Kiss learned a significant lesson concerning the record label dishonest activity when they grudgingly accepted to record a “tacky” cover tune for a promotional campaign – and then had the song published as a single and added to an album against their decisions.
Confronted with less than impressive opening sales of their self-titled 1974 debut, the band hesitantly agreed to record a lyrically renewed version of Bobby Rydell’s 1959 hit “Kissin’ Time” to use in a set of local radio kissing competitions intended to increase sales of the album. According to bassist and singer Gene Simmons, the entire process took less than an hour.
“It wasn’t a song we would have chosen,” he diplomatically told in the 2001 book Kiss and Make-Up. “But [Casablanca Records boss] Neil [Bogart] was insistent: he was a real promoter, and he believed it would be a successful gimmick.”
“I thought it was tacky. The bands I looked up to wouldn’t do something like that. …Neil assured us our recording would be used for background music in a radio spot for the contest, nothing else,” guitarist and lead singer Paul Stanley recollected in his 2014 book Face the Music. “Of course, no sooner had we cut the not-particularly-great rendition of the song than Neil issued it as a single.” The song was also included in later pressings of Kiss.
The track caused at least a decent impression on the pop charts, peaking at No. 83 on Billboard‘s singles charts. And the local contests, which highlighted young couples striving to see who could make out for the longest amount of time, created some press coverage. But recording a “tacky” cover wasn’t how Kiss wanted to establish themselves.
“We were perfectly capable of writing our own material,” Stanley explained in 2003’s Kiss: Behind the Mask. “Neil, bless his soul if he could get you a hit today and ruin your career that was well worth it, cause you’d have have had a hit.”
Stanley’s doubts were confirmed when the group agreed to perform at one of the contests. “I walked in there, in full makeup, feeling very full of myself, and strolled over to a couple who had their lips locked,” he remembered in Face the Music. “I bent down — we had our platform boots on — and the guy, while keeping his lips in contact with the girl’s, looked out of the side of his eyes and said, ‘who the hell are you?’ They were just two kids in a kissing contest. They had no idea it had anything to do with us.”
The campaign finished with Simmons getting interviewed beside the competition champs on The Mike Douglas Show, after which the group got an opportunity to swagger their stuff on national TV. “Needless to say, we weren’t the show’s usual fare, and we played up our strangeness,” he explained in Kiss and Make-Up. “We performed ‘Firehouse,’ and it was a real spectacle: plenty of pyrotechnics, plenty of makeup and so forth. As a performing group, we were really hitting our stride.”
The taping had an also humorous backstage confrontation between Simmons and another guest, actor Totie Fields. “At one point she said, ‘Who are you supposed to be?’ ‘I’m evil incarnate,’ I said, giving my best scowl. ‘No, you’re not,’ she shot right back. ‘You can’t fool me. You’re probably some nice Jewish kid from Long Island.'”