#552: Alive!


In the spring of 1996, we opened up the big store that I managed. It was our biggest store to date. There were a lot of good times at that location, and hundreds of incredible musical finds. Around the same time, I began replacing my cassette collection with CDs in earnest. Cassettes don’t have the longevity or the sound quality of a CD. Most of my tapes were starting to sound awful, especially the ones purchased from Columbia House, who manufactured their own at a lesser cost.

Upgrading my Kiss cassette collection to CD was an early priority. Some of the first Kiss tapes I bought, like Asylum, had degraded so much they were unlistenable. The early (Canadian) CD releases had issues too; they were not perfect. Both Hotter Than Hell and Alive II (disc one) had severe problems with digital noise in specific spots. On Alive II it was “Love Gun” that was the issue. There was a terrible scratchy sound encoded onto the CD.

The differences between my boss and myself were obvious the day that Kiss Alive! came in stock, used.  It came in one of those old “fat” CD cases.  It was the first chance I had to buy the first Alive! at an affordable used price, in such great condition. The boss and I had very different personalities, almost opposites. I was a music obsessive who collected things and wanted to know all the obscure facts. He liked music but just wanted to sell CDs. I grabbed that copy of Alive! and handed it to the boss to ring in with my staff discount.


He sighed and gave me a look. “Don’t you already have this?”

He sounded like my dad. When I’d come home, he’d say, “More Kiss? Don’t you already have Kiss?” My boss had a lot in common with my dad.

I had the tape, but the cassette had the songs in a different order.  This was a fairly common practice.  Song order would be swapped around on cassettes, to keep sides one and two about equal in length. That reduces the amount of actual tape used to manufacture it, and therefore cuts costs. It would be cool to have a CD copy of Alive! to listen to the songs in the original order.

“I have it on cassette and LP,” I explained.  “I listen to the tape, but this CD is different.  The songs are in a different order,” I finished.

He looked at me again and responded in a mocking tone, “Hey Mike, look at my shoes. The left one is different from the right one. Do you want to buy it?”

“No because I don’t collect shoes,” I answered. “I collect Kiss.”

He shrugged with frustration. I really think he was more just pissed off that I had taken some good stock for myself.

Oh well.

Staff taking “good stock” was an ongoing issue, but because getting stock at a discount was one of the established perks of working at a used CD store, there wasn’t much that could be done. I’ll give him credit; the boss considered the staff discount to be part and parcel of the job for all of us.  He eventually put a limit on how much we could buy at a time. Meanwhile, my dad would look at my collection and say “sell, sell, sell!”

He ended up getting that copy of Kiss Alive! back, when I upgraded to the 1997 remastered edition. And then he ended up getting that 1997 remastered edition back when I upgraded to the Kiss Alive! 1975-2000 box set.

He might not have understood my wants and desires as a collector, and he may have complained about me taking all the good stock, but he ended up making money when I sold back my equally good stock. No harm, no foul. Hopefully, I have bought Kiss Alive! for the final time.


RE-REVIEW: KISS – Alive! (1975)


img_20170228_171256kiss-logoAlive! (1975 Casablanca, 2006 remastered edition from Alive! 1975-2000)

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.

Today’s rating:

5/5 stars

Uncle Meat’s rating:

4.5/5 steaks 

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 BudokanFrampton Comes Alive...Unleashed in the EastIf 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 review:  2012/07/03

REVIEW: Edwin – Another Spin Around the Sun (1999)

EDWIN_0001EDWIN – Another Spin Around the Sun (1999 Epic)

Having followed I Mother Earth since before their first album Dig, I was disheartened when Edwin left the band for a solo career.  It is true that songwriting in I Mother Earth was dominated by the Tanna brothers, but nobody likes when an original singer leaves a band.  Edwin was first (by mere months) to get a new album out, and Another Spin Around the Sun couldn’t sound less like I Mother Earth!

The liner notes shed a lot of light on the album.  Lots and lots of studio musicians, different writers, keyboards and programming.  Expectations for anything band-like should be dropped.  The opening song “Theories” has big echoey guitars, but also very-90’s programmed drum beats and modern “funk”.  The 420 references tell us what the lyrics are about, and then the very next song is called “Trippin'”!  Maybe Edwin was also high when he quit I Mother Earth.

“Trippin'” was a single, but I remember one of my co-workers “Criss” being incredibly annoyed by it.  Even more irritating is another single, “Hang Ten” which sounds like…oh fuck, I don’t know?  Sugar Ray meets Edwin?  Something indigestible anyway.  Edwin’s going for a lounge crooner vibe on the verses before hitting us up with a “big rock chorus” but stumbles under the weight of  its own ambition.

