Immigration. People are constantly seeking personal freedoms or a better life. Then there's Chaim Witz, The Demon - otherwise known as Gene Simmons. He was born in Israel in '49. His parents had survived the Holocaust in Eastern Europe and immigrated to Israel. When Simmons' parents divorced in '54 he and his mother immigrated to America settling in Brooklyn. As Gene began learning English, comic books and horror films fascinated him. Obviously, this came into play later on.
By '71 Simmons had hooked up with Paul Stanley in Wicked Lester. They even managed to get a record deal from Epic but the project went nowhere. But it did provide the two with some money to live on. Simmons was also supporting himself as a schoolteacher. However, he ran afoul of Spanish Harlem's P.S. 75 school administration for using Spiderman #36 as a teaching tool. He knew his students didn't like to read but loved comics. Seemed like a good way to go. Also, by this time Gene had adopted Simmons as his last name.
During the waning hours of Wicked Lester there was an ad in Rolling Stone's East Coast edition that read "experienced drummer willing to do anything to make it." Enter Peter Criscoula (Criss). Finally, when Ace Frehley joined, it was the end of Wicked Lester and the beginning of KISS - lights, make-up, stage costumes, explosions and loud, driving Rock.
KISS' make-up was Simmons' idea. And it was perfect. First, it allowed some ordinary looking guys to be Rock stars. Secondly, and nobody thought of this at the time, the make-up hid the inevitable aging (until it became too pronounced).
All in all, KISS had an incredible run in the '70s, blasting out "Rock n' Roll All Night," "Detroit Rock City," and "Love Gun." In the '80s the band had fractured due to constant touring, personal conflicts and yes, drugs.
But before that happened there were a couple of major blunders. The first came in '78 with the simultaneous release of solo albums from each band member. This, in itself, was not really a bad idea. After all, the band was hugely popular. Besides, there were internal tensions and this gave everybody some space. The band's label, the infamous Casablanca Records, initially thought of shipping 500,000 copies of each album. But they got talked into upping that to a million. Everybody got a platinum album and Casablanca got millions of returns - which cost a fortune.
For the record, the Frehley and Simmons albums, which did the best, only reached the half a million mark. Simmons had the highest Billboard chart position at #22. Frehley peaked at #26 but he nailed the biggest hit with "New York Groove." Stanley and Criss only reached #40 and #43, respectively.
Two years later, "Unmasked" dropped. Without the face paint, the band's four members looked less like demons and more like New York schmucks. Not good. Even so, the album went gold - but they had been a platinum act to that point.
Criss and Frehley eventually left and were replaced initially by Eric Carr and Vinnie Vincent. Eventually, Ace and Peter were allowed back (only to leave or be booted out again).
KISS rocked but they also were highly visual. Their concert performances were loud, fierce, high-tech (explosions don't go off by themselves) events. But even on record, where they were probably their tamest, they kicked. The four original members got together in '96, cashed in and continued to do so until their "farewell" tour.
Like any group with an extended career, KISS box sets appeared. "KISSology Volume 1: 1974-1977" and "KISSology Volume 2: 1978-1991 led the way. And just in time for Christmas '07, "KISSology Vol. 3: 1992-2000" came out. The four-disc set featured nearly 10 hours of live performance footage, including a '73 New York show, a complete '92 Detroit concert and the '95 MTV Unplugged set.
Following in The Osbourne's footsteps A&E launched the reality show Gene Simmons Family Jewels in '06. Aside from Gene, the series featured Simmons' long time partner Shannon Tweed, an actress/model and a former Playmate of the Year ('82) and their two kids Nick (born in '89) and Sophie (born in '92).
A short time later (early '08), Simmons appeared on in NBC's The Celebrity Apprentice (yep, the show with Donald Trump). As one of 14 contestants Simmons got an ego stroke and a chance to show off his vaunted business acumen (also promote his various ventures) with the proceeds going to charity. He decided to participate in the series because he was intrigued by the challenge. "I'm the rat that knew the maze to get to the cheese as a Rocker. But how good am I in a brand-new maze?"
To top off Simmons many, and varied, TV appearances he won $500,000 for the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation during his '08 appearance on FOX's Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader? That was a record sum earned by a celebrity guest on the game show.
Simmons added to his profile by appearing in Mike Judge's '09 comedy Extract. He played an underhanded attorney.
The TV and film work was fine, but it was time to add to the KISS catalog. The group issued their 19th studio album, "Sonic Boom," in late '09. However, just a few days prior, the band received bigger news. Virtually ignored during their first 10 years of eligibility for the Rock N' Roll Hall of Fame, the band finally made it to the ballot of nominees. "There are disco bands, Rap bands, Yiddish folk song bands in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but not KISS," Simmons once famously stated. "I believe we have more gold records in America than any other group, but it's OK."
KISS launched their Sonic Boom Over Europe tour in '10. Fans who attended the concerts were able to purchase the performance on a USB stick directly following the show.
With trek underway Simmons, in an interview with Britain's Daily Telegraph, claimed his band was among the world's most recognizable brands. "You don't know how big the image is," said Simmons. "By some experts, it is believed to be the most recognized pop culture image on Earth -- even above Mickey Mouse."
