It was thirty years ago today (September 13, 1983) that a nation of suburban teens and early twenty-somethings had their young minds blown by the rock and roll equivalent of the curtain being pulled on the Wizard of Oz. On that day, KISS – which was then comprised of perennials Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley, along with their late drummer Eric Carr and one-time guitarist Vinnie Vincent – showed up on MTV, and revealed their true, makeup-less faces.

Watch rock history below.

Whether or not you enjoy the group’s music, their makeup was a masterstroke of marketing. Besides helping them to stand out among the hard rock pack, it gave them a visual appeal that arguably no rockers commanded as well since the Beatles. It also helped the band sell action figures, pinball machines, comic books, and added a level of mystique to the group that few rock bands ever had. Remember, this was the pre-Photoshop era, so, most fans didn’t know what these guys actually looked like, and didn’t have computer programs to help them to figure it out.

Gene Simmons recently stopped by to promote Nothin’ To Lose: The Making Of KISS 1972-1975, but was glad to discuss the seminal decision to unmask, ironically three years after their 1980 album, Unmasked.

“The tour for Creatures Of The Night [the band’s final album in makeup] did not go well in America,” he recalled. “And yet, at the same time we were playing stadiums in South America. We played Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, the largest stadium to date that we’ve played in forty years,” noting that the band still had very strong appeal overseas, even as their popularity dwindled in the States.

“So when we came back home, we had a choice to make: ‘Hey, what are we gonna do now?’ And it was Paul who said, ‘Let’s take the makeup off.’ And I said, ‘No! You can’t do that.'”

“[Paul’s response was] ‘Well, let’s prove to people that we’re a band without makeup,'” He knew — the true fans knew — the songs could hold up outside of the context that the band were known for. Simmons’ response: “‘Why? We proved to people that we’re a band with makeup, that’s what makes us different.’ I couldn’t imagine us without makeup. ”

Simmons has always been the main marketing arm of KISS, and he was the one who grew up reading comic books, so of course he was the member most invested in the makeup. They agreed to take one tentative step towards the “big reveal” to see how it went.  “We settled on the idea of doing one photo session to see what  we look like without makeup. We took lots of photos. It didn’t seem like there was a connection to KISS. Finally, one of the photos that we settled on, happened to be one where my arms were crossed, and my tongue was hanging out. And that seemed to be the connection with the soul of the band.” That photo would end up being the cover to their next album, Lick It Up

The title track of that album went on to be a fan favorite, and one of the few from the “unmasked” era to regularly make the set lists in the years since they’ve put their makeup back on. And in the video, if Gene looked a little unsure of what his new persona would be, Paul looked like he was bursting out of his war-paint-less skin, showing off his true face – and his dance moves – for the world to see.

Unfortunately, the rest of the album hasn’t quite stood the test of time. The album’s second single, “All Hell’s Breaking Loose,” found Paul faux-rapping. This was 1983, and hip-hop was still in its early era; if you weren’t part of the scene, you might mistakenly think that anyone could be an MC. Paul proved them wrong in just one verse: “Street hustler comes up to me one day/ And I’m walkin’ down the street, mindin’ my own business/ Now he looks me up and he looks me down and says/ ‘Hey man, what be this and what be that and why you gotta look like that?'”

Paul’s response? “I kinda laughed, I said ‘Hey man, I am cool, I am the breeze!'”

Read more at — Brian Ives, 


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