When conversations arise about the greatest hard rock debut albums, the usual selections immediately come to mind for many — offerings by Led Zeppelin, Van Halen, and Guns N’ Roses, to name a few. But one debut that seems to get overlooked quite often is the 1974 self-titled album from KISS.
At the time, glam rock was beginning to be phased out — David Bowie would soon stop shaving his eyebrows and drop the makeup for his streamlined “Thin White Duke” persona; Alice Cooper was about to go solo and embrace ballads; and the New York Dolls were on the cusp of imploding. Hence, 1974 would not have been the most ideal time to release a debut disc from a makeup-wearing band.
Although singer-guitarist Paul Stanley and singer-bassist Gene Simmons had been playing music together for a spell in the New York City area, it was not until 1973 that they finally crossed paths with two other like-minded musicians — first drummer Peter Criss, and then lead guitarist Ace Frehley — comprising the classic KISS lineup.
After building a local following, attracting manager Bill Aucoin, and signing with the fledgling Casablanca Records, the group — which performed with their faces disguised by makeup and dressed in costumes/platform boots — was not as “femme” as the other aforementioned glam acts, and also, rocked a heck of a lot harder (ok, ok…besides Alice Cooper from 1970-1973).
So, when the quartet arrived at Bell Sound Studios in New York City during October-November 1973 to lay down what would become their debut album, they interestingly chose not to enlist the famous producer who oversaw an early demo (Eddie Kramer), but rather, hooked up with the less-renowned production duo of Kenny Kerner and Richie Wise.
Speaking to Songfacts in 2013, Wise looked back on the sessions. “I remember being out in the studio with them trying to work out some better arrangements for the songs, making them more available to the listener, put in the verses, choruses, bridges, repeats, whatever, in the right places.”
“I worked very closely with Ace playing guitar,” he continued, “because as a guitar player I was able to piece together some nice guitar solos for him and work with him on some of that stuff. The vocals went really smooth. I don’t have any negative feelings at all. The first album was a breeze to do. I think we recorded it in six days and mixed it in six or seven days. It took about 13 days from start to finish to do it. It was done quickly and I’m very happy about that one.”