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Paul Stanley: In The Solo Album Spotlight

A refocused examination of the Star Child's 1978 solo album and, it's alright.

By Julian Gill



"I feel that I've really come out on my own. I think my solo album is definitely as purely me as can be expected. I mean, nobody is going to sound totally original" (Guitar Player Magazine, 1978).

Of the four members, Paul Stanley's solo album probably presented the greatest challenge in its creation. Where Gene may have been the "face" of KISS, Paul was the front-man, the heart and soul of the band and its primary songwriter. Paul's album was always going to "sound" like a KISS album since his was also the primary voice for the band, and if nothing else that provided Paul with a definite balancing act to attempt. Yet, for all of that pigeon-holing, Paul's body of work prior to 1978 had run a gamut of styles, from soft acoustic ("Hard Luck Woman") to straight-forward rockers ("Hotter than Hell") through songs with tongue-in-cheek or thinly veiled innuendo ("Love Gun"). From such a menagerie one would expect Paul to provide a similar range of material when unleashed in the studio without any of the restrictions of working within the framework of KISS. Ultimately, though, Paul stretched his boundaries for his album, without over-reaching or heading into any uncomfortable directions. Instead, he relied on subtle touches or lush embellishments to present a highly focused atmosphere.

Paul's choice of producer, Jeff Glixman, may have seemed odd. By 1978 Jeff had really only worked with Kansas, producing four of their albums between 1975-1977 including their hit "Carry on Wayward Son." His services would only be utilized as a co-producer on four of the album's tracks ("Take Me Away (Together as One)," "It's Alright," "Love in Chains," and "Goodbye") with Paul handling the rest himself. There has been some suggestion that working with Glixman was not working out for Paul and he decided to finish the production of the album himself, but that situation is actually reversed. Paul had had a guiding role in the production of KISS albums, so the requirement for a producer was somewhat moot and his project started out with him just hitting the studio with a band and his material and working it out with repeated takes while each musician found their groove. The other core player was naturally Bob Kulick, who would finally receive a credit for his performance on a KISS-related project. Bob recalled that Gene also wanted him to play on his album, but once he'd recorded with Paul he wasn't "allowed" to (DS-BD3). This is somewhat illustrative of the inherent competition that existed between certain band members on their solo projects, though it wouldn't be too surprising considering either of their roles and the state of interpersonal relationships within the band by 1978. Ironically, even with this sense of competition, there was a guitarist who would appear on both Gene and Paul's solo albums in the form of Steve Lacey. It seems that certain session players were "shareable," while others were not...

One might be able to suggest that Paul's resulting album was somewhat formulaic. Songs starting acoustically before heading into full-throttle rock territory, as had been done with "Black Diamond" or "I Want You" are present: The epic "Tonight (You Belong to Me)" is strong evidence of that, though it takes that building style to a whole new level with the lush layering of the guitars and vocals (along with the further prominent use of the e-bow that had emerged on "Love Gun"). In discussions in Guitar Player magazine, Paul commented about some of the technical experimentation during the creation of the album: "I used the E Bow on quite a few [tracks]. I really found it incredibly useful. I don't know how practical it is for live performing, because you can only utilize it on one string at a time, which really makes it a little difficult. Most of the time on [the album] when there was an E Bow there was really between three and six of them over-dubbed. They were on 'Tonight You Belong To Me'; on the melodic line from the front of the heavy section, it's not a keyboard, it's the E Bows. On 'Move On,' the next song, they come in around halfway through the solo; there's about six of them there. And then on 'Ain't Quite Right,' they tend to give a certain kind of mood, like a haunting kind of sound. To me it's something like an oboe, or a synthesizer crossed with an oboe, and I've been fascinated with sounds like that ever since I can remember" (GPM, 1978). If it isn't "new," then it was certainly a highly refined and focused presentation of that sort of style of song with the arrangement and execution demonstrating a high level of attention to detail. As an opening track it lays down a gauntlet of sorts. Hardly surprising was Paul's choice of Bob Kulick for lead guitar duties. While Paul had the chops to play just about every instrument himself he was more than comfortable and secure to use the guitarist he had often cut demos with.

More than an album of two sides, Paul's album was an album of two disparate major sessions: East Coast and West, or the "Jeff" versus "Paul" halves. Recording of the album started at Paul's favorite studio, Electric Lady, in New York City. While the sessions later moved out to The Record Plant and Village Recorder studios in Los Angeles, the album was basically split into two halves, with each done on either coast. Bob remembered, "We did half the record in New York, and then there was a break and I had gone to Europe and Australia with Meat Loaf. We came back and the rest of the band went to Hawaii and we went to LA and worked on the rest with Paul. So Steve and I stayed actually at the Westwood Marquee and we were there for like six weeks" (DS-BD3). The break in recording can be dated to have occurred around May/June 1978 due to Meat Loaf's touring schedule. Paul, too, would have been busy in May with obligations relating to the "KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park" movie filming in California. Bob has recalled that the first sessions in New York were conducted in a fast-paced businesslike manner, "It was amazing because the half that we did in New York took like 10 days. We went in there all business and just took care of it. The part in LA took like 10 times as long. Because it was LA, 'What time do you wanna start today'? 'Well, I want to go to the beach, and then...' We didn't get any work done, but we had fun" (DS-BD3)!

