30 Years Ago: Kiss Reimagine Argent for ‘Bill and Ted’ Sequel
Momentum was already in the favor of Kiss when they were approached by Interscope Records to cover Argent's “God Gave Rock and Roll to You” for the soundtrack to the sequel to the surprise 1989 hit film Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. Following some retooling of the lyrics and speeding up the tempo, the band released their interpretation of the song as the ballad “God Gave Rock ‘n’ Roll to You II” on Aug. 22, 1991.
Kiss had spent the majority of the '80s barely keeping it together, between trying to compete with a shifting – and much younger – rock music landscape as well as the wandering eye of Gene Simmons, who was preoccupied looking toward Hollywood and an acting career. The group rebounded as the decade came to a close with 1989’s Hot in the Shade and the ensuing tour which saw them refocus attention on the beloved but long ignored '70s portion of their catalog. Riding high on that success, taking a featured slot on a soundtrack for a hotly anticipated summer movie was a no-brainer.
To manage production, the band dialed up Bob Ezrin, who they hadn’t worked with since the ill-fated 1981 effort Music from ‘The Elder,’ but held esteemed stature for being behind the board for their studio album apex, Destroyer, in 1976. Paul Stanley recalled in his memoir Face the Music: A Life Exposed, Kiss were “trying to capture some Destroyer-era magic and erase the memory of The Elder.” The first thing they needed to do though was change up the lyrics in the primary verse from the original, released in 1973.
“The truth about that song is nobody has any recollection about the original version except for the chorus,” Stanley said in Kiss: Behind the Mask. “If you listen to Argent’s version, I don’t know what the hell they were singing about, they’re singing about flowers, trees and snakes. We told the label that we’d do it, but we’d have to rewrite it.”
Then, prior to recording, Kiss were dealt a crushing blow when it was discovered drummer Eric Carr was suffering from cancer of the heart. He required multiple surgeries to remove tumors and underwent chemotherapy in an effort to try to stop further spread of the disease. While recovering, Carr pleaded with the group to allow him to perform on the track, but Simmons and Stanley insisted he focus on getting well. Instead the band brought in Eric Singer.
“I was very honored to be asked and had no idea at that time how sick Eric really was,” Singer said years later. The drummer played with Stanley on his 1989 solo tour and had recently come off the road with Alice Cooper on the latter's “Trashes the World” tour.
“Eric Singer did some tremendous playing and also changed the chemistry somewhat of the band, so it all felt right,” Stanley said in Behind the Mask. Carr, still desperate to take part in some respect, insisted on singing harmonies during the interlude with Stanley.
“The most poignant part of [the recording] session was when Eric Carr arrived,” Ezrin remembered in Behind the Mask. “He was visibly weakened by his ordeal, but in very good spirits. He showed off the scar on his chest and referred to himself jokingly as ‘the dead guy.’ His pure, high voice was an important part of the breakdown section of the tune. It gave it a special humanity and I cannot hear this section without envisioning his face tilted upward toward the mike, filled with joy at being alive and in the studio again.”
According to Simmons in the 2021 program Biography: KISStory on A&E, Carr “begged” to appear in the video for “God Gave Rock ‘n’ Roll to You II,’ which was filmed in July 1991 in Los Angeles. The drummer was in remission at the time of the shoot but had to wear a wig as he lost his hair during chemo.
“He did a stellar job,” Stanley said in KISStory. “Learned the parts and played them great and did take after take for the video.”
Just a few months after filming the clip, Carr suffered a brain hemorrhage and was hospitalized. He died Nov. 24, 1991 at the age of 41. Looking back, Stanley said he regretted not permitting him to handle the drums on the song.
“If I knew then what I know now – I never thought this might be his last chance to perform – I would have let him play, but at the time I was sure he would beat the odds,” he said in A Life Exposed.
“God Gave Rock ‘n’ Roll to You II” received prominent placement in Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, released July 19, 1991. It plays after a brief, shredding intro by guitarist Steve Vai, during the climactic final scene as the titular main characters return from traveling across time to perform the track at the battle of the bands, which is being broadcast around the world, creating peace and harmony for all who hear it. The song also carries the first portion of the credits. Unfortunately, the movie tanked, though it did eventually become a cult classic.
That didn’t really matter to Kiss, who were so pleased with Ezrin's work on the song that they moved forward with him in the recording of their next album, Revenge -- widely recognized to be one of their best LPs and responsible for keeping them relevant at the dawn of the '90s.
“It’s a track I’m very proud of,” Stanley said in Behind the Mask. “I think ‘God Gave Rock and Roll to You II’ is one of the best things we’ve ever done,” added Simmons.
The song was performed in concert throughout much of the '90s and early '00s. Since 2012, Kiss has been playing the studio version of it at the conclusion of their live sets as audiences leave the venue.