KISS is an American hard rock/heavy metal band that formed in New York City in 1973. The group has performed and recorded continuously since their formation, although they have gone through multiple lineup changes. The most identifiable non-musical aspect of the group is their use of face paint and elaborate costumes.
The original members of KISS (and their made-up personas) are Paul Stanley (The Starchild), rhythm guitar/vocals; Gene Simmons (The Demon), bass/vocals; Ace Frehley (The Spaceman a.k.a. Space Ace), lead guitar/vocals; and Peter Criss (The Catman), drums/vocals. Bill Aucoin was the original manager 1973-1981. Doc McGhee is the current manager. Sean Delaney was the group's first road manager and creative director. KISS was originally inspired by the New York Dolls, The Harlots of 42nd Street, and other New York City glam scene bands. They felt the feminine look did not work for them.
The background and story of KISS can be found deep in New York City. Since boyhood, Paul Stanley (born Stanley Harvey Eisen in Queens, NY, January 20, 1952) had been enthralled with local and national television shows like American Bandstand, which featured the hot rock 'n' roll acts of the day. His future KISS partner Gene Simmons (born Chaim Witz in Haifa, Israel, August 25, 1949), meanwhile, had moved to New York from his home country of Israel at age nine, and as he grew up, became interested in movies, comic books, and of course, rock 'n' roll. The two grew up with similar ideas in mind for success, and both had experienced trial and error in various underground garage acts. In 1968, destiny brought Stanley and Simmons together through mutual friend Steven Coronel. By 1971, the two formed a band called Wicked Lester, a band whose sound is best described as eclectic.
Wicked Lester was able to get as far as recording an album for the Epic label in 1972 (the complete album remains unreleased), but Stanley and Simmons were unhappy with the direction their band was headed in. Later in the year, the two decided they were going to quit their own band and move in a vastly different direction. After finding drummer Peter Criss through the Rolling Stone classifieds, and lead guitarist Paul "Ace" Frehley through auditions, Gene and Paul had discovered the sound they were looking for. The original lineup of KISS was created.
The band's name was rumored to stand for "Knights In Satan's Service" or "Knights In Service of Satan" but this is an urban legend - propagated in the 1970s by Minnesota-based evangelists the Peters Brothers - which Gene Simmons has denied in his autobiography, KISS And Make-Up. Simmons states that Paul Stanley suggested the name on the spur of the moment while they were stopped at a traffic light. Paul has also stated that the band name is not an acronym. Ace designed the infamous lightning bolt logo, and the rest is history. It has also been rumoured that the logo came from the German swastika, however, this too has been denied, by Ace.
The first ever KISS performance was on January 30, 1973, following months on end of practicing, to an audience of 10 at the Popcorn Club (renamed Coventry shortly afterwards) in Queens, NY. In June of that year, the band recorded a five-song demo tape with producer Eddie Kramer, which eventually wound up in the hands of former teen pop singer and Buddha Records executive Neil Bogart. With the help of their new manager, former TV director Bill Aucoin, KISS became the first act signed to Bogart's new label, Emerald City Records (which was quickly changed to Casablanca Records).
Produced by Kenny Kerner & Richie Wise, the self-titled debut album, KISS, was released in February 1974. The cover showed the group in their makeup, mimicking the cover of The Beatles' With the Beatles album. At the time, no one really knew what to make of the group's look. Topping at #87 in the charts, the album did feature a few chestnuts in the group's career; "Strutter," "Deuce," "Cold Gin," and the closer "Black Diamond."
KISS' first national tour started on February 5, 1974 in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, at the Northern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium. This is where Gene encountered his first of many more groupies to come.... a girl with purple and green hair, who is credited on his solo album.
On February 21, the band performed "Nothin' to Lose," "Firehouse" and "Black Diamond" for what would become their first national television appearance, on ABC's Dick Clark's In Concert (airdate March 29). Two months later on April 29, the band performed "Firehouse" on The Mike Douglas Show, a broadcast which also included Gene Simmons' first televised interview.
Kerner and Wise also produced the follow-up album, Hotter Than Hell, which was released in October 1974. The album was recorded in Los Angeles, CA, and featured several future KISS classics, including "Goin' Blind", the title track, "Let Me Go, Rock 'n' Roll", and "Watchin' You." The album is also known for its striking cover: the front featured Japanese influenced artwork, and the back cover showed indiviual band shots taken by Norman Seeff at a wild party, and a composite of all four band members' makeup designs. The album did less well than their debut, reaching just #100 on the Billboard album chart.
