Kiss, the self-titled debut LP from Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, Ace Frehley, and Peter Criss hit record stores on February 18, 1974. Three days later, the band taped a shot for late-night network TV music series (that aired in March) and the relationship between Kiss and television kicked off with a magnificent boob tube bang.
For Kiss, the media marriage of music and television makes ferocious sense, as no other band in rock history has more potently matched sounds and visuals—before or since.
With Halloween in the air, Kiss naturally works their way into both the music and video playlists of even non-fans. Here now is a roster of 14 killer Kiss TV spots, from the sublime (Kiss Unplugged) to the ridiculous (The Paul Lynde Halloween Special) to the sublimely ridiculous (check out #1).
Tune in, turn up, and rock-and-roll all night.
We just still can’t believe Peter Criss never got a proper cat food commercial!
Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade (2014)
It can’t be said that Kiss lip-synching along to “Rock and Roll All Nite” at the 88th Annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade went off without a hitch—in fact, during the brief TV time the group got, it seemed to snag every hitch possible along the way.
Still, for whatever awkwardness occurred, the ferocious foursome rock amidst giant cartoon character balloons and jam on a parade float that’s preceded by an army of high school cheerleaders shaking their pom-poms in full Kiss regalia.
MTV VMAs (1996)
Brooklyn boy Peter Criss returned to the borough of his roots when the reunited original Kiss lineup, in complete makeup, stormed through a 20-minute live set on September 4, 1996 for the MTV Video Music Awards.
In the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge, the band performs “Rock and Roll All Nite” for the broadcast while fireworks exploded over the New York harbor. Then, just for the gathered fans, they follow up with “New York Groove,” “Strutter,” “Calling Dr. Love,” and “Love Gun.”
With MTV still in its infancy and radio continuing to ignore the Hottest Band in the Land, Kiss hit TV hard to promote their affably insane 1981 concept album Music From “The Elder.”
Playing live on ABC’s late-night sketch comedy series Fridays, Kiss tears through “The Oath,” “A World Without Heroes,” and “I.” Everybody except new drummer Eric Carr also sports closer-cropped and/or pulled-back coifs. Paul accents his with a purple headband. It’s gross, but not entirely without charm (as some might say about The Elder).
American Idol (2009)
On the 2009 American Idol finale, glamtastic finalist Adam Lambert dons black leather (including wings), croons an abbreviated “Beth,” and then introduces Kiss. Together, they perform a medley of “Detroit Rock City” and “Rock and Roll All Nite” amidst a stage bursting with pyrotechnics. Paul even smashes his guitar.
Kiss returned to American Idol for the 2014 finale, where they jammed with contestant Caleb Johnson on “Love Gun” and “Shout It Out Loud.”
Solid Gold (1981)
Kiss continue their Music From The Elder blitzkrieg with a stop on the gloriously cheesy ’80s pop music countdown showcase, Solid Gold. The band convincingly pantomimes their way through “I.” Later on, funnyman Marty Cohen and bawdy puppet Madame sport their own Kiss-inspired makeup and finery to trade quips as they intro the “World Without Heroes” music video.
ABC in Concert (1974)
Kiss’s very first national TV appearance announces the group as rock’s flashiest future. The young and hungry foursome opens with the cheeky backdoor love anthem “Nothin’ to Lose” and close with the stark and searing teenage prostitution lament “Black Diamond.” In between, they burn up “Firehouse.”
As superstars three years later, Kiss guested on the In Concert offshoot Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert, where they rocked “I Want You,” “Hard Luck Woman,” and “Love ’Em and Leave ’Em.” The songs kick ass, of course, but, please, watch this clip for a blast of Don Kirshner’s signature hyper-charismatic intro.
The Midnight Special (1975)
TV funnyman Flip Wilson dons flamboyant cowboy gear to introduce Kiss on NBC’s wee-hour music showcase, The Midnight Special. The band electrifyingly rages on “Deuce,” “She,” and “Black Diamond.”
At least one rock journalist remembers catching this appearance when it first aired on April 1, 1975, and can state definitively that it was a moment that would forever mess up his life—in the greatest, most rocking ways possible. How about you?
Kiss guest starred on MADtv’s 1998 “Halloween Spooktacular,” portraying various wacked-out versions of themselves in a series of comedy sketches.
First, the fearsome foursome play live-size Kiss action figures in a parody toy commercial. It climaxes with a great Gene Simmons gross-out blood gag.
