see the light that it was an obvious Simmons song.

4. “Love Gun” (1977)

The title track from the band’s sixth studio album, “Love Gun,” starts with rapid-fire staccato guitar, bass, and drums, leading into the sustained chords that make up the main part of the song. It didn’t do well on the charts, perhaps due to its risqué theme, but Stanley still considers it “quintessential KISS” and credits “How Many More Times” by Led Zeppelin as the inspiration for its lyrics. The band has performed “Love Gun” on every tour since its release; it appears on multiple live albums and gives Stanley his big solo moment at shows—during “Love Gun” he is airlifted over the audience to a special stage at the back of the arena. 

5. “I Was Made for Lovin’ You” (1979)

The lead single off the album Dynasty would become their biggest hit aside from the Peter Criss ballad “Beth.” “I Was Made For Loving You” was the first song the band wrote with über-songwriter and producer Desmond Child, who would sign up for many more KISS co-writes in the ’80s.

For a band that rallied their fans around rock’ n’ roll and constantly put down disco music, this tune has at least one foot in that arena. However, the results couldn’t be argued with—the song reached No. 11 on Billboard‘s Hot 100. 

Giving these classic cuts a fresh listen will likely drive home the notion that KISS didn’t stand for “Knights In Satan’s Service.” It really stood for “Keep It Simple, Stupid.” If used in the right place, under the right melody, with the appropriate attitude, rock guitar riffs don’t have to be complicated to be great. Long live KISS!

Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

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