February of 2014 marks the 40th anniversary of the debut album from KISS. The 40th anniversary. The Ruby Anniversary. The eponymous album that started it all, that launched a legacy, that created a brand. The band has sold over 100 million albums worldwide, with 28 releases being certified Gold. But before the lunchboxes, the action figures, the comic books, the caskets, the condoms, and the arena football team..there was just a rock and roll band…..with the intent of being the biggest rock and roll band anyone had ever seen.
In 1972, Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons were in a band called Wicked Lester. The group had a deal with Epic Records and had recorded one album which took a year to record on a shoestring budget. Because of the lengthy process the album lacked focus and direction. Discouraged, Paul and Gene disbanded Wicked Lester, got out of their perfectly good recording contract, and set out to pursue their vision. They kept the famous loft at 10 East 23rd Street in New York City for rehearsal space and began the search for like-minded musicians. Drummer Peter Criss was hired in late summer of ’72 and they began rehearsing as 3 piece but brought on lead guitarist Ace Frehley shortly thereafter so Paul Stanley could concentrate mainly on rhythm guitars.
Drawing from a multitude of influences from Alice Cooper to The Beatles to The Who along with bands from the New York scene like The New York Dolls and fueled by raw vision, the band would write and rehearse constantly. They would also develop the face paint for the individual persona of each member, as well as costumes and stage presence. Word of mouth soon spread fueled by gigs at local clubs like Coventry and The Daisy. KISS had a fledgling manager who got them a record deal with fledgling label Casablanca Records and were in the studio in the Fall of ’73 recording there debut. It was released the following February. It sold 75,000 copies after the initial release, peaking at #87 on the US Billboard Album chart. KISS reentered the studio that summer to record “Kissin’ Time” and the album was rereleased in hopes of generating a hit single, but to no avail. Three songs total were released as singles; “Nothin’ To Lose”, “Kissin’ Time”, and “Strutter” but none would become a hit. The rest…they say….is KISStory.
If you’ve been even remotely conscious on this Earth for the last 40 years, you know that KISS is a machine that is still ALIVE! and well. Despite the ever changing music genres, despite original members leaving then returning then leaving, despite unmasking then remasking then letting new guys mask, despite trying to put the KISS brand on any piece of anything than can be sold for profit, the band still continues to play arena sized concerts around the world yearly as well as record new music.
I became a KISS fan in ’77/’78. Around the 2nd grade. I am still a fan to this day. I’ll admit, they lost me during the 80’s, but I will always favor early KISS. The debut album contains, to me, the core KISS classics like “Deuce” and “Black Diamond” as well as the aforementioned songs that were released uneffectively as singles. Many call this album a diamond in the rough and over time the material has circled back around and continues to hold up. The longevity that KISS has maintained over 40 years is unprecedented and is no doubt fueled by in part by a worldwide fanbase. They have also influenced a vast array of bands and performers from Garth Brooks to Pantera to Weezer, while passing the theatric torch on to the likes of King Diamond and Marilyn Manson. Who can say what the future holds for KISS or what they have in store for us, the fans. They surely are a huge part of American history. And KISStory……is still in the making. Here’s to another 40 years of KISS!