"You know, there's no U2 comic book, there's no Mick Jagger action figure," Simmons continued. "We have our own Visa card. You can go into Wal-Mart and get M&Ms with our faces on [them]. It's unbelievable!"
In April, '11, KISS revealed that they were working on their 20th studio album (the follow-up to "Sonic Boom"). "Went into the studio today for day one of the new album," Simmons revealed in a Twitter post. "Straight Rock songs, no ballads, no keyboards, no nothing, just Rock!"
But before "Monster" dropped, Stanley had vocal cord surgery to correct "recurring vocal cord issues," according to CNN. "I hold myself to a higher standard than others do," said Stanley. "With that in mind, I wanted to remedy a few minor issues that come with 40 years of preaching Rock 'n' Roll."
Say what you will about KISS, they do support the troops. Case in point: During the '13 Rock Fest in Cadott, WI, KISS stopped the show so they could introduce a wounded military veteran named Ramon Rivera — and present Rivera and his wife with a brand new, mortgage-free house. "Please join me in congratulating Ramon, and thank you to everyone for their service to our country!," said Stanley. The donation was made possible by the festival, Military Warriors Support Foundation and co-sponsors Impact Gel. That was just one of the group's many efforts to help wounded vets.
The world is littered with KISS memorabilia but little to appeal to the literate fan. That changed in '13 with the publication of "Nothin' To Lose: The Making Of KISS (1972-1975). Written by Simmons, Stanley and Ken Sharp, the 544-page hardcover drew on more than 200 interviews.
1974 Hotter Than Hell
1975 Dressed To Kill
1976 Rock And Roll Over
1977 Love Gun
1981 Music from "The Elder"
1982 Creatures Of The Night
1983 Lick It Up
1987 Crazy Nights
1989 Hot In the Shade
1997 Carnival Of Souls: The Final Sessions
1998 Psycho Circus
2009 Sonic Boom
KISS is three chords, two riffs and brilliant marketing. It served them well. Being locked in the '70s is not nearly as lethal as venturing from the formula. Fortunately, they don't do that often.
Prime KISS is 1975-77 - a long time in Rock years. Two guitars, one bass, one drum kit and a ton of power.
They never seemed too bothered at being repeatedly snubbed by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. They are masters of their universe.
It took a while for KISS to catch fire but when it did, they ruled. Of course, KISS crashed just as spectacularly. Pay no attention to "Beth," everyone was doing those wimpy ballads back in the '70s. Criss should have saved that little nugget for his solo record. Listen to "Detroit Rock City," one of the all-time great Rock songs.
Don't fall for KISS with replacement players. KISS is: Simmons, Stanley, Frehley and Criss.
KISS' best shot. The throbbing insanity of "Detroit Rock City" along with the anthem "Shout It Out Loud" are hot Rockers. "Flaming Youth" and the orchestrated (believe it) "Great Expectations" are up there too. To be honest the album does have "Beth" probably the lamest "rock" ballad ever released by a major group. Of course, it was their biggest pop hit.
In concert great Rock bands build on their studio material while ordinary bands just play it. Early KISS recordings seem confined. The studio may have inhibited or intimated them. Recording and re-recording takes a lot of the fun and spontaneity out. Then there's that drive to make everything letter perfect.
In concert KISS was a party band to the hilt and party bands don't worry. They play loud, have fun and put on a show. "Rock 'n' Roll All Night" and "Deuce" are the highlights from this exceptional set.
Sonic Boom" is an exercise in clichés. But then, no one expects profound lyrics or stylistic innovations from KISS. The band can still nail trademark power chords and fire off razor sharp licks. "Never Enough" is as near as they get to classic KISS but the rest of the album is close enough. Don't fret over the re-recorded hits or the live stuff - just consider them bonuses.
"Monster" hits the KISS hot buttons. There's a party song ("Shout Mercy"), demonic track ("The Devil Is Me"), a Rock n' Roll tribute ("All For The Love Of Rock & Roll") and sex song ("Take Me Down Below"). A romantic song? Please, this is KISS.
"Wall Of Sound" almost sounds like a Who anthem while "Eat Your Heart Out" brings out the cowbell. "Hell Or Hallelujah" is standard issue KISS. The surprise is "All For The Love Of Rock & Roll," which almost sounds poppy and sedate. Bad sign. But "Back To The Stone Age" has them 'howling at the moon."
Twenty-eight years after his initial solo effort, Stanley released "Live To Win" in '06. He produced and co-wrote nine of the CD's 10 tracks with a variety of collaborators. However, "Loving You Without You Now" is completely his own creation.
Solo albums by KISS members have always been a questionable endeavor. Clearly, with this group, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. "Live To Win" will do little to change that impression. The title track is a good effort but it doesn't deliver the killer blow. Stanley finds his footing on "Bulletproof" and "All About You" which tosses a nod to KISS' "Rock N' Roll all night, party every day" ethos. Interestingly, the set's best track is the acoustic tinged mid-tempo ballad "Every Time I See You Around."
One critic praised Stanley saying he was an "example of a veteran Rocker refusing to rest on vintage material." Yeah, but the "vintage material" is a lot better.