In 1975, having achieved recognition, but no big hit single, Casablanca Records head Neil Bogart stepped in to produce their next album, trading in the raw sound of KISS and Hotter Than Hell for a cleaner, produced sound with Dressed To Kill, released in March 1975. The album included two important songs in the group's career; "C'Mon And Love Me," their first big radio hit, and "Rock And Roll All Nite," which would become known as the "rock and roll national anthem."
While Dressed To Kill sold better than the previous two KISS studio releases, it was still the live performance fans craved most. Word was spreading about KISS' incredible shows, which set new standards for the live concert experience. KISS delivered more than just the music: there were eye-popping pyrotechnics, including Peter Criss's levitating drum riser, Ace Frehley's smoking (literally!) Les Paul, Paul Stanley's nightly destruction of his guitar, and of course, Gene Simmons' legendary fire-breathing and blood-spitting. How does one capture such an event on vinyl? The answer was delivered in September 1975, when KISS released Alive!, largely recorded in Detroit's Cobo Arena, among other locations. The album would go on to achieve Quadruple Platinum status, and spawned KISS's first top 40 single, the live version of "Rock And Roll All Nite".
Following this success, KISS partnered with producer Bob Ezrin to embark on a musical tour de force the likes of which the band had never seen before. The result was Destroyer (released March 1976), KISS' most commercially successful studio album, which included the hits "Beth", "Detroit Rock City," "God of Thunder" and "Shout It Out Loud." The cover, painted by renowned artist Ken Kelly (who also commissioned the Love Gun album artwork), has also been used on countless T-shirts, posters and other paraphenelia. Many of the songs from Destroyer remain KISS concert staples to this day.
In October 1976, KISS made a historic television appearance, lip-synching "Detroit Rock City," "Beth" and "King of the Night Time World" on The Paul Lynde Halloween Special. For many young music listeners, this was their first exposure to the sonic and visual assault of KISS. In order to capture the essence of the band's look and performance level, the show was co-produced by KISS manager Bill Aucoin. In addition to the three aforementioned performances, KISS was also the subject of a comedic "interview" conducted by Paul Lynde himself.
A 1977 Gallup poll named KISS the most popular band in America. In Japan, KISS broke attendance records previously held by The Beatles. KISS hysteria was in full effect. The group had two comic books released by Marvel, pinball machines, Mego dolls, "KISS Your Face Makeup" kits, Halloween masks, board games, and many other pieces of memorabilia. The group was never seen in public without wearing their makeup and their popularity was growing by leaps and bounds; the membership of the KISS Army, the band's fan club, was now in the six figures. Two more studio albums continued to fuel the KISS fire (November 1976's Rock and Roll Over and June 1977's smash hit Love Gun) before KISS released the sequel to Alive! in November 1977, titled Alive II. The first of many KISS greatest hits compilations, titled Double Platinum, was issued in April 1978.
Even such enormous popularity had its limits, and the band reached them in September 1978, when all four members released solo albums on the same day. Simmons' record was the most successful, reaching number 22 on the charts, yet all of them made it into the Top 50. One month later, an NBC-TV movie produced by Hanna-Barbera hit the airwaves, titled KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park. The film was proposed to the band as a cross between A Hard Day's Night and Star Wars, though the final results fell far short of these expectations. The movie was one of the highest-rated TV movies of the year, and saw theatrical release outside the U.S. in 1979, under the title Attack of the Phantoms.
The first KISS album in two years, Dynasty, released in May 1979, continued their streak of platinum albums. The album contained what would become the biggest single in the history of the band, the worldwide smash "I Was Made For Lovin' You." The song, which combined elements of the KISS sound with disco, was a top ten hit throughout the world (although stateside, it only managed number 11) and stands as the most covered KISS song ever. This album, as well as the follow-up Unmasked, were recorded using ghost drummer Anton Fig at the request of producer Vini Poncia, who felt Criss's drumming skills were not up to par with what he wanted. Peter Criss left the band shortly after the May 1980 release of Unmasked. Despite a slick, contemporary pop sound, Unmasked had the dubious distinction of being the first KISS album since Dressed to Kill to fail to go platinum. The tour to support Unmasked never reached the United States (save for a one-off show at New York's Palladium to showcase their new drummer, the dynamic Eric Carr). KISS's 1980 tour of Australia was one of the biggest in the band's history, as they played to sold-out crowds and enjoyed enormous popularity amongst the fans there.
