You wanted the best and you got it, the hottest band in the land: KISS!
In 1975 Kiss already drew large crowds. Their shows were sold out, but record sales were lagging, a lot. Their music was despised by critics and ignored by radio. But the main issue was that the concert goers weren’t buying the albums. Time for action.
Following a failed adventure in the band Wicked Lester, Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley wanted to form a new band, that focused on hard rock. After they had seen Peter Criss play the drums (and sing) he was added to the band. The band quickly began experimenting with costumes and make-up. In January guitar player Ace Frehley made the Kiss line-up complete.
Sometime later Paul Stanley suggested the name Kiss for the band, upon which Ace Frehley designed the iconic band logo. The two S’s are meant to portray lightning strikes, but also have a (very) strong resemblance to the symbols used by the SS in Nazi-Germany. The S’s were replaced by reversed Z’s in countries where Nazi symbolism is prohibited by law.
In March 1973 the band recorded a demo with producer Eddie Kramer (known for his work with Jimi Hendrix). Subsequently Bill Aucoin offered to manage the band. Kiss agreed, only if he could arrange a record contract. On November 1st, 1973, Kiss signed to Neil Bogart’s recently founded Casablanca Records. In fact, they were the very first act to be signed.
On February 8th, 1974 the band’s debut album, entitled Kiss, was released. Both the band and Casablanca went all in promoting the album. Eleven days later the band had their first televised performance. But, despite all efforts, the album sold badly. Critics joked about the make-up and the juvenile music and lyrics. Since the lyrical subjects weren’t exactly radio friendly material, airplay was little.
In the meantime, Kiss’s live show was in full bloom. Spitting fire and blood, smoking guitars, costumes and make-up, it was all there. As a consequence, the costs to stage a show were high. During a stop in the first tour, the band recorded album Hotter Than Hell, which was released on October 22nd, 1974. Once again, sales were disappointing. Money was growing tighter and tighter. The tour was cut short, ensuring a new album could be recorded as quickly as possible, that was produced by Casablanca owner Neil Bogart. The third album, Dressed To Kill, was released on March 19th, 1975, and, although it sold better than both preceding albums, sales were relatively slow.
Contrary to the record sales, Kiss was an extremely successful live act. The show had grown even more outrageous, including drums going up in the air, fireworks, firebombs going off, smashing guitars, etc. A huge adrenaline rush radiating from the stage making audiences go wild.
But, the money had run out. Kiss had no money, Casablanca had no money as well and was on the brink of bankruptcy. It was so bad that Casablanca wasn’t capable of paying the band their royalties, the Dressed To Kill tour was paid for by Bill Aucoin and the band sued Casablanca for breach of their contract. For all parties concerned, there was only one more chance available to turn things around for the better. Neil Bogart had an idea: why not release a live-album? Bill Aucoin was interested, recording the band’s energy, avoid high studio costs and no pressure on the band to come up with yet another batch of songs. But, as logical as it may sound nowadays, it was an enormous gamble. At the time live-albums weren’t very common and usually didn’t sell that well. A double live-album was deemed a career suicide. But, when you have nothing left to lose, gambling is all part of the game. It wouldn’t turn out well, very well, but astronomically well for the band, Neil Bogart, Casablanca Records and the concept of live-albums.
The fourth album (over a period of just 1.5 years!) by Kiss was released on September 10th, 1975, and could be regarded as a best-of of the preceding three (poor selling) albums. Recordings took place on May 16th (Detroit), June 21st (Cleveland), July 20th (Davenport) and July 23rd (Wildwood) 1975.
Upon listening to the recordings it was immediately apparent that they could not be used in this capacity. The band’s wild show meant making quite a lot of mistakes. In a live setting this wasn’t a problem at all, but on an album they had to be corrected.
So, much time was spent on overdubbing the original recordings. The audience sound was amplified greatly as well. In August 1975 re-recordings were done at the New York based Electric Lady Studios. According to rumor so much was re-recorded that only the basic drum tracks remained untouched.
