From their mid to late 70's heyday through today, a KISS concert represents all of the joyous excess of theatrical rock and roll, complete with exploding pyrotechnics, vomited blood, smoke bombs, fire breathing, long pointy tongue-waving, and insanely loud hard rock. Fans have long been enamored with the band's amazing showmanship, wild costumes and distinctive garish makeup, but their contribution to rock history goes deeper. Their mix of loud guitars and sweeping strings set the standard for the arena rock and pop metal bands, which would follow on into the late 80s. Their fan club, the KISS Army, had a six figure membership in the 70s, and the foursome have sold over 70 million albums.
Kiss was formed in New York in 1972 by guitarist/vocalist Paul Stanley and Israeli-born bassist Gene Simmons. The duo found drummer Peter Criss through a Rolling Stone ad, and lead guitarist Ace Frehley via the Village Voice. The band's cartoon image, kabuki makeup and rambunctious stage show concept was in place from the start, and they began promoting their own hall shows in New York. TV director Bill Aucoin became their manager and secured a deal for them with Neil Bogart's Casablanca Records within two weeks. Their launch party at the Beverly Hills Hotel in L.A. was the event of the season.
Three albums were released in a year's time, but their platinum selling fourth collection Alive (1975), which chronicled what they billed as "The Greatest Rock 'n' Roll Show On Earth," contained their first huge hit, "Rock And Roll All Nite." Destroyer proved just as successful, and also gave them their first U.S. Top 10 single, earning Peter Criss a major songwriting award for the ballad, "Beth".
By 1977 Kiss topped the Gallup Poll as the most popular act in the U.S. and they had become become a marketing dream, selling make-up kits, masks, board games, and pinball machines. Marvel Comics produced two super-hero cartoon books, and they even starred in a science-fiction movie, Kiss Meets The Phantom Of The Park. In September 1978 all four band members released solo albums on the same day, in numbers which represented the biggest shipment of albums from one unit to record stores in the history of recorded music.
After the release of Dynasty in 1979, which featured the worldwide hit single, "I Was Made For Lovin' You," Criss left and was 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, who made his first appearance during the world tour of 1980. Frehley, increasingly disenchanted with the musical direction of the band, finally left in December 1982.
By 1983 the popularity of the band was waning, and KISS made their MTV debut without the kabuki makeup that had previously defined them. The band later experienced a resurgence of popularity in the late 80s.
In the early 90s, work on a new Kiss album was delayed following Eric Carr's illness due to complications from cancer. He died in November 1991, in New York, at the age of 41.
With Eric Singer now on drums, the album Revenge became their highest charting U.S. album and their first Top 10 release since 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. This led to a historic reunion for MTV Unplugged.
In 1998, Psycho Circus marked the return of the original line-up to the studio, becoming the band's highest charting US album when it debuted at #3.