The band stunned audiences with the release of the symphonic concept album, November 1981's Music From "The Elder", their first album recorded with Carr. It failed to go gold, and couldn't climb past number 75 on the charts.
Reaction to The Elder was harsh. Much of the album contained horns and strings, and was based on a fictional film that never saw the light of day. The issue was not with the quality of the album, but for a band like KISS, who was known for its pounding rhythms, sex-based lyrics, and blood-laden stage show, such a radical departure alienated their fan base. Following its failure, the band was committed to go back in the studio and make the heaviest album of their career.
After recording only four songs, plans for the new album were scrapped. The four leftover songs were combined with classic KISS material from the 1970s for the June 1982 release KISS Killers, a complilation album released outside the United States. The band made good on their promise with October 1982's excellent Creatures of the Night, the hardest album the band had released up to that point. Creatures of the Night fared better than Music From the Elder, yet it couldn't make it past number 45 on the charts. Unfortunately, Ace Frehley left the band after its release; he was replaced by Vinnie Vincent in 1982 in time for the "10th Anniversary" tour. While this tour didn't fare as well as others did in the United States, the band did go on to play for the largest crowds of their career, up to 137,000 fans in Brazil in June 1983. This series of shows would be the last KISS would perform in makeup until June 28, 1996.
Sensing it was time for a change, KISS shocked the music world by appearing without their makeup live on MTV. The publicity worked, as the September 1983 album Lick it Up became their first platinum record in four years. However, Vinnie Vincent was fired after Lick it Up and was replaced by Mark St. John. Animalize, released in September 1984, was just as successful, and the group had clearly recaptured their niche. "Heaven's on Fire" and "Thrills in the Night" became huge MTV hits, and the band continued to be a solid concert draw. St. John, however, was soon taken ill with Reiter's syndrome and left the band shortly into the 1984 Animalize tour. Bruce Kulick became KISS' new lead guitarist, and would remain with the group for the next 12 years.
For the rest of the 1980s, KISS turned out a series of best-selling albums (September 1985's Asylum, September 1987's Crazy Nights, the November 1988 compilation Smashes, Thrashes & Hits, and the critically acclaimed November 1989 release Hot in the Shade), culminating in the early 1990 hit ballad "Forever," co-written by Michael Bolton, which was their biggest single since "I Was Made For Lovin' You."
During this makeup-free era however, KISS found themselves struggling against the new guard of rock bands that sprouted up during the 1980s. Mötley Crüe, Guns N' Roses, Bon Jovi, among others, outperformed KISS in terms of album and concert sales. For instance, Bon Jovi's 1986 Slippery When Wet and Guns N' Roses' 1987 Appetite For Destruction, have long since attained album sales over 10 million. KISS released Crazy Nights in 1987, attaining a comparatively modest one-times Platinum ranking. They remained a headlining act, but not often with the notoriety and success of the previously mentioned bands.
KISS was scheduled to record a new album with their old producer, Bob Ezrin, in 1990 when Eric Carr became severely ill with cancer. The drummer passed away on November 24, 1991 at the age of 41. Devastated, KISS continued and replaced him with drummer Eric Singer and recorded the highly praised Revenge (May 1992), their first album since 1989. The album, considered by many fans as one of the best latter-day KISS albums, was a Top Ten hit and went gold. KISS followed it with the release of Alive III, in May 1993. This was KISS's first live release since 1977's Alive II. In June 1994, the band issued KISS My Ass, a compilation album featuring popular artists of the era putting their own spin on KISS classics. The result was an eclectic mix of sounds, ranging from Lenny Kravitz putting a funky stamp on "Deuce" (with Stevie Wonder on harmonica), a ska version of "Detroit Rock City" by the Mighty Mighty Bosstones, and Die Ärzte performing "Unholy" in German language.
In 1995, the band embarked on a unique and well-received "Worldwide KISS Convention Tour." The conventions were all-day events, featuring displays of vintage KISS stage outfits, instruments, and memorabilia, performances by KISS cover bands, and of course featured dealers selling KISS merchandise from every stage of the band's career up to that time. Of most interest to attendees, KISS themselves appeared live and in person, conducting question and answer sessions, autograph signings, and a two-hour unplugged set comprised mostly of spontaneous fan requests. On the first U.S. date, June 17, 1995, former drummer Peter Criss appeared onstage with KISS, to sing lead on "Hard Luck Woman" and backup on "Nothin' to Lose."
