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Photo Credit: KISS

Upon founding guitarist Ace Frehley‘s departure from KISS in 1982, Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons were met with the objective of finding a suitable replacement. That decision didn’t take too much prodding, as songwriter Adam Mitchell (who had been collaborating with the band on their upcoming ‘Creatures of the Night’ studio album) presented them with a rising musician by the name of Vinnie Cusano.

This guitarist had a technique and personality that meshed with Simmons and Stanley, only the Starchild had a more fitting moniker in mind: Vinnie Vincent. With the assistance of Stanley, our person of focus in this article soon transitioned from working as a staff songwriter for the ‘Happy Days’ and ‘Joanie Loves Chachi’ television series to becoming The Ankh Warrior and lead guitarist for one of the most instantly recognizable rock bands to ever leave stadiums battered by pyrotechnics and “clown white” face paint.

This partnership wasn’t only a one-way street of benefits; the addition of Vincent into the band’s songwriting chemistry allowed KISS to break away from the pop-oriented approach and subsequent decrease in popularity which followed the release of such studio albums as 1980’s ‘Unmasked’ and 1981’s ‘Music From “The Elder”,’ and instead resort to the heavy metal-laced stylings of their earlier years on the triumphant return-to-form ‘Creatures of the Night.’

Similarly, the group found a new life in the then-commercially popular glam metal scene of the 1980s with the release of their 1983 effort, ‘Lick it Up.’ It was during the tour in support of ‘Lick it Up’ that Stanley and Vincent began to find difficultly working with one another, particularly with Vincent’s habit of breaking into impromptu guitar solos when it was time to close out the concert. While this would be the final involvement Vinnie Vincent would have as far as being an official member of KISS is concerned, the guitarist would have one last appearance as a songwriter on 1992’s ‘Revenge.’

Without further ado, here are our top ten selections from the Vinnie Vincent-period of ‘The Hottest Band in the World.’

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10) “Killer”

From ‘Creatures of the Night’ (1982)

The galloping rhythm guitar-bracketed “Killer” served as the second single from Vinnie Vincent’s debut effort alongside the members of KISS, and appropriately introduces our countdown. In what has become a reoccurring theme in regards to the band’s current lineup, looks can be deceiving, and despite Ace Frehley’s iconic Spaceman design appearance on the ‘Creature of the Night’ cover artwork the Space Ace doesn’t actually perform on the record. In fact, four different unaccredited guitarists appear in some form or another, however it’s Vincent who takes command on this high octane track.

 

 

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9) “Exciter”

From ‘Lick it Up’ (1983)

As we just previously noted, looks can be deceiving when it comes to the Vinnie Vincent-era of KISS, and the opening number to ‘Lick it Up’ is no exception. Vincent co-wrote the take-no-prisoners anthem with the assistance of Paul Stanley so he receives his dues here, however it isn’t ironic that the first song on the first album to officially acknowledge Vinnie Vincent as the new guitarist of KISS actually has Rick Derringer, recognized for his work with Steely Dan and brothers Edgar and Johnny Winter, playing lead?

 

 

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8) Keep Me Comin’

From ‘Creatures of the Night’ (1982)

A blinding compilation of pinch harmonics and palm muted chord progressions accent the brooding overtones of “Keep Me Comin’,” a song which maintained the undivided attention of KISS fans with a continuation of a energetic pace and soaring vocal harmonies (and of course, the blistering guitar style of Vincent).

 

 

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7) “Saint and Sinner”

From ‘Creatures of the Night’ (1982)

This Gene Simmons-fronted rocker doesn’t pack the same intensity in terms of an accelerated tempo and manic cascades of effects, however it’s notable all-the-same for showing Vinnie Vincent’s ability to craft a composition that maintains a character similar to that found on ‘Hotter Than Hell’ or ‘Rock and Roll Over’ while also retaining his own identity through the occasional natural harmonics slide and impressionable guitar solo.

 

 

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6) “Unholy”

From ‘Revenge’ (1992)

Nearly a decade following Vinnie Vincent’s official exit following KISS’ 1984 tour in support of ‘Lick it Up,’ and suddenly we see The Ankh Warrior made a surprise appearance in the liner credits on now just one, but three new songs on the band’s 1992 studio album ‘Revenge.’ Two other “official” guitarists, namely Mark St. John and Bruce Kullick, had already made their own entrances into the lineup, so many fans were left pondering, “What’s going on here?” Simmons’ official account says that Vincent attempted to make amends with Paul and himself during the writing stages of ‘Revenge,’ and was able to assist in the making of three songs before resorting “to his old tricks again.” Regardless of the circumstances, “Unholy” remains a standout track that could lyrically be interpreted as autobiographical to Simmons’ Demon persona.

 

 

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5) “Not For the Innocent”

From ‘Lick it Up’ (1983)

This sophomore selection from ‘Lick it Up’ reinforced notions that musical direction of KISS was back on the right track, proudly showcasing some compelling vocal achievements from Simmons in addition to the accelerating technique of Vinnie Vincent, who overlays a pick grinding guitar work atop a demolishing main chord progression, in addition to a concluding sequence of strings bends which match the vocal screeches of Simmons.

 

 
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4) “All Hell’s Breakin’ Loose”

From ‘Lick it Up’ (1983)

One of the stronger examples of rap-rock fusion at it’s finest, “All Hell’s Breakin’ Loose” musically boasts an apparent Led Zeppelin-influence initially placed forward by late drummer Eric Carr, which then in turn reinforced with some of Vinnie Vincent’s most formidable rhythm guitar work. The song’s verse structure, which somewhat controversially was built around a rap from Paul Stanley, was considered as almost sacrilegious to rock and roll by Carr, however his opinion quickly shifted after the track was named as the second single from ‘Lick it Up.’

 

 
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3) “I Love it Loud”

From ‘Creatures of the Night’ (1982)

The thunderous percussion introduction to this ‘Creatures of the Night’ staple would later become one of the most instantly recognizable song introductions in the KISS catalog. As the remainder of “I Love it Loud” begins to carry out, we’re soon met with infectious vocal melodies, a commanding Simmons-led rock-oriented lyrical message, and the splicing string bends and thrusting distorted guitar chords attributed by Vincent, all of which ultimately produced on of the more exceptional songs from this era. Want a second listen? The members of KISS are one step ahead of you, and return after the fade out for another run through of the song’s distinctive battle cry.

 

 

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2) “Lick it Up”

From ‘Lick it Up’ (1983)

Commercial glam metal perfection arrived in the form of the title track from 1983’s ‘Lick it Up.’ KISS have never had too difficult of a time moving records because of their widely recognized (and arguably a little too overtly incorporated) image, however it’s anthemic party rock feel allowed it to climb the charts across the world, and Vincent’s guitar work has a lot to do with it. Originally intended to boast a full-fledged guitar solo (which is said to have been shot down by Simmons), instead Vincent transitions the song into an ominous breakdown before rocketing back into another run through of the refrain.

 

 

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1) “War Machine”

From ‘Creatures of the Night’ (1982)

Overtaking our countdown of the Top 10 Vinnie Vincent-era KISS Songs is the most notorious of Vinnie Vincent-bolstered Gene Simmons-directed selections, “War Machine” is, as the title not-so-discretely implies, prepared to “Strike down the one who leads me/ I’m gonna take his place/ Gonna vindicate the human race.” Vincent unleashes compelling cataracts of dives and neck-spanning arpeggios, which when layered atop the track’s menacing rhythm guitar and concluding screams results in a spectacle of governing six-stringed chaos at it’s best.