The material initially cut at Electric Lady, in late-February 1978 (Sharp, Ken - BtM) with Dave Wittman engineering (assisted by Michael Frondelli), included: "Tonight You Belong To Me," "Move On," "Ain't Quite Right," and "Wouldn't You Like To Know Me." This is likely due to the participation of both Richie Fontana (drums), Steve Buslowe (Bass), and the "Rouge" girls (Maria Vidal, Diana Grasselli, and Miriam Naomi Valle) on backing vocals. Steve, like Bob, had been working with Meat Loaf on his "Bat out of Hell" tour, and was brought into the sessions by Bob when Paul requested a bass player. Bob remembered, "The bass player on the record was the bass player who worked with me at the time in Meat Loaf. And he was the bass player who had worked with me with Michael Bolotin who went on to become Michael Bolton" (DS-BD3). Steve also later made a guest appearance on Bruce Kulick's "Worlds Apart" Blackjack album released in 1980. Richie, who had been working with Billy Squier in the Bill Aucoin managed band Piper, was recruited through that connection, though Piper had toured also with KISS for a short run of dates prior to their split. As part of the AMI family Richie was a known quantity to Paul, who was probably more than aware of the demise of that band when he requested Richie's services. Richie went on to work with the Sean Delaney Skatt Brothers project in 1979. The "Rouge" girls were the vocalists in "Desmond Child & Rouge," a band that had been formed while the members was in college and were starting to build a following when they met Paul in New York. Their connection with Paul eventually led to the first Paul Stanley and Desmond Child co-written song, "The Fight" (appearing on their 1979 debut album). Desmond and Paul's song-writing partnership became more important in the years to follow.

These core songs provide the starting sequence for the first side of the album and were produced by Paul. "Move On," if nothing more than homage to Bad Company and straight-forward rock 'n' roll, allowed Paul the use of the prominent backing vocals of the "Rouge" girls, in a manner similar to how the KISSettes had been used on "Love Gun." As a result the first songs are more of a band effort and there's a special synergy that carries through. Working in such a casual manner also seems to indicate that these sessions were more demo than fully-fledged album recording sessions. Of this batch of songs two had been co-written by Mikel Japp. Mikel would be the only co-writer credited on Paul's album, working on three songs with him ("Move On," "Ain't Quite Right," and "Take Me Away"). Mikel had been introduced to Paul via photographer Barry Levine, who suggested that the two get together to write and playing a demo of the melodic "A Piece of The Action" for Paul. The pop song had been placed with John Waite's The Babys for their Ron Nevison produced "Broken Heart" album in 1977. Paul and Mikel got together at a rehearsal studio in Los Angeles and worked out idea pieces that Mikel had into the resulting three songs. Other elements of Paul's influences come out on songs such as "Wouldn't You like to Know Me," which while following a straight-forward good time rock style allows Paul's Raspberries influences to come through.

The remaining song on Side-A of the album, "Take Me Away (Together as One)," the third Japp co-composition, is a transitional song in terms of the players involved. It's the sole song on which Carmine Appice drums, and the final contribution of Steve Buslowe on bass. It seems likely that it was the first song cut in L.A. at Village Recorders with Jeff Glixman engineering. With layers of acoustic and electric guitars with ebbs and flows the song is highly representative of the personal musical growth of Paul as an artist as he paints broad strokes musically. Carmine was one of the most notable guests on Paul's album, having by 1978 played with the likes of Vanilla Fudge, Cactus, and Rod Stewart. Cactus, naturally, was a band that Wicked Lester guitarist Ron Leejack had been doing session work (and limited live performances) prior to working with Gene and Paul. Carmine had several connections with the KISS camp, having been managed at the time by Aucoin Management, and later having another manager who had been part of Aucoin Management. Carmine's involvement on Paul's album was simply a result of he and Paul being friends, and Paul asking him to appear on a song. Carmine recalled, "I used to hang out with Paul. When they were doing the solo albums Paul asked me to play on his - so I did" (Metal-exiles.com).

