Unmasked by Kiss proved to be a milestone for the band in a number of ways— not all of them positive, but all them positively important in the Kiss-story of the hottest band in the land.
Fans snatched up Unmasked immediately, but many turned away after a few listens, loudly griping about Kiss venturing too far away from their usual sonic territory. Then again, other listeners loved Unmasked and have continued to champion it for these 35 years, turning its reputation from “misfire” to “surefire.” No matter what, Unmasked has proven to be an essential piece of Kiss’s ongoing conquest of rock.
To celebrate the 35th anniversary of Unmasked by Kiss, let’s take a run through these 35 facts regarding both the album and the band. Then please add some more in the comments section—because Kiss is one subject about which we’ll never get tired of reading, writing, talking, and/or rocking.
1. Unmasked is the final Kiss album to feature all four members of the band’s original lineup (prior to the group’s mid-’90s reunion): Gene Simmons on bass, Paul Stanley on rhythm guitar, Ace Frehley on lead guitar, and Peter Criss on drums—sort of (meaning that’s he’s officially credited on the record, BUT…).
2. Peter Criss, in fact, participated minimally (if at all) in the recording of Unmasked. Session musician Anton Fig actually laid down the album’s drum parts.
3. For the 1979 Kiss LP Dynasty, Anton Fig played drums on every song except “Dirty Livin’,” a Peter Criss composition on which the Cat-Man also sings lead.
4. The Anton Fig-Kiss connection continued when he went on to play drums for Ace Frehley’s solo project, Frehley’s Comet, from 1984 to 1987.
5. Even with all his Kiss cred, though, Anton Fig is still best known as the drummer for Paul Shaffer’s band on Late Show With David Letterman. He first joined the group in its 1986 incarnation on NBC as Late Night With David Letterman. On occasions when Shaffer has to sit out a taping, Fig steps up as bandleader.
6. The music video for “Shandi,” the lead single from Unmasked, features Peter Criss in his last appearance with his bandmates for fifteen years.
7. Kiss played a one-night gig at New York City’s Palladium on July 25, 1980 to officially introduce drummer Eric Carr as Peter Criss’s replacement. He wore full face makeup as a new character, the Fox.
8. The rest of the world first got to see Carr play with Kiss when they performed “Talk to Me” and “She’s So European” on a German TV show.
9. Unmasked hit #35 on the Billboard albums chart and fairly rapidly earned gold status, selling a half-million copies.
10. In the U.S., the strong initial numbers racked up by Unmasked nosedived fast, breaking the platinum streak Kiss had been on with Alive, Destroyer, Rock and Roll Over, Love Gun, Alive II, and Dynasty. As a result, Unmasked was the first Kiss album to stall at gold sales since 1975’s Dressed to Kill.
11. Worldwide, Unmasked proved to be a substantial success on par with Kiss’s biggest efforts to date, particularly in Australia and New Zealand.
12. As a result of their shifting fan base at the dawn of the ’80s, the Unmasked Tour remains the only Kiss promo journey to bypass the group’s home country (except for the one-off in New York). Instead, the tour traveled through Europe, Australia, and New Zealand.
13. Among Kiss’s opening acts on the Unmasked Tour was an upstart heavy metal outfit from England named Iron Maiden.
14. In Norway, on their final night playing with Iron Maiden, Kiss took the stage early and bombarded the upcoming metal superstars with congratulatory cake.
15. The Unmasked Tour stop in Auckland, New Zealand, on December 3, 1980 marked the final (pre-reunion) concert performance of Ace Frehley with Kiss. Ace appeared on TV with the band a few more times over the next couple of years, but his touring days were over. For 1982’s Creatures of the Night trek, new guitarist Vinnie Vincent hit the road with Gene, Paul, and Eric Carr.
16. Before rolling into Germany, Kiss altered their famous name logo that ends with a pair of lightning bolts, as they took a bit of heat for the final two letters resembling (to some) a Nazi “SS” insignia.
17. The group’s September 2, 1980 show in Milan, Italy had to be halted for a half-hour when a left-wing terrorist group stormed the stage and tossed a Molotov cocktail toward the band. Fortunately, the makeshift gasoline bomb landed softly and didn’t go off, as Kiss’s stage surface was light and spongy, in order to more easily enable the band members to move around in their giant platform boots. A quick-responding roadie tech in charge of dry ice was able to quickly extinguish the projectile’s flames.
