The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES Part 6:
Music fans consider it one of the greatest live albums of all time. Its name is spoken in the same breath as Frampton Comes Alive, Cheap Trick At Budokan, and Deep Purple Made in Japan. It spawned thousands of young new guitar players (particularly of the grunge era), eager to emulate the six string heroism of Ace Frehley. There is really only one miniscule issue: Kiss Alive! is not really live.
Oh sure, Kiss and producer Eddie Kramer did record live shows. When they listened back to the tapes, there were no performances that satisfied them. Kiss were too rambunctious live. They were busy jumping around, entertaining the crowd, not paying attention to each and every note. For the live album, they weren’t looking for perfection, just performances without glaring mistakes or noise. They realized they didn’t capture that with the shows they recorded. So they did what most bands do: went back into the studio and try to fix it. Lead singer and guitarist Paul Stanley explained it in his book: “Yes, we enhanced it – not to hide anything, not to fool anyone. But who wanted to hear a mistake repeated endlessly? Who wanted to hear an out-of-tune guitar? For what? Authenticity?”
Authenticity is an important part of great rock music, but not the only important part. If you can’t tell the difference, then does it matter? Fans listened to Kiss Alive! for decades, blindly enjoying every detail, from Ace Frehley’s extended “Rock and Roll all Nite” guitar solo, to Paul Stanley’s unforgettable stage raps. Few suspected anything was out of the ordinary, unless they heard original bootleg recordings of the same Kiss gigs. Eddie Kramer and the band re-recorded approximately 70% of the album. The only thing they didn’t have to touch were Peter Criss’ drums, which were already pretty solid. Bass, vocals, and even lead guitar was touched up and fixed, all but seamlessly.
The reason Kiss Alive! was and is considered great is that you can’t tell the difference. Unlike a double live Poison album (or even Kiss Alive II), you cannot hear obvious fixes and overdubs. Kiss Alive! might not be authentic, but certainly sounds it.
With 16 scorching tracks all sourced from the first three Kiss albums, Alive! is all killer and no filler. Even the typical “slow” moments, such as a long Paul Stanley rap backed by a Peter Criss drum solo (“100,000 Years”) is an unforgettable highlight. Importantly, the new live version of “Rock and Roll all Nite” became the definitive one. Today, it’s not the studio original version that still gets ready airplay. It’s the Kiss Alive! version. Many of these tracks usurp the originals as the superior versions: “Firehouse”, “Cold Gin”, “Watchin’ You”, “Nothin’ to Lose”, and just about everything from Hotter Than Hell. For the first time, all the warmth and energy are captured on Kiss vinyl. If any of their studio material sounded sleepy, then this was a shot of caffeine. Any sonic issues with the first Kiss studio albums are quickly forgotten by these volcanic recordings, finally capturing Kiss’ full power…in a roundabout way.
Kiss Alive! saved the band, and saved their record label Casablanca records. Casablanca were on the verge of bankruptcy, and manager Bill Aucoin had to put the band on the road using his American Express card for currency. Alive! put everybody back in the black. It also put Kiss on the map as a rock and roll band to be reckoned with. The two LP set was decked out with a gatefold sleeve, photos, a booklet, and even written notes from the band members. For the first time, it felt like Kiss had released an album that lived up not only to their show, but their larger than life image.
Whether you decide to pick up Kiss Alive! on CD or LP, you will be in for a “rock and roll party” as per Paul Stanley. Our recommended edition: The four disc 2006 box set Alive! 1975-2000. The set contains four volumes of Kiss Alive, deliciously remastered, with each album fit onto a single CD without losing any songs. Fire away.
Uncle Meat’s rating:
Meat’s slice: I would approximate that it was probably somewhere around 1978 when I first heard this record at a friend’s place. I sat there and stared at the inner booklet and the album artwork, and I just wanted to be there. I actually did get there many years later, but since I was like nine years old at this time and had not seen any sort of concert, it was all I knew of what a rock show was. The picture on the back of the album taken at Detroit’s Cobo Hall is an unforgettable one, and makes you almost feel like you are there. You get the scope of what it’s like to be on the floor for an arena show. Tracks like “She”, “100,000 Years” and “Cold Gin” shine on this record specifically because of the banter of Paul Stanley. I think it’s what truly makes the album special. It wouldn’t surprise me to hear that Bruce Dickinson may have learned a thing or two from the Starchild on how to connect with an audience. Alive! is the most important album of Kiss’ career, and is especially significant for those who were lucky to be a Kiss fan at a young age, while their unstoppable takeover of the Earth was building and building.
Following the release of Kiss Alive! in September of 1975, the second half of the 70s became known as the “Live Album Era” of Rock and Roll. Not only were a lot of bands doing it, but they were having massive successes with them (At Budokan…Frampton Comes Alive...Unleashed in the East…If You Want Blood etc). This pioneering album was able to make the listener feel like they were actually at a rock concert, better than almost any live record has since. Kiss Alive! was truly the birth of what is now known as The Kiss Army.
However with all this good comes some bad. It was revealed years ago what everyone had already suspected: Most of the record is overdubbed and even most of the crowd noise is dubbed in. For this reason and this reason alone I didn’t give this album 5 steaks. But I refuse to go lower than 4 ½ .
Favorite Tracks: All of it.
Forgettable Tracks: None
To be continued…
Original mikeladano.com review: 2012/07/03