YOU WANTED THE BEST, YOU GOT THE BEST!!
Released on June 25, 1996 (Mercury Records)
Review by William Nesbitt:
Let’s be clear — You Wanted The Best, You Got The Best!! is one of the more inessential KISS releases for fans. However, it is significant in the overall history of KISS. Basically, it’s a selection of live tracks from Alive! (1975) and Alive II (1977). Whether you like You Wanted The Best depends mostly on how much you enjoy the two albums it draws from. This begs the question of why anyone would buy this album if they already have the first two Alive records. Well, there is some new material, but that new material constitutes the minority of the album. In the liner notes, KISS catalog consultant Robert V. Conte explains that “After extensive research in the KISS vaults, never-before-heard live renditions of ‘Room Service,’ ‘Take Me,’ ‘Let Me Know,’ and ‘Two Timer’ have been uncovered and remastered.” Danny Greenberg, then President and CEO of Mercury Records, adds that “in addition to the previously unreleased live tracks, the four original members of KISS have included a conversation with Jay Leno” that was “recorded in the Green Room of The Tonight Show with no lights or cameras present.” In others words, there is a bonus un-aired interview with the band. When we add it all together, the new material is not really enough for a full-length release. What KISS did is take an EP’s worth of material and pad it to make a full album.
This was not the original vision for the record. In an interview with KISS Concert History Online, Conte remembers that the album was meant to be something special, “the ultimate ‘bootleg album’ for the KISS fan that’s been waiting 15 years for the band to be back together.” It would have included “a gatefold cover,” “a poster,” and “a bunch of tchotchkes” (fun trinkets). The idea never came to fruition because the label decided that “we have to do this as a major release” for the casual listener that bypassed the subsection Conte originally envisioned as the audience for the album. Conte explains that “by going in that direction you’re trying to encompass a wider spectrum of listeners as opposed to the real diehards…. You’ve just changed the whole dynamic of the album.” You Wanted The Best became a victim of unclear and competing visions and goals. Conte says that “when you’re in a room full of a dozen people and everybody has their own opinion and ideas…. it winds up being this mishmash of all these ingredients just thrown together.” As the saying goes, a camel is a horse designed by a committee. In fact, the processes that produced You Wanted The Best are so convoluted and obscured, I can’t even locate production credits in the CD liner notes, and had to use information from the YouTube “Room Service” video “Provided to YouTube by Universal Music Group,” which also gives an incorrect release date of “1996-01-01” so don’t rely too much on this information. It’s as if this album gave terrible birth to itself.
The end result, then, is a thin, compromised version of Conte’s concept. Why these particular tracks from the first two Alive releases were chosen is unclear, just as why these particular unreleased tracks were chosen. In fact, there has been plenty of speculation over the years that the previously unreleased tracks were modified in some way. Some suspect Gene Simmons and/or Paul Stanley of redoing vocal tracks. Others think the four tracks are the work of the original members but the tracks are not live tracks from the ’70s but tracks recorded in the mid-’90s after the reunion. Still others believe that previous and future KISS members including Eric Singer, Bruce Kulick, and/or Tommy Thayer used their own playing as replacement parts for various sections of the live recordings from the original members. Listeners say that they can hear differences in the tracks that differentiate one player or era from another.
KISS created the background and continue to provide the fuel for such questions and speculation. By now, it’s well known that KISS used outside players on numerous studio albums. Alive II and Alive III contain songs recorded during soundchecks and added crowd noise. A September 10, 2015 article by Nick Deriso on Ultimate Classic Rock titled How Kiss Came ‘Alive’ by Using Studio Magic quotes producer Eddie Kramer as well as various members of KISS talking about the use of studio overdubs to create Alive!. In a September 1993 interview with Guitar School when asked, “Was any overdubbing done to fix mistakes” on Alive III, Stanley replies, “About as much as we did on Alive II. If there was something glaring that needed to be fixed, it was fixed.” Psycho Circus (1998) was supposed to feature the four original KISS members. However, Kevin Valentine and future member Tommy Thayer handled the majority of the drums and lead guitar. The point of this review is not to document KISS’ sleight of hand in the studio, but to contextualize and justify people’s reasonable doubt about the authenticity and purity of You Wanted The Best’s additional live tracks.
