Originally made up of four young men from New York City—Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, Peter Criss and Ace Frehley—the group Kiss made a name for itself mainly by a dramatic stage show which featured band members in outrageous costumes and make-up. Boasting that they were the loudest rock and roll band in the world, Kiss would take to the stage dressed up as “fantasy characters” and give a high-energy, high-tech, highly theatrical show. With their appearance and raucous, crowd-pleasing concerts, the band soon became a popular success, especially with teenagers.
Their legions of fans joined the Kiss Army, worshiping the band that was never allowed to be photographed without their makeup. Comic books, movies and cartoons were released featuring the Kiss characters. The popularity of the band began to cool down in the early 1980s, around the time that it decided to perform without makeup. Ace Frehley and Peter Criss left the band, and some of the new replacements did not last long. Still, Kiss continued to give a wild stage show,
Group formed in New York City, 1973; original members included lead guitarist Ace Frehley (bom Paul Frehley, April 27, 1951 in Bronx, New York, wife’s name, Jeanette); rhythm guitarist Paul Stanley (born Stanley Eisen, January 20, 1952 in New York City); bass guitarist Gene Simmons (born Gene Klein, August 25, 1949 in Haifa, Israel); and drummer Peter Criss (born Peter Crisscoula, December 20, 1947 in Brooklyn, New York, wife’s name, Lydia). Frehley was replaced by Vinnie Vincent in 1982, who was replaced by Mark St. John in 1984, who was replaced by Bruce Kulick in 1985; Criss was replaced by Eric Carr in 1980.
Awards: Chosen Best Group of the Year by Circus magazine, 1975; voted Most Promising Group in Record World’s 1976 poll; voted Best Group in 1977 Gallup Poll.
Addresses: Office— P.O. Box 840, Westbury, NY 11590.
which attracted new fans, making them an enduring act in rock and roll history.
Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons were the founding force behind Kiss. They met in 1971, when Simmons transferred to Richmond College in Staten Island from an upstate, New York, school. The two formed a loosely organized group called Rainbow, playing music ranging from country to covers of the Beatles. In 1972 Rainbow broke up, but Simmons and Stanley stayed together. They made plans to form the kind of band that would launch them into stardom.
Using basic supply-and-demand philosophy, the two decided that what the rock world needed at the time was a group that could do a really wild, entertaining stage show. Bands that had been successful at that in the past—Alice Cooper, David Bowie, T Rex—had quit performing. Wanting to fill that gap, they decided to form a hard rock band with a theatrical theme. The two spent a lot of time in 1972 and 1973 researching their idea by seeing other groups. One, in particular, influenced them greatly, the New York Dolls. The Dolls were famed for dressing up in drag when they played.
Stanley and Simmons then went about trying to get a drummer and lead guitarist for the band. Peter Criss was found through an ad he had placed in Rolling Stone. Ace Frehley was recruited by an ad placed in the Village Voice. With all the elements in place, the group rehearsed in a Manhattan loft, named themselves Kiss and started experimenting with makeup and theatrics that would become the backbone of their stage show.
Deciding the drag look would not work for them, they hit upon the idea of getting made-up like fantasy characters. Their look, although not intentionally, was similar to Japanese Kabuki Theater. Simmons appeared as a monster with leather bat wings and scaly platform boots, characteristically wagging his 7-inch tongue in and out of his mouth for effect. Stanley was the lover, with pouty lips and a star over his right eye. Criss was a cat, and Frehley a spaceman with silver boots and a leather, spacesuit. To add to the fantasy aspect, they decided none of the Kiss members would be photographed in public without their makeup.
Kiss began playing small clubs around New York, but all the members had their minds set on superstardom. They aggressively publicized the band, sending releases to many important record industry executives. Bill Aucoin, who was working as producer of a television music series, went to see the band play and was instantly impressed. Within a few weeks he had made a deal with Casablanca records to handle Kiss’s records and publicity. Shortly after their signing with Casablanca, the group produced the album Kiss. Choreographer Sean Delaney was brought in to perfect the timing and effects of Kiss’s already dramatic stage appearance. The band’s first major show was on New Year’s Eve, 1973, as an opening act. Kiss stole the show that evening, winning over the crowd with its performance.
In the years 1973 and 1974, Kiss worked hard on tour, playing in such out of the way places as Edmonton, Canada. Despite the group’s popular appeal, critics generally lambasted their music. Steve Pond wrote in the Detroit News that “the music made by Kiss is overbearing, repetitious, simple-minded and derivative.” His comments were indicative of many rock record reviews. Kiss’s philosophy, however, was to give the fan a quality show no matter where it performed. And it was hard to dispute the fact that fans were thronging to their stage shows, entranced by the band’s energy.
By 1975 Kiss was headlining in larger auditoriums around the country. They also released two popular albums, Hotter Than Hell and Dressed to Kill. The single “Rock & Roll All Nite” from the latter album became almost an anthem for the teenage crowd. In 1975, cash flow became a problem when Kiss’s record company, Casablanca, split from Warner Brothers. Because Casablanca was having problems meeting royalty payments, Aucoin had to finance an entire Kiss tour on his American Express card. This situation turned around quickly in 1975 when the double album Alive was released. Recorded in small and medium-sized towns around the U.S., this album truly captured the energy and drive the group put into their live shows and was an instant success, ending the group’s financial problems.
However other problems were to arise. There was backlash from concerned parents and the press that Kiss’s stage show gave children dangerous ideas. For example, Simmons would breathe fire during one of the songs. Several teenagers tried this at home, and a few were seriously burned. There were accusations that the band was made up of devil worshippers and Kiss was actually an acronym for Knights in Satan’s Service.
