Akin to such rockers as Rod Stewart who have tried their hand at singing other styles later in their career, Stanley does a great job vocalizing on tunes like "O-o-h Child" and "Could It Be I'm Falling In Love," as heard on Soul Station's debut album, Now And Then. Stanley spoke to Songfacts about his stylistic shift, why he chose specific tunes to tackle, and of course, a few questions about his main band.
Paul Stanley: Obviously, it's quite different. Soul Station, the beauty of the band was that we weren't put together in the studio and went out and played – we played and then went in the studio, so we knew what we were doing. As far as the vocal approach, you need to turn down a bit. It's a much more subtle and different vocal approach. But it's music that's always been a part of my life. I've always related to and sang the music of Motown, Philly soul, and what have you. So, it might be a surprise for some people, but it's not a surprise for me.
Songfacts: How did you choose the songs to cover?
Stanley: The album grew out of the live show and the songs in the show were meant to elicit an emotional response, songs that bring people back emotionally to relationships and situations or certain timeframes.
The idea wasn't to blast anybody's head off doing Wilson Pickett covers or Edwin Starr or anything like that, it was more orchestral and touching on songs and singers who didn't have to flex their muscles to show masculinity. I think some of the vocals have a tender or vulnerable tone to them. Those were singers that I really enjoyed, who celebrated their masculinity by showing vulnerability.
So, Smokey [Robinson] was certainly of that style. And there's so many greats – Eddie Kendricks and Russell Thompkins and all these bands with great singers who just pulled you in. When you heard the Delfonics or any of these groups or their music, it elicited an emotional response. So, that is really what we were going for as a band: creating this big, orchestral atmosphere, and having people grab each other's hands or gasp and smile when a song starts, because some of the songs you may have forgotten how much you loved. To hear them instantaneously brings you back to when you heard them. So, that was the basis.
And then I started to think, "Well, why not transition to the present?" Initially, I thought I'd just write one song to bring it to today, and when I wrote "Save Me" – once I did the charts and the strings and we finished the song - it was so good and fit so well, I thought I'd write another. So I wrote another, and with five of them, I "pulled the plug" so to speak, and said, "This is a great way to not only show the validity of that old, great music, but to take it into today, and have it stand on the same merits."
Songfacts: What drew you to the song "O-o-h Child"?
It was street poetry: the idea of having faith that one day things would be better and we'll "walk in the rays of a beautiful sun." It has an eloquent quality that didn't need embellishing. It's a Chicago band [Five Stairsteps], by the way – as opposed to Detroit, Philly, or Memphis.
Songfacts: The first time I ever heard that song, it was in a movie called Over The Edge from 1979, as a cover sung by Valerie Carter.
Stanley: Valerie Carter... just beautiful.
Songfacts: "Could It Be I'm Falling In Love."
Stanley: There's so many great Spinners songs. "I'll Be Around" is a great, great song. I love songs where the first line just pulls you in.1 In essence, you're saying, "Tell me more! Tell me more! Tell me the story!" And a lot of those songs have that quality, like "I'll Be Around" by the Spinners: "This is our fork in the road." I heard that, and I was like, "What do you mean? What's going on?" Or the Stylistics' "Today I Saw Somebody Who Looked Just Like You." It's the first page of a story, and after that, you want to read it. So, "Could It Be I'm Falling In Love" as opposed to "I'll Be Around," it was more upbeat, positive, celebratory, and it just seemed like a great song to play live.
Songfacts: "Let's Stay Together."
Stanley: That's a gem among classics. Al Green could sing the phonebook – although most people don't remember phonebooks – and it's just a beautifully simple tune that is relying on the groove and the vocal. I'm not Al Green any more than I'm Levi Stubbs or Eddie Kendricks, but to put a song across doesn't mean imitating, it means understanding the intent of the original so that you're not copying lick for lick, and you're not becoming an impersonator or an impressionist. You're doing it faithfully, but you're also doing it personally. I make no presumptions of being any of those people. I'm a singer who's been doing this my whole life.
