By Brian Ives
Forty years ago today, KISS released their fifth album, Rock and Roll Over. It contains a number of classics, including “I Want You,” “Calling Dr. Love” and “Ladies Room.” The most unusual song on the album, though, was a country rock song called “Hard Luck Woman,” which would later be covered by Garth Brooks.
Back in April, KISS surprised music fans with a cover of the Eagles’ “Take It Easy,” which they performed before a game by their Arena Football League team the L.A. KISS. It was a tribute to the late Eagles singer/songwriter/guitarist Glenn Frey, who died In January.
But California country rock isn’t a huge stretch for “the Hottest Band in the World,” even if they’re more well known for huge hard rock arena anthems. Forty years ago, they experimented with the genre on “Hard Luck Woman,” a track on Rock and Roll Over.
But singer/guitarist Paul Stanley told Radio.com, that he didn’t really write the song with the intent of having KISS record it. “I wrote a whole lot of songs, almost as exercises. I would hear something on the radio, and would try to write a song in that style. Just a few days ago, I was playing [KISS guitarist] Tommy [Thayer] a song that I wrote in the ’80s with Chicago in mind.” But in the ’70s, he was trying to emulate the style of Rod Stewart’s early solo albums.
“Yeah, I was a big fan of the ‘Gasoline Alley,’ ‘Mandolin Wind,’ ‘You Wear It Well,’ ‘Maggie Mae’ era of Rod. So I thought, ‘I could write one of those songs!’ And I did, and it was ‘Hard Luck Woman.’”
He didn’t think that the song would work for KISS, but the rest of the band disagreed. “We just had a hit with [another ballad] ‘Beth,'” which had been sung by drummer Peter Criss. “Gene [Simmons] and some of the people in the studio heard the demo of ‘Hard Luck Woman’ and said, ‘Well, we have to do that!’ And that was that.” Like “Beth,” “Hard Luck Woman” featured Peter Criss on vocals.
Eighteen years later, the song got a new life when the biggest country artist ever decided to cover it. Garth Brooks recorded the song — with KISS as his backing band, no less, for 1996’s KISS My A– tribute album. And while it seemed surprising that Brooks was covering KISS, it turns out that that wasn’t a stretch, either.
“Garth’s amazing,” Stanley says. “When I first saw Garth in the ’80s, I went to see his show and he was swinging around on cables and doing all these arena-rock things, and I just smiled, because there was so much KISS in what he was doing. When I went backstage to see him afterwards, he gave me a big hug and he got a little teary eyed, and he said, ‘If you like anything you saw, it’s because of you guys (that I did it).’ Those are moments that I keep with me.”
Beyond “Hard Luck Woman,” the album has a number of other hard rock classics, including “Take Me,” “Mr. Speed” and “Makin’ Love,” all of which were co-written by Stanley with Sean Delaney. KISS fans often refer to Delaney, who died in 2003, as the fifth member of the band.
“Sean was really a guy who wore so many hats,” Stanley explained. “And we were so fortunate to have Sean with us, because he had so many great ideas and was so tuned into what we were doing, he was cheerleader, he was assistant coach, he was so many things. If I was having writer’s block, or I needed a little help or support, Sean would come over and we’d work together.” Indeed, he’s the only person to have co-written songs with all four original members of KISS. But his contribution went beyond the band’s songs.
“He was a great, great contributor to the early days of the band, not only with songwriting, but in the vision of the band, he really saw things in us that we didn’t necessarily maximize. When you see us doing that swaying back and forth that we do in ‘Deuce,’ for example, we were doing that in rehearsal, it was Sean who said ‘You guys have to do that.’ He was the one who stuck our heads in a bathtub back in the West Village and dyed our hair blue-black. Sean was a force to be reckoned with.” And forty years later, so is the album that he contributed so much to. Rock and Roll Over stands as one of a string of classic KISS albums.