Kiss is an American hard rock band, famously identified for the black-and-white makeups on each of the member’s faces, elaborate outfits and on-stage gimmicks (like pyrotechnics, fire breathing, etc.). The group, formed in New York and led by Gene Simmons, rose to prominence in the 1970s hard rock scene. They hit the charts with “Beth”, “I Was Made For Lovin’ You” and released gold and platinum-winning albums Kiss, Destroyer, Dynasty, and Rock And Roll Over, among others.
Like many long-living bands, Kiss underwent personnel changes. In the 1990s, encouraged by the sweep of Kiss nostalgia, the band launched a reunion of the original members and went on a successful worldwide tour. Despite their stunning commercial achievements and longevity in the industry, it’s just in 2014 that Kiss was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
The birth of Kiss
Famous glam metal rockers Kiss (or KISS) were formed in New York City in 1973 by Gene Simmons (bass, vocals) and Paul Stanley (guitar, vocals), who also had founded the hard-rock group Wicked Lester. Then they later brought in Peter Criss (drummer) and Ace Frehley (guitars) through different magazine ads. The band changed their name from Wicked Lester to Kiss. Even in their first live shows, the band already was already exhibiting their outrageously flamboyant and theatrical on-stage approach that would make them famous.
Kiss was then signed to their first recording contract to Neil Bogart’s newly-established imprint Casablanca Records in 1973, becoming the label’s first act. The following year they released their self-titled debut album which did well, cracking at the Billboard 200’s top 100 list. However, it didn’t perform well enough despite the group’s constant touring and promotions. Their second album later in 1974, Hotter than Hell, barely made it to the Billboard 200’s top 100. Their third album Dressed to Kill, however, was slowly climbing up the album chart, peaking at #32. Kiss was starting to build up their loyal fan base mostly through their constant touring.
Rise to rock stardom
These tours were eventually recorded and released into a live album, Alive! which was released in 1975. It was this album that made Kiss into legit rock superstars.Alive! became their album to reach the Top 10, buoyed by the single “Rock and Roll All Nite” which peaked at #12 on the Hot 100 that year.
The height of “Kissmania”
In 1976, Kiss released their fourth studio album Destroyer, which became their first platinum album (double platinum in fact). It reached #11 on the Billboard 200 and broke into the Top 10 album charts in Canada, Australia and Sweden. Destroyeryielded Kiss’ first-ever Top 10 single “Beth” which was co-written by Criss. Their 1976 LP Rock and Roll Over also became a platinum seller, as did the follow-up, 1977’s Love Gun.
By then people, most especially teenagers, were quickly caught up by the “Kissmania” which was in full swing. Soon, Kiss merchandise began to pop up — masks, board games, pinball machine, dolls, makeup kits, trading cards, and a pair of comic books issued by Marvel. A live TV movie Kiss Meets The Phantom Of The Park, was broadcast.
Soon Kiss was at the peak of commercial success by the late 1970s. Along with Alice Cooper, Kiss was one of the most controversial rock acts onstage. Their stage sets were particularly impressive, complete with dry-ice “smokes,” pyrotechnics, rockets and “flying” drum sets. Even when they weren’t performing, Kiss members were rarely seen in public without makeup. The number of their fans multiplied into over half a million strong.
In the midst of the band’s success, all four members of Kiss began to release their own solo albums. It was actually written in their contract. It gave each of the band members a chance to showcase their individual talents as well as to work alongside other artists. All of Kiss members’ solo albums were released on the same day of September, 1978. According to some sources, Simmon’s solo album was the most successful, but other references state that Frehley’s album was the most successful. In any case, all four solo Kiss albums did very well on the charts, and all also went platinum.
Kiss got back together again to release their seventh studio album Dynasty, which also became a commercial triumph. It yielded the single “I Was Made for Lovin’,” which just missed the Top 10 pop singles. Dynasty continued the band’s platinum-album streak, but it was also to be their last effort with the original, classic Kiss lineup. Unbeknownst to most fans, there were actually severe tensions existing among the band members. Drummer Peter Criss left Kiss in 1980, and was replaced by Eric Carr.
Kiss in the 1980s
Kiss released their first album with Carr, Music from “The Elder” (1981) which manifested the mollifying of Kiss’ image and music. This approach didn’t click, and the album managed only a #75 position on the chart and didn’t even reach gold. 1982’s Creatures of the Night fared a little better than its predecessor, finally reaching gold status. Still it paled in comparison to the band’s previous late-70s efforts. Another original member Ace Frehley also left the band around that year, and was later replaced by guitarist Vinnie Vincent.
