With their career in steep decline at home, Kiss enjoyed a brief return to super-stardom overseas thanks to an unlikely hit single.
“Shandi,” the first single from the band’s pop-dominated 1980 album Unmasked, barely cracked the Top 50 in the United States, but did much better in other parts of the world. That was particularly true in Australia, where it became a Top 5 hit and turned the band’s first tour of the country into a headline-dominating sensation akin to Beatlemania.
“It reached the point where I was asking that we not have any more parties,” Paul Stanley recalled in Kiss: Behind the Mask, “because literally every night the promoter threw a party for us.”
Released on June 1, 1980, “Shandi” was the latest in a series of Stanley-penned singles, beginning with the previous year’s “I Was Made for Lovin’ You,” that took Kiss further and further away from the hard rock sound that made them one of the most popular acts of the ’70s.
Watch Kiss Perform “Shandi”
That stylistic shift was an attempt to further expand the band’s already large fan base. But whatever gains they made in terms of a new mainstream following was more than offset by the number of old-school fans who turned their noses up at the new disco- and pop-influenced sound, and stopped going to Kiss concerts. On the band’s 1979 North American tour, they struggled to sell out one show in several cities where just two years earlier they were playing multiple night stands.
Following the release of Unmasked, record sales and general interest were low enough that the group only played one show stateside, July 25 at New York City’s 3,000 seat Palladium, a far cry from the 20,000+ capacity Madison Square Garden concerts the band was accustomed to selling out in their hometown. Planned spring and summer tours of Europe and Mexico were also canceled.
But something about the AM gold swoonings of “Shandi” struck a chord in far-flung places such as Norway, the Netherlands and Australia. Kiss had barely ever toured in Europe, and had never touched foot in Australia, leaving those countries immune from the overexposure that was plaguing the band in the United States. It also helped that Unmasked was the first of the their albums to be released simultaneously overseas by one company, Phonogram, who were therefore able to mount a coordinated marketing plan.
Still, the reaction in Australia was a phenomenon nobody could ever dream of planning for. “Australia was like nothing we’d ever experienced,” Stanley recalled in his autobiography Face the Music: A Life Exposed. “Huge here meant not being able to leave the hotel. It meant taking a helicopter from the hotel to the stadium we were playing. We had an entire floor of the hotel, with one suite devoted to our own Australian pubic relations staff. And no wonder, since we were on the front page of the newspapers every day, accompanied by headlines like ‘Kiss in Midnight Cruise on Sydney Harbor.’ The place was crawling with bodyguards, and there was a constant drone of screaming outside.”
Unsurprisingly, Stanley agrees with Australia’s collective assessment of “Shandi.” “I’m real fond of the song,” he declared in Behind the Mask. “I’m my own worst critic. I’m not crazy about the recording of it, but as a song if I sit down and play it it’s real good.” He still performs the song acoustically whenever the band plays in Australia, and it was included on Kiss’s Melbourne Symphony Orchestra-assisted 2003 live album Symphony: Alive IV.
With bassist Gene Simmons taking a sick day and lead guitarist Ace Frehley apparently AWOL, Stanley was the only member of Kiss who actually appears on the recording, joined by Anton Fig (who had secretly taken over for Peter Criss on drums during the recording of 1979’s Dynasty) and session musicians Tom Harper and Holly Knight. The filming of the music video for “Shandi” also marked the formal end of the band’s original lineup, as appearing in it was the last thing Criss did as an official member of Kiss until his 1996 reunion with the group.
As remarkable as Kiss’ month in Australia and New Zealand was, it didn’t fully mask the career trouble they had gotten into back home. They fully realized their next move needed to be a big one. Unfortunately, the path they chose to take made things a lot worse, not better.