If it’s KISS, I’m suspicious, but I can’t render an opinion with any authority on what may or may not have been switched around. There are two people who can, though. In a 2021 video, Kulick says, “No! I didn’t do anything on those lost ’70s KISS songs. It wasn’t me.” The internet frequently repeats that there is a 1998 interview with Latent Image magazine in which Kulick states that he “participated in some aspects of this album in the studio.” I am unable to source that, so that may just be one of those internet tumbleweeds of dubious origin that continues to blow about the internet. In an almost two-hour interview with Three Sides of the Coin, Conte talks about the suspect tracks. Around the 1:18:20 mark, Conte says that “The versions of those four songs that I heard with the engineers, that we packaged and shipped off to Tommy Thayer, are not the same versions that the consumers have heard today.” In the same interview, Conte confirmed that these versions shipped to Thayer were the multi-track recordings, so replacing one or more of the individual parts would not have been at all difficult.
Why would KISS release this album? Well, they follow the money and they answer to a record label is the short answer. The longer answer is more complex. First, let’s look at how KISS started moving back toward their classic sound and look with 1989’s Hot In The Shade. Ultimate Classic Rock published How KISS Reclaimed Their Legacy on the Hot In The Shade Tour, in which Matthew Wilkening explains that “During average shows on the 1987-88 Crazy Nights tour, the band played eighteen songs, only five of which dated [from] its first decade; the Hot In The Shade tour more than doubled the number of ’70s tracks, which now took up thirteen spots in a twenty-two-song show.” Additionally, on April 1, 1990, KISS released the video for “Rise To It,” featuring the band in make-up for the first time since the 1982-83 Creatures of The Night tour. There were clear signs even then that KISS were returning to their roots.
Now, let’s look at the chronology of KISS releases in the 1990s:
Revenge (studio, 1992)
Alive III (live, 1993)
Unplugged (live, March 1996)
You Wanted The Best, You Got The Best!! (live, June 1996)
Greatest KISS (compilation, 1997)
Carnival of Souls: The Final Sessions (studio, 1997)
Psycho Circus (studio, 1998)
Greatest Hits (compilation 1999)
You will notice that KISS pumped out eight albums — of one type or another — in eight years. After the initial reunion of the original members on MTV Unplugged on August 9, 1995, KISS released six albums in four years, which looks like an attempt to capitalize on the renewed interest in KISS and pump out product. Remember, KISS sold out the first reunion date at Tiger Stadium in forty-seven minutes, so they were hot in the mid to late ’90s. Though You Wanted The Best has no credits page, it devotes a full panel to advertising the KISStory book priced at $158.95, which is about $270.00 in 2021. Generating revenue was clearly a priority.
The only problem is there were two very different types of KISS in operation. KISS have always claimed to be innovators. Before bands such as L.A. Guns, Great White, Ratt, Queensrÿche, and Rough Cutt had two competing versions of themselves, KISS had an alternative — phantom KISS working against them. If you review the album list above, you will notice the reunited KISS did not put out an album of new material until 1998’s Psycho Circus. In 1996, the last two studio albums in the ’90s did not have original drummer Peter Criss and original guitarist Ace Frehley. Instead, 1990’s KISS were represented, so far, by 1992’s grunge-influenced Revenge and 1993’s Alive III, both of which used guitarist Bruce Kulick and drummer Eric Singer. To further complicate matters, that version of KISS released its third record, a second studio album — this one just as much if not more influenced by 90s grunge — with the Kulick/Singer line-up just a few months before the unplugged reunion (which was itself perhaps an uncomfortable and confusing event since both versions of KISS played the show). Carnival of Souls, that third ’90s studio album with Kulick and Singer, was shelved so as not to compete with the reunion line-up and confuse the fans. Copies were leaked and circulated. Bootlegs do not make the label money, so Mercury Records released Carnival of Souls: The Final Sessions on October 28, 1997. In hindsight, holding Carnival of Souls back for a down-the-line expanded release of Revenge or the 2001 box set would have been a better choice. What exactly is KISS in 1997? Fans were receiving mixed messages and being bombarded with product from both versions of KISS.
