by Justin Farrar  |  www.rhapsody.com

Released on September 10, 1975, mere months after the Vietnam War ended with the fall of Saigon, Alive! helped transform KISS from popular concert draw to globally recognized rock stars. If the double album isn’t rock’s greatest live album, then surely it makes the short list, right up there with Live at Leeds, At Fillmore East and Cheap Trick at Budokan. In April, Rolling Stoneranked Alive! No. 6 in its "50 Greatest Live Albums of All Time." From the PA announcer’s opening proclamation (“You wanted the best, and you got it. The hottest band in the land … KISS!”) to the definitive version of "Rock and Roll All Nite" found on side four, we’re talking a roller-coaster ride through classic rock at its most gloriously raucous and bombastic. Multiple generations of teens honed their air guitar chops to this music, even going so far as to re-create the entire concert in their parents’ basements — complete with makeup. (I know, because I did.)

Though the group had previously released three studio efforts, none had the commercial impact of Alive!, which managed to entrench itself in the Billboard 200 for the subsequent two years. The trio of albums in question (KISS, Hotter than Hell and Dressed to Kill) certainly contained fine moments, yet what they lacked was KISS’ single greatest asset: their showmanship. After all, whenPaul Stanley and Gene Simmons began assembling the band in New York City in late 1972, they envisioned a live act first and foremost. Compare the studio versions of “Deuce,” “Firehouse” and “Black Diamond” to those found on Alive!, and this becomes evident. Where the former are well performed and focused, the latter are blistering and electric, bigger than life. Clearly locked in a feedback loop, KISS and crowd feed off one another’s endless reserves of energy.

But the greatness of Alive! can’t be reduced to just the music. Also key to its success is what goes on in between the tunes, like the eardrum-rupturing cheers as Paul Stanley extols the joys of sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll. Just before tearing into “Strutter,” the hairy-chested Starchild shouts, “Woah! How ya doin’? Oh, yeah! Looks like we gonna have ourselves a rock and roll party tonight!” Even better is the monologue between “Got to Choose” and “Hotter Than Hell”: “Woah, yeah! Alright! I tell y’all. I got this feeling tonight’s going to be one of those hot nights. Yeah! We gonna get this place … hotter than hell!” When it comes to off-the-cuff flamboyance Stanley has no rivals in rock’s hallowed pantheon. In fact, his onstage banter is so legendary that through the years devoted KISS fans have created sprawling mixes of nothing but his between-song antics.

Stanley has been quoted as saying that “the whole idea of rock and roll lifestyle is a cartoon.” Not only does this statement reflect his own onstage theatrics, but the very essence of Alive!. The album sucks listeners into a comic book-like world that is fun, colorful and utterly unapologetic. In this sense, Alive! isn’t just a live album: It’s a mode of escape, and you crank the record knowing that for the next 80 minutes whatever might have you down (parents, crappy job, homework) takes a back seat to KISS’ wildly over-the-top vision of rock 'n' roll. Happy 40th anniversary, Alive!

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