KISS Unmasks On "Lick It Up" (1983)

"Lick It Up" album cover (1983)
"Lick It Up" album cover (1983) | Source

KISS - LICK IT UP (Mercury/Polygram, 1983)

The Reveal ... it was 1983 and my brother and I were browsing in the record & tape department of a Caldor department store (remember those?) in suburban New Jersey. As we scanned the "new release" wall, we noticed a new KISS album, with the provocative title of Lick It Up on the rack. One look at the album's stark-white cover prompted an excited, disbelieving shout of "WHOA! Dude! Check this out! KISS took off their makeup!"

...I guess you probably had to be alive in 1983 to fully understand the cataclysmic impact of such a major event. My bro and I were a just a hair too young to fully experience the first wave of KISS mania in the late '70s, but like most grade-school kids of the time, we were alternately fascinated and horrified by the fire-breathing, blood-spitting, flash-bombing quartet and we knew that when it came to KISS there was one cardinal rule: You never -- ever -- saw what they looked like without their makeup. In the 1970s, capturing a shot of the foursome's un-painted faces was the Holy Grail for celebrity photographers. Legend has it that the major supermarket tabloids all offered hefty bounties to any shutterbugs who could bring them such a shot, but the band were vigilant at maintaining their mystique. If a photographer did happen to catch any of the KISS members "out of uniform," the rockers would quickly obscure their facial features behind bandannas, napkins, restaurant menus, large hats or sunglasses.

"Lick It Up"

The first Japanese pressing of "Lick It Up" featured a sleeve over the cover adorned with photos of the band in makeup, out of fear that Japanese fans wouldn't accept the band's "new look"
The first Japanese pressing of "Lick It Up" featured a sleeve over the cover adorned with photos of the band in makeup, out of fear that Japanese fans wouldn't accept the band's "new look" | Source

By the time Lick It Up turned up in our local Caldor, KISS had been off of the pop cultural radar for a number of years, so it had been a while since my brother and I had even thought about the band. As we stared at the album's cover trying to figure out who was who, we easily ID'd Gene Simmons thanks to his trademark tongue. Paul Stanley's pouty-lipped facial expression gave him away, but we honestly weren't sure who the other two guys were. We assumed that one of them must've been "new" drummer Eric Carr, but if memory serves we actually mistook then-new recruit Vinnie Vincent for guitarist Ace Frehley, because we didn't know at the time that Ace had already been out of the band for nearly two years!!

We didn't buy the LP that day but a short time later we were at a buddy's house when he reached into his stack of albums and pulled out Lick It Up. "Have you heard this one yet?" he asked before throwing it on his turntable. Tracks like the burly "All Hell's Breakin' Loose" and "On the 8th Day" proceeded to blow my thirteen year old mind and by the time the needle lifted off at the end of Side 2, I was sold. KISS was on the rise again!

"All Hell's Breakin' Loose"

A Do Or Die Move

At the time of its release, Lick It Up was definitely a "do-or-die" album for KISS, whose fortunes had been waning for a number of years. The original lineup which took the world by storm in the 70s had been halved - Eric Carr replaced drummer Peter Criss in 1980, and Vinnie Vincent took over the guitar slot from Ace Frehley in 1982. KISS hadn't had a hit single in the U.S. since 1979's "I Was Made For Lovin' You," and their two most recent studio albums - 1981's ill fated concept disc Music From "The Elder" and 1982's criminally ignored return-to-form Creatures of the Night - had stiffed on the charts. Being astute businessmen, Simmons and Stanley knew that KISS could be finished if they didn't do something to stop the slide immediately. They decided to finally put away the makeup and costumes, appear as "themselves" for the first time and simply let their music do the talking.

KISS unmasks on MTV, 1983

To help reveal their new look to the world, KISS wisely aligned themselves with a major new power that had risen in the music industry - MTV, whose massive influence could easily make (or break) an act. Given their highly "visual" appeal, KISS had dabbled with music video as far back as the mid 1970s, but MTV had only given minimal support to their clips from Elder and Creatures. However, when KISS approached MTV with the chance to have the world broadcast exclusive of their "unmasking," the network jumped at the opportunity. On September 18, 1983 - the same day that Lick It Up was released to record stores - KISS appeared live on MTV to reveal their faces for the first time ever, followed by an interview with MTV personality "J.J." Jackson and the world premiere of the "Lick It Up" music video. The P.R. stunt worked its magic; suddenly people were talking about KISS again, and even better, they were buying the new album. Lick It Up began climbing the Billboard album charts, eventually peaking at #24 - their best showing since 1979's Dynasty.

