KISS is an American hard rock band that formed in New York City, USA in 1973. The group has performed and recorded continuously since their formation. KISS has sold over 100 million albums worldwide and has been awarded 45 gold albums to date, and has certified sales of 19 million records in the U.S. Their latest album is 2012's 'Monster'.
Easily identified by their trademark face paint (registered with the United States Patent and Trademark Office) and stage costumes, KISS quickly rose to prominence on the basis of their elaborate live performances, which featured fire-breathing, blood spitting, smoking guitars and pyrotechnics. Inspired by energetic shock rock artists such as Alice Cooper and cult works of American horror and science fiction, they had their biggest commercial success in the 70s, influencing many later arena rock and heavy metal artists. They continue to play to a massive fan-base known as the 'Kiss Army'.
The original lineup of Gene Simmons (bass and vocals), Paul Stanley (rhythm guitar and vocals), Ace Frehley (lead guitar and vocals) and Peter Criss (drums and vocals) became the most successful and identifiable in the band's history, and released a series of gold and platinum albums throughout the 1970s. Due to substance abuse problems and creative differences, both Peter Criss and Ace Frehley were out of the group by 1982. The band's commercial fortunes had also waned considerably by that point.
In 1983, KISS abandoned their makeup and enjoyed a commercial resurgence throughout the mid-to-late 1980s. They began to fall out of favor once again by the early 1990s, however. Buoyed by a wave of KISS nostalgia in the mid-1990s, the band announced a reunion of the original lineup (with makeup) in 1996. The resulting "KISS Alive Worldwide" tour was the top-grossing act of 1996.
Criss and Frehley have since left KISS, and have been replaced by Eric Singer and Tommy Thayer, respectively. The band continues to perform, while Stanley and Simmons have remained the only two constant members.
Early years and struggles (1972-75)
KISS traces its roots to Wicked Lester, a New York-based rock and roll band led by co-founders Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley. Simmons (born Chaim Witz in Haifa, Israel on August 25, 1949) and Stanley (born Stanley Harvey Eisen in Queens, New York City on January 20, 1952) fired the other members of Wicked Lester in 1972 after Epic Records rejected an album recorded by the group.
In late 1972, Simmons spotted an ad in Rolling Stone placed by Peter Criss, a drummer "willing to do anything." Criss (born Peter Criscuola on December 20, 1945 in Brooklyn, New York City) auditioned for and joined Wicked Lester, now a trio. In January 1973 the group added lead guitarist Paul "Ace" Frehley (born April 27, 1951 in the Bronx, New York City) after being extremely impressed with his audition. That month, the Wicked Lester name was dropped and the band became KISS.
Stanley is credited with coming up with the name and the logo, while Frehley came up with the idea of making the "SS" look like lightning bolts, because he said that it "looked cool." The letters happened to look similar to the insignia of the Nazi SS, or Waffen-SS, a symbol that is now illegal to display in Germany. Therefore, in Germany, all of the band's album covers and merchandise used a modified version of the logo, in which the "SS" looks like a backwards "ZZ."
The first KISS performance was on January 30, 1973, for an audience of three at the Popcorn Club (renamed Coventry shortly afterward) in Queens. In June of that year, the band recorded a five-song demo tape with producer Eddie Kramer. After a handful of showcase concerts in the summer of 1973, former TV director Bill Aucoin offered to become the band’s manager in mid-October. KISS agreed, with the condition that Aucoin get them signed to a recording contract within two weeks. On November 1, 1973, KISS became the first act signed to former teen pop singer and Buddha Records executive Neil Bogart's new label, Emerald City Records (which was shortly afterward renamed Casablanca Records).
The band entered Bell Sound Studios in New York City on October 10, 1973 to begin recording their first album. On December 31 the band had their official industry premier at the Academy of Music in New York City, opening for Blue Öyster Cult. It was at this concert that Simmons accidentally set his hair (which was coated in hairspray) ablaze while performing his inaugural fire-breathing stunt.
KISS's first major tour started on February 5, 1974 in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, at the Northern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium. The band’s self-titled debut album, KISS, was released on February 18. Casablanca and KISS promoted the album heavily throughout the spring and summer of 1974. On February 19, 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 (aired March 29).
On April 29, the band performed "Firehouse" on The Mike Douglas Show. This broadcast included Simmons's first televised interview, a conversation with Douglas in which Simmons declared himself "evil incarnate," eliciting titters from an uncomfortable and largely confused studio audience. The presence of the costumed, made-up Simmons on Douglas's mid-afternoon, conservative talk show caused a palpable sense of tension in both the host and the audience, which Simmons seemed to enjoy as he intentionally exacerbated it by frequent exhibitions of tongue-flashing. This tension was then punctured by a spontaneous humorous exchange between Simmons and another of the show's guests, comedienne Totie Fields, which caused Simmons to break character and laugh.
The band flew to Los Angeles in August to begin recording their second album, Hotter Than Hell, which was released in on October 22, 1974. The only single, "Let Me Go, Rock 'n' Roll," failed to chart and the album stalled at #100.
With Hotter Than Hell quickly dropping off the charts, KISS was pulled from their tour to quickly record a new album. Casablanca Records head Neil Bogart stepped in to produce the next album, trading in the murky, distorted sound of Hotter Than Hell for a cleaner and slightly poppier sound. Dressed To Kill, released on March 19, 1975, fared slightly better commercially than Hotter Than Hell. It also contained what would later become the band's trademark song, "Rock and Roll All Nite."
Although KISS albums had not proven to be big sellers, the band was quickly gaining a reputation as a top-flight live act. KISS concerts featured things such as Simmons spitting "blood" (primarily yogurt and food coloring) or "breathing fire" (spitting flammable liquid at a torch); Frehley soloing as his guitar burst into flames (light and smoke bombs placed inside the guitar); Criss's elevating drum riser that emitted sparks; Stanley's Townshend-style guitar smashing; and pyrotechnics throughout the show.
By late 1975, Casablanca was nearly bankrupt and KISS was in danger of losing their record contract. Both parties desperately needed a commercial breakthrough if they were to survive. That breakthrough came in an unlikely form - a double live album.