It took Kiss up until 2003, after years of denial, even in (auto)biographies, to publicly admit that the album was less live than could be expected from an album bearing such title. In an episode of Ultimate Albums On the American channel VH1 Stanley said: “What we felt was necessary was to capture the energy of the performance, not necessarily having it note for note of what actually happened” and Simmons: “Most people assume it was all live, it wasn’t”.
Cover and extra’s
To garner even more interest in the release, Alive! contained a number of extra’s, including a tour program with lots of photos, personal hand written notes by the band members and a foldout cover. The band and the fans liked it very much, so much so, that from then on it was the standard modus operandi for the band.
Hand written notes
One of the things the fans loved (and the reviewers loathed) were the hand written notes on the inside of the foldout cover. The texts were welcomed as if they were personal messages to each individual fan.
The gravity on Earth isn’t quite the same as it is on my planet, but I’m slowly getting used to it. I always wanted to play lead guitar and express myself visually to an audience. When I play guitar on stage its like making love. If you’re good you getoff every time. Thanks for helping me get off
I love to do all those deliciously painful things to you that make you writhe and groan in ecstacy…
My spiked seven inch boot heels are at the ready, should you be in the mood for heavy sport… and my mouth is there to tell you all horrible things you never thought you’d hear (but love hearing)!
I can see you from the corners of my eyes… and I know what you do when the lights go out… I bleed for you and breathe fire for you and you wonder if I’m crazy… I am…
My Dear Lovers,
Nothing arouses me more than seeing you getting off on me. It makes me work that much harder to please you. My body is yours, yours is mine. We explode together when I’m on stage, I’m yours…. take me.
Hi, Cat People
Well you should get your claws into this album. I know its gonna make your tails stand straight up. The Cat himself stalked it from front to back, and it tested great, so all alley cats and tom cats, rock your rolls right off. (or should I say tails?)
Your silver-nosed Tom Cat
It is quite remarkable that the band was so popular among boys and men, with all the sexual innuendo clearly targeted at the opposite sex. And, to be fair, it really is kind of childish, but the fans couldn’t get enough.
The press wasn’t really enthused about the album at the time, but the general public was. The album was a complete smash almost from day one. The records couldn’t get to the stores fast enough. It reached the number 9 position in the album charts, remaining in the charts for an impressive 110 weeks. The album’s single, Rock And Roll All Nite, marked the change the band and album so desperately needed.
Reviewers hated the new album and weren’t shy about it. To illustrate the hate the band received in the press, read the ‘review’ of Rolling Stone Magazine below.
By Alan Niester
Kiss onstage could possibly be mildly entertaining for about ten minutes, but on record, minus the impact of gaudy painted faces and stage theatrics, the band must be judged solely for its music. It’s awful. Criminally repetitive, thuddingly monotonous. And like the legions of equally talentless bands across the country, Kiss attempts to get by on volume and tired riffing. Unlike these other bands, however, they came up with the idea of dragging rock further into the pits of theatrical overkill, managing, in the process, to pick up a legion of young fans who hadn’t heard these riffs in their previous incarcerations (Grand Funk comes to mind). That Casablanca has decided to promote the band as new bad-boy teen idols is obvious from the packaging — a glossy full-color, multipage insert showing all the Kisses in close-up, and a suitably trippy letter from each (“Dear Earthlings: … When I play guitar onstage, it’s like making love … Love, Ace”).
A totally unjust review, because the album really is exciting and contains a large amount of classic rock songs. The band’s gimmick obviously put off some people, but the critics’ venom was oftentimes way out of proportion.
All songs written by Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons, unless stated otherwise.
- Deuce Gene *
- Got To Choose **
- Hotter Than Hell **
- Firehouse **
- Nothin’ To Lose *
- C’mon And Love Me **
- Parasite ***
- She ****
- Watchin’ You *
- 100,000 Years
- Black Diamond **
- Rock Bottom ** (intro: ***)
- Cold Gin ***
- Rock And Roll All Nite
- Let Me Go, Rock ‘N’ Roll
|****||Gene Simmons, Stephen Coronel|
- Paul Stanley – (rhythm)guitar, vocals
- Ace Frehley – (lead)guitar, background vocals
- Gene Simmons – bass, vocals
- Peter Criss – drums, vocals
The immediate aftermath of Alive!‘s success was that the money troubles for Kiss, manager Bill Aucoin and Casablanca and its owner Neil Bogart were over.
