Following the demise of Wicked Lester, Kiss was formed in 1972 by Paul Stanley (b. Paul Eisen, January 20, 1950, Queens, New York; rhythm guitar, vocals) and Gene Simmons (b. Chaim Witz, August 25, 1949, Haifa, Israel; bass, vocals), who went on to recruit Peter Criss (b. Peter Crisscoula, December 27, 1947, Brooklyn, New York; drums, vocals) and Ace Frehley (b. Paul Frehley, April 22, 1951, Bronx, New York; lead guitar, vocals). At their second show at the Hotel Diplomat, Manhattan, in 1973, Flipside producer Bill Aucoin offered the band a management contract, and within two weeks they were signed to Neil Bogart’s recently established Casablanca Records. In just over a year, Kiss had released their first three albums with a modicum of success.
In the summer of 1975 their fortunes changed with the release of Alive!, which spawned their first US hit single, with the reissued live version of “Rock and Roll All Nite” climbing to Number Twelve in November. The appeal of Kiss has always been based on their live shows: the garish greasepaint make-up, outrageous costumes and pyrotechnic stage effects, along with their hard-rocking anthems, combined to create what was billed as “The Greatest Rock ‘n’ Roll Show on Earth”. Their live reputation engendered a dramatic upsurge in record sales, and Alive became their first certified platinum album in the USA. Destroyer proved just as successful, and also gave them their first US Top Ten single, earning Peter Criss a major songwriting award for the uncharacteristic ballad, “Beth”.
Subsequent releases, Rock and Roll Over, Love Gun and Alive II, each certified platinum, confirmed the arrival of Kiss as major recording artists. By 1977 Kiss had topped the prestigious Gallup poll as the most popular act in the USA. They had become a marketing dream: Kiss merchandise included make-up kits, masks, board games, and pinball machines. Marvel Comics produced two super-hero cartoon books, and a full-length science-fiction film, Kiss Meet The Phantom of The Park, was even produced. The ranks of their fan club, the Kiss Army, had swollen to a six-figure number.
In September 1978 all four group members released solo albums on the same day, a feat never before envisaged, let alone matched. At the time, this represented the biggest shipment of albums from one ‘unit’ to record stores in the history of recorded music. The albums enjoyed varying degrees of success; Ace Frehley’s record came out on top and included the US Top 20 hit single, “New York Groove”. Gene Simmons, whose album featured an impressive line-up of guests including Cher, Donna Summer, Bob Seger and Janis Ian, had a hit single in the UK with “Radioactive”, which reached Number 41 in 1978. After the release of Dynasty in 1979, which featured the worldwide hit single, “I Was Made for Lovin’ You”, cracks appeared in the ranks.
Peter Criss left to be replaced by session player Anton Fig, who had previously appeared on Frehley’s solo album. Fig played drums on the 1980 release Unmasked until a permanent replacement was found in the form of New Yorker Eric Carr (b. July 12, 1950, d. November 24,1991), who made his first appearance during the world tour of 1980. A fuller introduction came on Music from The Elder, an album that represented a radical departure from traditional Kiss music and included several ballads, an orchestra and a choir. It was a brave attempt to break new ground but failed to capture the imagination of the record-buying public. Increasingly disenchanted with the musical direction of the band, Frehley finally left in December 1982. The two albums prior to his departure had featured outside musicians.
Bruce Kulick, who had contributed to the studio side of Alive II and played on Stanley’s solo album, supplied the lead work to the four previously unreleased tracks on the Killers compilation of 1982, and Vincent Cusano (later to become Vinnie Vincent ) was responsible for lead guitar on the 1982 release, Creatures of The Night . By 1983 the popularity of the band was waning and drastic measures were called for. The legendary make-up that had concealed their true identities for almost ten years was removed on MTV in the USA. Vinnie Vincent made his first official appearance on Lick It Up, an album that provided Kiss with their first Top Ten hit in the UK. The resurgence of the band continued with Animalize.
Vincent had been replaced by Mark St. John (b. Mark Norton), a seasoned session player and guitar tutor. His association with the band was short-lived, however, as he was struck down by Reiters Syndrome. Bruce Kulick was enlisted as a temporary replacement on the 1984 European Tour, and subsequently became a permanent member when it became apparent that St. John would not be able to continue as a band member. Further commercial success was achieved with Asylum and Crazy Nights, the latter featuring their biggest UK hit single, “Crazy Crazy Nights”, which peaked at Number Four in October 1987 and was soon followed by another Top 40 hit single, “Reason to Live”.
