Kiss may not be the most respected, nor even the most musically accomplished among rock’s best-selling recording artists, but they might just be the most iconic and, in their own way, influential bands (and brands) in history. Still, despite their signature makeup, flashy wardrobe, and meticulously orchestrated on-stage extravaganzas, Kiss initially struggled to gain commercial traction during the first half of the '70s. But their dedicated touring regimen duly paid off with the platinum breakthrough of 1975’s ‘Alive,’ which, along with numerous subsequent studio triumphs, transformed band members Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, Ace Frehley and Peter Criss into universal masked celebrities, verging on superheroes in the eyes of impressionable young fans by 1978. But just as suddenly, growing internal strife, dwindling musical inspiration, and sheer overexposure (a result of their aggressive merchandising tactics) knocked Kiss off their lofty pedestal and left them struggling to remain relevant as the '80s got under way. As a last resort, Kiss abandoned their signature makeup with 1983’s ‘Lick it Up’ and thus managed to align themselves with the legion of hair metal bands dominating the period — many of whom had cut their teeth on their records and especially Ace Frehley’s straightforward solos, before graduating to the virtuoso examples of Edward Van Halen or Randy Rhoads. And, like all of those bands, Kiss too endured the grunge era’s vicious backlash, by which time the core duo of Simmons and Stanley were themselves at odds about Kiss’ creative direction, while long-serving drummer Eric Carr faced a rare form of cancer that would eventually kill him in 1991. So, after attempting to fit in with the flannel flyers via 1992’s rather decent ‘Revenge’ LP, Simmons and Stanley got to work orchestrating a rekindling of their long-broken relationship with founding members Frehley and Criss for what would turn into a full-scale reunion — in makeup — including extensive late ‘90s tours and 1998’s ‘Psycho Circus’ LP. Both Criss and Frehley eventually fell afoul of their bandmates/taskmasters yet again, but that has in no way stopped or even slowed down the Kiss marketing machine. Instead, Criss and Frehley’s instantly recognizable makeup designs were simply applied to new members Eric Singer (drums) and Tommy Thayer (guitar) and Kiss has continued to perform before millions of fans, too young (or, in some cases, over it) to care — thus proving that the four characters devised long ago are truly bigger than the men who wear them.
- Selected Discography: ‘Kiss’ (1974), ‘Alive’ (1975), ‘Destroyer’ (1976), ‘Love Gun’ (1977), ‘Creatures of the Night’ (1982)
- Related Artists: Alice Cooper, Aerosmith, AC/DC, Led Zeppelin
- Further Reading: Best Kiss Guitarist – Readers Poll, Top 50 Hard Rock + Metal Guitarists of All-Time