It’s a strange situation in which going back to the original members, style, and sound could potentially create market confusion. The situation in 1996 is that KISS were trying to reactivate and relaunch the original brand, yet they had no representative recent studio release. However, the early/mid-’90s variation of KISS had a recent studio release and a live album, both featuring a different line-up, image, and sound. To make matters worse, the band knew the shelved Carnival of Souls existed and found out or decided at some later point it was going to be formally released right in the midst of the reunion. In essence, KISS were competing with themselves. The flood of albums, including You Wanted The Best, was an attempt to counterbalance, if not obliterate the Kulick/Singer incarnation of KISS from the minds of fans and bridge the product gap to Psycho Circus. MTV Unplugged gives consumers recent live material from the original band. You Wanted The Best gives consumer old live material from the original band. Greatest KISS, released the same year as Carnival of Souls, contains only material from the original band’s studio albums along with a live track from one of the Tiger Stadium concerts.
Although You Wanted The Best may have helped reintroduce and reinforce the 1970s incarnation of KISS and drain wallets at all fan levels, it would have negative, long-term repercussions. Conte says that his idea for the 1997 KISS remasters was to include elaborate, expanded versions of the basic albums. However, You Wanted The Best had a domino effect into what we were really able to do with the remasters because Mercury/Def Jam said, ‘Hey if this brand new compilation isn’t doing well, then why would re-releasing these albums and making them look prettier do anywhere near what you’re saying they’re going to do in terms of sales?’ Although we eventually did receive expanded, and to some, disappointing, versions of Destroyer (2012) and Love Gun (2014), the window had closed substantially by that point. It’s ironic that an album focusing so much on the past determined so much of the future.
Let’s look at the final — and to some the most puzzling — track on You Wanted The Best. Although it may seem like the most trivial addition, the interview with Jay Leno is my highlight. I don’t need more live tracks that I already have on the first two Alive releases. At least this interview is unreleased, although including more unreleased live tracks would have made the most sense. In a 2014 conversation with Krazy Knights, Conte says other songs such as “Flaming Youth” comprised the “about fourteen tracks” that should have been on the album. The interview is the last track, so it’s easy to skip. Yes, a lot of the information is common knowledge to most fans. However, listening to the entire band hanging out together, joking around, and helping each other tell stories is a treat. Parts of it were laugh-out-loud funny. After reading and hearing so many insults exchanged among members, it’s nice to hear what sounds like genuine camaraderie, especially when we know that both Frehley and Criss would exit the band in the 2000s. At least with the interview track, we can be (pretty) sure) that no one other than the original four and Leno are on there and that no one snuck in any re-recorded voices later.
After listening to various comments during the interview about “magic” and “fantasy,” preserving the “mystique,” and not looking too deep beneath the face paint, a clear theme emerges. KISS is like a magic show: you’ll enjoy it most when you aren’t trying to catch the performers and figure out how the trick works.
Unfortunately, You Wanted The Best is a trick we’ve mostly heard before.
The album is like many box sets of the era that tried to appeal to both casual and hardcore fans by focusing on previously released greatest hits with some new material mixed in. Neither fan base is fully satisfied. In this case, the hardcores are only getting four new tracks of music and an interview they may or may not care about; most of these tracks they already have. The casuals are getting a sort of Alive I and II greatest hits with an interview they will probably care about even less than the hardcores. You Wanted The Best may at best be a gateway to the first two Alive releases. I have this CD only because somebody left it at my place twenty years ago. The album does not deserve one exclamation mark, let alone two. You wanted the best, but you did not get the best.
For more information, please see my interview with Robert V. Conte elsewhere on this site.