Vinnie Vincent
Vinnie Vincent | Source

The Album...

Looking back on it 30 years (!) after its original release, some of Lick It Up honestly hasn't aged particularly well. The album as a whole is nowhere near as good as its predecessor, the crushingly-heavy Creatures of the Night (which still sounds great today) but it's still a mostly-decent collection of boneheaded '80s metal anthems, let down somewhat by the thin production job by Michael James Jackson, the engineer who'd also worked on Creatures but who never manages to recapture that album's sonic firepower here.

Lick It Up's title song remains the best-known track from the album and is a KISS live-set staple to this day (the current lineup even performed it on "Dancing With the Stars" a season or two ago!). Stanley gives it his all on tracks like the opening "Exciter" and the ballad "A Million To One," but for my money the standouts on Lick It Up all belong to Gene Simmons. Dig his vicious snarl and the rumbling bass grooves of "Not For the Innocent," "Dance All Over Your Face" or the slam-bang finale "And On the 8th Day" for proof. Even without his monstrous makeup, Gene was obviously still in full on Demon Mode when he recorded this album. Some credit must also go to Stanley for his totally bitchin' freestyle "rap" that starts off "All Hell's Breakin' Loose" ("Street hustler come up to me one day and I'm just walkin' down the street mindin my own business...now he looks me up and he looks me down, and he says HEY MAN, what be this and what be that?" .... sheer poetry!) It's criminal that Paul is constantly overlooked as a pioneer of rap-metal!!

"Gimme More" and the hilariously filthy "Fits Like A Glove" fulfill the album's "sleaze" quotient nicely, providing listeners with such cringe-worthy lyrical tidbits as "C'mon, lick my candy cane!" (from "Gimme") and "When I go through her, it's just like a hot knife through butter" (from "Glove")...but as I'm so fond of saying, if KISS' lyrics don't make you cringe at least once per album, they're not doing their job!!

Vinnie Vincent's contribution to KISS at this stage should not be understated. His flashy, Eddie Van Halen-influenced guitar work is all over this album and his skills not only on the six string but also in the songwriting department (Vincent receives writing credits on eight out of the album's ten tracks) were a major part of updating KISS' sound. Up until this point KISS was a band closely associated with the 1970s, but Vincent's influence updated their sound and helped bring them into the 1980s.

The "Stars" Dance to "Lick It Up!"

The Legacy of "LICK IT UP"

Thanks in part to regular MTV rotation of the cartoonish "Lick It Up" and "All Hell's Breakin' Loose" videos (which featured the band members cavorting with a parade of post-apocalyptic hotties in a crumbling urban setting, ala The Road Warrior), Lick It Up was awarded Gold Record status for sales of half a million copies by the end of 1983 - the first KISS album to reach that plateau since 1980's Unmasked. It may not have launched the band back into the multi-platinum stratosphere that they'd occupied in the mid 1970s, but at the very least Lick It Up restored KISS' good name, stopped the bleeding and put the band on semi-solid footing again.

By early 1984, however, Simmons and Stanley decided that they'd had enough of Vinnie Vincent. The guitarist had been making noise to the rock press for some time about his desire to be named a full fledged member of KISS (as opposed to a contracted player), and how he felt entitled to a bigger slice of their royalties. Vincent was dismissed at the end of the Lick It Up tour and replaced by one-and-done guitarist Mark St. John for the recording of Animalize (1984). Vincent formed his own short lived band, The Vinnie Vincent Invasion, and later instigated a series of law suits against KISS over royalty payments and other financial minutiae that he claimed he was owed. The court battles stretched on for a number of years but KISS was victorious every time.

Animalize (1984) was the album that truly cemented KISS' comeback, striking double platinum thanks to the hit single "Heaven's On Fire." It was official: the faithful KISS Army had accepted the re-invented band, and the makeup-free KISS continued their renewed quest for world domination well into the next decade.

