Much has been made over the course of time regarding Vinnie Vincent’s involvement in Kiss, and people have gone as far as to say that he saved the band. After listening to a recent episode of the Dead Rock Stars podcast, which focused on Ronnie James Dio, hosts Joel McIver and Mick Wall, discussed how Ronnie had saved Black Sabbath, and possibly Ritchie Blackmore and Rainbow before that. But I’d like to compare Vinnie entering Kiss to Ronnie entering Sabbath, to kind of get a better handle on who actually saved what, and which had a greater impact on the bands they entered.
Vinnie came into Kiss as a sessions guy, after albums like Unmasked and The Elder did poorly for the band. Vinnie had to replace the much loved Ace Frehley, someone he played nothing like. His biggest claim to fame before joining the band can be disputed, because none of the other musical acts really made an impact. When he joined the band he co-wrote songs with both Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons for the Creatures Of The Night album, creating the much heralded staples, “I Love It Loud”, “I Still Love You”, and “Killer”. He also played solos on these three tracks, and three others that appear on the album. On the band’s next album, Lick It Up, Vinnie wrote 8 of ten tracks, including the title track, which is the most known song off of the album.
Ronnie came into Sabbath, after being introduced to Tony Iommi by Sharon Arden, who would later marry Ozzy Osbourne and be known to most as Sharon Osbourne. Ronnie replaced another beloved singer, Ozzy Osbourne, someone he also sounded nothing like, check out the album Live Evil for further proof of this. His biggest claim to fame was writing some of the biggest hard rock hits of the 70s, and helping Ritchie Blackmore become more than the former Deep Purple guitarist. And let’s be honest, people would have continued to follow Blackmoore, but would his music of had the same impact without Ronnie’s input? Ronnie’s first album with Black Sabbath was the monumental Heaven And Hell, he wrote the lyrics for all of the tracks, collaborated on the music with the rest of the band, and played bass on a lot of the early demos while Geezer Butler sorted a few things out. This album sprouted tracks like “Neon Knights”, “Children Of the Sea”, “Die Young”, “Lonely Is The Word”, and of course the title track, songs the band performed all the way up until Ronnie’s death. Mob Rules was the next album the band released with Ronnie, once again he handled all the lyrics, and co-wrote the music with the rest of the band, this album contains such great tracks as “Turn Up The Night”, “Voodoo”, “The Sign Of The Southern Cross”, and iconic title track.
Although Creatures and Lick It Up are strong albums, are they as strong as Heaven And Hell and Mob Rules? Does Vinnie’s playing eclipse Ronnie’s contribution to the legacy of Black Sabbath? I would have to say no, as much as I love all four albums, a lot of the greatness on the Kiss albums still comes down to Paul Stanley, and Gene Simmons knowing what they wanted from Vinnie, where as Sabbath was much more of a team. Without Gene, Paul, and Eric Carr, Vinnie wouldn’t have become anywhere near as revered by the die-hard fans of the band. Look at what the band did post-Vinnie, they still got on MTV and radio consistently with hits like “Heaven’s On Fire”, “Tears Are Falling”, and “Crazy Nights”. What did Vinnie do after Kiss? Two Invasion albums that were pretty good, I prefer the self-titled album over All Systems Go, but outside of three videos, you can’t really consider any of the tracks to make a larger impact, or even close to the impact he had with Kiss.
The tracks “Heaven And Hell” and “Mob Rules” are arguably two of the biggest heavy metal tracks ever released, you can argue this about “I Love It Loud” and “Lick It Up”, but I do think the tracks “Heaven And Hell” trumps the rest of the tracks mentioned in popularity, and importance.
Compare Vinnie’s Invasion output to Dio’s Holy Diver, Last In Line, Sacred Heart, and there is really no contest, the Dio albums were huge in comparison to Vinnie’s. Those three albums, without bringing up the rest of Dio’s catalog are some of the most important heavy metal albums of all time. Holy Diver alone is near perfect, and one could argue if it is better than those first two Sabbath albums. Vinnie worked with Kiss again on Revenge, while Ronnie came back for Dehumanizer. Kiss’ “Unholy” was probably the biggest track out of both albums, but looking back, the Sabbath album is much stronger, and still sounds great today. Revenge is good, but not as good in my opinion.
Ronnie James Dio saved Black Sabbath, he was there are the right place, the right time, and helped craft some of the most memorable tracks in hard rock and heavy metal history. Vinnie saved himself, he did not save Kiss, it was the other way around. Working with Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley helped him become a known player, and beyond that a capable songwriter. Without Gene and Paul to guide Vinnie, he would have been just another L.A. guitarist, this is evident by all of his previous projects. It could have easily been Steve Ferris instead of Vinnie. Maybe he would have found fame via a label like Shrapnel, or he would have found another band, but without Gene and Paul, he probably wouldn’t have been in a band anywhere near as known as Kiss. If Vinnie was in for it beyond saving himself, he would have found a way to not only make things work with Kiss, but also with his own band, who found more success after moving on without him.