Despite this negative publicity, the years 1975-79 found Kiss’s popularity with its fans at its peak. The band made a point of playing in small towns as well as larger markets, to build a grass roots following of loyal fans. The band was even invited to perform in Cadillac, Michigan, because the local high school football team had made Kiss their team mascot and broken their losing record. In a publicity coup, Kiss wowed the town and gained much press coverage by playing at Cadillac High School’s prom. With stunts like this, it was not surprising that the band’s fan club, named the Kiss Army, numbered over 100, 000 members.
As further testimony to the band’s popularity during the late 1970s, the Kiss characters also starred in comic books, and the band appeared in an NBC “Movie of the Week,” Kiss Meets the Phantom. Kiss Halloween costumes were sold and a Christmas TV special aired. During this time the band also released the albums Destroyer (1976), Kiss—the Originals and Rock and Roll Over (1976), Love Gun and Alive II (1977), Double Platinum (1978), and Dynasty (1979). Although critics still generally disapproved of the group, Simmons commented in the Detroit News: “It’s OK if Rolling Stone votes us ‘Hype of the Year.’ We still fill 20, 000-seat halls every night. We’ll take it.”
In 1981, Peter Criss left the band, followed soon by Ace Frehley. Despite the turnover in these original group members, Stanley and Simmons kept a guiding hand on the strategy of the band. They recruited new players, kept releasing recordings and continued to give audiences outrageous stage shows. Creatures of the Night (1982), Lick It Up (1983) and Animalize (1984) hit the Billboard lists. Asylum (1985) and Crazy Nights (1987) also became hits. In 1983, the group decided to perform without their makeup, ending years of mystery about their real appearance. Simmons commented in the Detroit News that “When you’ve done everything you can with a form, it’s time to change. I think it may have helped in keeping us a little more level-headed, that after 20 albums and 65 million records sold, we could stand in line and get a hamburger without being recognized.”
Kiss’s longevity is an amazing testimony to its popularity with fans. Even though the band has been around since the early 1970s, their music and live performances still win favor with legions of fans, continuing to attract new audiences in the U.S. and abroad. The reason Kiss has been able to endure is precisely because they stuck to their original philosophy of giving fans what they wanted—high-energy, rock-solid shows in whatever arena they played. They continue to revamp and change their stage show with each tour. Simmons commented in the Detroit News: “We don’t like to rest on our laurels…. Rock ’n’ roll by its very definition means excess. We do it this way because in truth, it’s more fun. Why tour with the same show every year?”
Singles; on Casablanca
“Kissin’ Time,” 1974.
“Rock & Roll All Nite,” 1975.
“Shout It Out Loud,” 1976.
“Flaming Youth,” 1976.
“Beth/Detroit Rock City,” 1976.
“Hard Luck Woman,” 1976.
“Calling Dr. Love,” 1977.
“Christine Sixteen,” 1977.
“Shout It Out Loud,” 1978.
“Rocket Ride,” 1978.
“I Was Made for Lovin’ You,” 1979.
“Sure Know Something,” 1979.
“A World Without Heroes,” 1981.
LPs; on Casablanca
Hotter Than Hell, 1974.
Dressed to Kill, 1975.
Kiss—The Originals, 1976.
Rock and Roll Over, 1976.
Love Gun, 1977.
Alive II, 1977.
Kiss Unmasked, 1980.
Music from the Elder, 1981.
Creatures of the Night, 1982.
Lick It Up, 1983.
Crazy Nights, 1987.
Swenson, John, Headliners: Kiss, Tempo Books, 1978.
Detroit News, December 13, 1985; April 16, 1976; January 23, 1977.
New York Times Magazine, June 19, 1977.
Rolling Stone, March 25, 1976.
For over 25 years, Kiss have been thrilling and entertaining audiences all over the world. Concert crowds have been comprised mostly of rabidly adoring fans, who are known as the Kiss Army. This popular success was no simple feat for a band that has been universally derided, dismissed or ignored by rock critics and music journalists.
The band got its start when bassist and vocalist Gene Simmons started jamming with another musical acquaintance of his, guitarist and vocalist Paul Stanley. The two of them met when they were working on other musical projects. Simmons and Stanley decided to complete the line up with the addition of another guitarist and a drummer. They scoured the advertisements in various music and entertainment presses, looking for musicians who might be interested in hooking up with them and sharing in Simmons’s and Stanley’s visions for music, theatrics, and success. They found drummer Peter Criss through an advertisement he had placed in Rolling Stone magazine. They contacted their soon-to-be lead guitarist Ace Frehley through an advertisement he placed in Village Voice.
They played a number of gigs throughout 1973 and were signed by Casablanca Records in early 1974. In February of that year, they released their self titled debut album, Kiss. The LP would eventually go on to sell enough copies in America to earn the band their first gold record for album sales. Toward the end of the year, Kiss released their second album, Hotter Than Hell, which also went gold.
Two more albums were released during the following year. Dressed to Kill came out in the spring of 1975 and at the close of the year, Kiss released their first live concert album, Alive! Both albums were certified gold the year of their initial release. The album Alive! even managed to reach the top ten of the American album charts.