Review by Lance Lumley:
1996 was a year where KISS fans were excited and confused at the same time. Emotions were strong with the band finally announcing the reunion tour with original members Ace Frehley and Peter Criss, which many had speculated after their appearance on MTV‘s Unplugged. Fans of the current line-up, with Eric Singer and Bruce Kulick were left in confusion, wondering how the tour would place their status in the band — would they sit out, or would there be a segment where both line-ups would be on stage, along with the status of the album that Eric and Bruce just recorded with the band? Would there be new music with the original members as well? To coincide with the reunion tour, named the Alive/Worldwide Tour, the band put out You Wanted The Best, You Got The Best, a greatest hits live release to keep fans happy. But did it? The collection was mostly filled with tracks from the Alive! and Alive II releases which many KISS fans already owned for decades, along with a few “unreleased, re-mastered” tracks, with a lengthy interview with talk show host Jay Leno. Since the band could not get songs written, recorded, and mixed before the tour, putting out a compilation release made the most sense in terms of marketing. The packaging, with a red/pink CD case and a cool looking cover design, with each member in make-up bursting out of a background with flames, was something KISS for the most part were the masters of putting out amazing album covers. For fans who were new to the band (younger kids who never got the see them through the make-up years, or even through the 1980s version of the group), this was a good promotional tool to get them excited for the tour. But, let’s look at the music, focusing the unreleased tracks.
“Room Service,” the opening track with the announcer stating “You Wanted The Best, You Got The Best..” , that began every live show, starts off rocking. It is interesting to hear this announcement before a song other than “Deuce” or “Detroit Rock City” — songs that the band would usually open a concert with “Deuce” being the most used opener at this time, due to “Detroit Rock City” wasn’t recorded until 1976. This recording from 1975, which also opened the Dressed To Kill studio album, doesn’t seem out of place as an opening track, even as a live song, since fans were used to it on the studio release. The galloping drum style from Peter is nice to hear in a live setting with strong fills. The pyro explosions are missing from the normal KISS opening live song, but the song still works here. Paul Stanley has stated, according to the book Kiss: Behind The Mask, that this song, and “Two Timer,” were the best off of this release.
“Two Timer,” is one of my favorite rarer songs by Gene Simmons (also from the same 1975 album). This version, was actually the first time I heard the song (I had the Dressed To Kill cassette tape, but hardly listened to it, preferring the other make-up albums). The track has a chugging R&B/soul bass groove that I really enjoy, along with the line “Call me a two-time loser,” is a wonderful connecting songwriting lyric to the title. The song isn’t as dark as some of the other Demon songs, with a radio friendly style without compromising the character that Simmons created. The song goes right into “Let Me Know,” which has the fun, sing-a-long style that begged to be in a live setting. Even though I like the studio version, the added extended chorus helped get me more excited in getting to see the band on the tour. This reunion tour was the first time I got to see KISS live. I didn’t see concerts until I was almost 18 years old, and my buddies were not fans of the band, until my childhood best friend demanded that he see, in his opinion, the only “cool” member of KISS in make-up (Ace was his guy) when the tour was announced. “Let Me Know” is a great live track that gets people moving.
After three songs from the Alive! album (“Rock Bottom,” “Parasite,” and “Firehouse”), and a few from Alive II (“I Stole Your Love” and “Calling Dr. Love”), the unreleased/re-mastered “Take Me” is next. This is the weakest of the newer tracks, where it just doesn’t get the steam that the other songs have. Paul Stanley‘s vocals are so tucked into the track that it makes it feel like the recording was done by the producer recording in the cheap seats of the 1977 tour, or it is one of Paul‘s reworked vocals to make it sound like it was tucked in to make the fans believe it was a live setting. Who knows for sure, but it isn’t one of the better songs on the CD. I wasn’t a fan of the studio version of the song, so the live version didn’t do anything to change my mind.
“Shout It Out Loud,” and “Beth” from Alive II follows, along with “Rock And Roll All Nite” from the first live album. When reading some past reviews of this release, many reviews bashed adding “Beth” to the album, but why not add one of the band’s biggest hits to get those that normally didn’t have KISS albums (even the live CDs) to buy on a single disc? If KISS was going to have a live collection of hits, it would be criminal not to have the live version of “Rock And Roll All Nite” on it, which many die-hard fans complained by not having the most successful version (and the one that put KISS on the map in terms of radio play) on the previous “Hits” CDs, like 1978’s Double Platinum, and Smashes, Trashes & Hits from 1988. These two are logical choices, even though some of the fans may have wanted something else on it, the purpose of the release was to expose the newer fans to the music before the tour.
