Elton John, Jimi Hendrix, and the Eagles all received the all-star tribute album treatment in the early '90s. Why not Kiss?

It's a question that might have seemed a little ridiculous in the '80s, when they had to struggle a bit to remain relevant during a stretch of middling albums and lineup changes, but as a new decade dawned, the members of the band realized a funny thing: they were being name-checked as influences by a surprising number of up-and-coming young bands.

"I was stunned that, all of a sudden, after years of being the black sheep of rock and roll, people were coming out," recalled Kiss co-founder Gene Simmons. "The confessional was happening: 'Yes, I was a Kissoholic, I don't want to hide in the closet anymore.'"

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Inspired by Hard to Believe: Kiss Covers Compilation, a 1990 release from Seattle-based indie C/Z Records that featured contributions from future stars Nirvana and Melvins, Simmons and partner Paul Stanley set about putting together a higher-profile release – one they decided they wanted to assemble completely on their own terms.

"I just wanted to keep the record company at arm's distance," Simmons told the Baltimore Sun. "The only way to have a party that you're going to enjoy is to throw it yourself. Because the record company – if you're going to let your mom throw your party for you, all of the corny people are going to be there. Nobody that you want to talk to."

The fresh outpouring of affection left Simmons and Stanley with many acts to choose from. "This is the graduating class of the Kiss Army," he said. "The fans who went on to form their own bands. That's what this story is really about.

"I thought only a couple of people would come, but we had close to 100 different artists who wanted to be involved, from Sir Mix-a-Lot to Cypress Hill to Smashing Pumpkins," Simmons added. "You name it. Even Kurt Cobain and the Melvins did a track together. Ironically, it came in too late, and another group, Dinosaur Jr., had already recorded the same track."

Stanley said: "What's so great on that album is that you have very strong perspectives and points of view. Although each song is given a new identity, it holds up really well as a song. Sometimes, you'd have to sit down for a minute and say, 'That's the song I wrote?'"

It was a question echoed by a number of fans once they listened to the final results.

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Who Was Featured on 'Kiss My Ass: Classic Kiss Regrooved'?

The finished album, dubbed Kiss My Ass: Classic Kiss Regrooved, arrived in stores on June 21, 1994, and – like many tribute records – included contributions from a number of bands who were popular at the time, regardless of whether or not they seemed to have any musical affinity for the artist being feted.

Among the more eyebrow-raising cuts were Toad the Wet Sprocket's sleepy cover of "Rock and Roll All Nite," a new version of "Hard Luck Woman" featuring country superstar Garth Brooks backed by Kiss, and an orchestral arrangement of "Black Diamond" from Asian metal legend Yoshiki of the group X Japan. But much as some songs may have seemed like cynical attempts to glom onto trendy younger acts, each performance came with its own purpose.

"We knew that no matter what we did, there would be some Kiss fans who would think it was hilarious, and some Kiss fans who would be upset a band as non-rock as us was taking that song," Toad the Wet Sprocket's Glen Phillips told the Birmingham News. "So, we decided we'd turn it into a waltz and do like a really silly campfire version of it.

"The thing was, Gene Simmons loved it," Phillips added. "He thought it was the bravest thing we could've done with it. There were also a lot of Kiss fans who wanted to take a hit out on us, and were very upset. But we had a great time doing it and it actually makes a great campfire song. Why not?"

Simmons told the band that the most important thing is that the "'character of your band show through in the song,'" added Toad the Wet Sprocket guitarist Dean Dinning. "So what we really tried to do was look at ourselves and identify some Toad cliches that we typically fall back on, then wrap that around this totally different piece of music – a song that we would never write. We really liked it, but I was like, 'I hope Gene doesn't think this is insulting or anything.' But he flipped. He loved it."

Yoshiki Hayashi got involved through manager named Doc McGhee. "He was telling me Kiss was making a tribute album, and then somehow I met Gene Simmons and we became good friends as well," Hayashi later explained. He found out that X Japan was very popular in Japan."

Hayashi wondered aloud how he could "make a piano concerto version of 'Black Diamond'? Somehow I made it. In the beginning, I was participating only for the Japanese version. They had the same album in Germany, but a German version. But towards the end he liked it so much, he said 'I'm going to put your song on the international version for the whole world.'"

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Garth Brooks Had an Emotional Introduction to Kiss

Meanwhile, Garth Brooks said Kiss had "read in an article that they were very influential to me as a teenager. So they flew to L.A. to see a show of mine. After the show, I came backstage. Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons were there. I reached out to shake Paul's hand, and he didn't say, 'Hi, nice to meet you.' He just said: 'I see it. I see it in your show. I see it in your clothes. I'm flattered.'

"Man, I was beaming," Brooks added. "My whole chest was out. I was like, 'Wow, thank you.' And the great thing, too, about Paul Stanley standing there with Gene Simmons is that these guys are not small people. They're huge. In real life, Paul and Gene are well over six feet. They're bigger than life." (Admittedly, a true fan should have said 'Larger than Life.')

Brooks "literally got misty-eyed and said, 'If it wasn't for you, I wouldn't be here doing this tonight,' and he put his arms around me," Simmons told the Sun. "Well, call me a sap, but I got misty-eyed, too. I find stuff like that very, very flattering and humbling."

Whatever its failings, Kiss My Ass: Classic Kiss Regrooved certainly had that earnest spirit. The LP was greeted with generally mixed reviews and a lukewarm commercial reaction but also served as an opening salvo in a period of reappraisal for Kiss. A band once widely derided as cheesily theatrical came to be appreciated for its songwriting.

"A good song will sound good even on just a guitar or a piano," Stanley told the Sun. "There's no reason for somebody to explain to you the arrangement that you'll hear when it's recorded – because if the core of the song is good, it'll stand. And that's how we approached those songs.

"Sure, there was a bombastic stage show, and there were four guys running around the stage in whiteface and nine-inch heels," Stanley added. "But it all started with a song. The other stuff, for some people, may have overpowered or eclipsed the music, but the music was there."

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Gallery Credit: Nick DeRiso

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