This week is a special week for Sunday Old School because it’s the 250th column. One of the genres covered has been the glam and hair bands of the eighties. No band provided more of an influence in this area then KISS. Known for over-the-top antics, make-up, merchandising and farewell tours the boys from KISS have ruled since the seventies. Still, there is the question: Which came first, the music or the makeup? Spoiler Alert: We can’t prove either only that success followed. So without further ado, your 250th Sunday Old School post from the biggest band of all time: KISS. (Note: If you don’t believe this is the biggest band of all time just ask Gene Simmons.)
After starting as the New York City band Wicked Lester, Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley abandoned the name and teamed up with Peter Criss and Ace Frehley to form KISS in 1973. The name was a spin on Criss’ band Lips and not an acronym for “Kids In Satan’s Service”, a bummer for sure. In 1973 the band decided to dress up and wear make-up, becoming comic book characters on stage. They also recorded a five-song demo and recorded their self-titled debut in 1974. In addition to touring the band performed on ABC’s Dick Clark’s in Concert. Album sales were slow so the band got to work on their second album, ‘Hotter Than Hell’, another album that failed to chart. Next up, the band recorded and released ‘Dressed to Kill’ which did a little better in sales and contained the song “Rock and Roll All Nite.” It was 1975 and although the band was not commercially big in album sales they were beginning to gain a “have to see this band live” reputation. Fun Fact: The blood Gene Simmons spit out was often made up of raw eggs and food coloring. In 1975 their label (Casablanca) and band were nearly broke. A desperate move was made – KISS released a double live album.
In 1975 KISS released ‘Alive’ and achieved gold status as well as their first top 40 single, a live version of “Rock and Roll All Nite.” The live album kept KISS and their label alive (pun intended) so they went to work on their next album, ‘Destroyer.’ Released in 1976, the album sold better than previous albums, going gold and then continuing strong once the ballad “Beth” was released, eventually pushing sales to platinum. The success continued with ‘Rock and Roll Over’ in 1976 and ‘Love Gun’ in 1977, a year in which the band also released ‘Alive II.’ In 1977 a Gallup poll named KISS the most popular band in America. In 1978 the band released a greatest hits double album titled ‘Double Platinum.’ Had there been a Gallop poll in 1978 related to which band had put out the most material KISS would have won that too!
This was also the period when KISS merchandising started to become a major thing. Products included comic books, makeup kits, masks, board games, trading cards and membership in the KISS Army. If the egos weren’t big enough already, what happened in 1978 would solidify KISS as (at least in their minds) the biggest band in the world. In 1978 each member simultaneously released a solo album. Four solo records, same day – all reached platinum status. Then they appeared in the NBC movie made for TV Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park. Apparently at the time this was a good idea. Apparently the band was surprised they were made out to be more clowns than superheroes.
In 1979 KISS released ‘Dynasty’, another platinum album with the disco influenced “I Was Made for Lovin’ You.” Despite another platinum album, concert attendance started to decrease and something called KISS WORLD – an amusement park idea was eventually scrapped. After the tour the band started to fight and Criss left KISS. In 1980 the band released ‘Unmasked’, again seeing declining sales as their audience grew older. Eric Carr joined soon after and played drums on the 1981 concept album ‘Music from “The Elder.”’ In 1982 Frehley departed the band. Fun Fact: Per Gene Simmons, Eddie Van Halen wanted to take Ace Frehley’s spot.
In 1982 KISS released ‘Killers’ and ‘Creatures of the Night.’ In Frehley’s absence a lot of guitar players were used including Bruce Kulick and Vinnie Vincent. Vincent would eventually be the full time guitarist and then later replaced by Mark St. John although Vincent would make appearances and participate in a lot of the future KISS material. In case you were wondering, 1983 was the year KISS took off their make-up.
In an MTV appearance the band appeared without their makeup, promoting their new album ‘Lick It Up.’ KISS followed up this album with ‘Animalize’ in 1984 as well as a video for “Heaven’s on Fire” which received heavy airplay on MTV. The video was very KISS (see: Gene Simmons tongue scenes), very eighties (see: Paul Stanley’s white gloves) and again very KISS (see: at least three “orgy” type situations).
St. John was replaced again by Kulick (due to health issues) as the band toured to support ‘Animalize’ and it’s major success, their biggest in the eighties. The band didn’t slow down, releasing ‘Asylum’ in 1985, ‘Crazy Nights’ in 1987 and ‘Smashes, Thrashes & Hits’ in 1988. The latter containing the very entertaining “Let’s Put the X in Sex” single. The decade ended with the release of ‘Hot in the Shade’ in 1989. Two years later tragedy struck. In 1991 Eric Carr had tumors removed from his heart, but more tumors were later discovered. Despite treatment, Carr passed away in November of 1991 at the age of 41.
Eric Singer would go on to replace Carr on drums. In 1992 the band released ‘Revenge’ a heavier sounding album with Vinnie Vincent once again helping with songwriting. If you love Gene’s dry sense of humor you really need to watch the video for “Domino”, also the lyrics “it’s a sticky situation…she ain’t old enough to vote”…oh, Gene you are too much! The album went gold, leading to a tour and release of ‘Alive III’ in 1993. In 1995 KISS performed on MTV Unplugged, both Criss and Frehley joined the band on stage for several songs at the end of the set. Rumors swirled around a possible reunion.
In 1996 Tupac Shakur introduced the original KISS lineup at the Grammy Awards. A tour followed, lasting 192 shows, earning over 43 million dollars, making KISS the top-drawing concert act of 1996. ‘Psycho Circus’ was released in 1998 and in 2000 announced a U.S. Farewell Tour. They also released a video game titled Kiss: Psycho Circus: The Nightmare Child. In 2001 a lot happened, Criss left the band, a box set was released and most shockingly, KISS merchandising reached a new high (or low) when the Kiss Kasket was introduced.