Revisiting a classic

By Tom MacIntosh

It is considered to be one of the greatest live rock albums of all time, right up there with Cheap Trick At Budokan, Made in Japan by Deep Purple, and Frampton Comes Alive by Peter Frampton, we are of course talking about KISS Alive!, released in 1975. It was an explosive package that delivered more than anything out there at the time. For starters, ‘live’ albums were not popular, and to make a double live LP was considered suicide. KISS founder Gene Simmons explains, “ those days, live records were a symbol of doom, and double live records simply didn’t exist. There was only one teeny tiny glitch, KISS Alive! wasn’t exactly live.

Producer Eddie Kramer’s task was to usurp the best songs out of 4 live shows, songs that had appeared on their previous albums KISS (1974), Hotter Than Hell (1974), and Dressed To Kill (1975), at venues in Detroit, Cleveland, New Jersey, and Iowa. After listening to the recordings, they were unimpressed, so they did what all artists do, they went back to the studio and cleaned it up.

KISS was undoubtedly ‘the’ live show to see with their bombastic performances featuring smoking guitars, shooting rockets, spitting blood, levitating drum sets, fire-breathing, pyrotechnics, and what about the hypnotic marvel comic costumes and Kabuki make-up: Paul Stanley was The Star Child, Simmons was The Demon (naturally, with a snake’s menacing tongue), Ace Frehley was The Spaceman, and drummer Peter Criss, The Catman. Keep in mind that this was 44 years ago when this type of show was fresh and exciting, (some called it atrocious and evil) even though their radio playtime suffered next to pop acts like Elton John, The Captain and Tennille, and their first 3 albums reflect this as well in sales, the risk to put out a 2ble live album certainly detonated any uncertainties as to who was who.

So when the recording was edited they had to polish up the musicianship due to all the activity onstage (jumping, fire-breathing, bombs exploding etc..) and even dub in an exuberant, ‘gone-crazy’ crowd. Nevertheless, you cannot hear any of the ‘fixes’, even the inclusion of a Frehley lengthy solo on Rock and Roll All Nite is perfectly seamless. Stanley writes in his book that authenticity was not desired here, “...who wanted to hear an out-of-tune guitar?...yes we enhanced it, not to hide anything or fool anyone”, but to make it perfect, and perfect is what it is.

The band’s tenure at Casablanca Records had been joyless thus far, the label’s money well had run dry after their first 3 failed attempts, so everything was on the life-support until KISS Alive! jolted them into stardom.

This double album houses 16 sizzling tracks which are full of confident doses of testosterone, braggadocio, and unprecedented sonic ecstasy. Side 1 sets the tone in ferocious fashion with Deuce, Strutter, Got to Choose, Hotter Than Hell, and Firehouse, bringing these studio recordings to life. Now the listener is completely hooked and the rest of the album just flows out like molten lava. Other adrenaline infused numbers include Nothin’ to Lose, where Simmons and Criss shine vocally, as well as Watching You, Parasite and She, showcasing Frehley’s deft touch in solos on most likely his Gibson Flying V, or his beloved ‘73 Gibson Les Paul Deluxe. The longest track on the record is 100,000 Years, (12 minutes) featuring a Criss drum solo of over 7 minutes, followed by definitive KISS numbers Black Diamond, Rock Bottom and Cold Gin, covering all the bases of hard-driving rock. The album’s undying hero is the first KISS song heard and sung around the world, Rock and Roll All Night, which sends the crowd into a frenzy on maybe one of the best party songs of all time. The closer is the kicker Let Me Go, Rock and Roll, with Frehley and Stanley exchanging tasty licks, rounding out an outstanding record which validated and justified everything else they went on to do, like the Alive! follow-ups Alive! II, III, and IV, also spawned the Kiss Army of devoted fans, went Gold almost instantly and set them up for their Rock Gods status ever after.