As most KISS fans know, the beginning of KISS can be traced back to a short-lived band called WICKED LESTER, co-founded by Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley. Determined to create something bigger, more visual and exciting, they decided to strike out on their own and form a new band. Upon discovering an ad in Rolling Stone placed by a drummer “willing to do anything to make it,” the duo became a trio with the addition of Peter Criss. Not long after, with the addition of Ace Frehley, the sound was rounded out and the band was renamed KISS. In January of 1973, they played their first show at Popcorn, a club in Queens, NY (later renamed Coventry) known for acts like The New York Dolls, Teenage Lust and Wayne County. In June of the same year, KISS recorded a five-track demo with Eddie Kramer, known for his work with The Kinks, Sammy Davis Jr. and of course, the Beatles, among many others. The demo struck a chord with Neil Bogart and KISS became the very first band signed to his fledgling company, Casablanca Records. Later that year, KISS began recording their first studio album which was then quickly released on February 18, 1974. One notable thing about the cover of the first album is a different and overly-elaborate version of The Catman makeup, as Peter allowed a makeup artist to apply it for the photo shoot. This was the only time Peter was ever seen with this design.
This album, top to bottom, could literally be released today as a greatest hits collection. From the opening track “Strutter” to “Deuce,” from “Firehouse,” “Cold Gin,” and “100,000 Years” all the way to “Black Diamond,” there are absolutely no throwaway or filler songs to be found. You'd be hard pressed to search the entire KISS live show archive and not find about half of this album performed on any given night, no matter the era. Further proving the point, seven of the album's initial nine songs appear on ALIVE!, their first live album comprised of tracks from the first three studio records.
Neil Bogart had the cover of Bobby Rydell's song “Kissin' Time” added to the re-release of the album later that same year, in an attempt to help the album launch to new heights with what he hoped would be a hit single. Slightly reworked lyrics better suited to KISS were applied, but the song always seemed a little out of place on the album. It didn't become the smash Bogart had hoped for and never charted higher than number 83 on the US Pop Charts for the band.
To put into perspective the musical landscape around the time the world was first introduced to KISS, the prior year, Black Sabbath released SABBATH BLOODY SABBATH and Alice Cooper released BILLION DOLLAR BABIES. The musical tide was turning. It seemed this was the perfect time for KISS to be heard. But for whatever reason, upon its initial release, the album's sales were lukewarm at best. Then about a year and a half later with the the aforementioned live album ALIVE!, KISS started to take off like a rocket. Hearing KISS live gave the songs a larger-than-life feel they deserved and people really started to catch on, even if they'd never seen the band live and witnessed the spectacle that was and is KISS. The first album, along with HOTTER THAN HELL and DRESSED TO KILL, were repackaged and re-released as THE ORIGINALS and all three of the first albums were granted a new lease on life.
While the studio recordings themselves may not be as bombastic as their ALIVE! counterparts, overall the first album is as solid as any groundwork any band has ever laid for a musical career. Those early, raw, maybe even simple songs like “Deuce” and “Black Diamond” are every bit as powerful as their call-to-arms anthem, “Rock and Roll All Night,”or more musically elaborate classics like “Detroit Rock City.” The songs on this album showcased a raw, hungry KISS at the top of its game, ready to prove something to the world.