Loved by millions of fans and main subjects of hundreds of portrait tattoos, after ‘Love Gun’ album came very hard times for these New York legends…
It was 1976 and another over the top year for Kiss, the band with the artful make-up and formed by Paul Stanley, Gene Simmons, Ace Frehley and Peter Criss. Inspired by their first, real blockbuster (the double live album ‘Alive‘ which came out in September ’75), the four Americans recorded not one but two albums which would make their mark.
The first one would become their collection of trademark songs: ‘Destroyer‘, produced by Bob Ezrin, was an LP full of hits like ‘Detroit Rock City’, ‘God of Thunder’, ‘Shout it out loud’, ‘Do you love me’ and even a little symphonic ballad (‘Beth’) which would pay the bills for Criss for the rest of his life.
In March ’76 Kiss were back in studios and this time came out with ‘Rock and Roll Over‘, their fifth album. It favoured a more sophisticated sound (just listen to the country of ‘Hard luck woman’ or the frenetic riffs on ‘Calling Dr. Love‘) which today, we wouldn’t hesitate to label classic rock. These two albums hit the mark, producing a social phenomenon which is still being studied in 2018.
The last 100% Kiss record (where all four members were active in the creation of the music) came out on June 30th 1977 and was their defining masterpiece. ‘Love Gun‘ offered to fans some real gems polished (‘I stole your love’, ‘Christine sixteen’, ‘Plaster caster’ and the immortal title track) and destined to pass the test of time, included ‘Shock me’ that was the first Kiss track where Ace Frehley took control of the microphone too. The pre-sales alone were enough to make ‘Love Gun‘ go platinum, selling over a million copies. And this swelled the already oversized egos of Kiss and thus marked the beginning of the end for the historic line-up.
Their record label (Casablanca Records) was only looking for one new album by the end of 1979 (in 1978 there were already plans for a Greatest Hits called ‘Double Platinum‘) but the group had other ideas. «What we need is more artistic freedom and money. So we’re going to make four solo albums, one each, and bring them all out on the same day: September 8th 1978», this was the great revolutionary idea.
It was a decision as naive as it was predictable: if ‘Love Gun’ had sold a million, in this case sales were bound to be four times that many. Right. Pity that their vast audience of under 16s fans saw them as cartoon characters and so each of these little American kids would go out and buy the record by their particular favourite member of the band, ignoring the other three. If you love the Thing, after all, it doesn’t mean you’re also a hardcore fan of the Human Torch or Mister Fantastic.
And that is precisely how it went. The four solo albums, ‘Gene Simmons‘ (the most pop sounding of the lot), ‘Paul Stanley‘ (the one that sounded most Kiss-oriented), ‘Ace Frehley‘ (the most successful thanks to the single ‘New York groove’) and ‘Peter Criss‘ (the soppiest of all and the least Kiss) came flooding back into the warehouses of Casablanca, unsold and unloved. in the wake of that colossal flop, the split could not be mended. So in the aftermath the band just slowly fell apart.
On ‘Dynasty‘ album, which came out in 1979, and ‘Unmasked‘ (1980), Peter Criss played little or nothing and the drummer was eventually kicked out of the band. Ace Frehley, who was much more popular, managed to hang on in there till the hourglass ran out in 1982. Since then, total artistic and commercial control of Kiss has been in the hands of the two businessmen, Stanley & Simmons. And still it is until today.