40 Years Ago: Peter Criss Stumbles Again on ‘Let Me Rock You’
Peter Criss did not go into Let Me Rock You with a great deal of momentum – and this third solo album didn't exactly help the cause.
The former Kiss drummer had released two previous efforts under his own name: Peter Criss as part of the band's solo-album four-pack in 1979 and 1980's Out Of Control, which Criss began recording before his departure from Kiss in May 1980, four months before its release. The first achieved platinum status on the strength of Kiss' commercial momentum at the time, while the second did not even chart.
It was a brutal rebuke for the co-author and lead singer of Kiss' highest-charting single, "Beth." But things had actually gone downhill for both camps, as the group's brand had been tarnished by 1981's Music From 'The Elder'. The Kiss Army wasn't waiting with bated breath for the latest from a largely un-prolific ex-member.
The best that could be said as Let Me Rock You arrived in June 1982 was that it was Criss' best solo outing. His true first statement after leaving Kiss tellingly featured Criss' photo for the first time ever on its cover. The 10-track set is diverse and polished, a mark of how clearly dialed in Criss and producer Vini Poncia were after working on the two previous releases.
"I wanted to do my own thing, my own music," Criss told Gary James, "and 10 years in Kiss was enough for me. I got tired of playing the heavy metal stuff. I like writing love songs; I like playing with strings, horns and pianos. I really dig that, man. I'm very proud I was with the guys and I guess I'll always be the fourth member of Kiss, just like a Beatle will always be a Beatle. Things don't last forever. I didn't want to be 50 years old someday and saying, 'Could I have made it on my music ability or was it just the great, grand show that Kiss throws?'"
Criss certainly demonstrated range on Let Me Rock You, including prototypical early '80s rockers such as "Let It Go," the glammy Meat Loaf-esque "Move On Over" and "Destiny," which sounds like a Pat Benatar outtake or a candidate for the forthcoming St. Elmo's Fire soundtrack.
Listen to Peter Criss Perform 'Feel Like Heaven'
"Tears" is a lush uptempo track co-written by Vinnie Cusano, who in that same year became Kiss' Vinnie Vincent, while Argent alumnus Russ Ballard penned the anonymous cranker "Some Kinda Heaven" and Let Me Rock You's doo-wop flavored title track. Kiss' Gene Simmons chimed in too, providing backing vocals as well as letting Criss record the (strangely) lo-fi rocker "Feel Like Heaven," which had been cast aside during the Elder sessions.
Criss certainly got by with a little help from his friends on Peter Criss and Out of Control, but Let Me Rock You boasted an even more celebrated guest list – including guitar aces Steve Lukather of Toto, Caleb Quaye and Michael Landau and well-credentialed keyboardists James Newton Howard and Jai Winding. Criss also took on John Lennon's "Jealous Guy," delivering it with Ziggy Stardust ambience and Elton John piano.
The ballad "First Day in the Rain," meanwhile, was written by future Billy Idol partner-in-crime Steve Stevens, who had been recorded the song with his band the Fine Malibus as a demo for Island Record. Poncia heard the track and liked it, and Stevens struck a deal to let it be used on the album.
"I wasn't a Kiss fan, just a struggling songwriter at that point," Stevens told Kerrang! in 1986. "I said, 'Great! You can have the track so long as you let me play the solo on it.' So that's how that came about. ... It sounds like Dion and the Belmonts or something. It's a real slush ballad, not what you would expect of me. I was thinking that [Criss'] album might actually sell. How quickly we learn."
Instead, Let Me Rock You did not sell. In fact, it was not even officially released in the U.S. until 1998, when it came out on compact disc. Criss would go on to play in bands such as the Keep and Balls of Fire, but it would be 12 years before he released another solo album, 1994's Cat No. 1. Two years later, of course, he was back in Kiss, as a guest on MTV Unplugged and then for the Alive/Worldwide Tour. He remained in the band until March 2004 and then returned to solo work with One For All in 2007.
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