It was also an indirect batsignal for the so-called Kiss Army, Kiss’s fanclub, started by fans who demanded Kiss being played on a local radio station. If not, the station would be picketed. The radio station took it with a grain of salt, until the station was surrounded by hundreds (legend has it, thousands) Kiss loyals.
November 21st, 1975, is regarded as the day the Kiss Army officially started, in its heyday the fanclub would have more than 100,000 members.
For Kiss Alive! was the start of an extremely successful period in their career. The subsequent albums, Destroyer, Rock And Roll Over and Love Gun all turned multi platinum. This trilogy of studio albums was also closed off with a live-album: Alive II (see the article Kiss Alive II). After the solo-albums (see the article Kiss solo albums: Ace Frehley) it all went downhill rather quickly. But the band didn’t quit, right up to this very day the band still performs. In 2015 Kiss was called the band with the most certified gold albums of all time by the Recording Industry Association of America® (RIAA). A pretty impressive feat for a band that was ridiculed for their entire career.
Nowadays, the opinion on Alive! has changed a lot in the press. The album if often mentioned as (one of the) best live albums of all time, but is also part of many top x lists. A juicy detail, the album is placed at 157 in Rolling Stone Magazine‘s 2012 top 500 albums of all time and it even resides at number 5 of the 10 best live-albums (as chosen by readers). A world of difference to the original review.
After the release, and the huge success, of Alive! the live-album became a serious medium in rock, even for acts that hadn’t arrived yet. A lot of bands and artists released live-albums, with the intent of making it a success, instead of a (contractual) obligation or as filler in between two albums. Alive! is directly responsible for the rise of the live-album in the second half of the 1970s.
Also see The best live albums.
Encore: Caddillac High
In 1974 the season for the Cadillac High School Vikings football got off to a bad start. The year before the team had become champion, but now the first two games had been lost. The coaches figured that rock and roll could be a solution. Kiss was chosen, the music was wild and ‘over the top’. And, the band name could be interpreted as an abbreviation for an old football credo: “Keep It Simple Stupid”. Prior to every game Kiss was played in the dresssing room. From then on, not one game was lost, the team won every game after. The band heard about it and came to Cadillac High School on October 9th, 1975, and played a show in the local gym. A memorable day for all involved, from the mayor and the city counsel (!) to the youngest. The whole town was dedicated to Kiss that day, up to and including the make-up.
Even though Alive! is not a real live album, it is one of the first records that gives the listener a real concert experience in his/her living room. The overdubs don’t distract from the fact that Alive! was the first album to capture the band’s essence.
What do you think of Alive!? Let me know!
Kiss – Alive! outtake & Kiss – Live New York City 03/21/1975 images: fanpop.com
Kiss – Early 1973 & First make-up image: kissonline.com/fanpop.com
Kiss – Kiss (1974) – Hotter Than Hell (1974) – Dressed To Kill (1975), Kiss – Alive! & Kiss – Alive! – Back cover images: discogs.com
Kiss – Alive! – Booklet 8 pages image: kissmonster.com
Kiss – Alive! – Band member notes & Kiss – Alive! – Ads images: everythingkiss.com
Rolling Stone Magazine Logo image: srds.com
Kiss- Detroit 05/16/1975, pre-show (recordings used for Alive!) image: superdekes.wordpress.com
Kiss – Live 1975 image: nolifetilmetal.com
Kiss – Alive! – Gold record 12/31/975 image: youtube.com
Kiss Army Logo image: amazon.com
Live audience image: de.clipdealer.com
Kiss – Cadillac High 10/09/1975 image: kissopolis.com/kissonline.com/elephantjournal.com/weareclassicrockers.com/fineartamerica.com