Kiss wanted to be "the Beatles on steroids," with everybody in the band capable of writing and singing songs.

Even though it took a few years, they eventually achieved a version of that lofty goal, with all four members of the band's original lineup co-writing and performing lead vocals on hit singles.

But once "the hottest band in the land" reached that point, maintaining a spotlight-sharing balance that kept everybody happy proved to be impossible. Among other interpersonal issues, original drummer Peter Criss grew unhappy over the fact that primary songwriters Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley got the lion's share of lead vocal assignments and left the group in 1980. Even though he was given much more of a spotlight on the group's late-'70s and early '80s albums, lead guitarist Ace Frehley followed him out the door two years later.

Simmons and Stanley have kept the group together for nearly another 40 years since that point, sharing the stage, and occasionally the microphone, with two other drummers and four more lead guitarists. It wasn't always easy, as changing musical styles and other factors affected the way Kiss shared lead vocal duties over the years, particularly in terms of songs chosen as singles.

Below, we break down the lead vocal totals and chart Kiss' evolution chronologically by album, excluding the band's simultaneously released 1978 solo albums and the rarities-heavy self-titled 2001 box set.

 

Casablanca

Kiss (1974)
Gene Simmons - 5 : "Nothin' to Lose (with Peter Criss), "Cold Gin," "Let Me Know" (with Paul Stanley), "Kissin' Time" (with Criss and Stanley) and "Deuce"
Paul Stanley - 5: "Strutter," "Firehouse," "Let Me Know" (with Simmons), "Kissin' Time" (with Criss and Simmons) and "100,000 Years"
Peter Criss - 3: "Nothin' to Lose" (with Simmons), "Kissin' Time" (with Stanley and Simmons) and "Black Diamond"

From the moment they met, a strong sense of competition developed between Kiss' two main singers. "He seemed completely thrown that somebody besides John Lennon, Paul McCartney and [himself] could write a song," Stanley said in his 2014 Face the Music memoir of the arrogance and surprise Simmons displayed during their first meeting.  Still, they quickly developed a mutual respect and ability to work well together. Simmons and Stanley split the lead vocal duties on Kiss' debut album fairly evenly, joining forces on "Let Me Know," the song Stanley played for Simmons at that first meeting. They also made sure to showcase non-songwriting drummer Peter Criss' soulful rasp on "Nothin' to Lose" and "Black Diamond," which features a brief introductory vocal cameo by Stanley.

 

Casablanca

Hotter Than Hell (1974)
Gene Simmons - 5: "Parasite," "Goin' Blind," "Let Me Go, Rock 'n' Roll," "All the Way" and "Watchin' You"
Paul Stanley - 3: "Got to Choose," "Hotter Than Hell" and "Comin' Home"
Peter Criss - 2: "Mainline" and "Strange Ways"

"Kiss really was designed to be the Beatles on steroids," Simmons told Billboard in 2012. "Four guys who can write songs, four guys who can sing." They didn't quite achieve that formula out of the gate: Criss didn't write for Kiss but could sing well, while Frehley wrote some great songs but was afraid to sing on the band's early records. Just like he did with "Cold Gin" on Kiss' debut album, Frehley was content to let his bandmates handle lead vocal duties, despite having written or co-written three songs on the band's sophomore album, Hotter Than Hell. "I wish now that I'd had the balls to sing 'Strange Ways' on that record," he said in 2011's No Regrets. "But I had no confidence in my own vocal ability, especially around Paul and Gene and Peter, who thrived in the spotlight and had a way of pushing through a song - any song - regardless of any vocal limitations."

 

Casablanca

Dressed to Kill (1975)
Paul Stanley - 6: "Room Service," Rock Bottom," "C'mon and Love Me," "Anything for My Baby," "She" (with Simmons) and "Love Her All I Can"
Gene Simmons - 4: "Two Timer," "Ladies in Waiting," "She" (with Stanley), "Rock and Roll All Nite"
Peter Criss - 1: "Getaway"

Dressed to Kill was a rush job, the third album released by the still-struggling Kiss in a 13-month period also marked by near-constant touring. "We were nowhere near ready to do an album," Stanley recalled in 2005's Behind the Mask. "A lot of those songs were written in the studio before the session." A pair of songs by Stanley and Simmons' pre-Kiss days in Wicked Lester, "She" and "Love Her All Can," were also dusted off. Stanley took lead vocal duties on a slight majority of the songs, but Simmons grabbed center stage for "Rock and Roll All Nite," which the pair wrote together after label boss Neil Bogart pleaded for them to write an anthem that could engage a wider audience. "We brought all our friends in the studio to sing backgrounds on it," Stanley said. "Friends, girlfriends, sisters, brothers, anybody. It's a track that our audience had to connect to - that's what made it what is is."