The author's personal CD of "Lick It Up," autographed by Vinnie Vincent at the 1995 New Jersey KISS Expo. Notice how he wrote his signature across everyone else's faces besides his own? I think Vinnie still has some "issues" he needs to work out.
The author's personal CD of "Lick It Up," autographed by Vinnie Vincent at the 1995 New Jersey KISS Expo. Notice how he wrote his signature across everyone else's faces besides his own? I think Vinnie still has some "issues" he needs to work out. | Source

KISS Studio Discography:

KISS - Casablanca, 1974

Hotter than Hell - Casablanca, 1974

Dressed To Kill - Casablanca, 1975

Destroyer - Casablanca, 1976

Rock and Roll Over - Casablanca, 1977

Love Gun - Casablanca, 1977

Dynasty - Casablanca, 1979

Unmasked - Casablanca, 1980

Music From "The Elder" - Casablanca, 1981

Creatures of the Night - Mercury, 1982

Lick It Up - Mercury, 1983

Animalize - Mercury, 1984

Asylum - Mercury, 1985

Crazy Nights - Mercury, 1987

Hot in the Shade - Mercury, 1989

Revenge - Mercury, 1992

Carnival Of Souls: The Final Sessions - Mercury, 1997

Psycho Circus - Mercury, 1998

Sonic Boom - KISS Catalog, 2009

Monster - Universal, 2012

More by this Author


Comments 25 comments

FreedomMetal profile image

FreedomMetal 3 years ago from Somewhere In Time

Killer album! But not as good as Creatures....... Nice trip down memory lane! I remember when the album was released - I was still a huge KISS fanatic and couldn't wait to get the new album, sans make up.


FatFreddysCat profile image

FatFreddysCat 3 years ago from The Garden State Author

Hi Freedom ... I was 13 when this LP was released, at the time I was into the then-hot Crue, Priest, Def Leppard, etc... KISS wasn't even on the radar for awhile there.


NateB11 profile image

NateB11 3 years ago from California, United States of America

This is another article by you that brings back the memories. I got into KISS around 1977 or 1978, when I was in grade (we're the same age). I got all of their LPs and even a 45; I don't still have them (too bad) but I did at one time. That is, I had all of them up till 1979, the Dynasty album, and I lost interest in them around 1982 or so; but I even had the solo albums, my favorite being Ace Frehley's and kind of liked Peter Criss'. Those were different times; and I remember them when they unmasked and also made a comeback in the big hair 80s. I wanted to say, my favorite album cover was the Dressed to Kill one. Next would be Hotter than Hell. I had many favorite songs, can't remember them all; liked Love Gun a lot, and God of Thunder, Detroit Rock City, and the anthem Rock and Roll All Night. Good stuff, enjoyed this read.


FatFreddysCat profile image

FatFreddysCat 3 years ago from The Garden State Author

Cool, Nate... I'm glad you dug the piece, and that it brought back some memories for ya...


cryptid profile image

cryptid 3 years ago from Earth

You first few paragraphs totally sum up the vibe that surrounded this album. By this time the mysterious KISS shtick was getting old, and some of the acts that had arrived on the scene were out-KISSing KISS when it came to aura and intrigue. The glam metal scene was starting to rev up, and it was all so much more interesting than old dudes from the '70s wearing grease paint. Taking off the makeup and jumping into the glam metal thing of the '80s no doubt saved the band, just as putting the makeup back on did around 2000.

As for the album itself, Lick it Up was pretty weak, but awesome for what it was, a turning point in the history of one of the greatest rock bands ever.


FatFreddysCat profile image

FatFreddysCat 3 years ago from The Garden State Author

Hi Cryptid - I'll admit, "Lick it Up" hasn't aged well but for 1983 it was a pretty good record. I still think that if the universe were fair, then the preceding "Creatures of the Night" would've been their big comeback album, because it's a far superior record, but the stars hadn't properly aligned yet, I guess. Thanks for stopping by.


BlackDiamondCheesehead 3 years ago

Thanks for another KISS write-up - keep 'em coming...

I really have to think that Vinnie Vincent saved the band during this time - I know people credit taking off the make-up for the renewed interest of KISS, and a couple of kick ass videos getting airplay during this time on MTV also helped, but Vinnie's songwriting and awesome shredding brought new life to the group, and it showed...It's too bad the contract/financial issues always come up - I feel it really downplays his contribution (which is probably exactly what Gene wants).. Is it too bold to say without Vinnie Vincent, KISS would have died in 1983?

On another note, imagine if KISS never took off the make-up, and used the exact same pose for the album cover, except in full costumes and grease paint - how awesome would that have been??? I lie awake at night thinking about these things...


