By the time KISS Alive II was release in 1977, the mighty KISS machine was essentially a money press. In three and a half short years, Casablanca Records managed to stuff the record bins with nine different KISS packages, six of which were original material. If that sounds like a lot of product, consider this: In 1978, Casablanca jammed another six KISS-branded albums into the bins. And on top of that, KISS merchandise was everywhere. No wonder the first-wave fans were all but gone by 1979’s Dynasty.
Anyway, 1977 was KISS’s peak year, and nothing captures their magical combination of hype, gimmicks, and big dumb rock better than Alive II.
Like its predecessor, 1975’s Alive!, everything about this album is sweetened. The crowd noise is heightened, cannon sound effects are used for the explosions, instruments and vocals are overdubbed. Even the gatefold sleeve is a fiction: A staged photo of all of the band’s effects going off at once.
Paul Stanley makes no apologies for this in his recent memoir. His logic is this: The goal wasn’t to capture a KISS show, but to capture the sensation of a KISS show. I get that. I spent hours as a kid staring at that gatefold, imagining I was there. One little flash pot going off wouldn’t have had the same impact.
And speaking of impact, that stencil font on the cover coupled with that over the top photo of Gene Simmons gave me the sensation that a KISS show was some kind of war. Bathed in golden light, Ace looked like a true spaceman, and back lit Paul was the iconic rock star. Also, Peter. Peter is on the cover, too. Sweet Christine’s sixteen did I want to go to that show.
The band didn’t have enough new material in their stage show (i.e., new since the previous live album) to justify a two record set, so side 4 of Alive II contains pure studio filler. I was an Ace kid so my choice cut was “Rocket Ride,” but Gene’s creepy “Larger Than Life” was good for some elementary school dirty giggles.
But listen: If you think it’s all abut the music, then you weren’t ten years-old in 1977. A new KISS album was like the ultimate box of Fruity Pebbles: full of prizes. Alive II included an album-sized booklet entitled “The Evolution of KISS,” which seems like overkill for a band that hadn’t even celebrated its fourth birthday.
On the other hand, it was stuffed with photos so I wasn’t complaining. Tossing the record onto the turntable and thumbing through the booklet photos was as close to seeing a KISS concert as I was going to get in the pre-VCR and too-young-to-go-to-shows era.
But the real prize was the sheet of watercolor tattoos, which every true KISS fan immediately rubbed all over his arms. Well, most every true KISS fan. Some played the role of curator, maintaining their albums just as they purchased them:
Every KISS album came with an insert inviting the lucky purchaser to buy more crap, and more importantly join the KISS Army. I don’t know how many of these flyers I filled out and never mailed in. Damn you, mirrored KISS belt buckle! You may have evaded me for over 30 years, but the war isn’t over yet! You will be mine!
Even the inner sleeves were covered with artwork, and to Paul Stanley’s point that photo captures the spirit of a KISS show perfectly. See that dude in the center of the photo, arms outstretched and grinning like a madman? That’s exactly what I looked like when I finally attended a KISS gig and the confetti started flying.
You won’t get any argument from me that the band’s songs are simple and their lyrics sophomoric. I won’t debate you when you state that Peter Criss’s drum solo is, well, bad, or that Paul’s stage patter borders on sassy black girl. But none of that matters. I’ve been to an insane number of shows in my life, and for sheer joy and entertainment, nothing beats a KISS show, and the entire Alive II package (except side 4) captures that.
If you can find a nice condition copy that still includes all of the inserts (especially the tattoos), you’re looking at the $50-$75 range. Most KISS albums are pretty beat up, so if you just want a copy you can score a scratched up one for 5-10 bucks. Happy hunting.