Easily identified by its members' face paint and flamboyant stage outfits, the group rose to prominence in the mid to late 1970s on the basis of their elaborate live performances, which featured fire breathing, blood spitting, smoking guitars, shooting rockets, levitating drum kits and pyrotechnics. Kiss has been awarded 24 gold albums to date. The band has sold more than 40 million albums in the United States, of which 19 million have been certified by the RIAA, and their worldwide sales exceeds 100 million albums.
Kiss trace their roots to Wicked Lester (2), a New York City-based rock and roll band led by co-founders Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley. Wicked Lester, with its eclectic mixture of musical styles, never achieved any success. They recorded one album, which was shelved by Epic Records, and played a handful of live shows. Simmons and Stanley, feeling that a new musical direction was needed, abandoned Wicked Lester in 1972 and began forming a new group.
In late 1972, Simmons and Stanley came across an ad in the East Coast version of Rolling Stone placed by Peter Criss, a veteran drummer from the New York club scene, who was previously in bands called Lips and Chelsea. Criss auditioned for and joined the new version of Wicked Lester. The trio focused on a much harder style of rock than Wicked Lester played. Inspired by the theatrics of Alice Cooper and the New York Dolls, they also began experimenting with their image by wearing makeup and various outfits.
In early January 1973, the group added lead guitarist Ace Frehley who impressed the group on his first audition, where he showed up wearing two different sneakers, one red and one orange. A few weeks after Frehley joined, the Wicked Lester name was dropped and the band became Kiss.
The 1973–80 lineup of Paul Stanley (vocals and rhythm guitar), Gene Simmons (vocals and bass guitar), Ace Frehley (lead guitar and vocals), and Peter Criss (drums, percussion and vocals) is the most successful and identifiable. With their makeup and costumes, they took on the personas of comic book-style characters: Starchild (Stanley), The Demon (Simmons), Spaceman or Space Ace (Frehley), and Catman (Criss). The band explains that the fans were the ones who ultimately chose their makeup designs. Paul Stanley became the "Starchild" because of his tendency to be referred to as the "starry-eyed lover" and "hopeless romantic." The "Demon" makeup reflected Simmons's cynicism and dark sense of humor, as well as his affection for comic books. Ace Frehley's "Spaceman" makeup was a reflection of his fondness for science fiction and supposedly being from another planet. Peter Criss's "Catman" makeup was in accordance with the belief that Criss had nine lives because of his rough childhood in Brooklyn. Because of creative differences, both Criss and Frehley left the group by 1982. The band's commercial fortunes also waned considerably by that point.
Buoyed by a wave of Kiss nostalgia in the 1990s, the band announced a reunion of the original lineup (with makeup) in 1996. The resulting Kiss Alive/Worldwide/Lost Cities/Reunion Tour was the top-grossing act of 1996 and 1997. Criss and Frehley have since left Kiss again and have been replaced by Eric Singer and Tommy Thayer, respectively. The band continues to perform with makeup, while Stanley and Simmons have remained the only two constant members.
Kiss has been named on many lists. They include Number 10 on VH1's "100 Greatest Artists of Hard Rock", 9th on "The Greatest Metal Bands" list by MTV, #1 on Hit Paraders's "Top 100 Live Bands", 56th on VH1's "100 Greatest Artists Of All Time" and 2nd on Digital Dream Door's "Best Hair Metal Bands".
Kiss was nominated for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, ten years after becoming eligible. However, on December 15, 2009 it was announced that Kiss did not make it in.
The band's name – which is often spelled in all capital letters – has been rumored to have many secret meanings, among them an acronym for "Knights In Satan's Service" and "Kids In Satan's Service".
Because of the ambiguity in the distinction between "hard rock" and "heavy metal", Kiss' music has always been labeled one or the other. But shortly after the band's formation, critics called them "thunderockers". They also experimented in the disco/pop (Dynasty, Unmasked), art rock (Music from "The Elder") and grunge (Carnival of Souls: The Final Sessions) styles. Their music is described by Allmusic as "a commercially potent mix of anthemic, fist-pounding hard rock, driven by sleek hooks and ballads powered by loud guitars, cloying melodies, and sweeping strings. It was a sound that laid the groundwork for both arena rock and the pop-metal that dominated rock in the late 80s."