FatFreddysCat profile image

FatFreddysCat 3 years ago from The Garden State Author

Hi BDC...I agree that Vinnie's contribution to KISS' resurrection during this time period was significant (and I tried to give him as much credit as possible in this article)... however, by all accounts the dude's ego was out of control and let's be honest, after Gene and Paul there was no room for another ego in that band. Haha. ...so basically V.V. got too big for his britches and he ended up getting the smackdown for it.

Thanks for stopping by as always, I'll keep the KISS goodies comin' if you keep readin'!!!


Resident Weevil profile image

Resident Weevil 3 years ago

I really never thought I'd see a day when Kiss was a good candidate for a family variety show like 'DWTS'. But I suppose I should have seen the writing on the wall way back when they were thriving on lunchbox sales and cheesy movies.


FatFreddysCat profile image

FatFreddysCat 3 years ago from The Garden State Author

I never thought ballroom dancing and "Lick It Up" would go together so well...hahaha!! Thanks for stopping by, Weevil.


bat115 profile image

bat115 3 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

30 years already? It seems like I was older at the time but I remember that day of the unmasking on MTV as it was the day my cable company started broadcasting it.


FatFreddysCat profile image

FatFreddysCat 3 years ago from The Garden State Author

I didn't see the "unmasking" till many years later, cuz we only had one TV hooked up to cable and there was no way my Dad was gonna give up his football game (or whatever) so us kids could watch some bunch of long haired freaks on MTV!...haha


Randy Duckworth 3 years ago

WOW...this album is 30...God, I feel old!!! LOL I have a funny story that goes with Lick It Up. It has to do with the first time I saw the music video for the title song on MTV. I had been a fan since the age of 6, and my parents had taken me to see them twice IN makeup. In 1983 when this album came out, I had just gotten out of the hospital after having an operation. (I have Cerebral Palsy), and as part of my physical therapy for recovery, I was wearing full leg braces that did not allow my knees to bend. When the video came on TV, and I realized that they had removed their makeup, I was so shocked that I literally fell over in the floor, flat on my A@@!!!! All I could say was "Oh my God...Oh my God!"


FatFreddysCat profile image

FatFreddysCat 3 years ago from The Garden State Author

That's a great story Randy!!


BlackDiamondCheesehead 3 years ago

Hey Randy Duckworth, Vinnie Vincent had the same reaction when he received his paycheck for his work on the album...


FatFreddysCat profile image

FatFreddysCat 3 years ago from The Garden State Author

According to a series of law suits he's filed over the years, KISS still hasn't paid him in full for his contributions to this record...


FatFreddysCat profile image

FatFreddysCat 3 years ago from The Garden State Author

Bumping this one just because KISS took their makeup off thirty years ago TODAY!!


bat115 profile image

bat115 3 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

Randy Duckworth! I know that dude! If you ever come by this page again... feel free to get in touch with me!!


bat115 profile image

bat115 3 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

30 years ago today! and they are still rockin'!


tw6852 profile image

tw6852 3 years ago from Southern California

Ya sweet album. Great hub!


FatFreddysCat profile image

FatFreddysCat 3 years ago from The Garden State Author

Thanx!


bethperry profile image

bethperry 3 years ago from Tennesee

I like this album, but not crazy over it. Of course, my favorite KISS music is pre-Dynasty. I was just a little kid but remain a fan to this day, and proud to say my youngest is a diehard member of the KISS Army.

Thanks for posting; really enjoyed reading!


FatFreddysCat profile image

FatFreddysCat 3 years ago from The Garden State Author

Hey bethperry...glad you dug it! I've written a whole mess of other Hubs about KISS, hope you check those out too. Thanx for stopping by.


FatFreddysCat profile image

FatFreddysCat 19 months ago from The Garden State Author

Updated!


Pavel Reyes profile image

Pavel Reyes 14 months ago

Another great article Keith, once again you provide interesting information while giving a glance to the Good Ol´Days of Rock N´Roll and Classic Heavy Metal. I remember being amazed for the news (they traveled faster than magazines to this MTVless island -no records stores either, of course- in the middle of the Caribbean..) then me and my friends (there was also a small platoon of the KISSArmy here in town) back then had to wait a few years until KISS unveiled to us. Nice reading one more time! Looking Forward for the next one, buddy!

    Sign in or sign up and post using a HubPages Network account.

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No HTML is allowed in comments, but URLs will be hyperlinked. Comments are not for promoting your articles or other sites.


    Click to Rate This Article
    working