Hot in The Shade succeeded their third compilation album, Smashes, Thrashes and Hits, and included another US hit single, “Forever”, which reached Number Eight in February 1990. Work on a new Kiss album with producer Bob Ezrin was delayed following Eric Carr’s illness due to complications from cancer. He died on November 24, 1991, in New York, at the age of 41. Despite this setback, Kiss contributed a hit cover version of Argent’s classic “God Gave Rock ‘N’ Roll to You II” (UK Number 4, January 1992) to the soundtrack of the film Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey, and brought in replacement drummer Eric Singer (ex-Black Sabbath, Badlands). The album Revenge also provided them with their highest charting US album (Number Four), and their first Top Ten release since Dynasty reached Number Nine in 1979.
The Kiss My Ass tribute album was released in 1994, with contributions from Lenny Kravitz, Stevie Wonder, Garth Brooks, Lemonheads, Faith No More, Dinosaur Jr, Rage Against The Machine and others. The interest in Kiss My Ass led to a historic reunion for MTV Unplugged. A stable unit with Bruce Kulick (guitar) and Eric Singer (drums), together with Simmons and Stanley, appeared to be on the cards, but Frehley and Criss returned for a reunion tour. So successful was the tour that Kulick and Singer were naturally somewhat annoyed and both quit. Their irritation was further exacerbated by the fact that a new studio album, Carnival of Souls, featured both of them. In 1997 Vincent sued the band, alleging that they owed him royalties.
A year later Psycho Circus marked the return of the original line-up to the studio, and became the group’s highest charting US album when it debuted at Number Three in October. With a history spanning three decades, Kiss’ impact on the consciousness of a generation of music fans, particularly in the USA, remains enormous.
While the ensuing tour in support of Psycho Circus was a success, sales of Kiss’ reunion album weren’t as stellar as anticipated. Reminiscent of the band’s late-’70s unfocused period, few tracks on Psycho Circus featured all four members playing together (most tracks were supplemented with session musicians), as the band seemed more interested in flooding the marketplace with merchandise yet again instead of making the music their top priority. With rumors running rampant that the Psycho Circus Tour would be their last, the quartet announced in the spring of 2000 that they would be launching a U.S. farewell tour in the summer, which became one of the year’s top concert draws.
But on the eve of a Japanese and Australian tour in early 2001, Peter Criss suddenly left the band once again, supposedly discontent with his salary. Taking his place was previous Kiss drummer Eric Singer, who in a controversial move among some longtime fans, donned Criss’ cat-man makeup (since Simmons and Stanley own both Frehley and Criss’ makeup designs, there was no threat of a lawsuit) as the farewell tour continued. With the band scheduled to call it a day supposedly by late 2001, a mammoth career-encompassing box set was set for later in the year, while the summer saw perhaps the most over-the-top piece of Kiss merchandise yet - the “Kiss Kasket.”
The group was relatively quiet through the rest of the year, but 2002 started with a bang as Gene Simmons turned in an entertaining and controversial interview on NPR where he criticized the organization and berated host Terry Gross with sexual comments and condescending answers. He was promoting his autobiography at the time, which also caused dissent in the Kiss camp because of the inflammatory remarks made towards Ace. Frehley was quite angry at the situation, leading to his no-showing of an American Bandstand anniversary show. His place was taken by a wig-wearing Tommy Thayer, but no one was fooled and the band looked especially awful while pretending to play their instruments during the pre-recorded track. The appearance was an embarrassment for the group and for their fans, but Simmons was quick to dismiss the performance as another in a long series of money-oriented decisions.
The band kept touring the globe with no new album in stores, but in 2008 they returned to the studio, re-recorded their hits, and released Jigoku-Retsuden aka KISSology or Kiss Klassics. The release was exclusive to Japan until a year later when it became a bonus disc for Sonic Boom, the band’s first studio album in eleven years. Produced by Paul Stanley and Greg Collins, the album was exclusively distributed in North America by the Wal-Mart chain of stores.