Ending the CD is a 17 minute long interview hosted by Jay Leno, called KISS Tells All. Some questioned adding this instead of putting more songs on here. Historically though, it made some sense. Jay Leno was the biggest Late Night talk show host at the time, inheriting the prestigious gig from Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show. Why not have the top interviewer on television lead the biggest news story in music of the year — KISS in make-up with Ace and Peter? As much as I would like to have “New York Groove” with Eric Carr drumming (which was released on the Japanese version of this CD), maybe they didn’t have enough songs to put out in terms of unreleased music, or not wanting to totally rehash the two live albums. For fans that love to collect everything KISS, from radio interviews and appearances (like I was at the time), this conversation fit their needs to add something to the collection, although the listener wasn’t going to be replaying the interview over and over, as opposed to some of the unreleased songs.
You Wanted The Best, You Got The Best is a conflict. Fans who bought all of the band’s recordings up to this date may have felt that this was a money grab for Gene and Paul to collect on. Was having the “re-mastered/unreleased” songs worth it, now knowing that the rumors of Bruce Kulick playing the guitar overdubs on it, along with Paul‘s vocals redone show, again, that Ace and Peter were not fully involved in the music? Plus, looking at the discography of the band, this was the third live CD in a row without original material (Alive III, Unplugged, and now this), with the last studio work being the great 1992 Revenge. Some fans may have been worn out of the live releases. We know now that the studio album with Eric and Bruce was put on hold in Carnival of Souls (after yet another Greatest Hits album) which by the time it was finally released, it slipped under the table due to the heavy bootlegged versions leaked out. This along with the band trying to work with Ace and Peter on Psycho Circus, which they were not heavily involved in as well, and with Kulick and Tommy Thayer handling most of guitar duties and Kevin Valentine the drums.
For fans like me who did not have Alive! or Alive II at the time, this was a cheaper alternative than trying and find a store that carried the original live double CDs, paying $25 plus (USA price) for each one. A single disc was enough for newer fans as well to get acquainted with the band live before seeing them on the tour. This CD doesn’t get played often in my KISS rotation, but does it deserve all the hate that some give it? The answer is no. I think there are some things on here that are worthy. For instance, KISS fans got a few songs that were not heard before, but how many fans re-listen to the interview with Leno on a frequent basis today? It is not a release that deserves praise for being a great collection, compared to some others by the band, but for us fans who were willing to have the CD to get us ready for the Alive/Worldwide Tour experience, it was enough to satisfy.
The main purpose was to get the newer fans a taste of the era they may have missed out on or to run out and buy tickets for the tour. Chart wise, the album sold well in several countries, so looking at the goal in terms of the initial purpose of getting newer fans ready for the tour, it succeeded, along with the successful profits of the tour. For me, the historical memories of getting ready to see my first KISS show with my childhood friend is more lasting than this being a CD that I have in constant rotation.
01. Room Service
02. Two Timer
03. Let Me Know
04. Rock Bottom
07. I Stole Your Love
08. Calling Dr. Love
09. Take Me
10. Shout It Out Loud
12. Rock And Roll All Night
13. KISS Tells All (Interview session with Jay Leno)
Gene Simmons – bass, vocals
Paul Stanley – rhythm guitar, vocals
Ace Frehley – lead guitar
Peter Criss – drums, vocals (11)
Bruce Kulick – guitar overdubs (1, 2, 3, 9)
Executive producer: Jason A. Linn
Production coordinator – Tommy Thayer
Produced and engineered by Eddie Kramer (4, 5, 6, 12)
Produced by KISS and Eddie Kramer (7, 8, 10, 11)
Mixed by Eddie Kramer (7, 8, 10, 11)
Mixed by Jimbo Barton (1, 2, 3, 9)
Digitally remastered by Stephen Marcussen
Catalog consultant: Robert V. Conte
Reviewed by William Nesbitt and Lance Lumley for Sleaze Roxx, June 2021
KISS‘ “Room Service” live audio: