Kiss, one of the biggest band’s of the 1970’s, and arguably one of the biggest bands ever, has always been a bit of an enigma to me. I bring this up because I heard a Kiss song on Ozzy’s Boneyard, an XM radio station, last night on my way home from a night class that I am taking, and it just got me thinking a bit about these monsters of rock.
Like I said, Kiss was absolutely huge in the 1970’s, I mean think about this for a second, this band had their own lunchboxes, dolls, pinball machines, and countless other knick-knacks, and no other huge band of that era appeared to have such strong merchandising – not Led Zeppelin, not the Beatles (though the Beatles weren’t exactly of that era), not Black Sabbath, not AC/DC, none of them. In fact, it could be argued, that such a strong merchandising blitz wasn’t seen of a similar magnitude until the advent of the whole New Kids on the Block, and the subsequent ad nauseam, mass produced, Disney, Pop acts that continue to this day. I’m not saying that the merchandising is a bad thing, quite the contrary, however the merchandising is a part of what has made Kiss kind of enigmatic to me; which I will now try and explain.
It was the late 1970’s, and I was in first grade, this is when I saw my first Kiss lunchbox. So, here’s this 6-7 years old little boy, with his plastic Peanuts lunchbox, and across the lunchroom is a kid sitting there with a metal lunchbox covered with these guys with their faces painted in kind of a sinister (for the era) like fashion, dressed in a kind of sinister (for the era) fashion, and, when I was told that they were a rock band, I thought something to the effect that they must be pretty dangerous. That thought stuck with me for years. As my familiarity of music grew, there was one constant that stuck with me, Kiss must be dangerous, hard, heavy; as such, I thought there would be no way I would like their music (remember this was back in the day when many rock and roll bands [including Kiss] were considered to be satanic) so I never actively sought to hear anything by them. I mean if you simply based Kiss upon their appearance, they looked like the 1970’s version of what Slipknot looks like today; but that’s the end of the similarities between those two bands.
Fast forward to the 6th grade, I am now 12/13 years old, it is now the mid 1980’s, and I am a fan of Van Halen, Quiet Riot, Billy Idol, with a burgeoning interest in the now disbanded Led Zeppelin, somewhat heavier music for sure, it was also the era when MTV actually played music videos, and Kiss premiered their new look, sans face paint, also sans original members Ace Frehley and Peter Criss, with the titular track of their new look/new line-up album, Lick it Up:
With some anticipation, I watched that video, not quite knowing what to expect – again because I thought Kiss must be some hard rock band, based simply upon that very early impression their look made on me – and when I heard “Lick it Up,” I thought, “What, that’s it? What the hell have I been thinking all these years?”
As I got older, and heard more and more Kiss songs, particularly the songs from their 1970’s hey day, songs like “Detroit Rock City,” “I Love it Loud, “I Was Made For Loving You,” and of course “I Wanna Rock & Roll All Night,” I simply found that their sound belies their look, which is where my enigmatic view of this hugely successful band took root. Here’s a band that, I thought, looked like they must be the hardest, heaviest, and most dangerous band of their day, and well, quite honestly they weren’t even close to being that. In a bit of irony though, as I deliberately steered clear of Kiss because of my mistaken impression of them, I became a fan in some fashion or another of bands that were/are decidedly heavier, harder, and maybe even more dangerous than Kiss. Bands like Motley Crue (particularly their album “Shout at the Devil”), AC/DC (contemporaries of Kiss), Black Sabbath, Metallica, Guns ‘N Roses, Korn, Pantera, Anthrax, and of course, one of my all time favorites, Led Zeppelin (whose sound is tame by today’s standards too).
There is no real point here, other than (I suppose) don’t judge a book by its cover. I am not saying Kiss isn’t/wasn’t good; their record sales, concert sell-outs, and massive merchandising sales would show that, if I were to dare make such an argument (which I am not), I would definitely be in the minority of such an opinion. To me, and this is just my opinion here, Kiss’ music is feel good, party rock, plain and simple; which definitely isn’t a bad thing whatsoever. There’s no pretense in their music, no attempt to make some deep and profound statement, Kiss just wants us to “rock and roll all night, and party everyday;” they just looked like they might have wanted more.