 

Casablanca

Destroyer (1976)
Paul Stanley -5: "Detroit Rock City," "King of the Night Time World," "Flaming Youth," "Shout it Out Loud" (with Simmons) and "Do You Love Me"
Gene Simmons - 4: "God of Thunder," "Great Expectations," "Sweet Pain" and "Shout it Out Loud" (with Stanley)
Peter Criss - 1: "Beth"

Eager to expand on the career-saving success of 1975's live breakthrough album Alive!, Kiss hired superstar producer Bob Ezrin to produce their fourth studio album. He brought new levels of sophistication and discipline to the group's music, earning a co-writing credit on all but two of Destroyer's songs. Criss sang lead on the album's surprise hit single "Beth," also earning his first major songwriting credit with the song, which Ezrin insisted on using over Stanley and Simmons' objections. The lead-vocals ratio remains about the same as on previous albums, partly thanks to a major shift suggested by Ezrin. He asked the group to slow down Stanley's "God of Thunder" demo and then floored the guitarist by handing the vocal duties over to Simmons. The track has gone on to become the bassist's theme song and the soundtrack to his nightly blood-spitting, high-flying concert showcase. In Behind the Mask, Stanley admitted to originally being "devastated" by the move: "But you know what? It's a perfect Gene song and I never could have done what Gene did with it because it's really the embodiment of who he is." He still likes to tease Simmons about it whenever possible.

 

Casablanca

Rock and Roll Over (1976)
Paul Stanley - 4: "I Want You," "Take Me," "Mr. Speed" and "Makin' Love"
Gene Simmons - 4: "Calling Dr. Love," "Ladies Room," "Love 'Em and Leave 'Em" and "See You in Your Dreams"
Peter Criss - 2: "Baby Driver" and "Hard Luck Woman"

Released just eight months after Destroyer, Rock and Roll Over found Kiss dialing back the ornamentation of Bob Ezrin's production while continuing to expand the range of their songwriting. The recent success of Criss' "Beth" earned him two lead vocal spots here, including the Top 20 hit "Hard Luck Woman," which was written by Stanley and originally intended for Rod Stewart. When Criss heard that plan, he wasn't pleased, to say the least. "I said, 'Hey, fucko, how about me?" he recalled in Behind the Mask. "Fuck Rod Stewart, I'll sing the shit out of it." He also said that Simmons and Stanley tried too hard to get him to mimic the former Faces singer on the track. "I said, 'Let me do it my way. You'll get your raspy shit when you want it, but I've got to still sound like Peter.'"

 

Casablanca

Love Gun (1977)
Paul Stanley - 4: "I Stole Your Love," "Tomorrow and Tonight," "Love Gun" and "Then She Kissed Me"
Gene Simmons - 4: "Christine Sixteen," "Got Love for Sale," "Almost Human" and "Plaster Caster"
Peter Criss - 1: "Hooligan"
Ace Frehley - 1: "Shock Me"

With the final album of their original lineup's golden era, Kiss finally achieved their "four guys who can write and sing" goal set by the Beatles-loving Simmons. Frehley took his first lead vocal with "Shock Me," a song inspired by an onstage incident during which he was nearly electrocuted. In No Regrets, Frehley credited Stanley with pushing him into the spotlight: "'You should sing this one yourself,' Paul said. 'It's way overdue.'" But this newly achieved balance wouldn't last long. The success of Criss and Frehley's songs fed their desire for more songwriting and vocal space on Kiss albums. This contributed to rising tensions within the band, which was already fracturing over the differing lifestyles of its members.