Family Guy (2001)
All four Kiss members have dropped by Family Guy in cartoon form two times, although only Gene and Paul provided their own voices. They first appear on 2001’s “A Very Special Family Guy Freakin’ Christmas,” where the band stars in the holiday film, Kiss Saves Santa, rescuing Kris Kringle from a pterodactyl (via the Kisscopter).
On 2002’s “Road to Europe,” when the KISS Stock festival comes to the Griffins’ hometown of Quahog, Rhode Island. That’s how we find out that young Lois Griffin dated Gene Simmons back when he was simply Chaim Witz.
The 2005 Family Guy episode “Don’t Make Me Over” boasts an outrageous Gene Simmons (solo) tongue gag.
In 2015, Kiss got animated anew in the direct-to-video kids’ movie, Scooby-Doo and Kiss: Rock and Roll Mystery.
MTV Unplugged: Kiss (1995)
Kiss’s MTV Unplugged special, taped on August 9, 1995, ranks high among the most pivotal moments in Kisstory. After fifteen years apart and an ocean of bad blood between them, Unplugged is where Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, Ace Frehley, and Peter Criss finally reunited on stage and pumped out a succession of smashes the original four titans had made classics.
The show starts with then-current Kiss members Bruce Kulick on guitar and Eric Singer on drums. Ace and Peter come out later, marking the only time the four original Kiss stars ever performed together without makeup. The six-strong Kiss plays brilliantly, with their acoustic all-hands takes on “Nothin’ to Lose” and “Rock and Roll All Night” booming with the power of 100 stadium shows.
Unplugged, of course, proved so creatively satisfying and pleased fans so enormously that Kiss Mach I suited up for a new album (Psycho Circus) and reunion tour. The bliss didn’t last forever, but when it did—oh, did those guys rock.
The Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon (1979)
For decades, The Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon to combat muscular dystrophy ran all day and night on Labor Day weekend.
Kiss dropped by in ’79 with a rock-solid message.
GENE: We’re here to fight a super menace—muscular dystrophy!
PETER: It takes a lotta powah to fight a problem that’s larger than life, so we’re calling on you!
PAUL: When this disease strikes, it’s good to know help is there. But the Muscular Dystrophy Association can’t give help, unless it gets help. Research and medical services cost a lot of money.
ACE: It takes a determined Army to win a fight this big. Please stand with us. Call and make a pledge right NOW!
Then they all point right at the camera.
Later on, Jerry introduces the music video for “Sure Know Something.”
Kids Are People Too (1980)
After drummer Peter Criss left Kiss, Gene, Ace, and Paul used the ABC Sunday morning youth series Kids Are People Too to introduce their new beat-keeper, Eric Carr.
Getting things off to an amusingly awkward start, appropriately named host Michael Young asks a preteen fan in the audience to name his or her (it’s really hard to tell) favorite Kiss member, and the he or she responds, “Peter Criss–uh, I mean, Ace Frehley!”
After a legitimately charming chat with the three originals, Young brings out, “The Fox—Eric Carr!”
Ace asks, “What do ya think, girls—is he a fox, aw what?!” They do think so.
The whole thing is foxin’ awesome.
The Mike Douglas Show (1974)
Genteel syndicated TV host Mike Douglas had Kiss in his Philadelphia studio on June 11, 1974. The band played Firehouse and, even more spectacularly, Gene Simmons did his first-ever television Q&A in full demonic God of Thunder mode.
Hulking and vamping as her took a chair alongside standup comedy legends Totie Fields and Robert Klein, Gene announces: “What I am is evil incarnate!” Snarling toward the audience and licking his lips (and how!), Gene adds: “Some of those cheeks and necks look really nice!”
Borscht Belt housewife comedian Totie Fields eventually says, “Wouldn’t it be funny if, underneath all this, he was just a nice Jewish boy?”
“You should only know,” Gene smilingly shoots back in his best Catskills accent.
“I do!” Totie zinged and, pointing at Gene’s nose, said, “You can’t hide the hook!”
Everyone erupts in laughter. You will, too.
Tomorrow with Tom Snyder (1979)
Erudite overnight NBC talk show host Tom Snyder sat down with numerous fascinating and provocative guests in the course of his eleven years hosting The Tomorrow Show. In 1979, Kiss proved to be among the all-time most colorful.
Well, at least Ace Frehley certainly did.