Around this time, the Kiss Army—the band’s official fan club—was formed. The popularity of the band was increasing rapidly as legions of young fans sought to worship at the crass heavy metal altar of their heroes. According to Brock Helander in The Rock Who’s Who, the wild and crazy success of Kiss was due, in no small part, to the fact that they “combined elements of glitter rock and heavy metal, garish costuming, and make up, [which when combined with] an extensive media campaign by their record company and near constant touring [which was laden with] spectacular on stage special effects…[served to] nonetheless endear [Kiss] to legions of prepubescent fans with gimmicks such as blood spitting, fire breathing, explosions, dry ice fogs and
Members include Eric Carr (born July 12, 1950 in Brooklyn, NY, died November 24, 1991 in New York, NY; joined the band, 1980), drums, vocals; Peter Criss (born Peter Crisscoula, December 20, 1947 in Brooklyn, NY; left the band, 1980), drums, vocals; Ace Frehley (born Paul Frehley, April 27, 1951 in Bronx, NY; left the band 1982), guitar, vocals; Bruce Kulick (joined the band, 1985), guitar; Gene Simmons (born Chaim Klein, August 25, 1949 in Haifa, Israel), bass, vocals; Eric Singer (joined the band, 1982), drums; Paul Stanley (born Paul Stanley Eisen, January 20, 1952 in Queens, NY), guitar, vocals; Vinnie Vincent (born Vincent Cusano; joined the band, 1982, left the band, 1984), guitar.
Group formed in New York City, 1973; signed to Casablanca and released Kiss, 1974; released Hotter Than Hell, 1974; released Dressed to Kill, 1975; released Alive!, 1975; released Rock and Roll All Over, 1976; released Love Gun, 1977; released Alive II, 1977; released Double Platinum, 1978; released Dynasty, 1979; released Kiss Unmasked, 1980; released Music From the Elder, 1981; released Creatures of the Night, 1982; signed to Mercury and released Lick It Up, 1983; released Animalize, 1984; released Asylum, 1985; Crazy Nights, 1987; released Smashed, Thrashes, and Hits, 1988; released Hot in the Shade, 1989; released Revenge, 1992; released Alive III, 1993; released MTV Unplugged, 1996; released Psycho Circus, 1998.
Awards: Gold certification for Kiss, 1974; gold certification for Hotter Than Hell, 1975; gold certification for Dressed to Kill, 1975; gold certification for Alive!, 1975; gold certification for Lick It Up, 1983; platinum certification for Destroyer, 1976; platinum certification for Rock and Roll All Over, 1976; platinum certification for Love Gun, 1977; platinum certification for Alive II, 1977; platinum certification for Double Platinum, 1978; platinum certification for Animalize, 1984.
Addresses: Record company —Mercury Records, 825 8th Avenue, 27th Floor, New York, NY 10019.
rocket firing guitars in performance. Kiss was “universally attacked by critics” according to Helander because of their tendency to pander to the lowest common denominator of their audience, when they emphasizing the theatrics and spectacle of the show over the music which was “barely competent over-loud guitar based music.” The theatrics at a Kiss concert drove Kiss Army members wild and the fans started to emulate the distinctive individual appearance of their heroes. Criss was the cat, Frehley was the space creature. Simmons was the demon, and Stanley the star child.
The hard work and dedication Kiss poured into their near constant touring began to pay high dividends in 1976. Their next album, Destroyer, became their first platinum selling album. In December of that same year, Kiss finally had their first top ten hit single in America when the ballad “Beth” shot to the top of the pop singles charts. Before the year ended, Kiss released another platinum selling album, Rock and Roll All Over. In 1977 the platinum selling albums Love Gun and Alive II were released, the latter yet another live concert release.
During the following year, Kiss released a two-record set of their greatest hits entitled Double Platinum, an album which essentially lived up to its name. At the height of their popularity, in October of 1978, the four members of Kiss simultaneously released their individual self titled debut solo albums. All four of them managed to make it into the top fifty of the American album charts.
Further solidifying their tremendous popularity in America, the band was featured in an animated cartoon called “Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park.” They were also marketed and merchandised on practically everything imaginable. In 1979, Kiss released their next studio album, Dynasty, which was their first album of new material in over two years. Just like its predecessors were, Dynasty was certified platinum.
At the dawn of the 1980s, all was not well within the Kiss camp. Citing musical differences, Criss left the band to pursue a solo career and was replaced by Eric Carr. The band went on to release Kiss Unmasked, which was their first album that did not reach the top thirty of the American album charts. The next year saw the release of the concept album entitled Music From the Elder, an album that failed to match the success of the previous Kiss albums. 1982 saw the release of Creatures of the Night. Also that year, witnessed the addition of Vinnie Vincent to the Kiss lineup as he replaced Frehley, who had quit the band after he was involved in a serious automobile accident.
A new stage in the history of Kiss occurred in 1983, when the band decided to forgo their makeup and over the top and outlandish stage costuming they had been using for the previous decade. Kiss also signed to Mercury Records that year and released their maiden Mercury album Lick It Up. The first post-makeup Kiss album was certified gold.
The following year, Vincent was fired and was replaced by Mark St. John. Later in 1984, Kiss released Animalize, which not only made it into the top 20 on the American album charts but was certified platinum as well. Asylum came out in 1985 and Bruce Kulick replaced St. John on guitar. Another American top 20 album, Crazy Nights, surfaced in 1987. The next year, Kiss released another greatest hits compilation called Smashes, Thrashes, and Hits. This was followed by Hot in the Shade, in late 1989.
The single “Forever” was released in 1990, the first Kiss top ten single in America in nearly 15 years. In late 1991, Carr died of cancer and was replaced by Eric Singer on drums. Kiss then went on the create their first top ten American album since 1979 with the release of the 1992’s Revenge. A third live album, Alive III, was released in 1993.
Over the next few years, the band toured the globe before the original lineup reunited in New York City to record and tape a segment for MTV Unplugged. The resulting album was released as MTV Unplugged, in the spring of 1996. Around this time, the reunited original band announced plans to tour again in full makeup and costumes. The resulting tour was a tremendous success. Kiss then released Psycho Circus, the original band’s first album of new material since Kiss Unmasked in 1980.
Commenting on their phenomenal success and longevity in the music industry, Simmons told People’s Mike Flaherty in 1994 that “we’ve been reviled, hated by anyone who writes about music. But for 20 years we’ve been stubborn and committed to our vision, even though it meant going totally against fashion. Perhaps that’s why we’ve lasted.”
