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He’s the fire-breathing God of Thunder. To the public at large, KISS’ Gene Simmons is the stalking bass-playing monster in dragon boots who howls at the moon. As for his listening habits, based on his dark, vampiric stage character, one would assume that his musical meter leans toward the heaviest of rock. But in reality, Simmons’ musical tastes are surprising and varied, as you’ll discover. 

Before we attended to the task at hand, Simmons insisted upon educating us, stressing the importance of roots music as the foundation of rock and roll: “As a preamble, when I first came to America as an eight-and-a-half-year-old boy, this was pre-Beatles. I came to America with my mother in 1958, and I had never heard of rock and roll, and I actually had never seen a television set. We didn’t have one. We were very poor in Israel, and I never could have imagined that there was a magic box where people flew through the air and there were monsters and the Empire State Building and King Kong. I never imagined. And the first music I heard in America was Chuck Berry and Little Richard and all that. I actually met Little Richard a few times and took my son Nick to see Little Richard. We went backstage, and he couldn’t have been nicer. ‘So good to see you’ and everything. And he said, ‘Who’s this young man?’ And I said, ‘That’s my son Nick. Nick, you know, Little Richard, this is a very, very important person.’ And Little Richard said to him, ‘Young man, rock and roll, I invented it!’ (laughs) He went on in his Little Richard way, saying, ‘You ain’t got no Beatles without me!’ (laughs). 

"So as I said, when I first came to America, I first heard Chuck Berry, Little Richard, all that stuff. And in a very strange twist of fate, I did the eulogy for Chuck Berry’s funeral at the behest of the Berry family. So as a sidebar, I want to stress the importance of roots. If it wasn’t for African Americans, especially men ... of course, there’s Big Mama Thornton, but it was the guys, Little Richard, Fats Domino, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, these original people who came out of what was known as the chitlin’ circuit, who actually started writing their own songs. All these guys who came up out of the blues and started doing this sort of new version of rhythm and blues, which became rock and roll. ‘Good Golly Miss Molly’ bears little resemblance to blues, although it has those three chords. But it’s not blues, it’s rock and roll. The melodies are different. Blues usually concerned itself with blues subject matter. My baby is gone and my heart is broken, that kind of thing, and rock and roll was more uplifting. It was fun. ‘Roll over Beethoven, tell Tchaikovsky the news’ — I urge everybody to go out and check out the roots.”

— Ken Sharp

  

Ray Charles — Greatest Hits

Ray Charles, Greatest Hits

You can’t get any better than “Hit the Road Jack.” It has one repeating, descending bass line. It doesn’t have a bridge; it doesn’t have a chorus. It only has that riff that keeps going back over and over again, and on top of that is a haunting melody with a give and take in the background. It’s just classic.

Ray Charles did, in fact, have a country & western album that he recorded that he paid for. He did songs like “I Can’t Stop Loving You.” He covered country & western songs, “Crying Time” and all that. And his record company said, “You’re out of your mind. You’re a rhythm & blues artist, ‘Georgia (On My Mind)’ and ‘Hit the Road Jack’ and all that. You can’t do country & western. That’s white people music.” And he said, “But I love this music, and I’m going to record it.” They said, “Well, you’re gonna pay for it,” and he did well and those became the biggest albums of his career.

  

white album

The Beatles, The Beatles (The White Album)

The Beatles’ “White Album” is one of my favorites because you’re seeing turmoil within perhaps the greatest band that ever existed that recorded its own music, where each member was a star. But you could hear and feel the disjointed sense of that album, although clearly the songs shined and the playing and the production was terrific. It’s interesting that Abbey Road perhaps was the greatest Beatles album, and they were breaking up at that point, but somehow that had a more unified thing. But just for crazy out there music, it’s gotta be “The White Album.”

  

Beck

Jeff Beck Group, Truth/Beck-Ola

There was a release pairing Truth and Beck-Ola together which I bought more than once. Before Led Zeppelin, there was a band called the Jeff Beck Group, and then Jimmy Page heard what Jeff was doing and said, “I got to put a band together,” and he formed Led Zeppelin. For me, if I had my druthers, playing the first two Led Zeppelin records or the first two Jeff Beck Group records, it’s the Jeff Beck Group, hands down.

  

dave-clark-five

Dave Clark Five, Greatest Hits

The DC5 were so underrated and so spectacular. It’s interesting: They were, in fact, bigger than The Beatles for a short time. They had a movie out, Catch Us If You Can, while The Beatles had A Hard Day’s Night. They were bigger than The Beatles and they had their own sound. The Beatles had the Liverpool sound, and the DC5 had the Tottenham sound. When I first heard their music, I loved it. It had kind of relentless drumming, which, of course, were studio musicians secretly, but terrific production, great singing. I always thought their lead singer, Mike Smith, belonged in The Beatles. He looked right, he played keyboards and had a spectacular voice. Looked great, sounded great. And in fact, Dave Clark called me to be in their documentary because he said he’d always been appreciative of the kind words I’d say about the band. When KISS played Wembley in London, I sat down and started reminiscing about what that group meant to me because music is always more than music. It’s the soundtrack of your life, who you were with, what was going on and all that.

