Classic interview: Tommy Thayer - my top 10 KISS songs

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From the archive: As KISS's End Of The Road world tour, which saw them take one final runout before decommissioning their instruments, greasepaint and pyro in 2019, we were lucky enough to grab guitarist/vocalist and KISS official Spaceman Tommy Thayer, and pressed him on his favourite 10 KISS tracks.

Points to note? Well, this is a very difficult thing for an artist to do, but for KISS, whose discography is a what’s what of rock history? That’s impossible. So of course there were omissions - no Deuce! No Cold Gin!! And if you're looking for the ultimate KISS playlist, then all the songs Thayer mentions in passing should be considered essential, too.

So, in no particular order - except to say that number one is the song we’d send into space on an interstellar ambassadorial mission to spread the KISS gospel of rock - here is Tommy Thayer’s KISS top 10!

1. Rock And Roll All Nite

“Well, Rock And Roll All Nite is really one of the most famous rock ’n’ roll anthems in the world. I mean, we literally refer to it as the rock ’n’ roll national anthem. When Gene and Paul wrote it, they wanted to write a song that was an anthem, that was a calling for the fans, and really what KISS means and what it represents.

“In the chorus it says, ‘I wanna rock and roll all night and party every day,’ so it's really about the fans and what they are expressing, and what they’re feeling, that they are there to have a party and an amazing time, and they wanna rock and roll, I wanna rock and roll all night. That’s very empowering. It makes you want to put your fists up in the air and sing it.”

2. Shout It Out Loud

“When we come out onstage, just remember we are already in that transition; we have already spent two or three hours putting our own makeup on, getting into our outfits, getting psyched, warming up, anticipation. We come out onstage and it’s like a huge release, an explosion - literally and figuratively.

“And when we come out, and it’s Shout It Out Loud, and you see 15-, 20-thousand people right in front of you, going absolutely insane, with their fists in the air, the most important thing is they all have a smile on their face, and that’s infectious, and that creates that synergy between the audience and the band, and it just heightens the energy.”

3. God Gave Rock And Roll To You

“We do this in a lot of KISS songs where Gene and Paul will sing back and forth and trade verses - Lick It Up is like that. God, it is the most complicated song that we play. The arrangements, the verse, it changes key, there are a lot parts... but it is one of my favourite KISS songs because, again, it’s just a great anthem and I think it really sings true to what KISS is about.

“We are all fans, and we all love The Beatles, and Led Zeppelin, and all the great bands we grew up on, and it's a celebration of all of that. It was a good thing it was in the movie [Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey] because that was such a transitional time in rock ’n’ roll music.

“In the early ‘90s, bands like KISS were becoming a little less popular because the grunge thing was happening, and those bands were becoming very popular. I think that the movie actually gave that song - and that album - a little more exposure than it might have had otherwise.”

4. Detroit Rock City

“First of all, it was a nod to the city of Detroit, where KISS really started breaking bigger than anywhere else to begin with. They were selling out an arena there called the Cobo Hall, and that was when they were mostly playing theatres, or opening in other cities still.

Paul and Gene called me once before the album came out and they were really nervous because they felt like they had got maybe too far away from their real rock and roll roots

“It was a story about Detroit Rock City but also about kids going to the concert and KISS Army kind of expanding into that world, and creating this environment where KISS fans and the KISS Army and people going to the show. It added a whole new element. It made everything bigger. They took a chance.  

“Bob Ezrin produced this record that was really kind of more epic and, production-wise, more expansive. Paul and Gene called me once before the album came out and they were really nervous because they felt like they had got maybe too far away from their real rock and roll roots, and there was a lot of production on that album.

“They were a little hesitant, or just feeling a little nervous about it. And then, y’know, Beth was the B-side of Detroit Rock City, and DJs ended up playing that and it became a huge hit. So it just started a whole new thing, and I think it did expand the world of KISS and made it bigger.”

5. I Was Made For Loving You

“I Was Made For Loving You was another risk. It was 1979, and I think Paul wanted to write a song that would work as a dance tune, too. And for the hardcore KISS guitar fans, it was a little bit of a left turn, but ironically it has turned out to be one of the biggest songs the band has ever done, and we play it live all the time.

“We go out and play these big European festivals in the summer. Some are heavy metal festivals, like Hellfest in Clisson, France, but these metalheads... they just go berserk; they go crazy! It works in the context of KISS because KISS is a band where it doesn’t go out of date. It’s timeless. We have the ability to break down those barriers and not be stuck in a certain genre or a certain bubble or something. That’s what is great about KISS.”

