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The First KISS
KISS began in New York City in 1973. Originally, the group consisted of Paul Stanley, Gene Simmons, Ace Frehley, and Peter Criss. It was an outgrowth of the band Simmons and Stanley lead at the time, called Wicked Lester. They were looking for a new direction for their music, and happened to stumble across an ad by drummer Criss in Rolling Stone magazine in '72. Criss joined Wicked Lester, but they immediately began working on a bit harder sound, adding makeup and special effects to their onstage act.
In '73, Frehley joined up and they changed their name to KISS. Though many guesses about what KISS stands for made their way around the rumor mills ("Knights in Satan's Service" was one wild guess, along with "Kids in Satan's Service," and "Kinder SS"), the way the band actually named themselves was quite a bit blander. Criss had once played with a group called Lips, prompting Stanley to conjure up KISS, and that was that.
Frehley drew up the iconic KISS logo, designing the "SS" like lightening bolts. Stanley later made some tweaks, but doing so by hand, the image wasn't exactly perfectly in line. Since the band's #1 rule was that they didn't have any rules, they let it be when the art department asked them if they wanted to "fix" it.
The logo has caused almost as much rumor buzz as the name. In Germany, Israel, and a few other places where the Nazis did tremendous damage during WWII, any symbol resembling the Nazi Swastika are banned. Since the rendering of the KISS logo does make the lightening-bolt "SS" appear much like the Swastika, the band has to use an alternative logo when releasing albums, merchandise, and other materials in those countries.
KISS: Behind the Glam
But the most talked-about aspect of the band is, and always has been, their outlandish makeup. In an era when Glam Rock ruled, and almost all male acts went onstage and graced album covers in enough makeup to shame a supermodel in drag, KISS's makeup was in a league of its own. The KISS makeup schemes are designed to look like comic book characters. Stanley became "Starchild," Simmons the "Demon," Frehley the "Space Ace" or "Spaceman," and Chris the "Catman."
In 1982, Frehley and Criss departed the group, citing the proverbial, "creative differences." The next year, they dropped the makeup and over-the-top outfits for a time, but they eventually reincarnated the band with its original members, along with their gregarious style. Their concerts were marked as much for the pyrotechnics, breathing fire, spitting blood, guitar disfigurements, and levitating of drums, as for their hard-rocking musical style. But all that glam came at a price. Hauling KISS's equipment, gear, costumes, and other Shock Rock paraphernalia placed them among the costliest shows to put on the road.
KISS: The Music
KISS definitely made waves with their heavy-hitting Shock Rock, but also managed to hit Billboard gold with their softer side, including hit ballads like "Beth." They've contributed to Progressive Rock, as well as a more Pop/Disco sound (most notably in their album Unmasked), along with Heavy Metal.
KISS's musical inspiration comes from Shock Rock legends like Alice Cooper, along with British Invasion warriors like The Beatles, Eric Clapton, and Jeff Beck. Their dedicated fan base, affectionately known as the KISS Army, have greedily gobbled up their 24 studio albums, 11 live albums, along with multiple solo productions by its individual members, some compilations, a few film credits, and even a comic book. There is also no shortage of KISS memorabilia, much of which resides in a disheveled state in the home of Simmons. There have been action figures, sculptures (one replacing the presidents of Mount Rushmore with likenesses of the band members), and lunchboxes, along with the requisite cups, mugs, posters, and T-shirts normally sold at rock concerts.
Together, KISS's musical contributions have scored them over 75 million album sales around the globe and a 2014 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, plus innumerable other awards and achievements, including acclaim from the Classic Rock Roll of Honour Awards, Metal Edge Readers' Choice Awards (now defunct), and some more mainstream recognition from the likes of the People's Choice Awards, MTV Video Music Awards, and a Grammy for Best Hard Rock Performance for "Psycho Circus."
KISS: The Men Behind the Makeup
Currently, the official KISS lineup includes Stanley on vocals and rhythm guitar, Simmons on vocals and bass guitar, Tommy Thayer on vocals and lead guitar, and Eric Singer on vocals and percussion. Frehley left the band after their Farewell Tour in 2002. Criss is retired, and former drummer Eric Carr passed away from heart cancer in 1991.
Vinnie Vincent (lead guitar) has managed to appear to disappear from planet earth -- dropping out of the limelight after what other KISS members deemed highly unethical behavior. Bruce Kulick (lead guitarist from 1984-86) enjoyed both a solo career and some tenure with other bands after leaving KISS, including his current gig with Grand Funk Railroad. Former lead guitarist Mark St. John, who was only with the band for a few months in 1984, passed away in 2007 from a brain hemorrhage that his family insists was caused by a severe beating he took while in jail a few months before his death.
KISS the Future (Goodbye?)
Though rumors swirl about another album, another tour, or some other productive work by the collective band, the KISS Army may have to be content with replaying their 2016 album, Freedom to Rock. Their last live performance was during the Season 11 finale of the popular talent show, The Voice, where they performed a mini-medley of "Detroit Rock City" and "Rock and Roll All Nite."