Ace Frehley. The name alone invokes the lore, the mystique and the overall “badassness” of one of the greatest rock guitarists of all time. As an original member and founder of “the hottest band in the land,” Kiss, Paul “Ace” Frehley has done nothing short of influence and inspire millions of guitarists across the globe (including late Pantera guitarist Dimebag Darrell). Kiss is heavy metal’s version of The Beatles (to which Gene Simmons has famously stated they are, “the Beatles on steroids”), and Ace takes full reign of George Harrison’s role beyond a doubt. From the early days of their self-titled release, up to their creative zeitgeist toward the end of the ’70s, Kiss ruled the planet and Ace proved to be the driving force behind the band.
There’s a lot to look forward to in the next few months. The guitar great will finally release his newest album of solo material, Anomaly. The release is expected sometime this summer, after a twenty-year wait. In light of anticipation, and in honor of Ace’s recent 58th birthday, April 27, (complete with an after-party CoS gift), we’ve compiled the 11 greatest solos bestowed by the Bronx native. Why 11? Because in the world of heavy metal, it always goes to 11.
#11. “New York Groove” – Ace Frehley (1978)
When Kiss decided to release four different solo records in 1978, following the massive success of 1977’s Love Gun, each member bore no restraints and as a result, all four albums sound completely different from each other. Ace’s solo record exploded with a multitude of rock ‘n’ roll, raw attitude and this unexpected, but undeniably perfect cover by a lesser known English group called Hello. Here, Ace pays tribute to his Bronx roots by departing from his traditional style in favor of “groovin'” it up a bit. Nevertheless, Ace’s album is regarded as the best of the four and for good measure – this tune rips! The solos are subtle, but they fit the mood and prove to be a great icebreaker for anyone who wants to know the man and his myth. He’s back, back, back in the New York groove and this one cracks #11 open with a bang.
#10. “Calling Dr. Love” – Rock And Roll Over (1976)
Around this time, Kiss finally started gaining momentum by releasing their mega smash record Destroyer in March of 1976, as well as Rock And Roll Over in November of the same year. While Destroyer became a colossal album in terms of music and production, Rock And Roll Over essentially was a raw, more stripped down album. “Calling Dr. Love”, with its over the top sexual innuendos and infectious cowbell, courtesy of Peter Criss, has Gene Simmons written all over it. Although Simmons penned the song after his love for the Three Stooges, undeniably Ace steals the show with a blistering solo that sends chills up and down the spine. While the first step of the cure might just be a KISS, Ace’s solo throws this Simmons’ tune into overdrive and kicks the door down right at the two minute mark. Truly an undeniable classic, and one of Simmons’ best tunes, even if the lyrics are downright cheesy as hell.
#9. “Hard Times” – Dynasty (1979)
The band began changing its overall sound and image when Dynasty came out. While the lead single was the Paul Stanley penned disco-rock classic “I Was Made For Lovin’ You” (which became a top ten smash for the band in Australia), the B-side, and complete musical opposite, ended up being Ace’s “Hard Times”. Like “New York Groove”, “Hard Times” deals with his upbringing in the tough streets of New York. One of Kiss’ heaviest tunes, and precursor to punk rock, “Hard Times” put Ace at the forefront as a clutch songwriter. By this time, his singing voice matured and he certainly became a force to be reckoned with. Hell, just check out this chorus: “The hard times are dead and gone/ But the hard times have made me strong/And the hard times have made me see /That the hard times ain’t where I wanna be.” Contrary to the band’s sexual exploits in other tunes, Ace comes across penning a somewhat serious and believable tune, complete with a great solo to top it all off, including bends, pinches and squawks you can feel deep within the soul. Chalk one up for Ace, this tune rules!