 

Alive II (1977)
Paul Stanley - 2: "All American Man" and "Any Way You Want It"
Gene Simmons - 2: "Rockin' in the U.S.A." and "Larger Than Life"
Ace Frehley - 1: "Rocket Ride"

Not wanting to repeat any songs from their previous live album - which was just two years old - left Kiss a side short for their double Alive II. So, they recorded five new songs, including a cover of the Dave Clark Five's "Any Way You Want It." Criss didn't get a lead vocal, but Frehley nearly became a one-man band on "Rocket Ride," performing all of the guitars and bass as well as taking the microphone for the second time in his Kiss career.

 

Casablanca

Dynasty (1979)
Paul Stanley - 3: "I Was Made for Lovin' You," "Sure Know Something" and "Magic Touch"
Ace Frehley - 3: "2,000 Man," "Hard Times" and "Save Your Love"
Gene Simmons - 2: "Charisma" and "X-Ray Eyes"
Peter Criss - 1: "Dirty Livin'"

Despite their continued commercial success, things got so bad in terms of personal relations that the band's management sent off the quartet to record separate solo albums in 1978. The hope was that the time away and space to work alone would enable the group to reunify as a cohesive unit. But it didn't work out that way. Frehley's album, which featured a hit cover of Hello's "New York Groove," significantly altered the band dynamic. "The success of my solo album gave me significantly more confidence," he noted in No Regrets. "I wanted more of my work represented on Kiss records, and, for the most part, I was accommodated." He wound up tying Stanley for lead-vocal assignments on Dynasty, each taking three spots. On the flip side, a car accident and growing painkiller habit left Criss on the sidelines and replaced by drummer Anton Fig on all but one song. "I didn't feel betrayed," he said in his memoir Makeup to Breakup. "I was happy they got him. I didn't want to play with them anymore."

 

Unmasked (1980)
Paul Stanley - 5: "Is That You?," "Shandi," "What Makes the World Go 'Round," "Tomorrow" and "Easy as It Seems"
Gene Simmons - 3: "Naked City," "She's So European" and "You're All That I Want"
Ace Frehley - 3: "Talk to Me," "Two Sides of the Coin" and "Torpedo Girl"

The disillusioned Criss was entirely absent from the Unmasked sessions, once again replaced by drummer Anton Fig on the pop- and disco-influenced album. Although his face was featured on the cover, it was the first Kiss studio album not to feature a lead vocal by Criss. Stanley picked up the extra slack, taking center stage on five songs, while Simmons and Frehley each contributed three.

 

Casablanca

Music From 'The Elder' (1981)
Paul Stanley - 5: "The Oath," "Just a Boy," Only You" (with Simmons), "Odyssey" and "I" (with Simmons)
Gene Simmons - 5: "Only You," (with Stanley), "Under the Rose," "A World Without Heroes," "Mr. Blackwell" and "I" (with Stanley)
Ace Frehley - 1: "Dark Light"

With Criss now officially replaced by Eric Carr in the band's first-ever lineup change, Kiss initially sought to reverse their declining commercial fortunes by reuniting with Destroyer producer Ezrin to record a back-to-basics album that would reconnect them with their original fans. Only problem, Ezrin was still basking in the afterglow of producing Pink Floyd's epic The Wall concept album and convinced Simmons and Stanley that the time was right for them to make a similarly grand artistic statement. Years later, everybody involved seems to realize this medieval-times-set concept was a bad idea, with Stanley labeling it "pompous, contrived, self-important and fat." But in the moment, only Frehley sniffed it out as a colossal mistake. Unable to convince his bandmates to stick to the original plan, he mostly avoided the studio, contributing just one lead vocal to the doomed project. It would be eight years before anybody except Simmons and Stanley sang lead on a Kiss record again.

 

Casablanca

Killers (1982)
Paul Stanley - 4: "I'm a Legend Tonight," "Down on Your Knees," "Nowhere to Run" and "Partners in Crime"

The spectacular commercial failure of Music From 'The Elder' prompted Kiss' record label to insist that the four new songs the band was required to record for a new compilation actually sound like Kiss. Frehley appeared on the album's cover, but, just like Criss and Unmasked, the Spaceman wasn't involved in the new songs at all; Bob Kulick handled lead-guitar duties. The band connected with producer Michael James Jackson, who would shepherd Kiss back to commercial success over the course of their next two albums. Stanley, who sang lead on all four of the new songs, compared the process to "trying to get the cobwebs out of our heads" in Behind the Mask, explaining that The Elder's failure "was kind of like being knocked out by Mike Tyson."

