Just about any time that rock music fans and musicians come together to talk about live albums, one album's name crosses the lips of the more learned members of the group. That album is KISS' fourth album and their first live album, Alive! While I personally don't see it as their best live album (Alive III gets the nod barely beating out Unplugged, with Alive II being the best original lineup recording in my opinion), for its time it was an amazing feat in both production and promotion. It is also a huge source of controversy for music as well.
Not only was it a risky album to make since live albums at that time sounded terrible, it was also a big risk for both KISS and their record label since the band had yet to really "breakout" from the pack of current rock acts. In short, the success of the band, the label, and live albums in general were riding on this album's back.
The recordings came from four U.S. shows by the band and they were placed into the care of producer Eddie Kramer to be cleaned up and perfected for release. Here's where the notoriety of the album comes into play. There is no real certainty as to how much of the album was actually live. While members of the band hold that very little overdubbing or other studio work was done to produce the album, Kramer has been documented as saying that a whole lot of the album was overdubbed with studio corrections.
It really doesn't matter in the long run, however, because the final product sounds great. Whether it is all live or 95% studio work, Alive! is a wonder to listen to. It captures KISS on the cusp of greatness. They sound raw, young, and eager to play their hearts out. Songs like Strutter, 100,000 Years, Cold Gin, and Hotter Than Hell wrecklessly play out for the listener. Paul Stanley screeches out tracks like Got To Choose. Gene Simmons growls his way over Firehouse (with fire alarms to boot) and his bass sounds excellent. Peter Criss' raspy voice belt out Black Diamond while his drums pound away. Ace Frehley sounds as professional as always, but with just a touch of chaos to his strings.
The crowd roars on enthustiastically as their painted warriors run their way through early KISS Klassics, many of which would become staples of the group's live shows.
People can laugh all they want at KISS and their music, but the fact remains that the band knew the only way they could truly make it as a group was to have the energy of their live show successfully captured on vinyl. With Alive!, they did this and proved that a good sounding live album was possible.
Love'em or hate'em, with KISS' Alive! their probably wouldn't be that many live albums today.
If you don't own any KISS albums, KISS Alive! is a great place to start. It's also the perfect album to put on when you want to get a bit rowdy.
The video below is part one of a VH-1 series on the "ultimate albums" of rock n' roll. You can see the rest of this episode which focuses on Alive! on www.youtube.com.
What did you think of this review?