#1 KISS Alive!
KISS Alive! is simply one of the most fantastic live albums recorded during the 70s. Yes, much of it was overdubbed or redone in the studio, and frankly the cover art looks staged, too, but man what a live album.
Alive! captures what the fans loved about KISS in the first place, the titanic, energetic stage show. Detractors argue that this means the KISS experience was all about the fire, blood, and drum rising, but YOU CAN'T SEE ALL THAT when listening to Alive!, and it's still phenomenal.
Track by track, Alive! smashes other top live albums of the 70s. Frampton Comes Alive! seems a quaint relic today, but at the time it was considered to be groundbreaking work.
As upsetting as it is to know how much it would please Gene Simmons to know it, the album opener "Deuce" really is a kickass rock song, though it falls short of being the new national anthem. "Strutter" is better live, and here matches some of the energy found in the original demo but missing from the studio version.
"Got to Choose," "Hotter than Hell" and "Firehouse" all exceed their studio versions as well, but the album really takes off with the first Peter Criss sung track, "Nothing to Lose." Perhaps fairly maligned as a drummer, Criss' vocal work here stands out.
Multiple-offense substance abuser Ace Frehley always was the premier instrumental talent in the group, and his solos on (especially) "Parasite," Wicked Lester chestnut "She," and "Watchin' You" make the live versions interesting.
Peter Criss adds a somewhat pointless seven minute drum solo on "100,000 Years," but this track also unveils KISS Alive! (and KISS') 's secret weapon: Paul Stanley's stage banter.
Stanley is the true master of this craft, unequaled to point where an Internet wag has put together not one but two 70+ track recordings of Stanley exhorting the crowd. "I wanna heeeeah everybody HERE TONIGHT say 'Rocknroll!" And the crowd, regardless of whether the noise is fake elsewhere on the record, screams lustily along.
The curiously sweet harmonies at the beginning of "Rock Bottom" are here muted compared to the version on "Dressed to Kill." "Cold Gin," features more crowd work from Stanley and strong riffs. "Rock and Roll All Nite" sounds considerably muddier than the album version. As closer songs go, "Let Me Go, Rock and Roll," despite its odd use of commas, is extraordinarily fun.
The best song on Alive!, however, and maybe one of the best in the KISS catalog, is "Black Diamond." Stanley's tale of a maddened streetwalker crunches in the right places and is extremely strong when played loud. Frehley's guitar work and Criss' frantic drumming make for a powerful, early-days of metal number that brings the house down.
Up next, album #2!