We are not going to debate the music of KISS. If you love it, nothing I say will convince you otherwise; if you hate it, nothing I can say will make you reconsider.
Let’s talk facts: Forty-plus-year career. Over 100 million albums sold. Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame (albeit begrudgingly) Inductees. The industry and music elitists may not take them seriously, but a few million fans beg to differ. Sure, Pearl Jam is a hell of a band, but they don’t have their own army.
KISS rose from the ashes of Wicked Lester, a Jethro Tull-tinged prog-rock band led by Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons. Realizing they were good but not great, Stanley and Simmons severed ties with Epic Records and set out with one goal in mind — create the rock band they had never seen, but wished they did. Stripping down their sound, abandoning the jazz flute and Hammond organ and bringing lead guitarist Ace Frehley and drummer Peter Criss into the fold, they focused on louder guitars and catchier melodies.
Deconstructing the early success of the Beatles Stanley and Simmons modeled themselves on the Fab Four formula: Four distinct personalities, twin lead singers (the rhythm guitarist and bassist) who occasionally gave the others time to shine singing songs that perfectly fit their well crafted personas. A few Wicked Lester holdovers, such as “She,” remained in the set, albeit barely recognizable as played through the new KISS locomotive.
Between February 1974 and March 1975 KISS released three albums — KISS, Hotter Than Hell, Dressed to Kill — all to mediocre sales. But their live shows were quickly becoming a thing of legend. You’ve seen the makeup and the fire and the blood. You know what I’m talking about. Alive! functions as a greatest hits of those first three albums and shows exactly how prolific the band was in their early days.
Released in September of ’75 (making it four albums in less than two years), *Alive! *was recorded at the behest of their modest but growing fan base, which complained their first three records did not come close to capturing the sound of their live shows. Recorded in Detroit, Cleveland, New Jersey and Ohio, Alive! would peak at #9, chart for a whopping 110 weeks and launch international KISSteria.
People may have come for the KISS spectacle, but they were staying for the music: “Deuce,” “Strutter,” “Hotter Than Hell,” “Cold Gin,” “Fire House,” “Rock And Roll All Nite”: They all sound as good blasting out of your car today as they did then.
This was the album that converted much of rock royalty: From Kurt Cobain, Dave Grohl, Soundgarden’s Kim Thayil and Anthrax to Garth Brooks, Taylor Swift and Lady GaGa (whose most prized possession is a pair of 8” boots given to her by Paul Stanley) — the KISS Army spans the musical horizon.
There may not be a “Stairway to Heaven” on Alive! and that’s just fine. KISS isn’t about changing the world: KISS is about enjoying it while you’re here.
Adam Freeman is the former producer of MTV’s 120 Minutes, Alternative Nation, and Total Request Live. He is now the Creative Director of Thinkfactory Media and the executive producer of 4th & Loud, which airs Tuesdays at 10pm on AMC. He tweets at @mradamfreeman