February 18, 1974 - Kiss: Kiss is released.
"Hey world, we're Kiss and we want everyone here to come along with us......" were the first words that came from Paul Stanley's mouth after he strutted his way up to the microphone when Kiss made their national TV debut on Dick Clark's "In Concert." With that statement, Paul summed up the way Kiss envisioned themselves from day one. Coming from the same New York City streets that were walked by the likes of the New York Dolls and Ramones, Kiss were not content with being the kings of lower Manhattan or being the house band at CBGB's or Max's Kansas City, they had their eyes set on Madison Square Garden and beyond.
This month marks the 41st anniversary of Kiss' debut album, an album that introduced Kiss to the world but didn't exactly set that world on fire. Kiss emerged from the ashes of a band called Wicked Lester, which had featured Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons. Wicked Lester recorded an album for Epic records at Electric Ladyland Studios in 1972, but Paul and Gene split up the band shortly after the album was finished and the project was shelved. Wicked Lester was a hodgepodge of musical styles with no true vision or direction. Listening to the Wicked Lester recordings you can hear glimpses of what Kiss would become but it's buried underneath flutes and congas, sounding more like a Jethro Tull record than anything related to Kiss. Initially keeping the name Wicked Lester, Paul and Gene found drummer Peter Criss and began rehearsing as a trio, formulating a sound that was straightforward and in-your-face rock 'n roll. Guitarist Ace Frehley was added and in early 1973 the band officially changed it's name to Kiss.
Kiss made their live debut on January 30th, 1973 at a small club in Queens, NY called Popcorn. From the beginning the band knew they wanted to have a theatrical show but at these early performances at the Popcorn club they wore very little face make up and had not incorporated any stage effects into their show. The band experimented with their image during these early shows eventually going from a New York Dolls androgynous look to a streamlined black leather and studs look with full face paint. By the time they played The Daisy Club in Amityville, NY in March of '73, the band were well on their way in developing their iconic alter egos.
In March 1973 the band recorded a five song demo at Electric Ladyland Studios with Jimi Hendrix producer Eddie Kramer. This demo was a calling card to help the band secure management and a record deal. TV mogul Bill Aucoin approached the group in October with an offer to manage the band and a promise that he could obtain them a record deal within two weeks.. Bill made good on his promise and on November 1, 1973 Kiss became the first act signed to Neil Bogart's new label Casablanca Records.
Kiss quickly recorded their debut album at Bell Sound Studios in New York City. The recording and mixing of the record took less than three weeks and was produced by Kenny Kerner and Richie Wise. The original pressing of the album features nine songs including what would become some of the groups best known songs including Deuce, Strutter, Firehouse, Nothin' To Lose, Black Diamond and Cold Gin. Lead vocal duties were split between Stanley and Simmons with drummer Peter Criss also contributing lead vocals on a few songs. "Nothin' To Lose" was issued as the first single from the album in February 1974 but failed to receive support from radio. With initial sales of the album being sluggish it was decided by the label that the group should record a cover of Bobby Rydell's song "Kissin' Time" and release it as the next single. "Kissin' Time" was added to later pressings of the album and the single was promoted by a nationwide kissing contest dubbed "The Great Kiss Off" sponsored by local radio stations. On April 29th the band appeared on The Mike Douglas Show with the winners of "The Great Kiss Off" and performed the song "Firehouse." "Kissin' Time" did not improve album sales but the band continued to be a big concert draw. "Strutter" was released as the last single from the album in August at which time the band had already entered a recording studio in Los Angeles to begin work on their second album "Hotter Than Hell". At this point Casablanca lost their support from Warner Brothers distribution and the label was on the brink of bankruptcy. Kiss continued touring and making records and in September 1975 Casablanca released Kiss Alive as a last ditch effort to save the label and the gamble paid off. Kiss Alive was a huge success and Kissteria was officially in full swing.
Kiss has been through many changes in the forty one years since their debut album was released including several changes in the bands line up, different musical directions, taking their make up off in 1983 and then reuniting the four original members in 1996 and putting the make up back on. The reunion did not last long but Kiss has forged on with replacement members for Ace Frehley and Peter Criss and are currently touring the world on their 40th Anniversary tour. The original four members of Kiss were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame last year but to the disappointment of long time fans the band did not perform together.
Even with all the changes the one thing that has remained consistent over the years are the songs the band created in a little studio in New York City in 1974. Over half the songs from their debut album are still performed in concert and remain fan favorites to this day. For an album that was considered a flop when it was originally released, it has certainly left its mark on the music scene and is a true testament to the strength of the bands early material.
Scott Carr is a guitarist who plays in the Columbus, OH bands Radio Tramps and Returning April. Scott is also an avid collector of vinyl records and works at Lost Weekend Records. So...if you are looking for Scott....you'll either find him in a dimly lit bar playing his guitar or in a record store digging for the holy grail.