 

Casablanca

Creatures of the Night (1982)
Paul Stanley - 4: "Creatures of the Night," "Keep Me Comin'," "Danger" and "I Still Love You"
Gene Simmons - 5: "Saint and Sinner," "Rock and Roll Hell," "I Love It Loud," "Killer" and "War Machine."

Just like on Killers, Frehley misleadingly appeared on the cover of Creatures of the Night, in an attempt to hide the fact that Kiss had lost half their original members in the space of two years. In reality, the guitarist was completely absent from the recording of the band's 10th album. With Michael James Jackson once again behind the board, and unofficial new lead guitarist Vinnie Vincent making strong contributions on the performing and songwriting front, Simmons and Stanley divided lead-vocal duties on a record that marked a creative - if not commercial - comeback for the group. In addition to the enduring anthem "I Love It Loud," Simmons' vocal contributions included two songs that told better stories than anything on The Elder: the Frehley-bashing "Saint and Sinner" and "Rock and Roll Hell," which chronicled the band's recent struggles.

 

Mercury

Lick It Up (1983)
Paul Stanley - 5: "Exciter," "Lick it Up," "Gimme More," "All Hell's Breakin' Loose" and "A Million to One"
Gene Simmons - 5: "Not for the Innocent," "Young and Wasted," "Fits Like a Glove," "Dance All Over Your Face" and "And On the 8th Day"

After the return-to-form Creatures was largely ignored, Kiss played the final attention-getting card they had up their sleeve: removing their trademark makeup and showing the world their real faces. The increased attention, combined with the band's second straight Jackson-produced album, finally got them back in the game. Lick It Up was at least a moderate hit, reversing the previous sales decline and helping turn the band into a money-making live draw again. Vinnie Vincent was an official member now, and proved to be a great songwriting partner for both Simmons and Stanley, earning co-writing credits on eight of the album's 10 songs. He wasn't a singer, so the band's remaining founding members split the workload straight down the middle. Another interesting disparity began here: After taking lead vocals on roughly the same number of singles over the band's first 10 albums (14 for Stanley, 12 to Simmons), Lick It Up marked the first of five straight Kiss albums to not feature a Simmons-sung single. "Paul didn't push me out of the spotlight," Simmons explained in his book Kiss and Make-Up. "He would never do that to me. It's just that his ability to capture the public's attention increased as the music scene changed."

 

Mercury

Animalize (1984)
Paul Stanley - 5: "I've Had Enough (Into the Fire)," "Heaven's on Fire," "Get All Your Can Take," "Under the Gun" and "Thrills in the Night"
Gene Simmons - 4: "Burn Bitch Burn," Lonely Is the Hunter," "While the City Sleeps" and "Murder in High-Heels"

Kiss completed their comeback with their second non-makeup album, Animalize. It went platinum on the strength of their first hit in years, the Stanley-sung "Heaven's on Fire." But the group hadn't escaped chaos or drama yet. Before recording, Vincent was kicked out of the group due to some personality conflicts. Despite taking lead-vocal duties on four of the album's nine songs, Simmons turned much of his focus to starting a movie career, leaving an unhappy Stanley to steer the ship on his own. New guitarist Mark St. John, who the band wasn't exactly jelling with in the studio, was then stricken with a rare arthritic condition and forced off the road and out of the group early into the band's 1984 tour.

 

Mercury

Asylum (1985)
Paul Stanley - 6: "King of the Mountain," "Who Wants to Be Lonely," "I'm Alive," "Tears Are Falling," "Radar for Love" and "Uh! All Night"
Gene Simmons - 4: "Any Way You Slice It," "Trial by Fire," "Love's a Deadly Weapon" and "Secretly Cruel"

With the arrival of Bruce Kulick finally bringing stability and compatibility to the lead-guitarist position, Kiss maintained their winning streak with Asylum. He co-wrote a track each with Simmons and Stanley, but it would be more than a decade before Kulick got to sing lead vocals on an album. Once again, Stanley took center stage on the album's hit single "Tears Are Falling," as well as on two other tracks that netted MTV airplay, "Who Wants to Be Lonely" and "Uh! All Night."