EDWIN_0003Daniel Mansilla, who plays percussion with I Mother Earth as an “unofficial member” lends some class to “And You”.  The real percussion stuff is more my speed than the trip-hoppin’ beats Edwin laid down on the first few tracks.  Unfortunately what “And You” has in percussion, it lacks in memorable hooks.  There’s nothing lazy about it though, especially when it goes into a dreamy Beatles section near the end.  At least you can say that Edwin made the most of his solo debut.

The lullaby-like “Screaming Kings” has a psychedelic vibe and a big chorus (enough anyway).  As such it’s one of the few that I still remember.  I also remember “Shotgun” but not because it’s good.  It’s Edwin trying to buy modern punk metal rock or something.  Edwin mixes up the genres quite a bit on his album, but I don’t think they always turn into great tunes.  “Shotgun” is that noisy rock that frankly kinda annoys me.

Every CD in my collection has a reason for being there.  In normal circumstances, Edwin would not have survived a CD purge this long.  The only reason I kept the CD is the song “Alive”.  This magnificent — nay, majestic — big ballad is the one song that does sound world class.  The lyrics are uplifting, the music a perfect fit. Edwin finally gets a big chorus to bellow, and it’s about damn time. It’s also the perfect place for the strings that permeate the album. In some respects, it reminds me of David Coverdale’s “Last Note of Freedom”.

The rest of the album is largely a mirror of the first. There are the dusky pseudo-funky tracks that sound so dated to the late 90’s. There are the darting guitar parts that never coalesce into solid hooks. There are the drum samples. Even the song called “Rush” fails to be one. “Take Me Anywhere” ain’t bad.

In final 90’s fashion, there is a hidden bonus track. Can you guess the genre? “Another Drink” is a lounge song! It’s actually a pretty decent lounge song, with LP scratch added for authenticity, but it didn’t help my impression that Edwin was chasing trends and styles. One tequila, two tequila, aye carumba. (Those are some of the lyrics.)

Edwin followed this album with Edwin and the Pressure in 2002, but it did very little in terms of sales. Edwin returned to a solid rock form with new band Crash Karma in 2010. Another Spin Around the Sun remains essentially a one-song album for me.

2/5 stars

#391.5: Mail from Cataraqui


#391.5: Mail from Cataraqui

I got mail!

The only thing sweeter than the arrival of an Amazon order, or that of imported Transformers toys from China, is surprise mail from a fellow music lover. This time that music lover is Geoff over at the 1001 Albums in 10 Years blog. Geoff sent me a cryptic email a few weeks ago about some things he found that I might be interested in having for my collection:

I picked up a couple practically-free musical treasures at our local Value Village this week.
I’m not sure if they’ll actually play, but when I saw them I thought they’d be neat assets in the LeBrain collection!”

What a guy! I love surprises!

There are a few major audio formats that have no representation in my music collection. If I can’t play it, as a collector I generally don’t seek it out. As a music geek however, I love odd formats and releases. There are certain bands that I would collect just about anything from, and the big one is Kiss. Geoff knew this. Now I can add 8-track to the formats I own of Kiss Alive! This is definitely getting a place of honour in LeBrain’s displays of treasure. Probably right next to that weird Def Leppard Pyromania cassette that Aaron found for me at Sonic Boom.

Also in the package, and presumed worthless by Geoff, are two 45’s. According to Geoff’s accompanying letter, the records “you would be able to play, but are too damaged to do so!”

Fooey. My USB turntable only cost $50. Let’s give it a shot.

Both singles are records I didn’t have before. Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It” / “You Can’t Stop Rock ‘N’ Roll” has a different B-side from the 12″ single that I do have. The 7″ has the studio version of “You Can’t Stop Rock ‘N’ Roll” instead of the live. And it played fine! It was dusty but cleaned up fine.  Score!

The Kiss single, for “I Was Made For Lovin’ You” / “Hard Times”, was not as fortunate.  It is massively warped.  I measured the warp at 1/4 inch at its largest point.  But get this…it played!  It didn’t sound the greatest, but it played!

In his letter, Geoff says “Thought they still work as collectibles or conversation starting coasters.”  Well, Twisted Sister and Kiss Alive! are officially entering the LeBrain Library.  As for “I Was Made For Lovin’ You”?  Though it plays, I don’t think I will play it again.  I think this might make an excellent wall decoration, however!

Thanks Geoff!  I’ll find something funky and cool to send in return.


REVIEW: KISS – Kissin’ Time in San Fransisco (1974/1975 bootleg)


KISS – Kissin’ Time in San Fransisco (1974 or 1975 bootleg , Black Diamond Records 1994)

Early Kiss, live Kiss at least, was the best!  They were young hungry punks, a garage band in makeup and heels, playing with an intensity that they never equaled even on later triumphs like Kiss Alive! or Love Gun.  It was a ferocity on stage, made doubly impressive when you remember that they were weighed down by those costumes.

