Before the Kiss fan base became juvenile dominated in the second half of the 1970s, the band – still without hit records – were very much rock ‘n’ roll outlaws, albeit very ambitious ones. Their unpolished sound, basic playing skills and outrageous image actually made them more punk than many a punk act who would follow them a few years later, and the band were part of that sleazy early 1970s New York glam rock and wild sex scene as much as the New York Dolls.
The band’s second album, Hotter Than Hell, is noted for the Japanese-flavoured artwork and writing that led many fans to believe, incorrectly, that the album had been recorded in that country. Less discussed were the back cover images of the band members, even though a couple – featuring guitarist/singer Paul Stanley and drummer Peter Criss – hinted at the sort of sexual antics that we all assume 1970s rock bands were getting up to all the time.
As it turns out, the photo shoot that spawned these images really was a somewhat spontaneous bacchanalian orgy. Photographer Norman Seeff seems to have encouraged wild decadence from the band and a bunch of wildly costumed, body-painted models and groupies in Los Angeles. Everybody (apart from teetotaller Gene Simmons) was drunk, and the session was more party than photo shoot, with sex and drugs rather outweighing the rock ‘n’ roll. Most of the photos didn’t see the light of day until recently.
In August 1975, the band did another X-rated shoot, this time with photographer Fin Costello – the man behind the iconic Kiss Alive! cover – and model Megan McCracken, who lived with Kiss manager Bill Aucoin and who stepped in at the last-minute. It’s pretty astounding stuff, with BDSM gear, blood and nudity, and no one seems quite sure where it was intended to be published. Bizarrely, I had this as a T-shirt image as one of those juvenile Kiss fans in the late 1970s, and I don’t think anyone actually realised what the photo was, thanks to the poor-quality transfer. The likelihood of a band – at least band looking for mainstream, popular success – doing a shoot like this today are slim. Imagine the social media reaction?
By 1999, the band’s days as teen idols were long over, and in keeping with their image as decadent rockers, hair metal lotharios and (in the case of Gene Simmons at least) notorious womanisers meant that a photo shoot for Playboy made perfect sense… although you suspect that this was a considerably tamer affair than the Hotter Than Hell session.