Let’s go back to Christmas 1975. It seemed as though everyone in my world all got a copy of the classic album ‘Kiss Alive!’ My neighbor friend, Kim & Lori Dunwiddie, got a copy. My good buddy Mike Bond also got a copy. Even though that album was at the top of my Christmas wishlist, I did not receive a copy, though I did get Elton John’s ‘Greatest Hits’ & ‘Captain Fantastic & the Brown Dirt Cowboy’. By most standards, I had a fantastic Christmas. But, being a self-centered, bratty teen, I pined for ‘Kiss Alive!’ However, the big ticket item that I got for Christmas 1975 was a combination record player, cassette player/recorder & 8-track tape player that was built like a radio station’s console, complete with a working microphone. So, that DJ record system would come into play soon enough
Now, when it came to Christmas Breaks, Mike Bond and I traded back and forth staying at each others’ house. On New Year’s Eve that year, Mike was at my house. We had planned a fun night of “DJ-ing”, listening to the 1975 year-end music countdown, listening to his copy of ‘Kiss Alive!’, watching ‘Dick Clark’s Rocking New Year’s Eve’ & a special Bay City Rollers concert recording that played at 1 AM New Year’s Day right after the ‘Dick Clark’ special. When you are hyperactive teenage boys, all of that is possible!
But, to be honest, we DJ-ed most of the night. We did a Top 10 countdown with Kiss’ “Rock and Roll All Nite” being the number one song that year. I don’t remember the order of the songs, but I do know that KC & the Sunshine Band’s “Get Down Tonight” and “Saturday Night” by the Bay City Rollers were on that list. Of course, we recorded the whole show, which we thought was brilliant but, in retrospect, it was probably a squirrelly teenage boy mess.
So, what was it about ‘Kiss Alive!’ that appealed to teenagers back then? First, the music was aggressive, simple and fun. There was no mixture of rock and roll with some vaudeville showmanship, which is what truly captured our imaginations. From the start of the album with JR Smalling’s now classic introduction, “You wanted the best, and you got it. The hottest band in the land…KISS!” all the way through the last song “Let Me Go Rock and Roll”, the listener was hit over the head with simple hard rock songs that paid homage to glitter albums and songs by great artists such as Slade and the New York Dolls. Then, inside the gatefold album were concert images of an audience. Inside, you could read personalized notes from each band member to you. On the back cover was a photo of a packed crowd of the audience from a concert venue. But, in the front of that photo was a huge sign of hand-drawn faces of the members of KISS with the band’s name above the faces. The sign is being held by some teenage males ready for the concert.
Then, the band had the brilliant idea to include a small program that showed the band in action. You saw the demon spitting blood or getting ready to breathe fire. You can also see the cat playing drums on a high raiser, or Space Ace playing a guitar that was shooting out fireworks. How could all of the photos, the facial make-up and the hard rock pop songs not capture the imagination of a teenager, especially the males.
The music was simple, plodding music that was played aggressively at a loud volume. Something else that captured my imagination was Paul Stanley’s between-song banter with the crowd. The whole double-album could capture a teen’s imagination. Side One was perfectly sequenced to capture my attention, from the opening number of “Deuce”, through “Strutter”, “Got to Choose”, “Hotter Than Hell” to the last song on that side, “Firehouse”. For me, the middle two sides lost a little of the momentum set by Side One. The highlights of Sides Two and Three were “C’mon and Love Me” and “Black Diamond”. But the momentum was recaptured on Side Four.
Side Four begins slowly with “Rock Bottom” but builds with each successive song. Paul Stanley’s introduction to “Cold Gin” is as classic as the song. The third song is the one we have all been waiting for, “Rock and Roll All Nite”. Paul introduces the song, then the band joins together to blast the song into the listener’s chest and works its way down, making you want to both dance and make-out with that special girl you couldn’t even begin to talk to, even though you two have been “going steady” since the beginning of the school year. The whole concert ends with “Let Me Go Rock and Roll”, a call-to-arms to all teens listening to join their fanclub called “The Kiss Army”.
All in all, the album changed everything. Like I said, I was listening to the Bay City Rollers (though I think the early stuff by the band is some of power pop’s finest material) and mostly Top 40 music until “Kiss Alive!” came along. After that album, my tastes began to move in all directions. Within the next year, I will be listening to Rush, Thin Lizzy, Parliament, Ramones, Queen, et al. Still, ‘Kiss Alive!’ is the album that changed my musical tastes forever. It’s no wonder that so many people my age started metal bandsin the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Over time, I have come to enjoy the CD version of this album because you can listen to the complete concert without ever needing to “flip” sides. Still, I still love vinyl because of the warmth of the sound. One last thing: Thanks Ace, Gene, Paul & Peter for opening up my musical world.