18. The packaging of Unmasked is arguably even better known than a lot of the album’s songs. The instantly iconic comic-book-style imagery on the cover, which also appears on a souvenir poster that came with the record, is the work of Brooklyn artist Victor Stabin.
19. Among Victor Stabin’s best-known non-Kiss efforts are a series of beautiful portrait stamps saluting great American scientists for the U.S. Postal Service, an “eco-surrealist” painting collection known as “The Turtle Series,” and the book Daedel Doodle, which is used as a teaching tool for art students worldwide.
20. Victor Stabin’s original artwork for Unmasked sold at auction for $14,000.
21. The single “Shandi” hit especially big in Australia, where it peaked at #5 on the pop charts. As a result, Kiss still performs the song any time they play Down Under.
22. “Shandi” is credited to Kiss, but it’s actually more of a Paul Stanley solo work. The Star Child not only co-wrote the song and plays guitar and sings lead on it, he was the only actual Kiss member involved in its recording. Backing instrumentation came from Anton Fig on drums, Holly Knight on keyboards, and Kiss roadie Tom Harper handling bass duties. Producer and co-writer Vini Poncia supplies back-up vocals.
23. Paul Stanley says his inspiration for Shandi was hearing the Hollies’ version of Bruce Springsteen’s “4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy).”
25. “Talk to Me” was released as the second single from Unmasked overseas. It became a pop hit in Australia, Germany, and the Netherlands, although the song’s biggest success happened in Switzerland, where it charted at #10.
26. Gene and Paul had wanted Unmasked to be a pop-rock album. Ace did not. Alas, with Peter Criss out of commission, the Demon and the Star Child outvoted the Space Ace repeatedly on the record’s conception and musical direction. As a result, Ace Frehley songs on Unmasked represent the record’s hardest and heaviest elements.
27. Due to escalating tensions, Gene Simmons did not play bass on any of the Ace songs. Instead, Ace handled four-string duties in addition to playing guitars and singing lead.
28. Another issue on which Gene and Paul ruled against Ace was the firing of Peter Criss upon the completion of Unmasked. As Ace Frehley writes in his memoir, No Regrets: “Technically, Unmasked was the last studio album to feature the original lineup. I don’t believe Peter really wanted to leave the band, but Paul and Gene were dead set on replacing him. I wanted to give him another chance, but my hands were tied. I was outvoted and the decision was made to move forward without him, so I accepted that decision reluctantly.”
29. Vini Poncia, who produced Unmasked and co-wrote almost all of its tracks, rose to prominence in the 1970s for his work on Ringo Starr’s solo albums.
30. Poncia had previously produced Peter Criss’s 1978 self-titled solo album, and the 1979 Kiss LP, Dynasty.
31. After Unmasked, Poncia produced the 1982 Peter Criss album Let Me Rock You, which wasn’t released in the United States until 1998.
32. Kiss’s 1989 smash Hot in the Shade features five songs co-written by Vini Poncia.
33. “Is That You?,” the opening track on Unmasked, was written by Gerard McMahon. As a solo artist, McMahon’s most popular effort has been “Cry Little Sister,” an oddball #15 pop hit in 1987 from the soundtrack of the cult vampire film, The Lost Boys. “Cry Little Sister” is a spooky dark-wave number that features a children’s chorus singing the biblical Ten Commandments. Artists who have covered “Cry Little Sister” include Charlie Sexton, LA Guns3, and Tangerine Dream.
34. International heavy metal singing sensation Jørn Lande covers the Unmasked song “Naked City” on his 2007 LP, Unlocking the Past.
35. Not everybody is a fan of Unmasked. In the 2005 book Kiss: Behind the Mask, Paul Stanley states: “Unmasked? I would give that one star. A song like “Tomorrow” is really a great song, but I think Unmasked is a pretty crappy album. It’s wimpy. A lot of those songs started out much ballsier, and much more rock’n’ rolly. Somehow they lost something on their way to vinyl.”