Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Nothin' to Lose: The Making of KISS 1972-1975

This is the third KISS-related review that I've produced for this blog and probably the most enjoyable book of the three. While the first two were Ace Frehley and Peter Criss memoirs (while Paul Stanley's is on the way) this one is a huge oral history focusing on 1972 - 1975, the first four years of KISS's existence. Ken Sharp has done an excellent job at pulling together a variety of voices into this massive tome.

KISS emerged out of the same 1970s music scene that produced the New York Dolls, though despite playing together and wearing makeup and colorful clothing the two bands had almost nothing in common musically. As far as music critics were concerned, the New York Dolls were the band to love. But KISS, with its outrageous stage show that included fire breathing and pyrotechnics, started to accumulate a massive fan base for its live shows over its first two years of existence. The commitment that KISS showed to its show and its makeup are one of the things that really stands out in this book. Even from the earliest days playing in front of a few hundred fans, KISS never let people see them without their makeup on. They felt they had an image to maintain and wanted to stay mysterious.

Eventually KISS was the first band signed to fledgling Casablanca records, a label set up by Neil Bogart, a former head of Buddah Records. KISS's reputation as a live band preceded them and they often found themselves being kicked off of tours by more well-known bands because of their ability to upstage the headliners. However, despite their abiliy to bring fans in to live shows they remained critically despised, their first three albums barely sold and they were hardly ever played on the radio. Their manager Bill Aucoin had to pay for one of their tours with his American Express card since they were in such dire straits financially. It wasn't until the massive success of KISS Alive!, which was finally able to capture their live sound on vinyl, that they were launched into the stratosphere of successful bands.

This book does a great job at collecting the voices of the bands that toured with KISS, and while many of them disagree on the quality of the music produced, most of them respected KISS for their ability to put on a show that the fans could remember. Probably most striking for me are the examples throughout this book of KISS's ability to connect with fans (the chapter on their adoption of the Cadillac, Michigan high school football team is a particularly nice example that I had been unaware of) and their support of the bands that eventually opened for them on tour. They certainly had musically rivalries (Aerosmith being one of the big ones) but most of the other bands contributing to the book have nothing but compliments about the way that they were treated by the members of KISS.

While KISS's rise was fast it certainly was not easy, and they worked hard to become the massive success that they are now. This book does an excellent job at showing how they were able to rise from playing in a tiny Long Island bar to selling out Detroit's Cobo Arena, which became their first major concert conquest. The book is certainly long and exhausting but it is also filled with tons of great pictures of the guys in the early years. I will say that despite the great collection of important people from that history of the band it does (not entirely surprisingly) focus most on the band members Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons and doesn't have much from Peter Criss and Ace Frehley, though their memoirs cover this void. I recommend this to any reader who enjoys rock n' rolling all night and partying every day!

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