Songfacts: And the original composition, "Save Me."
Stanley: "Save Me" was the first of the originals that was written for the album. I love the trick of the chorus: "Why don't you save me... save me from you." And there's elements in that song that come from the songs that inspired me. Again, it's not about painting by numbers – we're always influenced by the music that inspired us. A painter is influenced by the artists that inspired them. Then, it's a matter of proportions: how much you use and how much you combine.
So, there's elements in the song that are familiar because their roots are in great songs. Many of the great songs that came out of Motown were familiar in that they resembled or had roots in other songs from Motown, so for me it was a matter of carrying that over, and that was kind of easy because I was in the midst of shows with Soul Station, socializing and hanging out, and recording. So, it wasn't a stretch to be writing those tunes – they just fell in with the old classics.
Songfacts: Which Kiss songs best show your soul music influence?
Stanley: Well, the first one I would say that is perhaps not obvious – but I laugh, because it's totally obvious to me – is "Shout It Out Loud." You have the verse, "Well the night's begun and you want some fun, do you think you're gonna find it, think you're gonna find it." That answer in the background is the Four Tops! The call-and-response is something that the Four Tops did in "Sugar Pie Honey Bunch" – there are loads of those.
"I Was Made for Lovin' You": [sings the song's chorus, then sings "Standing in the Shadows of Love" - listen using the player]
So, you wind up with other people copying "I Was Made for Lovin' You," but "I Was Made for Lovin' You" was rooted in that melody line. I can go on and on. I was a kid who was lucky enough to see Solomon Burke, Otis Redding – that music is fundamental in the foundation of what I do and what I am. It has to be in my music, because I heard it and loved it.
Songfacts: When I hear "I Still Love You" I get some of that vibe. I could picture a soul singer singing that.
Stanley: I'm sure it could be done. There's a song on Unmasked called "What Makes The World Go 'Round" – which is a Spinners song, we just didn't arrange it like The Spinners. But that's where it grew out of. I know where the influences are on many songs. I'm a product of all the music that I loved.
Songfacts: "Move On" from your 1978 solo album has a soul or R&B feel to it, too.
Stanley: Well yeah, in the sense that I'm a big fan of Paul Rodgers, and Paul Rodgers is a big fan of Memphis and all that great music. So, whether it's first generation or second generation, yeah, the influences are there.
Songfacts: Going forward, would you want to do completely originals with Soul Station, or do you like the mixture of originals and covers?
Stanley: I love the mixture, because what Soul Station is about, other than the joy of making music and the diversity that we all bring to it, is the idea of celebrating the roots of what we do but also being able to see where it's brought us. So, the idea of one without the other would really feel incomplete. That's why when we were recording the album, I started to think, We need some new songs on here. I don't want the band to live solely in the past.
Songfacts: Lastly, I wrote a book a while back about Kiss' non-make-up era, Take It Off: Kiss Truly Unmasked. What are your thoughts on that period?
Stanley: I think Revenge is a fabulous album. Really, really good. Everybody was on point, and Bob Ezrin was just firing on all cylinders. We were on a roll. I think we went through some more flamboyant, should I say... costuming, that today looks a bit garish and frivolous, but at the time it was part of what was going on. And to survive the long haul, sometimes you need to adapt and modify. I don't know any band that's lasted four decades that haven't gone through times that reflect the changes around them.
So, the '80s, there were some low points for me and some things that I didn't think were great, but I think there was really a lot of good music being made by us. "Tears Are Falling," "Heaven's On Fire," "I Still Love You," "Every Time I Look At You" – there was quite a bit of good music being made.
March 16, 2021
For more, visit paulstanley.com.
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- 1] "This is our fork in the road." Great first line. It was written by one of the Philly soul guys, Phil Hurtt. "Back in the day you had to tell a story in three-and-a-half minutes," he said in a Songfacts interview. "It had to be like a soap opera. It had to be a beginning, a middle, and an end." (back)
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