On August 9, 1995, KISS joined the long line of musicians to perform on MTV Unplugged. Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons contacted former members Peter Criss and Ace Frehley and invited them to participate in the event. Both Peter and Ace joined KISS onstage for several songs at the end of the set. In the weeks following the Unplugged concert, the band returned to the studio for the first time in three years to record Carnival of Souls. The album was completed, but its release was delayed for two years.
Fan reaction to Criss and Frehley at the Unplugged show was so positive that, in 1996, the original lineup of KISS -- featuring Simmons, Stanley, Frehley, and Criss -- reunited to perform the "KISS Alive/Worldwide" tour, complete with their notorious makeup and special effects. This would be the first tour featuring all four original KISS members since 1979.
The buzz surrounding the reunion of all four original band members started in typical grandiose KISS fashion. On February 28, 1996, the late Tupac Shakur introduced the original KISS - clad in full makeup and stage outfits - to a rousing ovation at the 38th Annual Grammy Awards. Two months later on April 16, the band held a press conference aboard the USS Intrepid in New York, where they announced their plans for world domination. The conference, emceed by Conan O'Brien, was simulcast to 58 countries. On June 28, the "KISS Alive/Worldwide" tour kicked off at Tiger Stadium in Detroit, in front of a sold-out crowd of 39,867 fans. Shows were selling out in minutes, and like the days of yore, KISS hysteria was everywhere. The tour stretched to nearly every corner of the globe over a one-year period, and stands today as one of the top-grossing tours of all time.
In September 1998 the reunited group issued Psycho Circus, the first album with the original lineup since 1980's Unmasked. The ensuing tour in support of Psycho Circus was a success, and the Psycho Circus album debuted in the top three of the Billboard Album chart. The album's title track nabbed a Grammy nomination. The tour itself was historic for being the first to ever incorporate 3-D visuals into a stage show. August 13, 1999 saw the nationwide premiere of a KISS-themed motion picture titled Detroit Rock City. The movie was set in 1978, focusing on four teenagers (featuring Edward Furlong) willing to do anything to score tickets for a sold-out KISS show in Detroit. The film's premiere was preceded two days earlier by KISS receiving a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The quartet announced in the spring of 2000 that they would be launching a U.S. Farewell tour in the summer, which became one of the year's top concert draws.
But on the eve of a Japanese and Australian tour in early 2001, Peter Criss suddenly left the band once again, supposedly discontent with his salary. Taking his place was previous KISS drummer Eric Singer, who in a controversial move among longtime fans, donned Criss' cat-man makeup (since Simmons and Stanley own both Frehley and Criss' makeup designs, there was no threat of a lawsuit) as the farewell tour continued. With the band scheduled to call it a day supposedly by late 2001, a mammoth career-encompassing Box Set was set for later in the year, while the summer saw perhaps the most over-the-top piece of KISS merchandise yet -- the "KISS Kasket."
The group was relatively quiet through the rest of the year, but 2002 started with a bang as Gene Simmons turned in an entertaining and controversial interview on NPR where he criticized the organization and berated host Terry Gross with sexual comments and condescending answers 1. He was promoting his autobiography at the time, which also caused dissent in the KISS camp because of the inflammatory remarks made towards Ace Frehley. Frehley was quite angry at the situation, leading to his no-showing of an American Bandstand anniversary show.
With KISS's Farewell Tour never reaching an official conclusion, the group launched a co-headlining tour with Aerosmith in 2003. The tour was a financial success (earning more than US$60 million in 2003). Peter Criss had rejoined the band earlier in the year, but Ace Frehley refused to continue playing with KISS. He was replaced by former Black N Blue guitarist Tommy Thayer, who assumed the Space Ace persona. Shortly after the arrival of Thayer, the band recorded Alive IV with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra while in Australia. Simmons and Stanley, reportedly unimpressed with Criss's drumming, did not renew his contract when it expired in March 2004. He was replaced by Singer.
KISS toured with Poison in 2004 in what was billed as the "Rock the Nation 2004 World Tour." The tour ended in August with a show in Mexico City.