From the Encyclopedia Britannica: PUNK, also known as punk rock, aggressive form of rock music that coalesced into an international (though predominantly Anglo-American) aesthetic / movement in 1975–80. Often politicized and full of vital energy beneath a sarcastic, hostile facade, punk spread as an ideology and an esthetic approach, becoming an archetype of teen rebellion and alienation”
Maybe rock history has it (relatively) wrong? No doubt staunch critics of KISS (IE ‘music critics’) will scoff at the suggestion that KISS were originally essentially a punk act. If so, perhaps the most influential one of all time, just a few years too early and simply too singular to be part of the traditional discussion.
Suspend your disbelief, the proof is in the pudding. Like the punks and every movement in rock, KISS created their own thing, their own look and their own sound. Both gravitated to shock value and, like the punks, KISS had zero shame, eventually drawing you in with their sheer will, devotion and spectacle.
Sure, if they ever were punk, they didn’t remain it for long and, sure, they were far from political, although the assertion that they wanted to “Rock & Roll All Nite & Party Everyday” left little for the establishment to condone or moms to embrace. And, yeah. of course they ultimately totally sold out in a way that is perhaps the very anti-thesis of a punk ethos that demands failure by definition. It was Johnny Lydon who summed up punk fatalism most succinctly in the Pistols’ “God Save The Queen” with the ever-enduring refrain” no future, no future, no future for you”.
Perhaps we miss the analogy just because KISS became way too successful to be remembered as punks? I submit that they may have been classified as something slightly other than classic rock had they folded in 1975 before ALIVE! saved them. Decked out originally in black leather, studs and white face, the bands presentation was as raw as a fist fight and far from glam or glamorous.
I came upon this surprisingly reasonable revelation the other evening while re-watching KISS’s 1974 performance on ABC In Concert w/ Dick Clark.
You had to be there, but somehow KISS were the band stateside to mega-articulate “fuck what the adults are telling you” to a generation waiting for something to happen.
KISSOLOGY Vol. 1.documents the heady times well, especially with the Paul & Gene commentary feature punched. It was the wild west back then and it is well-known the band and their crew acted like devil-may-care renegades as openers both on and off stage. Refusing to tone it down, KISS were bounced off tour after tour by pissed-off headliners for feathers ruffled and bruised egos. KISS took no prisoners save the audience. The early live footage speaks for itself Youtubers, KISS were freaks on a mission and like punk, KISS aimed to kick your teeth in one way or another.
Musically speaking, early KISS (esp. the first two ‘offerings’) was darker and considerably slower than the general attack that punk ‘musicians’ hurled over the pond a few years later. Start with tunes like “PARASITE”, “BLACK DIAMOND”, “DEUCE”, “WATCHIN’ YOU”, “100,000 YEARS”, “GOIN’ BLIND”, “STRANGE WAYS”, “HOTTER THAN HELL”, “STRUTTER” and “SHE” for a keen snapshot of their no frills urgent ballsy attitude rock & roll.
Don’t buy the usual pundits backwash folks: KISS really could play, no way it would have worked if they didn’t rock man. Check the tapes: it was happening.
It may be Ace Frehley’s “COLD GIN” that supports the argument best —- a tune about getting drunk just to keep warm and ‘keeping it together’ (lol.). Way ahead of its time and certainly an honest blue-collar concern. That’s what Ace and Peter Criss brought to the band; legit fast-trigger, gang-tested attitude from the streets of the Bronx & Brooklyn. But, for business acumen, Gene & Paul might have been the biggest punks in town. No needles, no violence, but more attitude than anyone in their way.
Just think about it: you would have to be punk of sorts to be in KISS at its inception. Making any sense? KISS as an Americana precursor to punk? It’s not that far-fetched my friends. Hell, look at the crowd on the back of KISS’s 1975 deal sealer ALIVE!….half the people in the crowd look like they are in The Ramones (or relatives of the Hanson brothers from Slapshot).
Described early on as ripoffs of everything from the New York Dolls to Alice Cooper to Humble Pie to Free to Slade to Led Zep to Cream to The Faces to The Who to Sabbath to Ziggy to Hendrix meets the Beatles but, make no mistake, KISS were punks at heart.
Alienation? KISS were aliens.
Teen rebellion? Check.
An aesthetic? Um (gulp)….yeah.
Hostile facade? Hell yeah!
Ideology? Keep It Simple Stupid.
Aggressive? What was your daughter’s name again?