How Kiss Wrote the Hit Song “Beth”

In this video, director Brian Billow imagines how Kiss might have come to write their hit song “Beth” from their 1976 Destroyer album. Bob Winter, executive creative director at Crispin Porter + Bogusky, had the idea for the story. Check out this “historically inaccurate tale of the song’s inspiration.”

[2015 Update: If the video does not work for you, it is also available on Vimeo.]

The video, however, is not as “historically inaccurate” as it claims. Guitarist and songwriter Stan Penridge wrote a version of “Beth” while he was in the band Chelsea, which future Kiss drummer Peter Criss joined for awhile. In the song’s original version, the title name was “Beck” after Becky, Chelsea bandmate Mike Brand’s wife, who often called during practices.

Penridge later explained that the genesis of the song is not that far from Billow’s funny video. Penridge stated that the lyrics came “almost word for word, from Mike Brand’s responses to his wife’s constant calls that interupted our rehearsals. It got to the point where I wrote down his remarks over a period of 3 or 4 days . . . ”

Although I have always heard “Beth” as a love song, Penridge explained that one might see the song as “a hen-pecked hubby’s remarks to his nagging wife.” While in David Leaf’s and Ken Sharp’s book KISS: Behind the Mask Penridge acknowledges that the song was “basically written as a joke,” he also appreciates that the song evolved into something different that he also likes.

There are some questions about how much writing credit for the final version of “Beth” should be given to Criss, who sings lead on the Kiss recording of “Beth” and is listed as a co-writer with producer Bob Ezrin. Although sources name Criss as one of the co-writers of the final version, band co-founder Gene Simmons claims that the song was written only by Penridge and Ezrin. Simmons and Criss on not on the best terms, but Penridge seemed to confirm Simmons’s version in a 2000 interview (“Another poorman’s copyright by me in ’70”).

Still, Criss’s relation with the song goes back before Kiss. After Criss was in Chelsea and even before he was in Kiss, he recorded “Beck” with a band called Lips.

The name of the song was later changed to “Beth” so it would be a more recognizable woman’s name. Here is a Kiss version of the song we all know from the 1978 TV-movie Kiss Meets in Phantom of the Park.

After “Beth” was recorded, nobody realized it would become such a big hit. Some band members did not want it on the album, and it was initially released not as a single but as a B-side to “Detroit Rock City.” But then “Beth” became Kiss’s first gold record and one of their most recognizable songs.

No matter what role he played in the lyrics, Criss’s great vocals on the recording certainly helped make it a hit. Others have sang the song too. Eric Singer has rotated in and out and back into Criss’s seat behind the drums with Kiss, so Singer also has performed “Beth.”

There are a number of covers of “Beth,” including a nice one by Adam Lambert when he was on American Idol in 2008. Not surprisingly, the Glee cast performed the song too. Perhaps the most unusual cover appears in the movie Role Models (2008), where Paul Rudd wins back his girlfriend named Beth by making up some new lyrics to the song.

I have not been able to find what happened to Mike Brand and “Becky,” the two who inspired the song. But I hope they are still together and that she still calls him at work after all these years. It would make a great love song.

What is your favorite version of “Beth”? Leave your two cents in the comments. Note: This post was updated March 2014 to include Gene Simmons’s comments about the writing of the song.

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