This widely available bootleg recording showcases exactly what early Kiss was about.  Recorded shortly after the release of their second album, Hotter Than Hell, it actually sounds pretty good for 1974 or 75.  You may be familiar with some of these recordings.  “Deuce” for example was on the Kiss eXposed video.  “Parasite” was later made available on the Kiss My Ass VHS and DVD.

What’s astounding here is just how good Peter Criss used to be.  I don’t mean technically.  I mean in that way that a good rock drummer just slams you in the guts and doesn’t let up.  Peter Criss plays like a savage.  The two best moments are “Watchin’ You” and “Parasite”.  He absolutely demolishes his kit, he’s relentless, and it’s so damn fun to listen to him, young and powerful, laying waste.

Gene’s bass is very loud in the mix, and while Gene was also no virtuoso, it’s nice to hear his compositional abilities on bass. Especially in early Kiss, Gene wrote and played some very cool basslines, melodic and solid.  It’s a side of Kiss that is often ignored by the critics.  Gene was heavily influenced by bands like Cream and I think you can hear that.

The setlist is pretty standard, with every song later getting showcased on the aforementioned Kiss Alive!  These versions are without the spit n’ polish that Eddie Kramer put on that disc, live as it was on that night.   In a lot of ways, I prefer these versions.  What they lack in audio fidelity, they make up for in sheer adrenaline and barbarism.  Paul’s as confident as ever on stage.  His stage raps are fully-formed and cocky.  His “Do you believe in rock and roll?” rap is present on “100,000 Years”, with Peter Criss hammering out a consistently tribal backdrop.

The CD is padded out by a bunch of unrelated (and often misspelled) bonus tracks.  “A World Without Heros” is an instrument demo from The Elder, widely circulated.  So is “The Difference Between Men & Boys”, which can be found under different names.  “Young and Wasted” is a Lick It Up demo (not from 1971 as stated on the back, who are we kidding?).  Lastly, “(We Want To) Shout It Out Loud” is from the Wicked Lester album.

4.5/5 stars

REVIEW: KISS – Alive! 1975–2000 (Box Set plus bonus tracks, 2006)

Part 44 of my series of Kiss reviews, leading up to the release of Monster

KISS – Alive! 1975–2000 (2006, 4 discs, Best Buy bonus CD, iTunes bonus track)

This is it folks.  This here is the only way to get your Kiss Alive on.

All tracks are digitally remastered of course, and all albums are complete, not truncated.  They managed to squeeze both Alive! and Alive II onto single discs without editing out any music or banter.  Alive III (1993) makes up the third disc.  The fourth CD is the previously unreleased album, Alive IV – The Millenium Concert.

This concert, from December 31, 1999 at BC Place Stadium in Vancouver, was to be released in 2000 but shelved.  It was released for the first time in this box set, and remains exclusive to this box set.  I’m not too keen on it myself.

I think the Millenium Concert sounds dull and uninspired, and maybe that’s part of the reason that it wasn’t released in 2000.  The band are playing by-the-numbers versions of the songs with few surprises. Perhaps this was an indication of the deeper problems setting in within the original Kiss lineup again.  The production also sounds over polished, and the crowd noise distracting.

One song from this concert, “Rock And Roll All Nite”, was included in the Kiss Box Set as a sneak preview.

There were bonus tracks included on the discs to render obselete your original versions (and entice you to buy them again).  The second CD includes the radio edit version of “Rock and Roll All Nite (Live)”.  The Alive III CD finally includes the Japanese and vinyl exclusive track, “Take It Off”.

When I first pre-ordered Alive IV back in 2000 before it was shelved, I pre-ordered the Japanese version which was advertized to have three bonus tracks:  “God of Thunder”, “2000 Man”, and “Detroit Rock City”.  These three songs remain bonus tracks, exclusive to different versions of this box set.

There was a Best Buy limited edition that contained “2000 Man” and “God of Thunder”.  But somebody screwed up and put the wrong CD inside the first few thousand copies.  Those unfortunate buyers received the regular disc of Alive IV, no bonus tracks.   This was rectified by sending those customers a fifth CD, the corrected version of Alive IV.  I paid $100 for my copy with fifth CD included.  It is pretty rare.

iTunes have their own bonus track, which is “Detroit Rock City”.  When I bought the song, it was available on its own for $1.29 or whatever.  Prior to this, you had to shell out $40 to buy the whole set again, just to get that one song!

5/5 stars

REVIEW: KISS – You Wanted the Best, You Got the Best!! (1996 vinyl, Japanese import CD)

Part 35 of my series of Kiss reviews, leading up to the release of Monster!

KISS – You Wanted the Best, You Got the Best!! (1996, Japanese import, bonus track)

When this compilation album came out, it was the first and only time we had two Kiss albums on our store’s front rack simultaneously!  It followed hot on the heels of MTV Unplugged, only about 3 months prior.