The final four songs from the Los Angeles sessions (and album) feature a different rhythm section: Drummer Craig Kampf, who had worked with the Hudson Brothers and Nick Gilder (other Casablanca artists) and also went on to work with the Skatt Brothers project, and bassist Eric Nelson was in the Nick Gilder band. Of the four songs the stand-out remains "Hold Me, Touch Me (Think Of Me When We're Apart)," the single released in support of the album and Paul's first fully-fledged ballad. While Paul was ready for some limited experimentation outside the confines of the band structure. The project allowed him to write strictly for himself rather than trying to fit material into the image the band presented. It would be something of a cop out to suggest that any of the songs on Paul's solo album could have fit easily on a KISS album, but it really isn't too far from the truth with some of the songs having similarities with earlier compositions. The comparisons do more to strengthen Paul's musical vision as being a guiding factor in the sound KISS had developed. "Hold Me, Touch Me" was the only song on the album to be primarily Paul on guitar, including the solo. He recalled, "for a song like 'Hold Me, Touch Me' I wanted a very glassy sound, so I used an acoustic guitar strung with the high strings, and I capoed it at about the 9th fret. It's very, very tricky" (GPM, 1978). As a single the song missed the mark only reaching #46 on the US charts, perhaps not as rewarding as it should have been for the effort made to create the track and bravery of stepping outside of the comfort zone in relation to the type of material that may have been expected. Doug Katsaros played piano and arranged the strings on the piece while he and Peppy Castro contributed backing vocals. Peppy had known Ace Frehley prior to KISS and later worked with numerous KISS/Kulick brothers-related artists including Bob's Balance band project, Michael Bolton, and Ronnie Spector. Doug also later worked with Balance and Michael Bolton, plus Cher and Bon Jovi.

"It's Alright" was one of the tracks for which Paul used a Gallien-Krueger amp, rather than usual Marshall. Paul felt the amp change was better suited for "that gritty kind of Stonesy, ballsy rhythm sound" (GPM, 1978). And like the other "heavier" songs on the album Paul used the capo to allow him to use "open chords as opposed to bar chords" (GPM, 1978) which he felt sounded better - he use the capo on the majority of the songs on the album. When asked about the guitar tunings used, Paul responded, "I've been playing in open G, with only five strings, taking the low E off removing it completely. The high E string is tuned down to D. I think it's D, B, G, D, G [from high to low]" (GPM, 1978).

With the E Bow only being utilized for its atmospheric enhancing effect on several tracks, the album remained quite basic and straight-forward in its construction. There was little over-playing, or showing off, and the structure of the material was kept very matter-of-fact rather than being excessive. In those terms the album was the least egotistical of the four. Closing numbers "Love in Chains" and "Goodbye" can easily compete with the most rollicking tracks on Ace's album. "Love in Chains" features contributions on guitar by Steve Lacey, who also performed on Gene's album. "Goodbye" was the last track recorded for the album, at the Record Plant, and took a play out of the Bob Ezrin school of audio story-telling with a closing track with a message.

With recording completed the album was mixed at Trident Studios in London, England in August 1978. When released in September, "Paul Stanley" only managed to reach a disappointing #40 on the charts, a mere three positions higher than "Peter Criss." The album was the shortest charting of the four solo albums, spending just 18 weeks on the charts. Apparently, Paul was able to live with a comment he made to Richard Robinson in Hit Parader Magazine: "I think everybody's prepared for whatever's going to happen with the albums. Which is not going to be that one album's going to bomb. So you're dealing with relative success in relationship to each other. There's not going to be one that's not going to do well. It's just a matter of which one's going to do better" (HP 4/79). Regardless of whatever level success the album did or did not attain, it was a representation of the musical maturity level Paul had reached as a writer, performer, and producer. Like Ace, the album would be a stepping stone to a new phase in his career as he explored different styles of music and embraced a softer side. He wasn't pandering to any particular style or audience. "Paul Stanley" was certified gold and platinum by the RIAA on 10/2/78. It has sold over 89,000 copies (3/12) since the SoundScan era commenced in 1991. The album was certified gold by the CRIA (Canada) for sales of 50,000 copies on 12/1/78. Paul has continued to embrace the material in live performances. "Move On" was performed by KISS during the 1979 "Return of KISS" tour. Paul also performed "Tonight You Belong To Me," "Wouldn't You Like To Know Me," and "Goodbye" during his 1989 solo outing and all four songs were also performed on his 2006/7 "Live to Win" tours.

From Paul's album three "alternate mix" versions of songs are available in collector's circles: "Tonight You Belong To Me," "Wouldn't You Like To Know Me," and "Take Me Away (Together as One)." While these songs are described as being "alternative mixes," take into consideration that Paul's demos often sounded nearly identical to the fully recorded versions, and that some material on Paul's album was essentially cleaned-up demos that sounded good enough to be released. In most cases the differences between these "alternative mixes" and the release versions are minor. On "Tonight You Belong to Me" the acoustic guitar intro is more basic (rough) and lacks the variable speed overlay of the album version. "Wouldn't You Like To Know Me" is some 20 seconds longer than the album version, having a third repetition of the chorus at the end of the song during the fade out, versus the album version, which starts fading during the second chorus repetition. Finally, "Take Me Away (Together as One)" is some 16 seconds longer than the album version. Of the three "alternative mixes," the differences between this and the album version of the song are most noticeable. Immediately, in the 25-second introduction there are multiple cymbal fills, rather than the single fill prior to the lead guitar and vocals beginning on the album version. Instead of ending with a simple fade out, as does the album version, this song continues the instrumental section before ending with an amp feedback section culminating in a single struck chord. On none of the "alternative mixes" are there any lyrical or arrangement changes.