Chance Barkley | Go Venue Magazine
In 1975, Kiss was in trouble. After a slow start with their self-titled album, the follow-ups Hotter than Hell and Dressed to Kill, had done progressively worse in the charts and in sales. Further jeopardizing the future of the band was the fact that their record label, Casablanca, was teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. The original lineup of bassist Gene Simmons, vocalist/rhythm guitarist Paul Stanley, lead guitarist Ace Frehley and drummer Peter Criss were hungry for more than the cult fame they had achieved and knew they needed a big win to carry on. The consensus was that the group’s albums lacked the energy and excitement of the live shows. After witnessing the success of MC5’s Kick Out the Jams and Slade’s Alive! only a few years before, Kiss decided to record their own live album.
The record label liked the idea because, compared to a studio album, it was a cheap and easy way to produce a new record. Released on September 10, 1975, the gamble paid off in a big way. Alive! hit the number 9 spot on the US Billboard 200, remained on the chart for 110 weeks, and was certified Gold on December 4 that same year. It was recorded over the course of 4 shows that were edited together. After decades of denial, the band would eventually reveal that various parts had been overdubbed and heavily edited, including the crowd noises. However, the album is very successful in accomplishing its goal of making the listener feel as if they are in the crowd at a live Kiss show.
Although it the track list consists of songs from their first three albums, there is something about the raw sound (however edited later) of the band, various instrumental/vocal improvisations and the crowd noise that infuses each rendition with a new energy. Alive! opens with the declaration, “You wanted the best! Well, you got it! The hottest band in the land…Kiss!” Then, the iconic guitar riff of “Deuce,” starts the festivities. The general groove and Simmons’ attitude while singing make it easy to hear why they still open with this song, even 45 years later. The classic track, “Strutter,” is up next and showcases Stanley’s vocal prowess. His charisma pours through the speakers as he paints the picture of a fast woman who always gets her way. This is another one with a great guitar riff that grabs you and won’t let go. After “Got to Choose,” the band offers up sizzling renditions of “Hotter than Hell” and “Firehouse.”
While most of their early hits are in the beginning and the end of the album, there are some notable tracks in the middle as well. I enjoyed the rhythms of “C’mon and Love Me” and “Parasite.” “100,000 Years” is over 12 minutes long and features a drum solo by Criss that is very impressive. Alive! also features my favorite rendition of “Black Diamond.” After a somber opening from Stanley, Criss sings lead while drumming and his raspy voice adds a gravitas to the performance that few vocalists could deliver better. It seemingly inspires Frehley’s guitar solo, which is beautiful in its mourning for a girl who is left with no other choice than to work the streets. The next track, “Rock Bottom,” continues the theme of a destitute woman. Then, “Cold Gin,” lightens the mood and increases the tempo. Although it isn’t the closer, “Rock and Roll All Nite” steals the show. It is easy to see that the track would go on to have a life of its own. The simple chorus is infectious and elevates the fun to a level that no other song on the album does. The last song, “Let Me Go, Rock and Roll,” is upbeat, but has a heavy blues influence.
Alive! consists of 16 tracks and runs for 79 minutes. The recording and editing helps it feel like one cohesive show, yet sonically clear of many defects that are common to live shows (false starts, wrong chords, sour notes, etc). It saved Kiss from obscurity by exponentially increasing the band’s popularity. It also laid the groundwork for their next album, 1976’s mega-hit Destroyer, as well as a series of live sequels to Alive! Beyond that, the energy and varied compositions featured on the album have inspired musicians for generations. I definitely recommend checking out this important album.