Faces painted in black and white to define their characters, KISS has always put on a stage show that is pure rock ‘n’ roll spectacle. From the pyrotechnics and the levitating drum kit to Ace Frehley’s smoking guitars and Gene Simmons spitting blood and breathing fire, KISS was never boring live. Starting up in 1973, the classic KISS lineup included Simmons, Frehley, Paul Stanley and Peter Criss, the “Catman.” With Simmons playing the “Demon,” Stanley the “Starchild” and Frehley the “Spaceman,” this incarnation of KISS stayed together until 1980. Stanley and Simmons were first in a band called Wicked Lester, which recorded one album. Feeling that they needed to play a rougher brand of hard rock, the pair saw an ad in Rolling Stone placed by Criss in 1972 and auditioned him for Wicked Lester. They also began experimenting with their makeup and outfits, and welcomed Frehley into the band in 1973. Soon after, they adopted the name KISS. Never shy about seeking publicity, word spread about their concert antics, but their first album, KISS, sold only 75,000 copies. Hotter than Hell was released in ’74, but it, too, was a disappointment commercially, as was ‘75’s Dressed to Kill, even though that record included the signature KISS anthem “Rock and Roll All Nite.” As a live act, however, KISS was a breakout success, and with their record label, Columbia, struggling financially, the two parties decided to put out a double concert album. Alive! was a massive hit, as the live version of “Rock and Roll All Nite” became their first Top 40 smash. Destroyer followed, but initially, it wasn’t going anywhere, until “Beth” – a b-side to “Detroit Rock City” – began to get some attention, breaking into the Top Ten. KISS began to take off, as albums like 1976’s Rock and Roll Over, 1977’s Love Gun and a second live album, ‘77’s Alive II all went platinum. All four members released solo albums in 1978, and by 1982, Criss and Frehley were out of the band. In the ‘80s, KISS carried on with new members, even removing their makeup for a time, and then in the ‘90s, the original members reunited. It wouldn’t last, and these days, only Simmons and Stanley remain as founding members. Meanwhile, KISS produced tons of merchandise and toys; the stuff is highly collectible these days. Retro concert t-shirts, tickets, posters, backstage passes and pins, along with promotional photos, are relatively inexpensive collectibles. Stage-worn clothing and used instruments, especially those with authenticated autographs, will command big prices.
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