Welcome back to Kiss Review Series and this time around we will discuss the album ‘Unplugged’ or is it ‘MTV Unplugged’, I wasn’t really sure. I stuck with ‘Unplugged’ as that is what it says on the spine of the vinyl cover. But it was recorded for MTV so didn’t know the right way to label this post. But enough of that garbage, let us get back to the Kisstory.
Kiss seemed in no hurry to do an album. It had been several years since ‘Revenge’. They have been putting out product as we have reviewed it, but yet no studio album. And with this review, still no studio album. In 1995, the band set out and did these Convention Tours as around this time, Kiss Konventions had started popping up. Kiss would go play these and they were all done as acoustic performances. They would even get some special guests to join them and one time Peter Criss showed up and jumped on stage with them. Kiss started to play lesser known songs at the audience requests and they seemed to be enjoying themselves. Well, around that time MTV came a calling and asked if they wanted to do an episode of MTV Unplugged and the band agreed.
After Kiss released ‘Alive III’ you figured it would be time to do another album, but that wasn’t the case. The band instead decided to release another video on VHS. On August 16, 1993, the band released the video ‘Kiss Konfidential’. It sold over 50,000 units and in VHS tapes, that is considered Gold…who knew. The video is basically the live concert for ‘Alive III’ as there are 12 live performances that are from that album. So if you wanted a video concert of ‘Alive III’ this was as close as you were going to get.
Now that wasn’t all you were getting. The video also contained 4 live performances from the Kiss Archives which gave us “100,000 Years” from Detroit in 1976; “Nothing to Lose” from San Francisco in 1975; “Hotter Than Hell” again from Detroit in 1976 and lastly, “Let Me Go Rock ‘N’ Roll” from Japan in 1977. Now the songs were not played one right after the other because interspersed between the songs were backstage footage from the Revenge Tour as well as Exclusive interviews with the band. You were given about an hour and half of total Kiss.
Finally!! Kiss decided to release another live album and this one is ‘Alive III’ which was 17 years after their last release. Now they did release a live video, but this is the first album since ‘Alive II’ in 1977. The band recorded the album during the Revenge Tour in 1992 and used the recordings from the Cleveland, Detroit and Indianapolis stops of the tour. This is also the first live album of the Non-Makeup era and the first to not have the original Kiss line-up. The line-up is of course Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons, but now it is Eric Singer on Drums and still Bruce Kulick on guitar. Oh yeah, and off to the side of the stage on keyboards is Derek Sherinian who toured with the band at this time since they added keyboards to a lot of the late 80’s songs.
Before we get to the music, let’s talk the packaging. We get a 2 LP set in a beautiful Gatefold cover. One side of the Gatefold has a really cool Kiss Family Tree. Although hard to read at times, it is a cool tracing back of where all the Kiss members, current and past, come from in their musical careers.
On the flip side of the Gatefold, you get the track listing and all the tour credits as well as some band pictures and a little note from the band.
The lack of success for the band’s last album, ‘Hot in the Shade’, had them at a crossroads again as to what to do. They were asked to record a song for Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey in February of 1991, so they brought Bob Ezrin back to record it although Gene was a little hesitant about it after the debacle of ‘Music from the Elder’. But they recorded that song, which was “God Gave Rock And Roll To You II”, and then nothing for awhile. Paul was writing songs with various people, Gene was writing with Bob Dylan (sort of – you can read about that in The Vault series), and then the tragedy of Eric Carr happened. As we discussed in the last post, Eric had heart cancer and died on November 24, 1991 and he had been sick for some time. It was a dark day in Kisstory.
Eric Singer was brought in as the drummer full time now and Kiss went back in the studio in December 1991 with Bob Ezrin back at the helm as the producer probably in part that the Bill & Ted song did so well. The band sought help from an old friend at this time to help with the songwriting. That old friend was Vinnie Vincent. Actually, I think Vinnie reached out to them, but it doesn’t matter. Vinnie had turned over a new leaf and wrote some great songs with both Gene and Paul. And then Vinnie turned back in to Vinnie and tried to renegotiate a contract with them, sued the band and then lost. And Vinnie was again on bad terms with the band. Oh well, at least they tried. There was another Kiss connection on this album as the boys from the band Black ‘N Blue were brought in to help with backing vocals. They would be Jaime St. James and Tommy Thayer. Tommy is now the current Kiss guitarist for the band. This brings the count to 7 Kiss members that worked on the album…Gene, Paul, Eric S., Eric C., Bruce, Tommy and Vinnie. Pretty cool!
Prior to the release of their next studio album, Kiss was asked to due a song for a movie. That movie was Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey. Yes, one of cinema’s finest movies, I know. The song was a cover of “God Gave Rock And Roll To You” by the band Argent, but the lyrics were changed up so much, they added the “II” at the end to signify it was a little different than the original. So that meant, not only was Russ Ballard’s name on the credits, it now had Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley and producer Bob Ezrin who the band was working with at the time for the new album. The single was released on August 22, 1991.
What was special about this song and release is that is the last Kiss single to feature Eric Carr. Eric wasn’t healthy enough to do the drums at the time, but he is featured in the background vocals. And luckily he was healthy enough to be in the video. Eric was extremely ill as he had been diagnosed with heart cancer. He had become so ill, he was no longer able to play, so the drum work on the song was handled by Eric Singer, who also did the drum work on the band’s next album, ‘Revenge’. Eric Carr made his last public appearance with the band shortly after the video at the MTV Musis Awards in September 1991. Shortly thereafter, Carr suffered an aneurysm then a brain hemorrhage and never regained consciousness. He later died on November 24, 1991 which was sadly, the same day Freddie Mercury of Queen had died and that overshadowed his death.
