Kiss Alive II was unleashed on the world 40 years ago on October 14, 1977. Following the release of “Love Gun” in June 1977, it was hardly surprising that KISS had deemed themselves ready to release another live album; this time representing the best of the material performed live from the three studio albums that followed “Alive!” It was hardly a new idea, there had been an aborted attempt to release an exclusive live album for the Japanese market, “Rock And Roll Party in Tokyo,” earlier in the year.
However, for “KISS Alive II,” the decision was made to not include songs still present in the set that had been included on the breakthrough “Alive!” Rather than being a sequel to the original, the new offering would be more of a continuation. While this decision would ultimately prove somewhat problematic, Bill Aucoin’s Rock Steady Promotions, Inc. contracted with Filmways Heider Recording Studios for remote recording services utilizing their Mobile Unit One double 24-track truck and three engineers at the Forum in Inglewood, CA. The services included pre-set configuration on Aug. 25, recording of the following three nights of shows, plus recorded rehearsals during the afternoons of Aug. 26–27. The plans for the record were no secret and were regularly mentioned in the press. Casablanca also printed up special “I Was There” buttons for attendees of the shows. Initially, a 17-song album was planned, but once songs out of favor with band members or deemed unsuitable had been removed, it was clear that there weren’t enough “new” songs for the requisite double-LP.
It was decided to use the proposed format originally considered for the original “Alive!” — Three live and one side of new studio songs. These decisions resulted in “KISS Alive II” not being the accurate facsimile of a KISS concert circa mid-1977, as “Alive!” had been in 1975. Songs that had recently been in the set, such as “Do You Love Me,” “Hooligan,” and “Take Me,” were omitted from the album; though a certain number of a version of the album cover including them on the rear cover track-listing would end up in circulation. With the challenge with song selection, the band was forced to record some songs, that hadn’t recently been performed live, “live” in the studio or during sound check. In the case of “Tomorrow And Tonight,” it had never been performed in concert. Others, notably “Hard Luck Woman,” had at least been performed live (infrequently during Dec. 1976). It had been a successful single, reaching #15 on the Billboard Hot-100 singles charts early in the year, so needed to be included. It was recorded during a sound check. The bombastic “King of The Night Time World,” critical to replicating the powerful 1–2 punch that opened the majestic “Destroyer” album, had been dropped from the set following the end of the tour supporting that album. While the actual source of the album version remains a mystery, it could have been sourced from sound check or other performances engineered and recorded by Eddie Kramer. Due to its inclusion on the album, the song returned to the band’s set for the “KISS Alive II” tour.
For studio side four, rehearsals and the recordings were scheduled at the Capitol Theatre in Passaic, NJ, Sept. 12–15, 1977. The first day was reserved for load-in and the set up of the Record Plant remote truck with the band rehearsing during the afternoon. Friday, Sept. 16 was reserved as a hold-date in case additional time was needed for recording and/or the move out of the equipment. Ultimately, three days of recording, with sessions running from 1–11p.m. daily, were required to capture the material with “Tomorrow and Tonight” and “Larger Than Life” being recorded the first day. With sessions talking longer than expected, the final day was needed with “All American Man” being the last song recorded. Ace Frehley wouldn’t perform on four of the new songs, other than his own “Rocket Ride.” Instead, stalwart standby-guitar-ghost Bob Kulick would be brought in to play lead, except on “Any Way You Want It,” a cover of the 1964 Dave Clark Five song. Paul handled the guitar duties on this on his own — interestingly, it was even planned to be the third single supporting the album.
Bob has recalled on numerous occasions that Ace was present in the studio while he recorded his parts; suggesting that he was either not able or interested in participating. Bob has also commented that his involvement was a simple matter of expediency, with deadlines looming. Bob was coached to imitate Ace’s style as much as possible. Rumors abound that Peter Criss was also replaced, though these remain unsubstantiated (even with Starz drummer Joe Dubé often being drafted into Simmons and/or Stanley recording sessions during this period. It is a certainty that Anton Fig was yet to enter the picture). A long-standing suggestion that Rick Derringer played on the album is an error. Another KISS urban legend emerged that the band had initially had intended to record a cover version of Elvis’ “Jailhouse Rock” for the album. While Paul has flatly denied the suggestion, Gene has recalled that the idea was at least considered — at least until Elvis died in August 1977. This may have been a case where Gene had an idea which was never fully discussed with the rest of the band, but the song was most certainly included his list of prospective songs for the album including “Any Way You Want It,” “Burning Up With Fever,” “Radioactive,” “Rock ‘N Roll Over,” “Suspended Animation,” and “Rockin’ In The U.S.A.” Only two of those songs would be used.
