How Rod Stewart Inspired Kiss’ ‘Hard Luck Woman’
Paul Stanley never intended for "Hard Luck Woman" to appear on a Kiss album or even to be performed by his band.
When he sat down to write the song, Stanley had another voice in his head: Rod Stewart's. Having listened to Stewart's "Maggie May," "Mandolin Wind" and "You Wear It Well," the Kiss member thought he might try his hand at the same style.
"I didn't see songwriting as an exercise, and normally I was good as self-editing — if I didn't think a song had a place on a Kiss album, I didn't bother to finish it," he wrote in his 2014 book, Face the Music: a Life Exposed. "But I was still fascinated with trying to figure out what made certain songs from other people tick."
The lyrical inspiration for the song came from an entirely different source: Looking Glass' hit song "Brandy (You're a Fine Girl)." By the time he finished writing, Stanley still wasn't thinking Kiss would record "Hard Luck Woman" and was instead intent on giving the song to Stewart. Bandmate Gene Simmons and producer Eddie Kramer insisted against it. Considering the success of the softer-sounding "Beth" from 1976's Destroyer, "Hard Luck Woman" would serve as a worthy follow-up.
Drummer Peter Criss, who sang lead on "Beth" and whose own raspy vocal style mirrored Stewart's, saw the song's potential, too. "[Stanley] played it for me on acoustic guitar, and I just loved it," Criss said in the 2005 biography Kiss: Behind the Mask. "I said, 'Hey fuck-o, how about me? Fuck Rod Stewart, I'll sing the shit out of it.'"
Watch Kiss Perform 'Hard Luck Woman'
Kramer agreed: "Peter had the natural voice to sing it. ... He's got a great voice. The guy had a real emotional way of singing it. There was a certain quality to his voice that none of the other guys had."
When it came time to record "Hard Luck Woman," Stanley pushed for Criss to sound as close to Stewart as possible. "I said, 'Let me do it my way,'" Criss remembered. "'Let me sing it. You'll get your raspy shit when you want it, but I've still got to sound like Peter. I'm not Rod Stewart, Paul. I know you wanted him to do it, but I'm not going to mimic him.'"
"Hard Luck Woman" reached No. 15 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Even though it never appeared often in the band's live sets, it did make another notable appearance almost two decades later when it was included on the 1994 tribute album, Kiss My Ass: Classic Kiss Regrooved, featuring Garth Brooks. The country star also performed the song alongside the band in their makeup-free days on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno in promotion of the album.
Watch Kiss and Garth Brooks Perform 'Hard Luck Woman' in 1994
"They knew I was a big fan," Brooks said of the collaboration in 2020. When asked what song he'd like to record for the LP, he first suggested "Detroit Rock City." He was told no but was open to just about anything else, with one exception. "Anything but 'Beth,'" Brooks recalled. "Because 'Beth' was the obvious thing. They said, 'Well, how about 'Hard Luck Woman?'"
For Brooks, a small-town boy who had grown up on Kiss records, recording with the band was a full-circle moment.
"When I met Garth backstage at one of his shows," Stanley told The Baltimore Sun at the time, "he literally got misty-eyed and said, 'If it wasn't for you, I wouldn't be here doing this tonight,' and he put his arms around me. Well, call me a sap, but I got misty-eyed, too. I find stuff like that very, very flattering and humbling."