KISS FAQ Goes Online
So, who is KISS?: Depends on who you ask. Their detractors (many of whom are music critics) will tell you that they're a bunch of hacks with a lot of marketing savvy. Ask their fans, or the band themselves, and they'll tell you KISS is "the hottest band in the world," the catchphrase that opens many of their iconic live albums.
Who's in KISS?: Well, it's always been Gene Simmons (bass, vocals) and Paul Stanley (guitar, vocals). They are the band's co-founders and main songwriters. Essentially, Gene runs the brand and handles the business deals and masterminds all the marketing schemes, while Paul runs the band as the de facto frontman, producing their last two albums.
Though it's not that cut-and-dry: Paul is Gene's partner on a number of KISS business ventures and Gene has written a lot of classic KISS songs. The other original members include drummer Peter Criss (who also sang some of the band's biggest hits, including "Beth" and "Hard Luck Woman") and lead guitarist Ace Frehley, who designed the group's iconic logo. Ace and Peter have left and rejoined the band over the years; today, the lineup features Simmons, Stanley, drummer Eric Singer and lead guitarist Tommy Thayer.
So, are they "the hottest band in the world?": Well taste is subjective. But there are things about KISS turns people off before they even hear a note. Many feel the imagery of the band and the spectacle of their shows takes precedence over the music. If you ask the band, they'd disagree: the visuals are equally as important as the music. Simmons and Stanley hated going to see their favorite bands in concert, and being bored because it was visually boring. Gene Simmons, who was born in Israel and moved to the United States with his mother at a young age, was equally influenced by the Beatles and comic books. KISS combined the catchy tunes of the Fab Four with the visuals of superheroes. But without those tunes, no one would have cared.
So, they're a big heavy metal band, right?: Well, they're an influence on almost every heavy metal band who followed, from Pantera to Anthrax to Slipknot, not to mention every single glam-metal band of the '80s. But their influence isn't limited to any one genre, nor is it limited to music. George Clinton - who was labelmates with KISS on Casablanca Records in the '70s - got some of his ideas from KISS, including Parliment's over-the-top stage show, which included motherships and elaborate costumes.
Garth Brooks, meanwhile, was inspired by KISS to make country music concerts into arena spectacles, tipping his hat to them with a cover of "Hard Luck Woman" that featured KISS as the backing band. Garage rock legends (and darlings of rock critics) the Replacements covered "Black Diamond" on their classic 1984 album Let It Be, while Wilco named-dropped the band on "Heavy Metal Drummer" ("I miss the innocence I've known/ Playing KISS covers, beautiful and stoned") on their 2002 landmark LP Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. And, of course, Cheap Trick's immortal "Surrender" shouted out loud about the band: "When I woke up, Mom and Dad were rolling on the couch/Rolling numbers, rock and rolling, got my Kiss records out!"
Okay, but why all the marketing? If the music is so great, shouldn't that be enough?: Gene Simmons will be the first to tell you - and he'll tell you proudly - that KISS isn't just a band, they're a brand. They've always thought outside the box when it comes to selling stuff with their name on it: in the '70s, they starred in their own Marvel comic and were immortalized as action figures. In later years, they've sold "KISS Kondoms" (since you asked, they came in three different styles: "Love Gun Protection", "Studded Paul" and "Tongue Lubricated"). A "KISS Kasket" is actually a thing that exists and will run you about $3,300. If you'd prefer a more modestly priced receptacle and you are the cremation type, a KISS Urn goes for $650.
KISS has also taken themselves to both the small and big screen, but be warned: you can't un-see either their 1978 TV movie KISS Meets The Phantom Of The Park or their 1999 feature film starring Edward Furlong and Natasha Lyonne, Detroit Rock City. There's been a KISS-branded NASCAR car, and there was at one point a "KISS Demon" character in the WWE. These days, they own an arena football team, the L.A. KISS. (Indeed, a few months back, they were in talks to sign Tim Tebow, and Gene Simmons told Radio.com why). To some, all of the above takes away from their music. Which is a criticism that marketing genius/former New York Nets co-owner Jay Z never seems to get hit with. More questions answered here.
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