When KISS released the band's self-titled debut album on February 18, 1974, it didn't exactly burn up the charts. The record would stall at #87 on the Billboard 200 over the week of June 8, 1974. The #1 album in America that week: Paul McCartney and Wings' Band on the Run.
That woeful chart performance would belie the fact that KISS came loaded with no less than six classic tracks from the band's catalog--"Strutter," "Nothin' to Lose," "Firehouse," "Cold Gin," "Deuce," and the album closer, "Black Diamond"--a good number of which are still performed in concert to the delight of packed arenas around the world all these years later.
“It struck me almost immediately that the recording didn’t sound at all like us live,” frontman and "Starchild" Paul Stanley told Loudwire. “What was put down on tape was such a timid fraction of what we were in concert. I didn’t understand it because bands who were our contemporaries had much better sounding albums. But we did manage to capture the piss and vinegar and the determination and devil-may-care attitude that was behind it. And I think the album still sounds contemporary. It sounds a lot like a lot of other bands who have probably cut their teeth on it."
Music critics were quick to savage the band and the record, only fueling KISS' determination to prove that they were bigger and better than the criticisms.
"I’m going to quote you the critics," Gene Simmons told VH1. "Rolling Stone reviews Led Zeppelin, and this is a quote, 'the Limp Blimp.' This is from a guy that never got laid in school, clearly has too many pimples on his face to count and continues to live in his mother’s basement. Sour human beings who’ve accomplished nothing and have been nobody and their only chance to be anybody is to just whack it. If you’ve got a point to say, show me what you’ve got. Otherwise, shut the f*ck up."
If there is a misstep to be found on KISS, it would the last-minute inclusion of Bobby Rydell song, "Kissin' Time." The song came about when Casablanca Records label head Neil Bogart was panicking when the album was struggling on the charts. Hoping that a hit single would boost sales, he tasked the band with rewriting and recording the tune, which would be tacked onto subsequent copies of the LP. KISS' version of "Kissin' Time" would conk out at #83 on the Hot 100.
In order to promote the single, Casablanca would hold "The Great Kiss Off" at the Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg, Illinois. Couples competed to see who could kiss the longest. The contest would last for an incredible 114 hours.
“What was so strange about that was we knew the bands that were being praised in New York and we killed them all,” Stanley said of KISS' salad days. “Those bands who were considered hip or who were the darlings of the New York scene spent more time at Max’s Kansas City or at clubs than they did learning their craft. The reason we weren’t considered hip or cool was because we didn’t hang out. We were – God forbid – practicing. We were rehearsing. Most of those other bands, their music became the soundtrack to a fashion show. We weren’t about that. We were about rock and roll. So we never really wanted to be a part of the New York scene and we were never embraced by it because we had ambitions. We had a work ethic. We took it seriously. That wasn’t cool back then.”