It had been two years since the last studio album, ‘Crazy Nights’ and still the band wasn’t working on a new album. Gene Simmons was out producing bands on his record label and Paul Stanley decided that in early 1989, he was going to go out on a solo tour. People were freaking out as was this the end of Kiss. Paul’s solo band on the tour had two major Kiss connections. On guitar was Bob Kulick and on drums was future Kiss drummer Eric Singer who would take over after the death of Eric Carr. Paul even went so far as to sing and record the title song to the Wes Craven movie ‘Shocker’. Kiss in my eyes, seemed doomed.
But it wasn’t the end. In mid-1989, the band got back together and finally started working on the new album. They had a very small budget for this album so instead of going in and fully recording a new album, they grabbed a bunch of demos and re-worked or even overdubbed them to turn them in to the album we have here. ‘Hot in The Shade’ has a crazy number of songs with 15 and the album was about an hour long. This was the late 80’s when bands felt they needed to fill up the entire CD and as a result, we got a lot of bloated albums at that time. If you knocked a few songs off this album, it would be a lot better but still suck.
After Kiss released the greatest hits package ‘Chikara’ to Japanese and European audiences, the U.S. finally got its own greatest hits package. This was now the fourth greatest hits set the other two being Killers and Double Platinum. Of the four, the U.S. only saw two official releases. ‘Smashes, Thrashes & Hits’ was released on November 15, 1988. Kiss wasn’t doing much at this time. They were done touring for ‘Crazy Night’, they wouldn’t start working on their next album for about at least half a year or more, Gene had his side projects of his own record label and the band was in limbo.
The album sold pretty well selling over 2 million copies in the U.S. alone. The album did have two brand new songs to help drive fans to buy it (and it worked, I bought it). And like the compilation, ‘Killers’, the two new songs were solely done by Paul Stanley. Gene was not involved yet again as he was too busy. Paul saves the day yet again. The album did contain 15 tracks, but the European release of this album saw 16 tracks which the extra track was “Crazy, Crazy Nights” from the album ‘Crazy Nights’. Apparently in the U.S., they thought that album was too new to include a song on the compilation I guess.
Now my copy of this album is very special. It was autographed by Lori if you look in the Kiss logo on the front cover. I don’t know who she is, but I bet she owned this record many years ago. All I know her signature actually isn’t worth much because it brought down the price of the album by around $50 and I only paid like $15-20 for it. Thanks Lori. You saved me a lot.
Kiss were plugging along and everything is still right in the world. In 1988, as they were preparing for their Tour of Japan, the label and the band decided to release a greatest hits compilation. The CD was issued on May 25, 1988 and was limited to only 100,000 copies and only released in Japan. The was the 2nd greatest hits package to not be issued in the U.S., the first being 1982’s ‘Killers’. For that fact, this is a hot collector’s item for Kiss collectors and I didn’t even know about it until years after its release and I still don’t have a physical copy of this release (but I will get one someday).
The Japanese character on the back of the case and on the CD might look familiar. It is the same symbol that was on the bottom of the cover art for the band’s 1974 album, ‘Hotter Than Hell’. Eric Carr also used that symbol on his drum kits for quite some time. Chikara is the Japanese word for Power if you are interested in knowing that fact. And when you are looking to buy this CD on ebay or somewhere, the prize to get is the OBI strip with all the Japanese writing. A lot of the ones I’ve seen out there don’t have that strip anymore.
We are going to take a little break and highlight a couple singles I have in my collection. This is a little bonus material for you in the series. First up is the 12″ single for the band’s first single off ‘Crazy Nights’. It is the title track, but called “Crazy, Crazy Night” because one crazy wasn’t enough. The single was released on August 18, 1987 and was the highest charting song for the band in the UK hitting at #4 and selling over 200,000 copies (that would be the 7″ single I am sure). In the US, it only reached #64 on the Top 100 songs, but I do remember seeing the video on MTV a lot.
This 12″ single does come with 4 songs, but I can’t find much about this release at all. It does not appear that any of these songs are anything other than the album release version. I do know this version is the UK release and was not in the US so glad I was able to find a copy. The picture sleeve is nothing new as it is basically the album cover. The cool thing about it are those Vertigo Labels. Strange not seeing Mercury or Casablanca.
We have come to the part of the Kiss timeline in which I believe Kiss would like to completely forget. The Kiss ‘Exposed’ VHS tape that was released on May 18, 1987. In an MTV world and the 80’s rock screaming of women and excess, Kiss decided to put together a collection of their 80’s music videos that they had so far. But no, that wasn’t enough. Gene and Paul wanted to give you so much more. Some exclusive interviews, some vintage videos and a lot of women (and we will get to that in a minute).
In what can be described simply as a train wreck, we get a semi-scripted, badly acted performance of Kiss doing little sketches and some actually real and great interviews. The set for this fantasmic masterpiece is what is supposed to be Paul’s mansion…guess what…it wasn’t. They rented it for this video shoot and brought a lot of Kiss memorabilia in to make you think it was Paul’s actual bachelor pad. The set up was supposed to be some sort of documentary where this clumsy, nerdy news-type guy and a horny cameraman follow Gene and Paul around and do interviews. The sketches are horribly bad, Paul is not funny…and I mean groaningly not funny and Gene is well…Gene.
On top of that the house and every scene is covered with half-naked, and in some cases, very naked women lying around being horribly objectified and they are being misogynistic towards. In today’s world, it is completely and utterly unacceptable. However, when you are 17-18 years old in 1987, it is totally AWESOME!! I got to see Boobies!!! Because at 17/18, that was not something I was getting to see on a regular basis. I had this on VHS at the time and can’t believe my parents let me watch it. Thankfully they never saw it or I wouldn’t get to see it again. When I watched this a couple weeks ago, it was suddenly very painful to watch.