A look at the Kiss logo, where the name came from, who designed it and why the original version isn’t used in Germany.
This episode of “So You Think You Know Logos” is a little bit of a personal nature. I’ve always been a fan of band logos and back in the day, this fascination helped get me an early start into the logo design business and even led to my first ‘professional’ gig – designing the logo for my high school radio station. When I was a teen I loved merch emblazoned with the logos of my rock-n-roll heroes and while there were many over the years, my all time favorites belonged to Kiss (tied with art-rock kings of the time, Yes.) A devoted member of the ‘Kiss Army‘ (gawd, I was such a geek) I plastered the Kiss logo on everything I owned – drawing it on duotangs, binders and doodling it on scraps of paper while I chatted with pals about weekend plans. I had a mammoth KISS logo on my bedroom ceiling – my father and I used giant cardboard stencils to get it just so, and we painted it in a metallic gold (that even after umpteen coats of white paint is still visible from certain angles.) It was very much an integral part of my misspent youth. Designed by original lead guitarist Ace Frehley, the iconoclastic typography first appeared on Kiss’ second album Hotter N’ Hell (I didn’t get into the band until I heard the classic Kiss Alive – still one of the best live albums of all time) and has been a cornerstone of the Kiss legend ever since. Duplicating the logo by hand (this was long before PCs, the internet and desktop publishing software) was no easy feat. Getting the curves of the K and the angle of the lightning bolt double-‘S’s just so required a lot of practice. Very important too. While it’s claimed that the logo was meant to represent lightning bolts, the similarity to the SS logo was just enough to give parents kittens (some religious groups even claimed that Kiss was an acronym for Kids In Service to Satan) – a prerequisite for any rock and roll band worth their sand. So, without further adieu, let’s take a look at the Kiss logo, arguably one of the best band designs of all time.
Originally known as Wicked Lester, the group changed their name to Kiss with the addition of Ace Frehley to the band lineup of Paul Stanley, Gene Simmons and Peter Criss.
It was lead guitarist Ace Frehley who designed the Kiss logo, while the new name made it’s first appearance when Frehley scribbled a version over Wicked Lester on a poster outside a club where the band was scheduled to play.
When Frehley created the now-iconic logo, making the “SS” look like lightning bolts, the runic letters appeared similar to the insignia of the Nazi SS, a symbol that is now illegal to display in Germany. Since 1979 most of the band’s album covers and merchandise in Germany have used a modified version of the logo, in which the ‘S’ characters are modified and rounded:
It’s been claimed, usually by conservative and parent groups, that the band’s name has many secret meanings and acronyms, but the band’s name came about due to influence by The New York Dolls and drummer Peter Criss’ earlier band, Lips. The logo has been drawn in blood (in the inner sleeve of Love Gun):
Band members literally gave their blood to their brand, each pouring a vial into the red ink drums for a printing of the first Kiss comic book. The iconoclastic logo is generally recognized as one of the best band logos of all time and has been licensed for use on a massive amount of merchandising, gizmos and trinkets. According to Sandra O’Loughlin in an article for Brandweek magazine,
“Kiss has licensed its name to more than 3,000 product categories, from lunch boxes and comic books to credit cards and condoms to become nearly a one-billion-dollar brand.”
Rock logo sellouts?
Kiss have more pieces of logo’d trinkets, gizmos and gear and have generated more money from this merchandise, than any other artist in the history of music. Said Gene Simmons, who has been the most aggressive and ambitious member of the band in seeking merchandising deals, voicing his disregard for the portions of his fan base who disapprove of slapping the Kiss logo on everything and anything. In his book Sex Money Kiss, he states:
“I think it’s cool to see my face on a lunchbox. It’s fun. I’m doing this for me. You don’t have to buy one.”
I would Gene. I would.