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50 Years Ago: Kiss Tries the Back Door With Debut Single

todayFebruary 8, 2024 5

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It took years for “Nothin’ to Lose” to make the journey from a demo tape to the A-side of Kiss’ first single, and all that work was just one small step on the band’s long road to success.
Released in February 1974 as the lead single from the band’s self-titled debut album, the Gene Simmons-penned song deals with persistence of a different kind. “Lyrically, ‘Nothin’ to Lose’ is about anal sex,” he explains in 2003’s Kiss: Behind the Mask, before helpfully reciting the song’s lyrics: “I thought about the back door / I didn’t know what to say / But once I had a baby / I tried every way / She didn’t want to do it / But she did anyway.”

The “Nothin’ to Lose” story began in late 1971, as Simmons and keyboardist Brooke Ostrander recorded an early version of the track for a demo tape. When a label promised them a record deal if they could put a band together, the duo recruited Paul Stanley and two other musicians to form a group, which eventually took the name Wicked Lester.
Stanley and Simmons had briefly met once before, but in Behind the Mask, Simmons admits, “I must have come off very pompous and self-righteous.” Stanley doesn’t dispute that account: “I hated him.” But the two quickly realized they had similar tastes and determination.
Wicked Lester got an offer from Epic Records and completed work on their debut album in 1972. “Nothin’ to Lose” was not one of the songs recorded, although the record featured early versions of future Kiss songs “Love Her All I Can” and “She.”
That exclusion was probably a blessing in disguise. The group hadn’t really locked in on their own sound, and the somewhat shapeless, progressive rock-leaning record was rejected by the label. Simmons and Stanley understood that decision. “Paul and I weren’t happy with the record,” Simmons later told Classic Rock. “It had a West Coast American hippie sound. We looked at each other and decided to form a new group, which was Kiss.”
They recruited drummer Peter Criss and lead guitarist Ace Frehley, simplified and toughened up their sound, developed their trademark facepaint designs and changed the group’s name.
After building up a reputation as a must-see act on the New York City circuit, the foursome began work on their debut album, which would include the now fully-formed “Nothin’ to Lose.”
Hear Kiss Perform ‘Nothin’ to Lose’ Live

Early Chart Failures Did Not Deter Kiss
The song was released as Kiss’ first single in February of 1974, and showcases the R&B influence within their hard rock sound, with Criss, Simmons and Stanley sharing lead vocal duties. “I liked the song because I grew up on Sam Cooke, Sam & Dave, Otis Redding and Wilson Pickett,” Criss explained in Behind the Music. “My vocals added soul to Paul’s and Gene’s voices.”
“Nothin’ to Lose” failed to reach the charts, and the Kiss album barely reached the Top 100 even after the group’s label forced them to add a novelty cover of Bobby Rydell’s “Kissin’ Time” to later pressings of the album.
But it was clear to the group that they had hit on a winning formula. “There was a genuine sense of camaraderie,” Stanley recalled in his 2016 memoir Face the Music. “We ate together, traveled together, got dressed for a show together and played together – and onstage we were a unified force. … Stardom was never a question in my mind.”
Kiss spent the next year and a half cross-crossing the country, building up an increasingly rabid following with their dynamic live shows. After two more studio albums all that hard work would pay off with the unexpected success of the band’s 1975 Alive! album, which featured an even more energetic version of “Nothin’ to Lose.”
Hear Kiss Perform ‘Nothin’ to Lose’ Live

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Gallery Credit: UCR Staff

Written by: badlandsclassicrock

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