Kiss, Casablanca, 1974.
Hotter Than Hell, Casablanca, 1974.
Dressed to Kill, Casablanca, 1975.
Alive!, Casablanca, 1975.
Rock and Roll All Over, Casablanca, 1976.
Love Gun, Casablanca, 1977.
Alive II, Casablanca, 1977.
Double Platinum, Casablanca, 1978.
Dynasty, Casablanca, 1979.
Kiss Unmasked, Casablanca, 1980
Music From the Elder, Casablanca, 1981.
Creatures of the Night, Casablanca, 1982
Lick It Up, Mercury, 1983.
Animalize, Mercury, 1984
Asylum, Mercury, 1985.
Crazy Nights, Mercury, 1987.
Smashed, Thrashes, and Hits, Mercury, 1988.
Hot in the Shade, Mercury, 1989.
Revenge, Mercury, 1992.
Alive III, Mercury, 1993
MTV Unplugged, Mercury, 1996.
Psycho Circus, Mercury, 1998.
Helander, Brock, ed. Rock Who’s Who, second edition, Schirmer, 1996.
Rees, Dayfdd, and Crampton, Luke, Encyclopedia of Rock Stars, DK, 1996.
People, June 27, 1994.
—Mary Alice Adams
Members: Peter Criss, drums, vocals (George Peter John Criscoula; born Brooklyn, New York, 20 December 1945); Ace Frehley, guitar, vocals (Paul Daniel Frehley; born Bronx, New York, 27 April 1951); Gene Simmons, bass, vocals (Chaim Witz, changed to Gene Klein; born Haifa, Israel, 25 August 1949); Paul Stanley, guitar, vocals (Stanley Harvey Eisen; born Queens, New York, 20 January 1952). Former members: Eric Carr, drums (Paul Charles Caravello; born Brooklyn, New York, 12 July 1950; died New York, New York, 24 November 1991); Bruce Kulick, guitar (Bruce Howard Kulick; born Brooklyn, New York, 12 December 1953); Eric Singer, drums (Eric D. Mensinger; born Cleveland, Ohio, 12 May 1958); Mark St. John, guitar (Mark Norton; born Hollywood, California, 7 February 1956); Vinnie Vincent, guitar (Vincent John Cusano; born Bridgeport, Connecticut, 6 August 1952).
Best-selling album since 1990: Unplugged (1996)
Despite what critics say about them musically, the extravagant rock group KISS will forever occupy an exalted corner of rock history as one of those rare bands responsible for expanding the boundaries of formulaic image, stage demeanor, and aggressive marketing. Illustrious for a ten-year commitment to shielding their identities with elaborate stage makeup, KISS refined the showy theatrical rock styles of David Bowie and Alice Cooper into a choreographed rock and roll circus. The original members of the band reunited in the 1990s and achieved album sales success with slightly less hype and more attention to their music.
Standing in six-inch platform shoes, clad in shiny shoulder-padded costumes, and faces caked with Japanese Kabuki-styled makeup, the four-piece KISS took the rock and roll world by storm in the mid-1970s. It began when Queens, New York, natives, bassist Chiam Witz (Gene Simmons) and guitarist Stan Eisen (Paul Stanley), decided to form a new group after their band, Wicked Lester, folded. They added fellow New Yorkers, guitarist Paul Frehley (Ace Frehley) and drummer George Criscoula (Peter Criss), and embarked on a journey to play hard rock music and garner as much attention as possible by donning costumes and makeup in order to transform themselves into maniacal characters. Simmons came naturally equipped with an unusually long tongue, which he wagged relentlessly, that added perfectly to his demon character. He was also infamous for blowing fire out of his mouth onstage. Stanley was a hunky lothario with lush lips and a star on one eye. Criss, with his painted-on whiskers, looked like a futuristic cat as he beat away on the drums, and Frehley, in a silver and black spacesuit, resembled an outer space creature manipulating the guitar. As they rehearsed material in a Manhattan loft, a choreographer guided them toward a well-rehearsed stage show replete with an extensive light show and exploding flash pots.
KISS cut a record deal with Casablanca Records and toured extensively in 1973 and 1974, gaining fan recognition at every stop. However, as audiences from all across North America were enthralled with KISS's walloping rock and flashy stage show, critics showed great disdain for their music. Not yet introduced to punk rock or to the heavy metal soon to come, critics labeled KISS's music simplistic and vapid. None of the commentary stopped people from buying their records or attending shows and by the release of their live album, Alive (1975), the members of KISS were bona fide rock superstars, and no one knew who they were. With makeup hiding their faces, the members of KISS kept their identities a closely guarded secret by staying in full regalia at all times in public. They recorded a massive amount of records, sometimes releasing several in one year. In 1978 each member of KISS released a separate solo album. They scored a hit with the rock standard "Rock and Roll All Nite," and another with the power ballad "Beth." They became adept marketers and managed to get their KISS label on virtually everything, providing extra royalty money when their popularity began to wane in the 1980s.
KISS went through several band member changes and finally abandoned their makeup in 1983. The late 1980s saw an increased popularity in heavy metal hair bands and KISS managed to rise with the tide. They entered the 1990s having sold nearly 70 million records. They had released more than forty albums, many of them various compilations that recycled song after song. In 1996 the original four members gathered to perform on MTV's live acoustic venue, Unplugged. The subsequent album from that session went platinum.