#8. “Rock Bottom” – Dressed To Kill (1975)
Dressed To Kill, KISS finally began getting its sound together and more solidified. While the band’s self-titled record contained many KISS classics, and Hotter Than Hell produced future tunes as well, albeit with shoddy production, Dressed To Kill captured the band at its rawest with some stellar production to back it up. On the wings of Frehley’s “Rock Bottom”, he and Paul Stanley start this musical oxymoron with beautifully interwoven classical-like guitar passages. Frehley shows his softer side, as well as his growing ability as a songsmith. The first half of this Kiss classic possesses somber moods and an overall graceful flair of harmony. After the conclusion of this musical interlude, at 1:57, Stanley and company kick it into high gear and switch over to the hard rockin’ ending of the song (to which Stanley shouts when played live, “This is where it gets rough!”). Frehley throws a couple of sexy bends, licks and overall awesome fills over the hard grooves set down by drummer Peter Criss and Gene Simmon’s rumbling bass. While the solos are minimal on this tune, it’s Frehley’s songwriting that matters here, and that’s why it perches atop slot #8.
#7. “Fractured Mirror” – Ace Frehley (1978)
As mentioned before, in 1978 all four members decided to pursue solo albums. Frehley’s, by a multitude of fan opinion, proved to stand tall as the most beloved of the four. Without good measure of course, Frehley’s songwriting took a positive step forward following the success of 1977’s Love Gun and much like “Rock Bottom”, “Fractured Mirror” paints a vivid, albeit dark, portrayal into the mysteries and tragic consequences of time. With an army of acoustic apreggios, violins, power chords and trademark Frehley bends, “Fractured Mirror” proves to be the guitarist’s perfect instrumental masterpiece. Also, like “Rock Bottom”, Frehley’s solos are subdued, but fit perfectly with the acoustic guitar arrangements, and add to an overall great musical mood. Everything is there in the five and a half minute guitar driven musical epic, and it showed how acomplished Frehley’s songwriting is . For the hard rock legend, he’s certainly not afraid to show his softer side and for good measure, because this tune rocks in a mellow kind of way.
#6. “100,000 Years” – Kiss (1973)
Going back the first album in 1973, Kiss came out of the woodwork with one of rock ‘n’ roll’s best debut records. While the band struggled early in its career to find a suitable following, which wouldn’t pay off until 1975’s Alive!, Kiss undeniably belted out some of its greatest tunes in the band’s history (or KISStory according to frontman Paul Stanley). On this number penned by Stanley himself, aka the ‘Star Child,” he speaks from the point of view regarding some hardcore science fiction galaxy, regarding an intergalactic being taking 100,000 years to reach his lover. Stanley’s a romantic at heart, and there’s no denying his graceful awesomeness on his own tune. However, Star Child takes a backseat during the minute and a half mark. While he’s, “going out of his head” at that part, Frehley stomps on those intergalactic boosters and puts out one of his best and overly complicated solos. Complete with odds and ends, off-timing bends and wailing, Frehley makes his guitar plow through a galaxy of grooves and chords and creates a truly sonic experience. Years after Frehley left the group, replacement guitarist Bruce Kulick often complained about the ridiculous nature of this solo (keep in mind Kulick is a classically trained musician) and would praise it for its overly difficult nature. Check it out and see why they call him “Space Ace!”
#5. “Snow Blind” – Ace Frehley (1978)
On Frehley’s 1978 record, he lets it rip on this one and manages to create one of his heaviest tunes throughout his duration with KISS. With the machine-gun chugging riff that opens the song, “Snow Blind” possesses great production, as well as Frehley’s sassy vocals to back up the thickly layered guitars. Continuing his “Space Ace” motif, there’s a lot of galaxy influenced moods, bouncing from speaker to speaker. When it hits the 1:45 mark, Frehly and company jump into a fast-paced jam where he lets one of his best solos loose from its cage. Straight from the Heavy Metal 101 handbook, Frehley completes a series of speed runs, sloppy and overly complicated bends and puts every drop of soul into each note. This is yet another reason why Frehley’s album is considered a landmark in rock music. Ace once again delivers one of his best performances. For this heavy metal classic, we salute you at #5.
