“You Wanted The Best…..”
I couldn’t do an entire year of KISS’ studio albums without at least mentioning the Alive live album releases. KISS is best known for their bombastic live performances and their first Alive album literally saved them and Casablanca Records from falling apart. While I won’t go into much detail about the albums, I do want to at least expose new listeners to them. I am only focusing on the official Alive albums and not other live albums and live compilations such as Unplugged and You Wanted The Best, You Got The Best. I will eventually talk about the Unplugged album later this year because it was a pivotal performance that reunited the original lineup and rekindled the fire of KISS’ popularity. For now, let’s take a glimpse at each of the Alive albums.
KISS Alive! (1975)
KISS Alive! is the granddaddy of them all. Without the success of this album, there probably wouldn’t be nearly fifty years of KISS to listen to and celebrate. This album, composed of tracks from KISS’ first three studio albums (all of which failed to spark music sales for the band), saved KISS and Casablanca records from financial destruction. The lone single from the album, Rock And Roll All Nite, hooked in new listeners and album sales began to heat up. My personal favorite track on the album is “Black Diamond.” The album managed to capture KISS’ energy in their live shows (with a little studio magic thrown in for good measure). It currently sits at over nine million sales and remains KISS’ best selling album of all time. The group followed up the album with their first huge studio album, Destroyer, in 1976 . That album also happens to be their best selling studio album of all time. The rest is KISStory.
KISS Alive II (1977)
Alive! saved KISS. The next three studio albums, Destroyer, Rock And Roll Over, and Love Gun solidified their place in rock and roll history. Alive II simply kept the KISS train rolling as the band was riding a wave of massive success. It featured live versions of tracks from the band’s three latest albums and five studio tracks. Of those tracks, “Rocket Ride” is perhaps the most notable, as it is the only studio track on the album to feature Ace Frehley playing lead and bass guitar. Bob Kulick provided guitars for the rest of the studio tracks except for “Any Way You Want It.” All of the guitars on that track were played by Paul Stanley. Of the live tracks on the album, my favorite is a very country-fied version of “Hard Luck Woman.” The album was very successful and was certified 2X Platinum. It’s also the band’s highest charting live album, reaching #7 on the US Charts.
KISS Alive III (1993)
The KISS Army would have to wait sixteen years before KISS would release a new Alive album. KISS Alive III was released in May of 1993 and by the time of its release, the band had gone through a number of changes. Ace Frehley and Peter Criss were long gone from the band and the group now featured founding members Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons and new members Eric Singer on drum and Bruce Kulick on lead guitar. Eric Carr, the band’s second drummer, passed away in 1991 and Singer was brought in as his replacement. Kulick was the latest lead guitarist. He was preceded by Vinnie Vincent and Mark St. John.
In my opinion this album sounds a lot more polished than the previous live releases. This might be due to production quality at the time, overdubbing, or the fact that Stanley and Simmons had perfected their live performances and both Singer and Kulick are arguably the two most talented players to ever grace the stage as members of KISS. My favorite song on the album is “The Star-Spangled Banner,” which showcases Kulick’s prowess on the guitar. A close second would be “Lick It Up.”
KISS Symphony: Alive IV
Ten years after the release of Alive III, KISS blew the minds of critics and fans alike with KISS Symphony: Alive IV. It is easily my favorite live album by the band and the one that I listen to on a regular basis. In true KISS fashion, they took things to an entirely different level with this release. If featured Paul Stanley, Gene Simmons, Peter Criss, and Tommy Thayer. The album was broken into three acts. Each act was different from the others. The first act featured the band playing six tracks on their own. My personal favorite track from that act is “Strutter.” For the second act, the Melbourne Symphony Ensemble was brought in to play an acoustic set with the band. This act featured five tracks, all of which were ballads by the band. My favorite of this act is “Shandi,” but I also appreciate the addition of the creepy “Goin’ Blind” from the band’s Hotter Than Hell studio album. The final act featured the sixty piece Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, all of whom wore face paint to match members of KISS. The songs in this portion of the show are simply amazing. “Detroit Rock City” and “Black Diamond” are my two favorite tracks from this act.
This album is simply wonderful. KISS have spent their entire career being looked down upon by critics for their lack of playing skills, artistry, and overall sound. This album proves that their music is amazing. Hearing cellos, violins, flutes, and numerous other “high end” instruments crank out tracks like “Rock And Roll All Nite” shows that KISS was and is much better than they are given credit for by their naysayers. If I had to recommend any live album by KISS, this would be the one.
KISS Alive! The Millennium Concert (2006)
Technically this particular album was the fourth Alive album recorded by KISS. It was originally recorded in on December 31, 1999, almost four years prior to KISS Symphony: Alive IV. It featured all four original members of the band, Gene Simmons, Ace Frehley, Peter Criss, and Paul Stanley. Label merger issues prevented the album from initially being released. It was then shelved by Mercury/Universal with no particular release date in place. Finally, nearly seven years after being recorded, the album was released as part of the excellent KISS Alive! 1975-2000 Box Set in November of 2006.
The box set itself featured remastered versions of KISS’ first three Alive releases and KISS Alive! The Millennium Concert. It included bonus tracks and a booklet. I personally have this box set and I really love it. It’s a great way to showcase the first three live albums and the Millennium Concert is a nice addition.
The Millennium Concert album is pretty good but it’s probably my least favorite live release from the band. It features three tracks from the band that were never recorded with Ace and/or Peter. My favorite track would probably have to be “Shout It Out Loud” or “100,000 Years.” Overall, it’s great to have in my collection but it has never been a go-to album for me.
Seeing a live show by KISS is an experience that I highly recommend. I’ve seen the band live on three occasions myself and truly want to see them again before they call it quits. While the live albums miss out on the visuals of KISS’ live shows, they do a very good job of capturing the sheer power of the band’s sound. Grab the box set if you can and I highly recommend purchasing KISS Symphony as well. If nothing else, purchase the original Alive! album for your collection as it is the one that started it all.
Thanks for reading my review. I’ll release my review of Destroyer on Friday. Let me know in the comments what you think about any or all of KISS live albums.