Released in February 1974, KISS’ self-titled debut album was a nigh-on perfect synthesis of swaggering hard rock and hook-laden power-pop. However, it failed to set the Billboard 200 on fire and its relatively modest sales meant that, when they came to record their second album, Hotter Than Hell, the New York hustlers still had to convince both consumers and the rock’n’roll establishment that they were here to stay.
Though already renowned for their flamboyance, KISS needed all the chutzpah they could muster when they came to record Hotter Than Hell. Not only were the band struggling to establish themselves, but their label, Casablanca Records, was attempting to stay afloat financially. To add further insult to injury, co-frontman Paul Stanley’s guitar was stolen the same day that KISS arrived in Los Angeles to begin work on the new record in the summer of 1974.
“We tried to capture how we sounded live”
None of these omens augured well, and when the band reunited with their production team, Kenny Kerner and Richie Wise, at LA’s famous Village Recorder studio (home to recordings byFrank Sinatra, Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan) for the Hotter Than Hell sessions, neither party relished working together – even in such august surroundings.
“We hoped to remedy the deficiencies we found in the first album,” Paul Stanley later confessed in KISS: Behind The Mask. “We were never as rock’n’roll-y or good-time-y as we sounded on that album. We were much heavier live. So, for Hotter Than Hell, we tried to capture sonically how we sounded live. Unfortunately, the people we were working with might not have been the right people to be doing it with.”
Some contemporary reviews took issue with the album’s production, but Hotter Then Hell’s stock has risen in recent years. In 2013, Rolling Stone included it in their Top 10 KISS albums, observing that it “boasts more than its fair share of Klassik KISS Kuts” – a verdict that’s entirely justified.
Classics in the making
Once again, the tracklist delivered ten tight, well-arranged rockers, few of which broached the three-and-a-half-minute mark or strayed more than seconds away from a catchy, radio-friendly chorus. Future live favourite ‘Got To Choose’ led the way in style, with ‘All The Way’, the self-explanatory ‘Let Me Go, Rock’n’Roll’, Simmons’ lascivious ‘Goin’ Blind’ and the Stanley-penned ‘All Right Now’-esque title track all coming on like classics in the making.
Elsewhere, while mercurial lead guitarist Ace Frehley still lacked confidence in his singing abilities (it would be 1977 before he’d record a lead vocal, on ‘Shock Me’), he began to come into his own as a songwriter on Hotter Than Hell. His Paul Stanley co-write, ‘Comin’ Home’, was a decent slice of Raspberries-esque power pop, but it was his two self-penned tunes, ‘Parasite’ and ‘Strange Ways’ (later covered by Anthrax and Megadeth, respectively), which showed KISS were toughening-up their sound with arena venues in mind.
Strangely, despite the quality of the songs and the album’s arresting, Japanese-inspired sleeve, Hotter Than Hell only scraped the Top 100 of the Billboard 200 upon its release, on 22 October 1974. However, dynamic live versions of the album’s best moments, ‘Let Me Go, Rock’n’Roll’, ‘Got To Choose’ and ‘Parasite’, later featured prominently among the highlights of Alive!, KISS’ landmark 1975 release which revived Casablanca’s fortunes and provided the band with their decisive commercial breakthrough in one fell swoop.
KISS’ Hot In The Shade and Hotter Than Hell albums have been reissued on coloured vinyl. Buy them here.