  

Patsy Cline — Greatest Hits

Patsy Cline, Greatest Hits

Her music hit me like a truck running you over, and the more I read about her, the more fascinated I became. She had a song called “Crazy” and in country & western culture, you couldn’t say the word crazy. It was supposed to be vulgar. And here was this janitor by the name of Willie Nelson who wrote “Crazy.” By the way, the classic songs, like “Yesterday” or “Michelle” or even the Charlie Chaplin-written song “Smile,” start off with the name of the song. Same thing with “Crazy,” and that is the sign of great, not just good, but great songwriting. And when I first heard the words in “Crazy,” and the fact that it came out of country & western, blew me away. And then I heard all her other tracks. So you can’t appreciate music without really appreciating music. Yes, Jeff Beck’s riffs and guitar playing, the bombast of Led Zeppelin, but you can’t leave Patsy Cline over on the side.

  

ABBA — Greatest Hits

ABBA, Greatest Hits

Yes, we like death metal, and yes, I like The Killers and I like Tame Impala — I like all kinds of things. But what is it that rises to a level of greatness no matter the musical genre, it’s the ability to craft songs that are forever. I was going to say The Bee Gees, but it pisses off a lot of people, but those songs are undeniable. So if I’m riding in my car and ABBA music comes on, I turn it up and that’s the sign of greatness. Undeniable songwriting. You just can’t touch it. That’s why I have to pick ABBA because it’s just undeniable. I could have said The Four Seasons or The Beach Boys because there’s a wealth of great material.

  

LedZeppelin1

Led Zeppelin, Led Zeppelin

When I first heard “Communication Breakdown,” I thought, Oh, my God, this sounds like hell on four wheels. I thought it was a chick singer. I didn’t know it was a guy. I never heard of Robert Plant. I didn’t know anything. It’s just you turn it up, you say, Oh, what is that? I want to hear that! I mean, the same thing happened to me when I first heard The Beatles. What is that jangly sound and what is that? You want to turn it up! That first Zeppelin record is undeniable. The fact that the band had one guitar player, one bass player and drums and were able to sound like that live, that says a lot. Undeniable. But they were able to reproduce that live just with those guys — instead of The Beatles, you’d need musicians to do Sgt. Pepper.

  

20 All-Time Greatest Hits

James Brown, 20 All-Time Greatest Hits!

James Brown came up from nothing in the swamps of Georgia and somehow created himself, educated himself and learned the craft without going to dancing school or music school. It bears noting there was a concert film called The T.A.M.I. Show, and it had Jan and Dean, The Rolling Stones and James Brown. I suggest everybody should watch it. James Brown went on right before The Rolling Stones. This is when The Rolling Stones were first coming up. James Brown tore that stage up like nobody. And there’s a telling close-up of Mick Jagger offstage watching James Brown nervously biting his nails. And then when the Stones came out, you see Mick Jagger nervously trying to do James Brown. And all that strange dancing that Jagger has been doing ever since is totally the white soulless version of what James Brown did.

  

tommy

The Who, Tommy

Albums are full statements, and most bands put out collections of songs. Tommy is a great example. That album still stands the test of time. Not only was it made into a movie, but those songs and the performance are clearly extraordinary. Believe me, I know what I’m talking about. We tried to do The Elder, we couldn’t shine their shoes. Tommy is a standalone, not only a concept album, but a collection of songs that all fit, pieces of the puzzle that are from the same puzzle. The first time I saw The Who live? It’s a funny story. Bill Aucoin, who just came on to manage KISS in late ’73, said to myself and Paul, “Hey, we’re going to Philly to see The Who, want to come along?” It was the Quadrophenia tour. Lynyrd Skynyrd opened. Al Kooper, who discovered them, came from Blood, Sweat and Tears. And we’re sitting there and The Who come on and we can’t wait. Quadrophenia, in my estimation, was a flawed attempt, it was reaching too high. I didn’t know what it was. The sound was all mired, and The Who weren’t really The Who. They didn’t do what we came to see. And I remember Paul and I looked at each other. This is going to be embarrassing because I hold The Who in such high esteem, “We’re going to kill them.” And that’s what you want from new talent. We’re pretty good onstage. I want new bands to come and see us and go, “Yeah, pretty good. We’ll kill them.” That’s what every boxer should have in his heart when he steps into the ring with the champion. Otherwise, you’re never going to become a champion. The interesting thing about Keith Moon is he couldn’t work in any other band. But because you had a band that had one guitar player and one bassist, there was a lot of room for him to be Keith Moon. I mean, imagine Keith Moon in The Beatles? But it also says a lot that if Ringo or John Bonham was in The Who, it would be too plodding. It wouldn’t have that soaring effect.

  

Destroyer

KISS, Destroyer

I’d select Destroyer as my final pick. Semi-concept album. Some of those songs have survived the test of time. It was a strange period. It was the beginning of the end, really. The band started to fall to pieces way back in ’76. 

The truth is we all like all kinds of music. What’s interesting is in the dressing room, we put on all kinds of music. There have been artists who have had those kind of standalone songs and you just go, “Wait a minute.” Things like “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore” by The Walker Brothers. Undeniable. I love The Raspberries, too.

  

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One of the KISS covers of Goldmine's Oct/Nov 2022 issue

One of the KISS covers of Goldmine's Oct/Nov 2022 issue