Here’s the thing; on paper I’m not really a big Kiss fan. I own one of their CD’s and I’ve been to two reunion shows but, for some reason, every five years or so I find myself getting into it again. Maybe because they were such an indelible part of my childhood. I was eight during the height of their fame. What kid wouldn’t be into a band that wears scary make-up, spits up blood and blows up stuff on stage? I had most of their records and whenever they were on TV, I was watching. But, as I grew older, they became less and less relevant and we lost track of each other. In the mid-eighties, there were few things that were less cool.
When the band announced in 1996 that they were doing a reunion tour with the original members and make-up, I knew I had to be there. The concert was a lot of fun and pretty much what I expected. I thought they were out of my system for good but they weren’t. Why? After some actual thought, it came to me: Kiss is Spinal Tap. Not literally, of course but the arrogance, the misguided steps to gain acceptance, the crassness of Gene Simmons, the lineup changes, the sniping amongst the original four, to the endless merchandising that is designed to suck every last dollar out of your pocket, is all hilarious.
Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley are way too rich to care what anyone thinks about them and you do need to be doing something right to be around for forty years and survive these mistakes. Most bands would be undone by two on this list but not the boys from New York. Give them this, they are survivors. These are the ten most boneheaded moves in Kisstory:
10. Releasing Four Solo Albums On The Same Day (1978)
In 1978, the band was riding high but the four members were barely speaking to each other. Ace Frehley and Peter Criss were very unhappy and thinking of leaving the band until manager, Bill Aucoin, hit upon the idea that Ace and Peter should make solo albums. In fact, every band member should make one. They would all be released simultaneously the day after their TV movie (don’t worry, we’ll get to it) “Kiss Meets of the Phantom Of The Park” aired. It would be an orgy of publicity for the band.
All four albums were shipped platinum meaning a million copies. However, the record industry was in a slump and that, coupled with retailers being able to return all unsold records meant roughly two million albums didn’t sell. Although, Ace Frehley had a hit with “New York Grove” all four albums together sold about what one Kiss record would’ve sold but at four times the expense. Where did the unsold albums go?
9. Suing Phonogram (1980)
You know, it probably isn’t the smartest thing for a band to sue their own record company, but in 1982, Kiss thought it was their way out of a financial problem. This story is outlined in a book by Kiss’s former business manager, C.K. Lendt, called “Kiss and Sell.” With the two million or so unsold solo albums sitting in a warehouse, Phonogram sold them at cut rate prices to retailers, flea markets, anyone who would have them but at drastically lower prices. It’s called “schlocking” and bands hate it. It makes them look second rate and cuts way down on their royalties.
Kiss’s old contract (inherited from Casablanca) forbade the label from doing this so they sued Phonogram for six million. Every day during the trial, Kiss would be in the courthouse in suits and ties. The case was over and the jury returned with the verdict. Kiss won…$520,000. A lot of money but not six million. The band was stunned and their label was pissed.
8. “Kiss Meets The Phantom Of The Park” (1978)
Kiss was huge in 1978 and manager, Bill Aucoin, figured that their next step was to appeal to a mainstream audience, so they made a deal with Hanna Barbera to produce a TV movie to be shown on NBC. Small hiccup, no one in the band knew how to act. During scenes they would call out, “line” and if they could repeat it at all correctly it was printed. Peter Criss was so unintelligible that his whole part was dubbed. Most of Ace Frehley‘s lines were, “Aacck!” It’s hard to blame Ace for not showing up days at a time just to say “aack!” On those days, his stuntman (an African-American) would be forced to do Ace’s scenes.
Worse, the finished product made no sense. For some reason, at the end, the bad guy (Christopher Lee) gets really old and dies. The whole thing looked incredibly cheesy. It’s so bad that even today, Gene Simmons won’t say it’s great and that’s a helluva accomplishment. It also started Kiss on the path of being family entertainment instead of hard rockers.
7. Introducing the New Drummer On “Kids Are People Too” (1980)
In 1980 drummer, Peter Criss, was kicked out of the band because of erratic playing and a bad attitude. The band decided they wanted an unknown to replace Criss and settled on Paul Caravello, nee Eric Carr. Now, remember, this was a time when Kiss was worried about losing credibility (yes, there was a time when they cared about this) so, how do they officially announce their new member? Do they hit all the hard rock stations, or invite the press to see their new drummer play?
Nope, they go to popular kids show, “Kids Are People Too” where the studio audience was aged eight to twelve. There is no one over the age of fifteen who wants to listen to the same band as their younger siblings. Gene tells the kids not to eat fire and the whole band insists that they’re still friends with Peter. The only thing missing was for them to sing the “Kids Are People Too” theme song.