6. Got To Choose

“Got To Choose is one of my favourite old KISS songs. Those first three studio records and then KISS Alive!, to me, that’s the template. That is what got me going in the first place, playing guitar, and when I was 13, 14, discovering KISS and other bands at the time.

“It was a really important time in my life, so if you go back to those records, I could tell you a song like 100,000 Years, Black Diamond, Got To Choose, Hotter Than Hell, Coming Home, Rock Bottom, and one of my favourites, which is really obscure, I love the attitude and the way Paul sings it is Anything For My Baby. Going Blind, Parasite, Watching You, I think those songs are timeless.

“Gene and Paul wrote them, and their influences back then were Zeppelin and Humble Pie, stuff like that was just timeless, solid rock and roll stuff. Real catchy and great parts, great guitar solos. Ace did a great job back then and it was solid.”

7. Out Of This World

“I’m a little biased, but I think Out Of This World is a cool tune. It’s on Monster. But I think there is a lot of great stuff on Monster - and Sonic Boom, too.

“The thing that happens with records like that, that you put out in later years, is that you are competing with the legacy of these huge albums that came out 30, 40 years before, y’know, like Destroyer, KISS Alive!, and it is just hard. It takes time. Songs have to stand the test of time before they become that classic where everybody knows it. So it’s harder for those newer songs on those newer records.

“But, of course, we do Hell Or Hallelujah. We do Say Yeah!, which is great. We were doing Modern Day Delilah. We do Psycho Circus!”

8. Psycho Circus

“Psycho Circus is 20 years ago now and it’s almost become a classic in a sense because that’s kind of a KISS standard. We are talking about the End Of The Road tour for KISS, in 2019, and we’re gonna be trying to pick songs from the ‘80s, from different eras, Heaven’s On Fire, Crazy Nights - we love Hide Your Heart. There are a lot of good ones and it is hard to ultimately choose.

“You have to pick the songs that are dynamic and will get the biggest response. Some of the more die-hard fans have a little issue with that because they want to hear deep cuts, but the truth is, when you are in a stadium or an arena and you play something that’s too deep, 99 per cent of the people are gonna sit down.”

9. Black Diamond

“That’s an epic tune. It’s the end of the set.

“There’s a lot of great guitar stuff. 100,000 years is cool to play. For me, Let Me Go Rock And Roll is always a lot of fun to play because there are about five guitar solos in it - and it’s not because it’s all about guitar solos, but those are really great rock and roll songs with a lot of guitar, and a lot of people love that.

“I gotta be honest with you, my whole approach with guitar is really the song, and the song itself is really the most important thing to me. I don’t get caught up too far into all the guitar solo stuff. I love it, but great songs are great songs, and that’s what I enjoy more than anything.”

10. Love Her All I Can

“Umm… One tune that is pretty obscure, and it’s not an older song either, but on the Psycho Circus album there’s a song called I Pledge Allegiance To The State Of Rock And Roll.

I actually recorded the Psycho Circus album but wasn’t credited because it was [pauses] a transitional time!

“I actually recorded that album but wasn’t credited because it was [pauses] a transitional time! [Laughs] I played all that stuff, and I Pledge Allegiance To The State Of Rock And Roll, I think that’s a cool one... really high-energy, up-tempo, very loud and ballsy tune. But let me pick something else!

“Let’s see, going deep, going back... How about Come On And Love Me? Even though that’s not too deep. Deeper? OK, how about Love Her All I Can? I think that’s a great deep cut. We actually play that song when we do our acoustic unplugged sets, like the KISS Cruise, or on the VIP meet and greet events.

“From what I understand, that riff was originally a Wicked Lester song, Gene and Paul’s band before KISS, and when they recorded it they beefed it up, simplified it, and made it more straight-ahead. But I think it’s great and, again, there are great guitar parts and great harmonies in that song. And that’s a good deep cut for KISS.

“There were a few songs like that. She was another Wicked Lester song and that was one of my favourite early KISS songs. I loved She, and, again, She transitioned into Ace’s guitar solo and that was a cool thing. There was a whole jam and a big guitar solo thing that happened, and I loved all that stuff.”

KISS’s End Of The Road world tour features five UK shows from 6-16 July 2019. See for tickets.

Jonathan Horsley

Jonathan Horsley has been writing about guitars and guitar culture since 2005, playing them since 1990, and regularly contributes to MusicRadar, Total Guitar and Guitar World. He uses Jazz III nylon picks, 10s during the week, 9s at the weekend, and shamefully still struggles with rhythm figure one of Van Halen’s Panama.