In 1997 KISS released their first studio album in five years and one of their most intriguing, Carnival of Souls. The band's lineup consisted of Simmons, Stanley, guitarist Bruce Kulick, and Eric Singer on drums. Carnival of Souls contains a deeper grunge sound more associated with bands like Nirvana. The album sold poorly as years of driving, one-dimensional power rock conditioned KISS's massive fan base into expecting a certain signature sound. The original members gathered again to record Psycho Circus (1998), an effort that duplicates their work from the 1970s. One of the highlights for KISS fans on Psycho Circus is the energetic, "I Pledge Allegiance to the State of Rock and Roll." Another favorite is Criss singing the power ballad, "I Finally Found My Way Home." KISS promoted the album with a successful tour as they performed decked out in full costume and the makeup of their 1970s concert days.
KISS continues to release a wide variety of compilation albums and they have taken advantage of the Internet to expand their barefaced marketing shrewdness. KISS goes light years beyond selling T-shirts, posters, and buttons to hawk items as diverse as condoms, credit cards, children's lunch boxes, school supplies, action figures, paper goods, home décor, and monthly memberships to a XXX website, to name a few. They even have a portion of their website dedicated to female fans, featuring them as KISS Girls by having a provocative picture of them displayed.
In 2003 the original members of KISS toured in full costume and makeup with the legendary rock group Aerosmith. Individually, each member of KISS has attempted solo careers with varying measures of success. Due to their flamboyant and innovative presentation, KISS will always tend to be more closely associated with their show than their music.
KISS (Casablanca, 1974); Hotter Than Hell (Casablanca, 1974); Dressed to Kill (Casablanca, 1975); Alive (Casablanca, 1975); Destroyer (Casablanca, 1976); KISS—The Originals (Casablanca, 1976); Rock and Roll Over (Casablanca, 1976); Love Gun (Casablanca, 1977); Alive 2 (Casablanca, 1977); Dynasty (Casablanca, 1979); KISS Unmasked (Casablanca, 1980); Creatures of the Night (Casablanca, 1982); Lick It Up (Mercury, 1983); Animalize (Mercury, 1984); Asylum (Mercury, 1985); Crazy Nights (Mercury, 1987); Hot in the Shade (Mercury, 1989); Revenge (Mercury, 1992); Unplugged (Mercury, 1996); Carnival of Souls (Mercury, 1997), Psycho Circus (Mercury, 1998); The Very Best of KISS (Mercury, 2002).
P. Elliot, KISS Hotter Than Hell: The Stories Behind Every Song (New York, 2002); C. Gooch and J. Suhs, KISS Alive Forever: The Complete Touring History (New York, 2002); G. Simmons and P. Stanley, KISS: The Early Years (New York, 2002).
After more than 20 years in the business and sales of nearly 80 million albums, KISS can legitimately be placed in the pantheon of the world's great rock and roll bands. Their best known songs, such as "Rock 'n' Roll All Nite," "Shout it Out Loud," and "Detroit Rock City" stand as some of the greatest rock anthems of all time. The band might also be credited with inventing the radio-friendly power ballad ("Beth"), even though it took nearly 10 years before other hard rock bands made such an addition to an album mandatory. Their chart successes notwithstanding, KISS's greatest contribution to rock and roll may be their pioneer efforts on the stage. Their outrageous makeup and a commitment to over-the-top theatrics radically expanded rock fans' expectations for showmanship.
KISS was formed in New York City in 1972 by bass player Gene Simmons and vocalist/guitarist Paul Stanley after their band Wicked Lester was dumped by Epic Records. Stanley and Simmons recruited guitarist Ace Frehley and drummer Peter Criss, both of whom who had advertised their availability in music magazines. With the lineup in place, the group devised an ingenious strategy to market their act to fans and record labels. Drawing on precedents set by glam rock acts like the New York Dolls and shock rocker Alice Cooper, the members of KISS reinvented themselves as four larger-than-life stage characters, by means of elaborate costumes and Japanese Kabuki make-up. Gene Simmons played a blood-spitting, fire-breathing demon; Paul Stanley masqueraded as a bare-chested, hyper-macho Casanova; lead guitarist Ace Frehley became an outer space guitar wizard; and Peter Criss played the role of a prowling cat-man. To intensify the effect, the quartet did not permit themselves to be seen or photographed in public without their make-up.
In addition to their clever use of theatrical disguise, KISS also developed an elaborately choreographed performance that, along with their aggressive self-promotional releases, attracted the attention of television producer Bill Aucoin, who helped the band to a contract with Casablanca Records. Their first three albums, released in quick succession in 1974 and 1975, sold modestly, and the band was lambasted by critics everywhere. Nevertheless, KISS quickly built an impressive audience through constant touring. Certainly, much of their in-concert appeal rested on their groundbreaking use of pyrotechnics, set design, and stage lighting. They also greatly expanded their audience because they were more willing than most bands to schedule dates in smaller market cities and geographically isolated places.
Recognizing that their musical energy was somewhat lost in the studio setting, KISS released a concert album. Peaking at number nine on the charts, Alive (1975) catapulted the band into the upper echelons of the rock world and relieved them of nagging debt and royalty problems. The next studio album, Destroyer (1976), marked an important shift in sound and image as KISS abandoned its simplistic, almost silly, straight-ahead guitar rock for a more polished and radio friendly sound. By broadening their sound, the band built a more diverse fan base. The KISS Army, as the band's fan club is known, once peopled almost exclusively by teenage males, began to include not only teenage females, but a lucrative pre-teen audience as well. Perhaps most important in their transition was the release of the pop single "Beth," a ballad penned by Criss as a tribute to his wife. "Beth" reached the top ten, and became the band's best-selling single. Their biggest year was 1977, which saw several of their albums on the charts simultaneously, leading them to end the year as Billboard's number two album artist, second only to Fleetwood Mac.
Capitalizing on their multi-platinum successes, the group further expanded their multimedia approach to rock. Taking a leaf out of the Beatlemania book, KISS made everything from black light posters to lunch boxes to costumed action figures available to their adoring fans. In 1977, Marvel comics published a KISS comic book, purportedly printed with ink mixed with blood drawn from the band. The next year the band was featured in a movie called KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park. First released in late October, the timing was appropriate, since dressing up like a KISS character had become a favorite Halloween costume for kids across America. It was rumored that the band even bought 200 acres near Cincinnati in order to build a theme park that never materialized. KISS's widespread popularity and Gene Simmons' demonic stage character prompted concern by parents groups and the nascent Religious Right—several youths, trying to copy Simmons' fire-breathing stage act, were badly burnt—and objectors suggested that KISS was really an acronym for Knights in Satan's Service, a charge flatly rejected by the band. The KISS logo also raised concern in Germany because its last two letters resembled the swastika worn by Nazi-era military officers.
As the more conservative 1980s approached, KISS and their exaggerated excesses began to seem dated. Beginning with their four "solo" albums released in 1978, the band hit a slump that would last through the early 1980s. Among the ill-fated releases of this era were the Dynasty album (1979), which featured the peculiar disco-ish single, "I Was Made for Loving You," a song that alienated many long-term fans. They departed even further from their basic formula of teen-friendly pop-rock when they recorded The Elder (1981), a concept album that was partially co-written by Lou Reed. Neither album sold well by the standards set a few years earlier.
During the 1980s, KISS underwent several lineup changes. Peter Criss and Ace Frehley left the band and were replaced by Eric Carr and Vinnie Vincent respectively. Subsequently, Vincent was replaced by Mark St. John who, in turn, was replaced by Bruce Kulick. After nearly a decade, Eric Singer replaced Carr, who was terminally ill with cancer. In 1983, KISS abandoned their make-up and entered headlong into the emerging pop metal arena, competing with the likes of Def Leppard and Bon Jovi instead of Grand Funk and Led Zeppelin. As metal mania reached its fever pitch in the 1980s and early 1990s, KISS enjoyed a significant resurgence, again reaching platinum status with albums such as Lick it Up (1983) and Animalize (1984). Though their albums were selling well, they never regained their former momentum, and members of the band ventured into other non-musical projects. (Both Stanley and Simmons, for example, tried their hand at acting).
As the 1990s rolled around, KISS had very little left to prove. The legion of fans they established in the 1970s spawned many dozens of aspiring musicians. Dozens of outright tribute bands were on the road in the 1980s and 1990s, albeit without the elaborate stage sets, and KISS was paid the high honor of a tribute album recorded in 1994. Entitled KISS My Ass, the album stood as a sarcastic rebuke to all the critics who had scorned the band over the years, and featured KISS covers from artists as diverse as Garth Brooks and Lenny Kravitz. Perhaps far greater tribute was the number of bands clearly influenced by KISS. Though no band actually copied their stage routine or dress, a number of very popular 1980s metal bands, including Faster Pussycat, Mötley Crüe, Ratt, DIO and Twisted Sister, showed overt signs of the KISS influence on their visual and sonic characteristics. That influence can also be felt, if not heard, in the so-called grunge rock of bands like Nirvana and Soundgarden, who approached the business of song-writing and rock stardom with a clearly tongue-in-cheek attitude and the playful absurdity of KISS close to their hearts.
Interest in KISS was revitalized substantially in the mid-1990s when the original line-up reunited for a few numbers for MTV's Unplugged program. Reaction from fans was so favorable that a reunion tour was scheduled, replete with make-up, blood spitting, and pyrotechnics. The tour drew huge crowds and brought the band's peculiar brand of entertainment live to a new generation of fans.
Lendt, C. K. KISS And Sell: The Making Of A Supergroup. New York, Watson-Guptill, 1997.
Levine, Barry. The KISS Years. New York, H. & H. Global Inc., 1997.
Sherman, Dale. Black Diamond: The KISS Biography. New York, Collector's Guide Publishers, 1997.
Stevens, Joe. KISS—Revenge Is Sweet: An Illustrated Biography.
London, Omnibus Press, 1997
Swenson, John. Headliners: KISS. New York, Tempo Books, 1978.
The target of the kiss is not of course restricted to the mouth and can be directed to any part of the body, with varying pressure. There are different types of kissing behaviour, such as mouth-to-mouth, French kissing, and cunnilingus. The ‘French kiss’ is a type of sexual arousal in which two people kiss with their mouths open so that the tongues can touch. This is sometimes also called ‘soul kiss’ or ‘tongue kiss’. Cunnilingus is another type of sexual kissing whereby a person stimulates the external female genital organs (vulva, clitoris) with the mouth or tongue. The word ‘cunnilingus’ is derived from the Latin cunnus meaning ‘vulva, vagina’, and lingua meaning ‘tongue’ (or lingere ‘to lick up’).
The use of the kiss can also be seen as a religio-erotic symbol in the West. One of the most famous of all kisses was the kiss of betrayal: Judas' kiss. In the Christian tradition, Judas betrayed Christ with a kiss and in doing so brought death and treachery to an act that was associated with peace and unity. St Augustine later warns against the misuse of the physical kiss, especially if the heart is full of deceit and dishonesty. That Judas betrayed his master with a kiss was accounted by Christians as a betrayal of the kiss itself as well as of the Lord. In the early Christian centuries the kiss was a mystic symbol imbued with powerful feelings such as peace, union, and love. As Nicolas Perella states in The Kiss Sacred and Profane (1969): ‘The repeated use of this formula and the contexts in which it occurs suggests that the kiss was quickly institutionalized in the young Christian community as a mystic symbol both in liturgical and non-liturgical ceremony’.