While Gene and Paul intelligently engage with Snyder to promote Dynasty, drunken Ace repeatedly stomps on the interview. The entire half hour is extremely funny, frequently uncomfortable, and it rightly became an instant legend.
In the event you enjoy watching the segment too much though, in 2012, Paul sounded off on how he still felt about it, saying: “It wasn’t that big of a fun time because you have to respect your position. You have to respect your job. You have to respect the people that you’re trying to communicate with. It may seem funny that somebody is drunk… but the fact is that the root of it was, I believe, a contempt and a lack of respect for the audience and the fans. So, sure. Can you look at it and chuckle? Yeah. I can, too, but I see deeper. And I look at it and say, what a shame to take this lofty position that somebody gave us and spit in it. Spit in its face. By showing up inebriated or unable to connect a sentence. It may be funny on the surface, but what’s below the surface is a lack of appreciation for a gift that you’ve been given.”
Still, watch the clip. Ace is a riot.
The Paul Lynde Halloween Special (1976)
The Paul Lynde Halloween Special made show business history—and, of course, KISStory—by not just inviting Kiss to joke with Hollywood Squares’ rainbow flag of a comedy genius, but also by featuring Margaret Hamilton in full green face, reprising her role as the Wicked Witch of the West for the first time since The Wizard of Oz (1939).
Also on hand are Billie Hayes, playing her Witchipoo part from H.R. Pufnstuff; Betty White; Florence Henderson; little person superstar Billy Barty; funnyman Tim Conway; Roz Kelly aka Pinky Tuscadero from Happy Days; and surprise guests Donny and Marie Osmond. Psychedelic kids show mavens Sid and Marty Krofft produced the extravaganza.
Kiss belts out “Detroit Rock City,” “Beth,” and “King of the Nigh Time World.” Lynde himself duets with Pinky Tuscadero on “Disco Baby,” a genderless revamp of the hit “Disco Lady.” Why do you think Paul Lynde didn’t want to sing about his passion for the ladies?
Kiss Action Figure Commercial (1978)
“Kiss! That’s the name!/Kiss! And they look insane!/Kiss! If rock’s your game!/It’s KISS!”
Corresponding roughly with the 1978 release of all four Kiss members’ solo albums, Mego expanded from specializing in Marvel and DC superhero toys to unleashing the first-ever official Kiss action figures.
Saturation ads for the dolls ran nonstop during kids’ programming and, to date, the commercial jingle is among TV’s all-time most fun to belt out.
Just remember: “Each 12-and-a-half inch figure sold separately.”
Kiss Unmasked on MTV (1983)
Ironically, Kiss kept their makeup on while promoting their 1980 LP, Unmasked. Then, on September 18, 1983, the fearsome foursome finally revealed their bald faces to the world via MTV.
VJ J.J. Jackson runs through the lineup from most recent member backward. We see each Kiss face in full paint, and then the images fades to the naked features staring straight into the camera while holding the same position as each photograph.
And thus they were revealed: The Ankh aka lead guitarist Vinnie Vincent; The Fox aka drummer Eric Carr; the Star Child, rhythm guitarist and frontman Paul Stanley; and the Demon, bassist and God of Thunder, Gene Simmons.
J.J. does a great interview (as he always did), and Kiss’s Lick It Up era semi-officially kicks off from there.
For Kiss Army troopers, it’s a moment as crucial as the first time you air-guitared to “Strutter.”
Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park (1978)
It is awful, it is wonderful, it is Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park (aka Kiss in Attack of the Phantoms and Kiss Phantoms). It is the perfect union of Kiss at their peak and cheeseball network programming, result
NBC premiered the feature-length KMTPOTP as a Halloween special on October 28, 1979. Come the next morning, the Kiss Army’s little kid battalions had swollen by millions.
Every moment of KMTPOTP is fantastically terrible fun, from the opening credits (in which all four members fly around Magic Mountain amusement park in bumper cars) to the big climactic fight screen (in which good, real Kiss battles hand-to-hand with evil, robotic Kiss).
There’s also Hollywood bad guy Anthony Zerbe (The Omega Man) as a mad scientist, each member of Kiss revealing his magic powers through New Yawk accents that should require subtitles, and Ace Frehley’s African-American stunt double donning the Space Man makeup himself and subbing for the guitarist on screen after Ace ditched the set.
Extremely lucky audiences overseas got to (pay to) see Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park in bona fide movie theaters!