The early days of KISS (before they became a kid-friendly marketing machine with their own line of dolls and comic books) were all about edgy New York sleaze and pushing boundaries. Everything from their lyrical themes of alcohol abuse, sex work and and anal sex, to their stage show antics, makeup and costumes created new benchmarks for other rock bands. There wasn’t much they weren’t willing to do back in their hey day, and it all started with them refusing to take off their makeup for their first industry gig in 1973.
It was during these formative years that they recorded their second album, Hotter Than Hell which contains some of KISS’ best songs (despite the muddy production). What ended up on the album sleeve barely hints at the photo session that spawned those images, with some describing the covershoot as having evolved into a full-on drunken orgy shoot with Norman Seef.
"We did a photo session with Norman Seeff in Los Angeles. Norman was a very bright but strange guy who believed that photo sessions should be this other thing. So he would create a climate and bring down everybody and anybody. Girls who would blow you, anything that would happen just to get a sense of something" - Gene Simmons
"It was a wild photo session for the back cover. I was sitting in the armchair there with this broad giving me head with this mask on. It was really fucking wild. Paul was in bed with a bunch of broads and me in a robe over this big knight’s table’s chair. The photographer [Seeff] got us all drunk. That was the idea. He got us all loaded. Everyone was drunk except Gene but Gene had to be drunk on the whole room being drunk. Even the models and the people in the room were drunk. No one was sober but Gene but he had to be intoxicated from just the intoxication of the whole vibe." - Peter Criss"
"I don’t know if anybody can make out the back cover of the album but we were having this wild, wild party with tons of people in weird outfits. Ten minutes after that picture was taken I passed out. I cut my hand, I don’t know how I did it. It was pretty strange. I was so drunk that they locked me in a car and I couldn’t find my way out. Like any of the Fellini films, Satyricon, it was bizarre but it was really great too. It was a party unlike most others that I’ve been to. A lot of the pictures taken for the back cover have never seen the light of day because some people didn’t want to be incriminated by the pictures. Someone would go, “Oh, I can’t let so-and-so see me at that party.” - Paul Stanley
Due to its infamy, most people think this was the band’s wildest photoshoot but there was another one that happened with photographer Fin Costello and a model named Megan McCracken.
Called the “S&M Session,” Costello, who had shot KISS on many occasions travelled to New York in 1975 to photograph the band again. Megan McCracken was living with KISS manager Bill Aucoin at the time and her participation was said to be a last-minute thing.
In the shoot, McCracker wears satin overall shorts and not much else, and in many shots, is completely nude. The shoot includes props like a cat o’nine tails, assorted bondage gear and fake blood. Classic KISS.
According to KISS fans, t-shirts with Costello’s image were made available for sale. Iconic pornstar Marilyn Chambers is said to have owned one.
Those were good days!