The “lost” Australian Kiss “Best Of…”

As 1981 dawned, the members of Kiss would have probably been exhausted. 1980 had been an emotional roller-coaster, though there would have been a sense of satisfaction with the completion of touring duties in early December. Peter Criss had departed but Eric Carr had successfully been integrated into the band’s lineup. The delayed tour of Europe had been navigated and Australia visited in a kissteric whirlwind. But there would have been a sense of trepidation. The contract signed with Phonogram in April 1980 specified in section 2(b)ii, “During the term, if any LP of the Minimum Recording Obligation shall not be delivered within thirteen (13) months following delivery of the prior LP of the Minimum Recording Obligation, Company shall have the right to compile and release in the Territory a ‘Best Of’ LP prior to delivery of the next LP of the Minimum Recording Obligation.” It was straight forward math for the Australian affiliate when they broached the topic of new product in January 1981. The completed “Unmasked” album had been delivered to Phonogram on May 16, 1980, and the clock for the next album had started ticking immediately — band member drama and whatnot be damned. Phonogram had gone out on a financial limb to sign Kiss following the implosion at Casablanca, though they’d had a year to discover the full horror of the true situation at the label. Australian PolyGram wasn’t the only affiliate clamoring for new product in early 1981, though it seems to be the only one waving the 1980 contract in Aucoin’s face just a month after a tour had concluded. PolyStar in Japan enquired more politely asking the same question on January 27 followed by Phonogram in the UK two days later, at which time Kiss were only just preparing to start recording some ideas at Ace’s studio. Initial anticipation for completion of the new Kiss album was tentatively targeted for April/May, keeping with the Minimum Recording Obligation deadline.

However, a multitude of complicating factors soon arose. Phonogram wasn’t happy with the amount of time they’d had for the marketing campaign for the “Unmasked” album. It seems that marketing was one avenue explored for the apathetic response it received in most markets, rather than the music or shifting demographics. In early February 1981, Phonogram requested that the group allow them 45 days lead time, particularly with major markets such as the United States and Australia, or face losing record sales. Two weeks later, after Glickman/Marks had triggered the recording clauses requesting the album’s advance payment, they expanded the request to 60-days, to better plan the coordinated release on a worldwide basis. That was a timeframe favored by the Japanese affiliate but didn’t affect the requirements of the delivery date. Once Kiss had spent a couple of weeks at Ace-in-the-Hole, it was clear they had a problem creatively. It is easy for fans to hear the Penny Lane, or even the later pre-Elder Phase I studio, demos and wonder what the problem was. It’s less easy to see or feel the music that was being created from the band member’s perspective or understand the dynamics of their internal situation. Simply put, the band weren’t feeling it. Australian threats, or pressure from other Phonogram affiliates be damned, the music wasn’t happening. They decided they needed help. Enter Bob Ezrin, seen as the most viable candidate to deliver what the band had been promising during 1980: a return to the hard rock form expected by fans. By the end of February, he had signed on, contingent on finishing up other projects that he was pre-committed to or already working on. Delivery date of the new album slipped to May/June/July by March 2, placing it on a knife-edge for compliance with the MRO. Kiss reset and restarted writing before heading to Toronto for their first recording sessions with Bob at the end of May. The plan was simple, akin to “Destroyer,” an album constructed despite the mixed bag of initial quality presented through the Magna Graphic demos.

By June 12, the fiasco had metamorphosed into the absurd, and Aucoin negotiated a delay to October 1, stressing the complexity of the group and Ezrin composing for a conceptual record. He stressed the risks taken, commenting to the band members and Bob, “The repercussions for not delivering by this date is the possible loss of our contractual deal with Polygram, and/or at best, a re-negotiation of our contract which obviously would not benefit us. I doubt PolyGram would give us an extension without wanting to re-negotiate some points in the contract” (Aucoin Memo, 6/12/1981). The risk they were taking was manifest.

However, for Australian PolyGram, the game had ended on June 16 when new product wasn’t delivered. The buzzer sounded, the MRO would be missed, and Kiss were in violation of their contract. PolyGram in Australia again threatened to release a “Best Of” album. Of all markets, they had seen the most action in sales during 1980 and had based sales plans on the availability of new Kiss product during the first half of 1981. They contacted the band’s management to start moving forward with a “Best Of,” resulting in Glickman/Marks being forced to negotiate a side deal to prevent a competing album that could sap sales from the studio album once it was released. They were a most vocally unhappy affiliate in their reaction to “The Elder” when the masters were eventually delivered in October (following further delays, including damaged masters that resulted in Australia being the final major market affiliate to release the album). However, PolyGram never did release that Australian “Best Of,” though they did release the worldwide “KISS Killers” in mid-1982 and license material for the Concept Records “The Singles” release in 1985. At the end of July, PolyGram Australia had relented and agreed to not release a “Best Of” before the end of 1981, if the new album was delivered by September. They also retained their contractual right suggesting they might release one at any time after that, during the remaining term of the contract. The proposed track-listing was nothing spectacular, and per the 1980 contract, would have been open to negotiation with the group.

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