Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



A heavy metal band formed in late 1972 by Paul Stanley (b Paul Stanley Eisen, 20 January 1952, NYC), guitar; Gene Simmons (b Gene Klein, 25 August 1949, Haifa, Israel), bass. Drummer Peter Criss (b Peter Crisscoula, 20 December 1947, NYC) advertised in Rolling Stone; Ace (Paul) Frehley (b 27 April 1951, NYC) auditioned. They experimented and rehearsed with makeup and costumes in a Manhattan loft for three months, played hard rock with a macho pose in clubs for a year, were spotted and signed by TV's Flipside producer Bill Aucoin, and within weeks were on the fledgling Casablanca label run by Aucoin's chum Neil Bogart. Hype was backed up by a year's hard touring: on 31 December 1974 they supported Blue Oyster Cult in NYC; a year later the bill was reversed. Kiss and Hotter Than Hell '74 were undistinguished hard rock shorn of the panstick; Dressed To Kill '75 was an improvement, including stage favourite 'Rock And Roll All Nite', but vinyl couldn't capture the act, where the group became cartoon characters: Simmons as a blood-drooling Phantom of the Opera, Criss the cat, Frehley the spaceman and Stanley the clown combined glitter costumes with sets, flash bombs etc; not surprisingly it took a two-disc live set Kiss Alive to break them: it sold a million; live version of 'Rock And Roll All Nite' was no. 12 hit.

Destroyer '76 followed up well, produced by metal master Bob Ezrin (Alice Cooper), including an untypical hit single in Criss's slushy ballad 'Beth'. Marvel Comics paid them the ultimate tribute of publishing a Kiss comic book; Kiss Army fan club swelled to six figures; each member did a solo LP '78 (remaining in character on cover artwork): Frehley sold best but all were undistinguished. Two-disc Alive II '78 punctuated studio LPs Rock And Roll Over '76, Love Gun '77 (their best seller at no. 4), two-disc Double Platinum '78 and betrayed a lack of confidence in their studio work, but fans made up to imitate their favourites packed the venues, so all seemed well.

Criss left '80, substance indulgence interfering with his work, replaced on Kiss Unmasked '80 by session player Anton Fig, then more permanently by Brooklynite Eric Carr, who became a fox to replace the cat. As the album title indicated they modified their image: music remained thunderously unsubtle, especially after an initial attempt to soften the sound in Music From The Elder '81 (including some Lou Reed songs) was their worst-seller since '74. Frehley left to form Frehley's Comet after Creatures Of The Night '82, replaced by Vinnie Vincent, then Mark Norton; for Lick It Up '83 they switched to Mercury and discarded makeup; on Animalize '84 Mark St John was in Frehley's seat, Bruce Kulick on Asylum '85. The average-to-good HM band were trapped by their image, but the last two LPs were still top 20 USA. Other albums included The Originals (three-disc reissue of first three LPs; made no. 36 in Billboard). Following Crazy Nights '87 and Hot In The Shade '89 they became fashionable again: they had sold so many records in their heyday that a generation had to admit having listened to them. Carr d 24 November 1991 age 41 of cancer, replaced by Eric Singer; Revenge '92 went top ten, their best chart showing since '79; the original quartet re-formed, did an MTV Unplugged programme '95, went on a reunion tour '96. Twelve Picks '97 on SPV/Steamhammer was a best-of from Frehley's solo career.

In 2009 their first album in 11 years was Sonic Boom, which reached no. 2 on Billboard, their highest ever. In 2011 they were working on another album. Rock is a good way to become famous for being famous, especially if you paint your face, wear outlandish costumes and stick your tongue out: Family Jewels was a 'reality' show for those who are interested in Simmons and his private life. It was running foir its sixth season in 2011.

From looking bizarre, Kiss had turned into a bazaar. Since about 1996 they had sold more than half a billion dollars in merchandise, including footballs, barbecue sauce, teddy bears, and ten million shirts. Scott Zamost and Poppy Harlow of CNN wrote in the Wall Street Journal in 2011:

Doc McGhee, the band's manager, said that in a show where only Kiss performs, it can rake in $600,000 to $700,000 in merchandise sales. He'll delay a show to accommodate sales.
      "What we do is, we watch the booths to see if they're packed," McGhee said. "And then they stand there and they get 40 deep, but as soon as the band hits one note, they're gone. And you lose 20, 30 $40,000 in merchandise sales. So, I'll hold the show."

All of which shows that there's more than one sucker born every minute.