I.1 Releases from the USA – Record by Record
On January 30th, 1973 KISS played their first show in a little club called Popcorn in Queens, N.Y., appearing basically in street clothes without much articulated makeup. The same night, Ace came up with the design of the lightning bolt KISS logo that would soon become the bands’ trademark. On March 9th, they played The Daisy in Amityville, N.Y. wearing first drafts of individual makeup designs. The band was soon building a following as one of the tightest and outrageous looking groups around. The next step was to produce a demo-tape. As Paul and Gene never got paid for doing backing vocals for a TV commercial, they were offered free studio time at Electric Lady Studios in N.Y.C. Recordings took place on June 17th, 1973 within 10 hours, featuring producer legend Eddie Kramer as engineer. After rehearsing the songs for almost half a year, the demo tape turned out very dynamic and professionally. It did the proof that KISS was ready to make it. The tape consisted of five songs that definitely stood the test of time: Deuce, Cold Gin, Strutter, Watchin’ You and Black Diamond.
To gain some attention in the industry, KISS put on their second self-produced show at the Diplomat Hotel in Manhattan on August 10th by inviting a wide range of music business professionals. Among the crowd, former TV producer Bill Aucoin was deeply impressed by the band’s wild performance and showmanship. Discerning the bands’ potential as successors to Alice Cooper he offered to become their manager “if they want to be stars”. The band soon accepted on condition of getting a record contract within two weeks.
Meanwhile, Neil Bogart was looking for fitting bands for his upcoming label. As the 5-track KISS demo had reached his offices, the tape was discovered by associate Kenny Kerner who convinced Bogart to sign the band. At the time, Aucoin’s long-time business partner Joyce Biawitz was dating Bogart and told him about Bogart’s interest in KISS. Aucoin quickly jumped on the occasion, signed as KISS’ manager and sealed the deal with Bogart. By the name of Rock Steady Management, the band was now managed in partnership by Aucoin and Biawitz. After negotiating a distribution deal with Warner Bros., Bogart formed Casablanca Records and KISS was signed on November 1st, 1973. They got a four-album deal with $15.000 advance and became the label’s first act.
It’s interesting to know that KISS’ core management that would lead them to world stardom was already in place up from the beginning. After the deal with Casablanca was sealed, Bill Aucoin brought in fellow Sean Delaney as creative consultant, an independent production manager called Howard Marks and booking agent Wally Meyrowitz. At the start of KISS’ career, Delaney would play a crucial role in the development of the bands’ image by contributing many ideas for stage designs, choreographies, song-writing and the creation of their superhero personas. With its art director Dennis Wolloch, the agency of Howard Marks produced designs for posters, album covers and promotion material.
There rarely was such a fruitful partnership in the history of rock music than the interaction of these different people and talents. It was a successful conglomerate that truly shaped the bands’ remarkable career during their heydays in the mid to late seventies. It should last until the dawn of the eighties and fell apart with KISS’ identity crisis and the sell of Casablanca Records.
I.1.0 RECORD LABELS
Since the beginning of their recording career in 1973, KISS shared a fruitful partnership with Neil Bogart’s Casablanca label. Actually born Bogartz in Brooklyn, Neil had changed his name to Bogart after his childhood movie idol Humphrey Bogart, hero in the classic movie – Casablanca. At the beginning of the sixties, he released a few records under the name Neil Scott but soon quitted his performing career in favour of a job in the promotion department of Cameo/Parkway Records. After the label was sold to Rolling Stones manager Allen Klein in 1967, Neil became General Manager of Buddah Records and had tremendous success with the late sixties “bubblegum” sound. In 1973, Bogart decided to leave Buddah to start his own company, Casablanca Records with funds from Warner Brothers.