In the early centuries it was the practice of Christian iconography to borrow motifs from well-established pagan myths; especially in the case of sarcophagi designs. Among the motifs applicable in this way were those connected with the myth of Psyche and Eros; one of the most favoured by the Christians of Rome was the image that showed a pair embracing and kissing. Psyche — the human soul of the departed, and Eros — always a powerful god of love. Nicolas Perella suggests that this was acceptable to the Christians because it could well depict a wedding union in heaven. It is Eros who bestows the kiss, with all the suggestion that he is infusing the spirit of new life into Psyche. Thus the adoption of the ‘kissing couple’ is understandable.
The kiss of life and the kiss of death, are the extreme life forces which have become powerful symbols for writers and artists. The breath or spirit of God has always been seen as a life-giving act, and the Holy Spirit can be given in the form of a kiss. For example, the Virgin Mary was kissed by the Holy Spirit so that she might become impregnated. The iconography of a kiss often portrays both ecstasy and death simultaneously. The kiss of death is at its most obvious when we see Judas kiss Jesus; this is both a physical and metaphorical manifestation, which results in a corporeal death.
By the sixteenth century, authors were using the kiss and death as sexual metaphors. The kiss, both given and stolen, is romanticized in poetry and prose. The traditional medieval motif, for example, of the poet seeking solace from his lovesickness is disguised in the wantoness of his lover's kisses. The poet was often chaste where his love and kisses were concerned; the Metaphysical poets, in particular, wrote of the constant turmoil where sexual and platonic love were concerned.
Another method of inviting a kiss, though not necessarily of giving one, can be found in the ‘language of the fan’ in the eighteenth century. Though used as a form of concealment, the fan, when pressed to the lips, indicated the anticipation of a kiss. The pressure of the fan on the mouth would often indicate the level of sincerity and passion involved.
A number of modern-day artists and writers have used kissing as a powerful and symbolic form of friendship, intimacy, and sexual activity. The well-known Parisian artist Auguste Rodin (1840–1917), for example, immortalized a man and a woman coming together in this way when he produced a life-size sculpture in marble, entitled The Kiss, in 1886. By contrast, in 1897 the French anthropologist Paul d'Enjoy remarked on the horror of the Chinese at seeing mouth-to-mouth kissing by Westerners.
Another way of using the kiss as a dramatic and controlling device can be seen as a power play between the two sexes, especially in the guise of fairytales. Twentieth-century notions of the male as hero, waking up and resuscitating the ‘sleeping’ female with his kiss have been challenged by feminist writers such as Simone de Beauvoir. Myths of ‘The Sleeping Beauty’, ‘Snow White’, and ‘Cinderella’ that are handed down from generation to generation, usually to girls, depicting the all-embracing kiss, are being re-assessed in the wake of feminist theory.
Beauvoir, S. de (reprint 1970). The second sex. Bantam Books Inc., New York.
Kolbenschlas, M. (1979). Goodbye Sleeping Beauty. Breaking the spell of feminine myths and models. The Women's Press, Dublin.
Liggett, J. (1974). The human face. Constable, London.
Perella, N. J. (1969). The kiss sacred and profane. An interpretative history of kiss symbolism and related religio-erotic themes. University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles.
See also body language; gestures.
Kiss, popular American touring and album band of the late 1970s, who combined elements of both glitter rock and heavy metal. membership: Paul “Ace” Frehley, lead gtr. (b. Bronx, N.Y., April 27, 1951); Paul Stanley (real name, Paul Stanley Eisen), gtr. (b. Queens, N.Y., Jan. 20, 1952); Gene Simmons (real name, Klein), bs. (b. Haifa, Israel, Aug. 25, 1949); Peter Criss (real name, Crisscoula), drm. (b. N.Y., Dec. 20, 1947). Drummer Eric Carr (b. Brooklyn, N.Y., July 12, 1950; d. N.Y., Nov. 24, 1991) replaced Peter Criss in 1981, and Vinnie Vincent replaced Ace Frehley in 1982, leaving in 1984. Various others came and went through the 1980s.
Established through an extensive media campaign by their record company Casablanca and near-constant touring, Kiss wore garish costuming and makeup, utilized spectacular onstage special effects, and played barely competent, overloud guitar-based music. Universally attacked by critics, Kiss nonetheless endeared themselves to legions of prepubescent fans (much to the chagrin of their parents) with gimmicks such as blood-spitting, fire-breathing, explosions, dry-ice fogs, and rocket-firing guitars in performance.
The group was originally formed by Simmons and Stanley, who had previously worked together in a N.Y.—based rock band in 1970. Through advertisements in rock magazines, they enlisted drummer Criss and guitarist Frehley, while Bill Aucoin, a local TV producer, brought them to the attention of Casablanca Records. Their first three albums, released in 1974-1975, did little to endear them to critics or fans, but the band continued to tour and build an audience. Aucoin is purported to have underwritten their second major tour in 1975 on his American Express card; the gambit apparently paid off, because their first Top 20 hit, “Rock and Roll All Nite,” came later that year. Criss wrote a ballad, “Beth,” that hit for the normally ballsy rockers in 1976. Their fans, now known as the Kiss Army, took to emulating their stage costumery and makeup, and the group’s popularity inspired two successful Marvel Comics publications and an animated TV special. In late 1978 Kiss became the first rock band whose members simultaneously issued solo albums, backed by the largest advertising-promotion budget in music history ($2.5 million). Their last major hit was 1979’s “I Was Made for Loving You”; Criss left the group a year later to pursue a solo career. In 1981 the group, now with drummer Eric Carr, recorded a concept album, The Elder, featuring songs coauthored by Lou Reed, but it was a failure. A return to their usual style on Creatures of the Night failed to reignite their earlier success.
