The Time Kiss Broke Out the Synths on ‘Crazy Nights’
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On Sept. 18, 1987, Kiss reached for pop-rock super-stardom by releasing the keyboard-heavy album Crazy Nights. To hear them tell it, they probably wouldn’t make the same choice again.
Kiss had packed stadiums and been one of the biggest rock acts of the ’70s with their blend of well-written melodic hard rock and over-the-top theatrics, but had seen their career decline after several ill-advised attempts to conform to the changing trends of disco and pop. Add to that the loss of two original members and a seemingly desperate attempt to regain relevance by removing their trademark makeup, and the group had a lot to prove in the early-to-mid-’80s.
Kiss returned to the charts with the success of Lick It Up in 1983, followed it up with the platinum Animalize in 1984, and again with Asylum in 1985. But the band were still frustrated by their inability to break out of their core rock audience and attain the mainstream Top 40 success of glossy “hair metal” acts like Bon Jovi and Def Leppard, both of which had grown up on Kiss.
They shot for that breakthrough on Crazy Nights, which became a worldwide hit for Kiss and a platinum album in the United States. Although the record heralded a crossover of sorts, it just wasn’t really very good, as even some of the band members admit. “I’d give it three stars,” Paul Stanley said in the band’s official biography, Kiss: Behind the Mask. “I think it’s a better album than it wound up sounding. I think it’s a bit plastic-sounding.”
Part of the reason for that was Gene Simmons‘ limited participation. The bassist was more actively involved in pursuing a number of outside interests (such as acting and producing other groups) than he was in Kiss. So, the bulk of the work on Crazy Nights fell to Stanley, whose pop instincts dominated the record.
Listen to Kiss Perform ‘Crazy Crazy Nights’
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Stanley brought in producer Ron Nevison, who had lately demonstrated a penchant for rejuvenating the careers of aging acts like Heart and Ozzy Osbourne by getting them to work with outside pop writers on crossover material. He employed that approach with Crazy Nights, and while it yielded commercial singles like “Crazy Crazy Nights” and the power ballad “Reason to Live,” it also resulted in a synth-drenched record that sounded like Kiss was unsuccessfully chasing the styles of much younger bands.
Gene Simmons especially disliked the album. “Crazy Nights was one of my least favorite records of any of the ones we’ve done,” he stated. “It’s much too happy. […] I think the playing is okay and some of the songwriting is okay, but it’s much too pop.”
Not everyone in the band was down on the record. Guitarist Bruce Kulick was relatively new to the band, having joined up for the previous record Asylum, and he was pleased with his contributions to Crazy Nights. “I had four co-writes on the album, so I was very happy,” he recalled. “That was clearly a rock-pop album for 1987. I think Crazy Nights is a very, very well-done pop album for us.”
The lead single, “Crazy Crazy Nights,” became a No. 4 hit in the U.K., making it Kiss’ highest-charting career single in England. “Reason to Live” and “Turn on the Night” followed, and the band toured extensively, but despite the album’s commercial success, it received primarily poor reviews from both critics and the fans who had followed the band through so many changes.
Crazy Nights remains an album that hardcore Kiss fans mostly find a puzzling detour in the band’s career. In an Ultimate Classic Rock reader’s poll, “Crazy Crazy Nights” scored far and away as the fans’ favorite track from the record, with the power ballad “Reason to Live” a distant second, while the rest of the tracks scored a pittance of the votes. (We voted for “Thief in the Night,” not that anybody asked …)
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