With audience recordings from which to compare, it is clear that the majority of “KISS Alive II” comes from the Forum recordings, albeit with the requisite studio clean-up/fixes and the addition of the audience track. While “Beth” was long rumored to have been sourced from one of the Tokyo shows, recorded earlier in the year, comparison of the two recordings indicates that this simply could not have been the case. The source of “I Want You,” too, is not without some question. Where the 2001 KISS “Box Set” included a version of the song allegedly recorded at sound check, both it and the original mixed version on the abandoned “Rock and Roll Party in Tokyo” album feature the same guitar “flub” right after Paul shouts “is” during the intro to the song. That same “flub” is present low in the mix of the “Alive II” song. Both versions also include the same Ace guitar solo screw-up in the second solo section. This solo is cut from the “Alive II” version, along with Paul’s rap. From that evidence, it seems reasonable that the performance was sourced from the abandoned album. Recording costs for the album exceeded $180,000 and for Kramer, the sales of the album saw his percentage payments exceeding what he’d earned on both of the previous two studio albums combined (his royalty rate had increased to 3% for “KISS Alive II”).
Released on Oct. 14, 1977, “KISS Alive II” was certified Gold and Platinum by the RIAA on Nov. 28, 1977. On the U.S. Billboard Top-200 album charts, it climbed to a peak of #7 on Jan. 7, 1978. Internal audits at Casablanca Records indicate that the album had shipped 1,686,637 copies by the end of December 1977 growing to 2,768,783 copies by June 1979. While sales figures throughout the 1980s remain unknown the SoundScan™ era is represented with sales of an additional 304,000 units between 1991 and March 2012. Technically, the album became the band’s first to obtain a RIAA multi-platinum award, when both it (and 1988’s compilation “Smashes, Thrashes & Hits”) were certified 2X Multi-Platinum on Feb. 26, 1996. Initially, Casablanca held off issuing a single from the album, pending feedback from radio, but ultimately it would be supported by two releases in the U.S.: “Shout It Out Loud” and “Rocket Ride.” The live version of “Shout It Out Loud,” backed with the “Alive!” version of “Nothin’ To Lose” (never miss the opportunity to cross-promote back catalog) scraped to a middling #54 on the Billboard Hot-100 in early 1978. An initial order of 400,000 commercial copies started shipping from the three manufacturing plants starting on Dec. 5. Frehley’s “Rocket Ride” edged into the Top-40 the following month, buttressing the emergence in his confidence as both a lead vocalist and creative force that would serve him would the following year. The supporting “KISS Alive II” tour was the band’s most successful to date, grossing over $2 million from the 46 North American shows plus an impressive $160,000 from concert merchandise sales alone. And those numbers exclude merchandise, licensing, and many other revenue streams. KISS had become indelibly imprinted on the psyche of American popular culture.
40 years on, how does the album stand the test of time? While Eddie Kramer has suggested that less “fix-up” work was done on the album versus its predecessor, for many fans the fact that the album doesn’t replicate an actual KISS show of the period is only assuaged by the studio side. Other complaints include the sped-up nature of the recording and the shrill omnipresent audience loop that further detracts from the representation. Having had the magician’s tricks revealed over the past 40 years, revisionist opinions are likely highly colored by the knowledge of Frehley’s wholesale replacement, fake live songs, and the existence of high-quality bootlegs from the period that do a better job of representing the emergence of “super KISS.” Regardless, the excitement of the period, and what it represents for many fans who lived the KISS experience at the time is clear: When the original KISS line-up reunited in 1996, they chose to visually mirror the part of their history represented by “KISS Alive II.” That speaks volumes.