To support a mythology perpetrated by numerous fanzines, Kiss did not appear in public without their full-face greasepaint makeup until 1983, when they reverted to a mundane yet silly and vulgar hard-rock band. Nonetheless, all of their albums since then have gone gold or platinum, and it is said that the group had sold a mind-boggling 70 million albums by the early 1990s. A virtual rock industry unto themselves, Kiss merchandising includes T-shirts, comic books, jewelry, and films. In the mid-1980s second-generation member Vinnie Vincent assembled the Vinnie Vincent Invasion, while Ace Frehley formed Frehley’s Comet. Carr died of cancer in 1991. In 1994 Mercury issued the tribute album Kiss My Ass, with recordings of Kiss songs by Garth Brooks, Lenny Kravitz, and Anthrax, among others.
kiss:K. (1974); Hotter Than Hell (1974); Dressed to Kill (1975); The Originals (reissue of above three) (1976); Alive! (1975); Destroyer (1976); Rock and Roll Over (1976); Love Gun (1977); Alive II (1977); Double Platinum (1978); Dynasty (1979); Unmasked (1980); Music from “The Elder” (1982); Creatures of the Night (1982); Lick It Up (1983); Animalize (1984); Asylum (1985); Crazy Nights (1987); Smashes, Thrashes and Hits (1988); Hot in the Shade (1989); Revenge (1992); Alive III (1993). tribute album:Kiss My Ass (1994); Kiss My A** (censored version) (1994). gene simmons:Gene Simmons (1978). paul stanley:Paul Stanley (1978). peter criss:Peter Criss (1978); By Myself (1980). ace frehley: Ace Frehley (1978); Trouble Walkin’ (1989). frehley’s comet:Frehley’’s Comet (1987); Live + 1 (1988); Second Sighting (1988). vinnie vincent invasion:Vinnie Vincent Invasion (1986); All Systems Go (1988).
John Swenson, K.(N.Y., 1978).
kiss / kis/ • v. [tr.] touch with the lips as a sign of love, sexual desire, reverence, or greeting: he kissed her on the lips | [tr.] she kissed the children goodnight | [intr.] we started kissing. ∎ Billiards (of a ball) lightly touch (another ball) in passing.• n. 1. a touch with the lips in kissing. ∎ Billiards a slight touch of a ball against another ball. ∎ used to express affection at the end of a letter (conventionally represented by the letter X): she sent lots of love and a whole line of kisses. 2. a small cake or cookie, typically a meringue. ∎ a small candy, esp. one made of chocolate.PHRASES: kiss and tell chiefly derog. recount one's sexual exploits, esp. to the media concerning a famous person: [as adj.] this isn't a kiss-and-tell book. kiss something good-bye inf. accept the certain loss of something: I could kiss my career good-bye.kiss of death an action or event that causes certain failure for an enterprise: it would be the kiss of death for the company if it could be proved that the food was unsafe.PHRASAL VERBS: kiss someone/something off inf. dismiss someone rudely; end a relationship abruptly.kiss up to inf. behave sycophantically or obsequiously toward (someone) in order to obtain something.DERIVATIVES: kiss·a·ble adj.
With their outlandish costumes, full makeup, and theatrical stage shows, the rock group KISS took rock and roll (see entry under 1950s—Music in volume 3) and theater, mixed it together, and sold millions of records and concert tickets. They also took the marketing of rock music to new levels. Along the way, they also made some solid hard-rock records. Among the numerous hard-rock acts in the 1970s, KISS had the most extensive and devoted following.
Formed in 1973, the group consisted of bassist Gene Simmons (1949–), guitarist Paul Stanley (1952–), drummer Peter Criss (1945–), and guitarist Ace Frehley (1951–). Their first album, KISS, came out in February 1974. It was reasonably successful, and the band toured constantly and developed their fan base. Their success came mostly from their theatrical stage shows. By the early 1970s, music fans were tiring of going to concerts simply to see their favorite performers in person; now many fans wanted a spectacular stage show. Artists such as Alice Cooper (1948–), David Bowie (1947–), and KISS responded with ever more elaborate stage productions. KISS took this concept the furthest. They never appeared in public without full makeup, and their shows featured dry ice, blood spitting, dramatic lighting, explosions, and fire breathing. At these shows and on their records, KISS played straight-ahead rock and roll. Their songs "Rock and Roll All Nite," "Calling Dr. Love," and "Hard Luck Woman" were minor rock classics. They even scored a top-ten hit in 1976 with their rock ballad "Beth."
KISS capitalized on their success with some clever marketing gimmicks. In the late 1970s, there were KISS dolls, lunch boxes, pinball machines, comic books, and literally hundreds of other items of KISS merchandise. They also had an animated cartoon special, KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park (1978). Their classic period ended in the early 1980s when Peter Criss and Ace Frehley left the band; two drummers followed Criss and three guitarists followed Frehley before both returned to the band in 1996. KISS gave up their makeup in 1983 and continued to tour and make albums; when Criss and Frehley returned, so did the makeup.
For More Information
Bangs, Lester. "Heavy Metal." In The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock and Roll. Edited by Jim Miller. New York: Rolling Stone Press, 1980.
KISS. Introduction by Sylvie Simmons. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1997.
KISS On Line.http://www.kissonline.com (accessed March 27, 2002).
Kitts, Jeff. KISStory. Los Angeles: KISStory, 1994.
Lendt, C. K. KISS and Sell: The Making of a Supergroup. New York: Billboard Books, 1997.
the kiss of death a seemingly kind or well-intentioned action, look, or association, which brings disastrous consequences; the association is with the kiss of betrayal given to Jesus by Judas.
kiss of peace a ceremonial kiss as part of a religious ceremony, especially in the Eucharist.
kiss the gunner's daughter be lashed to the breech of a gun for flogging, an old naval punishment.
See also an apple pie without some cheese is like a kiss without a squeeze, Judas kiss.