Kiss had just announced their big reunion tour and this album was tied in to promote that. It is a milestone in a few ways. It was the first musical product released by the reunited original lineup Kiss. It was also the third (or fourth depending if you count Kiss My Ass) consecutive non-studio album release in a row by the band, which had never happened before. It would also not be the last, with Greatest Kiss and the UK-only Greatest Hits soon to follow.

It was a dark time for the Kiss army craving new music.

You Wanted The Best, You Got The Best!! (one comma and two exclamation marks: punctuation is important) was a live compilation of:

  • 8 hits from KISS Alive! and KISS Alive II
  • 5 previously unreleased live versions (including the bonus track “New York Groove”)
  • 1 interview with the entire band by Jay Leno, 17 minutes long

The previously released songs were all remastered for the first time, a sneak preview of the Kiss remasters to start coming in 1997.  New liner notes were provided by Robert V. Conte, who would later do all the liner notes for the Kiss Remasters series.  Judging by his use of certain adjectives, I’m guessing he was pretty much told what he could and could not write!

It’s hard to argue with the selection of hits. “Rock Bottom”, “Parasite”, “Firehouse”, and “Rock And Roll All Nite” (the definitive version) from the first Alive! were definitely highlights of that album, but then again you couldn’t have gone wrong with any selections from Alive!  From Alive II it’s “I Stole Your Love”, “Shout It Out Loud”, “Beth” (really? ugh), and “Calling Dr. Love”. (Interesting: no “Detroit Rock City”.) All are pretty monumental Kiss songs that the band were playing live that summer.

The unreleased material was interesting. They purport to be from the same concerts that Alive! and Alive II were taken from, but it is clear that at least the lead vocals were recorded in 1996. Since the voice changes naturally with age, you can tell it’s not Paul Stanley 1975 singing. Having said that, even though I’m bitter that Kiss tried to pass these off as vintage live songs, they are really good versions. I’ve always liked both “Room Service” and “Two Timer” as deep album songs from Dressed To Kill. I especially like “Let Me Know”, one of the earliest Kiss songs ever, and one of my personal favourites.

Exclusive to vinyl and Japanese import, is a live version of “New York Groove” from Australia 1980 and with Eric Carr on drums. This is the same version of the song as the Kissology 2 DVD. Since KISS could have gone with “Shock Me” from Alive II if they were trying to include an Ace vocal track, I choose to think of this inclusion as a little nod to Eric Carr and thanking him for keeping the band going during the 80’s. I think this version was also released in Australian markets so, I am sure this was also a nod to the fans there for patiently waiting for Kiss to come back. Kiss would of course play “New York Groove” live on the 1996 tour as well.

SAM_2212The 17 minute interview with Jay Leno is interesting and fun, though I have to be honest, its inclusion here makes this album one that I don’t listen to often. Jay’s a funny guy and there are lots of laughs here (almost all at Gene’s expense!) but don’t expect any revelations you’ve never heard before.

In addition to containing “vintage” songs that weren’t exactly that, You Wanted the Best was to include “photos from the Kiss vaults” inside according to the sticker on the front.  There’s nothing inside apart from a skimpy booklet.  The CD did have a neat-o coloured jewel case, as you can see from the photo gallery.

Essential only to the diehards. Everyone else pick up Alive! and Alive II, or even better…the 4 CD Alive box!

2/5 stars


Part 4 of my series of Kiss reviews, leading up to the release of Monster!

KISS – Alive! (1975)
For the record I would recommend the Alive Box over this, simply because you get the first 3 Alives in one set with extra material. Buut we’ll get there evenually.

Kiss Alive!…what can you say? Greatest live album of all time? Not really live? Who cares! It sounds amazing and 35 years later people are still buying it. The same cannot be said of many live albums from the era. Live At Last by Black Sabbath was recorded around this time, nobody buys that record now. It’s one of a handful of classics. Frampton Comes Alive, and Live & Dangerous (Thin Lizzy) are up there with it.

Is it live? Sort of. Paul’s guitar playing and singing was not up to snuff for the live album that producer Eddie Kramer wanted to make (too much jumping around) so a lot of it was done in the studio. Can you tell? Absolutely not. You can’t tell at all.

The sound: Epic, loud, superior in every way to the studio albums. The songs: Played faster, more intense, solos are crazier and longer. Paul’s stage raps became popular because of Kiss Alive! Now everybody knows the rap about “a taste of alcohol” (“Cold Gin”), and the big middle section to “100,000 Years”.

You can’t fault one single song inclusion on Kiss Alive!, and indeed this version of “Rock And Roll All Nite” has become more well known than the original. Sure, there are other great Kiss songs that didn’t make it here, but when a live album becomes too long it also becomes harder to listen to.

This (or the Alive Box) should be your first Kiss purchase if you’ve never bought one before.

6/5 stars!