Realizing that it was time to change, Kiss started to disown their trademark makeup for the first time in their career. In 1983, they released Lick It Up, which went platinum, and the title track went to #19 on the mainstream rock charts.
Kiss followed this up with Animalize in 1983, which went platinum in North America. The single off the album “Heaven’s On Fire” went to #11 on the rock chart, and its music video was played on MTV. Their comeback at that time recouped for them their old glory. Vincent left shortly after Animalize‘s release, and Mark St. John replaced him. However, St. John’s stint with Kiss was short-lived as he was troubled by a lingering illness, and he eventually quit. He was replaced by another guitarist Bruce Kulick.
Kiss did quite well for the latter part of the 1980s, releasing successful albumsAsylum (1985), Crazy Nights (1987) and Hot in the Shade (1989). “Forever”, the single from Hot in the Shade, gave Kiss another Top 10 pop hit, their second after “Beth.” “Forever” peaked at #8 on the Hot 100.
Their plans of recording their next album were hampered by Eric Carr’s grave illness. He eventually died of heart cancer in November 1991; Carr was replaced by Eric Singer.
Kiss in the 1990s and the new millennium
Despite the tragedy Kiss just went on, and they were even about to enjoy nostalgia success during the 1990s. This encouraged the 1996 reunion of the original and classic Kiss lineup — Simmons, Stanley, Criss and Frehley. Their reunion resulted in an international tour billed as Kiss Alive, which became one of the top-grossing rock events of 1996-97. In that tour, the members were back into donning their signature black-and-white makeup and mounting their stage sets once more with spectacular effects.
In 1997, Kiss released Carnival Of Souls: The Final Sessions which went to #27 on the Billboard 200. Its follow-up Psycho Circus peaked at #3 on the same chart. Kiss supported Psycho Circus with an extensive tour, which became successful and was also rumored to be their last gig together. However, Kiss themselves announced that they would do a US Farewell Tour in 2000 — at least, the last tour for the classic lineup. In March that year the tour did finally ensue, and the band played on many dates until the following month. However, Criss suddenly quit just before the band would embark on their Japanese/Australian leg of their Farewell Tour in 2001 because of disputes over salary.
When the band was supposed to end it all that same year, a Kiss boxed set was released in November. The rest of 2001 was a relatively quiet year for the band. In 2002, Gene Simmons commenced some controversy in his interview on the National Public Radio with host Terry Gross. Simmons was promoting his autobiography at the time, which also mentioned unsavory remarks about Frehley. As a result, Frehley was infuriated by this, leading to a deliberate non-appearance on American Bandstand’s anniversary episode. However, he did show up and perform with the band on their 2002 Winter Olympics’ closing ceremony. It would be Frehley’s last appearance with Kiss. Frehley was replaced by Tommy Thayer, who adopted Frehley’s Spaceman makeup. In 2004 Criss didn’t renew his contract when it expired, and remaining original members Simmons and Stanley were to start all over again in the band.
Despite releasing no new music for the time being, Kiss was busy doing world tours. In 2008, Kiss returned to the studio to record Sonic Boom which was released the following year. Sonic Boom was their highest-charting album to date, reaching its peak position at #2 on the Billboard 200. Kiss made a guest appearance at the top reality talent search American Idol in 2009, and in 2012 they released their latest studio album yet Monster. It peaked at #3 on the Billboard 200 and topped the rock charts.
The current Kiss lineup now consists of Simmons, Stanley, Singer and Thayer. Kiss has been included in many lists including the VH1’s poll of greatest rock acts, and 100 all-time greatest artists.
Finally – a place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2014
Kiss has been eligible to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame honors since 1999 or 2000, but it was only in 2009 that the band got nominated. Kiss declared that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame meant nothing to them. But their followers otherwise didn’t take the snub too kindly. Angry Kiss fans once even held an organized protest in front of the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame museum in Cleveland, Ohio.
In late 2013, the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame announced that Kiss was set to be inducted into this prestigious honor. And in April 2014, the band were finally inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It seems that the fans’ prayers have been finally answered after 15 long years. A Kiss to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame indeed!