 

Mercury

Crazy Nights (1987)
Paul Stanley - 7: "Crazy Crazy Nights," "I'll Fight Hell to Hold You," "Bang Bang You," "My Way," "When Your Walls Come Down," "Reason to Live" and "Turn On the Night"
Gene Simmons - 4: "No, No, No," "Hell or High Water," "Good Girl Gone Bad," "Thief in the Night"

Apparently eager to replicate Bon Jovi's massive commercial success, Kiss tinkered with their winning '80s formula by adding a huge dose of keyboards and synthesizers to the mix. The album was produced by Ron Nevison, who was also behind the board for Heart's big '80s comeback. Crazy Nights gave Kiss another platinum album and three more hit singles, all featuring lead vocals by Stanley. It also, once again, put the band in danger of wandering too far from their natural sound. In Behind the Mask, Simmons called Crazy Nights "one of my least favorite records."

 

 

Mercury

Smashes, Thrashes & Hits (1988)
Paul Stanley - 2: "Let's Put the X in Sex," "(You Make Me) Rock Hard"

Kiss' first stateside greatest-hits album in a decade included two new Stanley-sung tracks. "Let's Put the X in Sex" kept the band's MTV airplay streak alive. But Stanley, who called the song "a second-rate version of [Robert Palmer's] 'Addicted to Love'" in Behind the Mask, realized it was time for another course correction: "We crossed a dangerous line into kitsch." Carr also re-recorded Criss' vocals for a new version of "Beth." "[It] was torture for him," recalled Bruce Kulick. (We're not including the re-recorded "Beth" in our lead-vocal totals since it's not a new song.)

 

Mercury

Hot in the Shade (1989)
Paul Stanley - 7: "Rise to It," "Hide Your Heart," "Read My Body," "Forever," "Silver Spoon," "King of Hearts" and "You Love Me to Hate You"
Gene Simmons - 7: "Betrayed," "Prisoner of Love," "Love's a Slap in the Face," "Cadillac Dreams," "The Street Giveth and the Street Taketh Away," "Somewhere Between Heaven and Hell" and "Boomerang"
Eric Carr - 1: "Little Caesar"

Apparently realizing they had once again wandered too far off the path, Kiss made another back-to-basics move on Hot in the Shade. At least this time they caught on before any serious damage was done to their career. The Stanley-fronted ballad "Forever" gave them their first Top 10 hit in a decade, and he once again took lead on all three of the album's singles. This was also the album where the band realized CDs can hold more music than vinyl or cassettes. For better or worse, they took advantage by including 15 songs - seven each for Simmons and Stanley. The album also featured Carr's first-ever Kiss lead vocal, on "Little Caesar." It would also be his last: Carr died of cancer in 1991.

 

Mercury

Revenge (1992)
Paul Stanley - 7: "Take It Off," "Tough Love," "Spit" (with Simmons), "God Gave Rock 'n' Roll to You II" (with Simmons), "Heart of Chrome," "Every Time I Look at You" and "I Just Wanna"
Gene Simmons - 6: "Unholy," "Spit" (with Stanley), "God Gave Rock 'n' Roll to You II" (with Stanley), "Domino," "Thou Shalt Not" and "Paralyzed"

Kiss' first album with drummer Eric Singer found them reconnecting with producer Bob Ezrin for their most uncompromising and hard-hitting album ever, Revenge. A big part of the album's success came from pushing Simmons to the forefront. After putting his focus back on music, and finally perfecting his non-makeup persona, the former Demon took lead vocals on the album's first two singles ("Unholy" and "Domino"), and shared lead with Stanley on two other tracks. Kiss were finally whole again, without any makeup. So, what was their next step? A full-makeup reunion with Criss and Frehley, naturally.

