“You show us everything you’ve got
You keep on dancin’ and the room gets hot
You drive us wild, we’ll drive you crazy…”
Imagine that you’re a kid just entering your teen years – right about that time in life when listening to music begins to coincide with the rebellious streak that accompanies adolescence. In the 50s, you might have latched on to the gyrating ways of Elvis Presley. The 60s might have drawn you into the psychedelic wonderland of The Beatles. In the 70s, however, it was impossible not to notice the fire-breathing, makeup wearing, blood-spitting stage antics and hard-rocking music of a band simply known as KISS. If the goal was to simultaneously rock and roll all night, while making the parental units noticeably uncomfortable, KISS was the perfect band. But, far from just being a cringe-worthy flash in the pan, KISS was a solid act, unleashing a string of enormous-selling records and filling concert halls the world over during their long and prosperous career.
In the early years, the band was called “Wicked Lester,” a New York City-based rock group featuring bassist/vocalist Gene Simmons and guitarist/vocalist Paul Stanley. When they brought drummer Peter Criss and lead guitarist Ace Frehley in the mix in 1972, they reinvented themselves as KISS, donning new imagined personas, accentuated by plenty of pancake makeup and leather attire. Stanley became the ever-romantic Starchild, Criss took on a feline look as the Catman, Ace became the galaxy-traveling Spaceman, and Gene became The Demon, famous for wielding his seemingly-inhuman tongue.
The band was signed to the Casablanca label in 1973, although their first two albums – the self-titled Kiss and Hotter Than Hell (both released in 1974) met a lukewarm reception. They followed the next year with Dressed to Kill and one of the tracks, “Rock and Roll All Night” charted at #57 (it would later become their anthem). But, while they may not have exactly set the charts ablaze, word was quickly spreading like wildfire that this was a live band worth seeing. Playing to enthusiastic audiences that were growing by the week, the band decided to capture that crowd energy on their next release. The live album that followed, Alive! would go gold and resurrect “Rock and Roll All Night” to the #12 spot on the charts. Their biggest hit, however, would come on the 1976 album, Destroyer, featuring a gentle ballad called “Beth” that would rise to #7 and give the band their first top-ten hit.
By 1977, KISS was one of the most popular bands in the country, heroes to teenagers everywhere, who bought comic books, Halloween masks, dolls etc., by the truckload. The band even had a pinball machine bearing their likeness in most arcades around the country. Touring-wise, they were drawing record crowds and it was hard to keep their albums on the shelf, four of which had now gone platinum.
In 1978, each of the four members simultaneously released a solo album to mixed results. Their next venture was an NBC television film, KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park. Although the special got massive ratings, it was becoming evident that the Midas touch was starting to fade. Dissention soon formed in the group and eventually Peter Criss was kicked out of Kiss. The band reformed in 1980 with Eric Carr now sitting on the drum throne, then Ace Frehley left in 1982. More personnel changes followed, and with waning popularity, the band decided it was time for a publicity stunt, it was time to take off the makeup. They released Lick it Up in ’83, sans costumes and the record went gold, although it was probably the Jump the Shark moment for the band.
Of course, as any retro fan can attest, things from yesteryear have a way of coming back, and in 1996, the band did just that, taking to the road in a series of tours that lasted for well over a decade and continuing to release albums, most recently in 2010. And each time they perform, they face a crowd of former teenagers who remember the glory days of the band as if it were only yesterday. They still come for the blood and fire and all the other things that made KISS one of the most iconic and popular bands of the 70s.
If you were a fan of the band back in the day, we welcome all of your memories in our comments section. Tell us which albums were your favorites, tell us about the concerts you saw, tell us about the posters in your room, as we fondly tip our hats to these rock and roll heroes of the 70s.