6. All The Greatest Hits Compilations (1978 – ?)
Go to amazon.com and type, “Kiss Greatest Hits” and at least fourteen albums show up and they all have the same ten songs! The only band that comes remotely close in this department is The Who. Kiss, you’re no Who. Okay, so the albums aren’t exactly the same. Some brag about remixing or special live versions of “Detroit Rock City” or a new version of “Beth” sung by the new drummer.
5. The Endless Merchandising (1978 – ?)
Maybe this doesn’t count as a boneheaded move because they’ve made millions doing it but at some point you’d think the band would say “enough.” Right, then you’ve got the wrong band because Kiss will put their names on anything. Anything. There’s a Kiss Koffin for $4,500 or $5,000 signed. There’s Kiss Kondoms. The Paul condom is studded for her pleasure. How thoughtful. There’s the Kiss Coffeehouse in South Carolina that went out of business. The Kiss dice drinking game. Kiss Him Cologne… If they allowed me 50,000 words, I still couldn’t cover all the items.
4. Vinnie Vincent (1982 – 1984)
After Ace Frehley left the band shortly before the unmasked period, lead guitarist, Vincent Cusano was brought in. Gene and Paul changed his name to Vinnie Vincent and Paul designed Vinnie’s Egyptian Ankh make-up. Everyone who’s ever worked with the guy says the same thing, Vincent is very talented but a total pain in the ass. Vinnie consistently refused to sign his contract which infuriated Paul and Gene. He also played endless, impromptu solos. Finally, after the “Lick It Up” North American tour, he was asked to leave.
Vinnie started several bands including the Vinnie Vincent Invasion which came and went. He sued Kiss over a dozen times losing each and every time. Vinnie was also involved with some unethical behavior like selling a guitar he never played to a fan and insisting it was his favorite. He also took money from fans for a box set that’s never been released. Vinnie’s also been in trouble with the law and is now pretty much a recluse in Tennessee.
3. “Unmasked” (1980)
After their disco influenced album, “Dynasty”, the band went into an even more pop oriented direction with “Unmasked.” The cover is a comic strip with the band trying to avoid being photographed without their make-up on. At the end they take off their “masks” and are revealed to be wearing their make-up underneath. Hilarious and not at all hokey.
The album was the last one to credit all four original members for playing on it although Anton Figg and not Peter Criss played all the drum parts. It also has many outside song writers credited, a first for Kiss. It didn’t help. The album stiffed in the U.S. but did okay in other parts of the world including Australia, New Zealand and Norway.
2. Performing Without Paul Stanley (July 27th, 2007)
Approximately forty five minutes before showtime, Paul Stanley experienced a rapid heart that was twice the normal level. It’s called tachycardia and it’s a serious but treatable condition but performing that night would’ve been a bad idea. Any other band would postpone the show. The fans would understand. They’d be disappointed but it’s not like anything could’ve been done to prevent it. Not Kiss.
That night, for the first time ever, Kiss performed as a trio with one original member. Gene told the crowd that Paul said he didn’t want to let the fans down so they should go on with the show. Gene also told the crowd that they were fortunate enough to be witnessing history. No one’s ever seen Kiss perform as a trio, which was untrue. In the early 80’s, Ace didn’t show up for a show at the Palladium in New York.
If they really cared about the fans, they would’ve postponed the show so the fans could get what they paid for; the full band. Hell, when the rescheduled show was coming up they could’ve milked it for all it’s worth. Paul’s coming back to make it up to the fans.
1. (Music From) “The Elder” (1981)
After the failure of “Unmasked” what the band really needed was a straight ahead hard rock album. Instead, they made this, a concept album. Their own “Tommy” or “The Wall.” The band, well Gene and Paul, Ace wanted nothing to do with this, and Bob Ezrin, the producer, sat around for hours at a time talking about the story before picking up instruments.
What they came up with was a really cheesy “Game of Thrones” / Kahlil Gibran sounding story about a boy who had to endure a series of challenges in the woods after being advised by a council of old, wise men, “the elders.” “Boy” learns to believe in himself…sorry, the story is just too boring to finish typing.
Needless to say, this album stiffed and almost permanently ended Kiss’s careers. Radio stations wouldn’t play it and no one wanted to hear it live so, for the first time in years, the band didn’t tour. They made some videos and lip synced on the TV show “Fridays” but that was pretty much it. The reason why the album is called (Music From) “The Elder” is because Kiss envisioned a movie made out of their opus but it was not to be, however…
In 2012, a British fan, Seb Hunter, has set upon to finally bring Gene and Paul’s vision to the big screen. None of it is authorized and Seb has almost no experience in film making but that’s not going to stop him. Not when there’s crowd sourcing available. The goal is to have the movie finished, with an updated story, in 2014. Got to admit, I’m morbidly curious.
Anyway, I hope Gene and Paul will forgive me for this list. If not, I can always offer them cash.