#4. “Love Gun” – Love Gun (1977)
If 1977’s Love Gun is considered the group’s finest hour, then the title track is by far its entire legacy in one song. Everything that you would want from a great KISS classic is here: Stanley’s wailing vocals, humorous and awesome sexual lyrics, great production and a helluva Frehley guitar solo. While Stanley penned the classic tribute to man’s own genitalia (we can thank Role Models for making Kiss “cool again”), there’s a specific poetic justice throughout the song, both musically and lyrically. It doesn’t matter what mood strikes at each hour, “Love Gun” has that magical ability to put a smile on the face, as well as aimimg to please without taking itself too seriously. It also doesn’t hurt that Frehley rips this tune up with one of his best and most memorable solos. Toward the end, Stanley joins him and pulls off some Iron Maiden/Judas Priest-like guitar harmonies. By far the band’s greatest outing and an awesome tune, “Love Gun” flat out rocks with a sexy solo to put the cherry on the top.
#3. “Parasite” – Hotter Than Hell (1974)
Early in the band’s career, as KISS was still trying to get off the ground, the band struggled to find a following. With the release of a debut album already out, the band’s second album, Hotter Than Hell, fared a horrible fate. Suffering from bad production and the lack of a single, Hotter Than Hell didn’t reach gold status until almost four years after it was released. However, Hotter Than Hell would become a series of firsts for the band. For starters, Kiss uprooted from the cozy New York lifestyle and headed to Los Angeles to work on the record. The biggest leap forward for Frehley, however, was the blossoming of his songwriting abilities. While he still lacked personal confidence in his singing voice (truly shocking because he sounds great), he penned the classic “Strange Ways”, co-wrote “Comin’ Home” with Stanley and put together one of his masterpieces that’s still played by the modern form of KISS . . . yes, the riff-chocked “Parasite”. Complete with staccato riffs and Gene Simmons’ thunderous vocals, Frehley’s injection of guitar heavy chords and tight grooves carry strong with this one. As mentioned before, the production is shoddy, at best, but it works for the overall bitter mood in this tune, and Ace’s solo is nuts. While it has that bluesy tinge to it, there’s no denying Frehley’s pioneering techniques in fast picking each note and making it cry with its intergalactic bends. Without a doubt, this is undeniably classic KISS and for good measure, Frehley still rocks this one out on his solo tours.
#2. “Deuce” – Kiss (1973)
Going back to the debut album one final time, the Simmons’ penned classic “Deuce” is chock full of great riffs, grooves and lyrics that make absolutely no sense at all. Seriously, to this day when questioned about the nature of the song, Gene Simmons still comments that he has no idea what he wrote it about. What’s a deuce anyway? Hell if I know, but Frehley takes full reign of the lead guitar and throws in a ballsy solo with some great fills. There’s some great funky guitar work play between Ace and drummer Peter Criss, that is nothing short of electrifying. Even live, this song seriously goes out “balls-to-the-wall” intense. With Frehley leading the way, it doesn’t get much better than this. Much like “Parasite”, “Deuce” is a classic tune that has been performed on almost every single KISS tour, from the beginning to the present, and has no signs of slowing down. Honestly, as I’m writing this, I didn’t catch the irony of putting “Deuce” at #2 . . . that’s just a terrible pun NOT intended, but yes its awesomeness is there. Which leads us to #1 . . .
#1. “Shock Me” – Alive II (1977)
You knew this one would make the list. It’s true, by far Frehley’s finest hour couldn’t come at a better slot on the list than King of the Hill. In 1977, Frehley finally managed to lay down his first vocal recording on the Love Gun version of “Shock Me”. Inspired by the band’s December 1976 performance down in Lakeland, Florida, where Frehley was shocked by an ungrounded metal staircase, history was made and a KISS classic was born. While the studio version is indeed excellent, Frehley’s solo on Alive II is where it’s truly at. Predating Eddie Van Halen and other countless guitarists who used the (in)famous tapping technique, Frehley takes full reign of it and just wails and wails and wails. In fact, this solo is so well-respected, the October 1998 issue of Guitar World magazine rated it at #50 on it’s “100 Greatest Solos of All Time.” Yeah, this tune is the ultimate definition of Frehley’s legendary existence and what other way to go out on a bang? By far his most impressive hour, “Shock Me” spews sexiness and bolsters a memorable series of guitar riffs to go along with it. We salute you Mr. Frehley, and we look forward to Anomaly in the months to come!