 

Mercury

Carnival of Souls (1997)
Paul Stanley - 6: "Rain," "Master & Slave," "I Will Be There," "Jungle," "It Never Goes Away" and "In the Mirror"
Gene Simmons - 5: "Hate, "Childhood's End," "In My Head," "Seduction of the Innocent' and "I Confess"
Bruce Kulick - 1: "I Walk Alone"

Recorded with the Revenge lineup prior to Simmons and Stanley's blockbuster reunion with Criss and Frehley, and released following that tour after being heavily bootlegged, Carnival of Souls finds Kiss heavily influenced by the grunge movement. After more than a decade in the band, Kulick earned his first and only Kiss lead vocal spot on the album-closing "I Walk Alone."

 

Mercury

Psycho Circus (1998)
Paul Stanley - 5: "Psycho Circus," "I Pledge Allegiance to the State of Rock & Roll," "You Wanted the Best" (with Simmons, Frehley and Criss), "Raise Your Glasses" and "Dreamin'"
Gene Simmons - 4: "Within," "We Are One," "You Wanted the Best" (with Stanley, Frehley and Criss) and "Journey of 1,000 Years'
Ace Frehley - 3: "Into the Void," "You Wanted the Best" (with Simmons, Stanley and Criss) and "In Your Face" (bonus track)
Peter Criss - 2: "You Wanted the Best" (with Simmons, Stanley and Frehley), "I Finally Found My Way"

The reunited original Kiss lineup attempted only one studio album, and for the most part Criss and Frehley were invited for mere ceremonial roles. Frehley reportedly played on three tracks; Criss allegedly drummed on just one. They each got a solo lead vocal track and shared the microphone with Simmons and Stanley on "You Wanted the Best," an ode to the reunion's inevitability named after the band's longstanding stage introduction. Frehley also took the lead on a bonus track and B-side, "In Your Face."

 

Kiss Records

Sonic Boom (2009)
Paul Stanley - 5: "Modern Day Delilah," "Never Enough," "Stand" (with Simmons), "Danger Us" and "Say Yeah"
Gene Simmons - 5: "Russian Roulette," "Yes I Know (Nobody's Perfect," "Stand" (with Stanley), "Hot and Cold" and "I'm an Animal"
Eric Singer - 1: "All for the Glory"
Tommy Thayer - 1: "When Lightning Strikes"

After an unprecedented 11-year gap between studio records, a reconstituted Kiss returned to the studio. Some basic mandates were laid down by Stanley: no ballads, no outside songwriters, everybody plays his own instrument. Everyone got to sing too, with a returning Eric Singer and new lead guitarist Tommy Thayer each earning his first lead-vocal credits. Simmons and Stanley divided up the other 10 songs equally, with the latter once again being featured on all three singles.

 

UMe

Monster (2012)
Paul Stanley - 7: "Hell or Hallelujah," "Freak," "Shout Mercy," "Long Way Down," "Take Me Down Below" (with Simmons), "Last Chance" and "Right Here Right Now" (bonus track)
Gene Simmons - 5: "Wall of Sound," "Back to the Stone Age," "Eat Your Heart Out," "The Devil is Me" and "Take Me Down Below (with Stanley)
Eric Singer - 1: "All for the Love of Rock & Roll"
Tommy Thayer - 1: "Outta This World"

Released three years after Sonic Boom, Monster follows the same basic template, with Thayer and Singer each getting to sing lead on one track, and Stanley taking the spotlight on a slight majority of songs - including both singles. With the band planning on retiring from the road in July 2021 at the conclusion of the End of the Road tour, Stanley said not to expect any more studio albums from Kiss: “I could write ‘Let It Be’ and people would still say, “That’s great – now play ‘Detroit Rock City.'"

 

Columbia

Non-Album Tracks
"Nothing Can Keep Me From You" (1999) - Paul Stanley
"Do You Remember Rock 'n' Roll Radio" (2003) - Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons
"Venus and Mars / Rock Show" (2014) - Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons

Kiss have released three non-album tracks, with Simmons and Stanley sharing vocal duties on songs included on tribute albums to the Ramones and Paul McCartney. Stanley also flew solo on the Diane Warren-penned ballad "Nothing Can Keep Me From You," from the soundtrack to Kiss' 1999 Detroit Rock City movie.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kiss Lineup Changes: A Complete Guide