Is KISS a band?
Of course, the answer is yes. But there is also much more to the idea.
KISS is a business, a retailer, a logo, a group of men who face paint, a comic book in real life, a movement, and, in many ways, a lifestyle.
In other words, the group is as much a band as it is a brand and a money-making machine.
Below, we’ll get into the history of all of that. But first, a song:
KISS is an American rock band formed in New York City in 1973. The group was started by Paul Stanley, Gene Simmons, Ace Frehley, and Peter Criss. Even if you don’t know any of their music, their faces and black-and-white face paint are likely as recognizable as the midday sun.
The group rose to fame beginning in the late 1970s with its shocking stage performances (including fire breathing and other pyrotechnics), smoking guitars, blood-spitting, rockets, levitating drum kits, and much more.
Though the band’s lineup has evolved over time, the core four members of the band—Ace Frehley, Paul Stanley, Gene Simmons, and Peter Criss—all have nicknames. For Stanley, he’s known as Starchild. Simmons is known as the Demon. Frehley is known as either the Spaceman or Space Ace and Criss is Catman.
In September of 2018, KISS announced that, after nearly 50 years of recording and performing, the band would head out on its final tour, dubbed the “End of the Road World Tour.” That string of dates kicked off in 2019 but went on hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing lockdown, which began in 2020. The band’s final tour is slated to conclude this year in 2022.
But whether that tour will end as expected is another matter. KISS is one of the most influential rock bands of all time, largely because it is also one of the best-selling rock bands of all time. The group’s business savvy is second to none and may result in more dates down the line if fans demand them.
In total, the band has sold more than 100 million records. They have 30 Gold albums, which is the most of any band in the United States. They also have 14 Platinum albums, three of which have been certified multi-platinum. The band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2014.
The origins of KISS have roots in the band Wicked Lester. That group, which was also founded in New York City, was led by Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley. The group, though, only recorded one album and played only a handful of live shows. Simmons and Stanley dropped Wicked Lester in 1972 to begin a new group.
After the dissolution of Wicked Lester, Simmons and Stanley saw an ad in Rolling Stone from Peter Criss, a drummer in the Big Apple who was looking for new bandmates. The two met Criss in a nightclub where he was playing drums. After hearing him sing, the two knew he was their guy. In early 1973, the trio added guitarist Ace Frehley.
The Name: KISS
According to legend, it was Paul Stanley who came up with the band name. It occurred to him one day when he, Simmons, and Criss were driving around New York. Criss said he’d been in a band called “Lips,” so, the story goes, Stanley said something like, “What about Kiss?” Not long after, Frehley created the now-well-known logo making the ending “SS” resemble lightning bolts.
He wrote the logo over a poster that had the name “Wicked Lester” on it outside a club where the group was slated to play. (Wicked Lester also used a lightning bolt in its name for the “S.”) Later, Stanley wrote the logo out with a Sharpie and a ruler and accidentally drew the two S’s nonparallel having done the image shorthand by eye. When asked if he wanted to keep it that way, he said: “It got us this far, let’s leave well enough alone. Our number one rule has always been no rules.”
According to some, the letters in the KISS logo looked similar to the Nazi SS insignia, which was a symbol that is now outlawed in Germany. However, Simmons and Stanley, who are both Jewish, have denied this association or any intentional likeness. Though, ever since 1979, most of the band’s album covers and merch in Germany have used a different logo. And that different logo is also used for products sold in Austria, Switzerland, Lithuania, Hungary, and Israel.
The band’s name has often been thought that it might be an acronym for something nefarious. Rumors have swirled that it may stand for “Knights in Satan’s Service” or “Kinder SS” or “Kids in Satan’s Service.” Though the band members have denied all these associations.
While the band is getting to the “end of the road,” their image, music, and antics will likely live way past any of the band members. With the face paint, pyrotechnics, and the inedible name KISS, the group is timeless.
Kiss cover art: Ken Kelly