The initial run of the first KISS album was distributed through Warner Bros. But by following his own vision of a record label, Bogart bought out Warners’ share to become independent from politics and structures of a major. The band’s first three studio albums couldn’t help to break the band, but Bogart strongly believed in their concept of outrageous showmanship. Finally, the platinum-selling KISS Alive! album became Casablanca’s first smash hit in late 1975 and established the label in the popular arena rock market. The mid-seventies also saw the explosion of the Disco craze. In 1975, Casablanca jumped on the bandwagon and released Love To Love You, Baby by Donna Summer, followed by the 17-minute Disco orgy I Feel Love. Between 1975 and 1985, a significant portion of DJ vinyl was branded with the name of Casablanca. Along with its affiliates Millennium, Parachute, Oasis and Chocolate City Records, Bogart had succeeded to transform a small label into an influential empire towards the latter half of the seventies. More than that, KISS had installed themselves in America’s pop culture and their records had become multi-platinum sellers. On the peak of the disco movement in 1979, Casablanca released around a dozen major pop hits like Hot Stuff from Donna Summer or YMCA by the Village People.
At the end of 1976, Casablanca expanded their portfolio with a film production company. It was officially renamed Casablanca Records and Filmworks in January 1977. The subsidiary scored some successes with films like Midnight Express and the ultimate seventies disco movie Thank God It’s Friday in partnership with Motown. To that date, Casablanca had 14 artists under contract, managed by 88 employees. With releases by KISS and a bunch of disco staples, the label gained revenues of $11 million in the first quartal of 1977 alone. Wild stories circulate about excessive promotional parties thrown for Casablanca acts which sometimes overshadowed the quality of the product.
To expand the label to the empire Bogart dreamt about, half of the company was sold to PolyGram Records in 1979 for the sum of $10 million. On February 8th, 1980, the music giant bought out the remaining 50% of the label’s shares and took over the complete business. While Casablanca still had some successes with acts like Lipps Inc. and Donna Summer, PolyGram oversaw that the label already started to loose money in large amounts with too many acts on the roster. As the high-energy disco scene finally crashed, Bogart was replaced as the label’s head and Casablanca’s profile quickly diminished.
With the beginning of the New Wave era, Casablanca artists had become out of fashion and acts like Summer or the Village People switched to other labels. Meanwhile, Bogart had started another label, Boardwalk Records Inc.
In 1983, Casablanca released the platinum smash Flashdance and combined the 20th Century Fox record catalogue and artist contracts under its brand. After various attempts to re-activate the label, Casablanca was finally disintegrated in 1985. Sadly, Neil Bogart died of cancer on May 8th, 1982. His death seems to reflect the end of an era in the music industry itself.
Guide To Vinyl Centre Rings
Collecting KISS records on vinyl is a challenge of its own as a vast amount of different releases and pressings is in existence. Looking for a particular release, you should be aware of all label variations to differentiate and determine a certain pressing of a desired original release. By examine KISS records, it’s important to know that most were re-released with the current label of its time. E.g., Destroyer was issued with many centre rings as there is the original Blue Bogart #3 version, the “Beige Casbah” one as well as some variations of the “Beige Filmworks” label.
Here’s a detailed listing of centre rings featured on American KISS vinyl releases. The descriptions are valid for both LP and single editions.
Casablanca Centre Rings
Blue Bogart #1 (1974)
The first artwork features a long-haired Bogart-type character on the left with two palms on the right. The background shows the skyline of Casablanca by night and a prominent red Casablanca-logo in red neon letters on top. As the first KISS album was distributed through Warner Bros., the phrase “Casablanca Records, Inc. Manufactured and distributed by Warner Bros. Records, Inc. / Made in U.S.A.” was printed semicircular at the bottom. Promo editions featured a black&white rendering of the artwork.
Original Album: KISS (NBLP 9001)
Blue Bogart #2 (1974-1975)
The second version has the identical artwork than the first one. After the split with Warner Bros., Casablanca started to sell its records independently and the imprint “Manufactured and distributed by Casablanca Records, Inc. / Made in U.S.A.” appeared at the bottom. Promo editions state “PROMOTION – NOT FOR SALE” in the middle line of the ring.
Original Albums: KISS (NBLP 7001), Hotter Than Hell (NBLP 7006), Dressed To Kill (NBLP 7016), ALIVE! (NBLP 7020)