From the exact instant it first exploded into record stores on September 10, 1975, Kiss Alive! rewrote rock and roll forever, and immediately altered popular culture . The world had wanted the best, and that double-disc milestone delivered the best—the hottest band in the land… Kiss!
Finally breaking Kiss wide open by topping out at #9 on the pop chart, Alive! aroused such interest in the group that their three previous flop releases—Kiss, Hotter Than Hell, and Dressed to Kill—also reentered the charts, eventually going gold and being recognized as eternal classics (as did Alive! on both counts).
Alive! ignited the Kiss phenomenon that continues unabated today. It set the band up for their biggest studio hit, 1976’s Destroyer, generated three direct sequels and, studio “sweetening” notwithstanding, established a new standard in concert LPs among artists and listeners alike (Frampton Comes Alive, Cheap Trick’s Live at Budokan, and Thin Lizzy’s Live and Dangerous are just a few of the monster recordings that immediately reaped Alive!’s benefits).
To celebrate the four decades and the varyingly awesome Kiss concert albums since Alive!, here’s a countdown of the group’s most ferociously fire-breathing live tracks. Drop the needle anywhere, and you'll be rocking and rolling all night and/or, depending on the immediate circumstance, partying every day.
“The Star-Spangled Banner” – Alive III
Kiss wraps up its 1993 collection of Midwest-recorded tracks (in Cleveland, Detroit, and Indianapolis) with guitarist Bruce Kulick’s Heartland-pounding rendition of our National Anthem. Check out Ace Frehley’s live 2010 Motocross rendition of the Francis Scott Key favorite, too.
"100,000 Years" - Alive! The Millennium Concert
A sprawling, fan favorite deep cut from Kiss's 1974 debut, the live "100,000 Years" is all shiny explosiveness as the reunited original foursome revisits their roots in 1996 and unleashes multiple millennia's worth of cosmic rock adventuring.
“Rock Bottom” – Alive!
The stripped down guitar opening build suspense to the point that, even if you’ve heard the Dressed to Kill version a thousand times, you begin to wonder, “Is this the whole song?” Then—boom!—the full band drops the hammer and remains you, no, it is not.
“Got to Choose” – Kiss Unplugged
Japanese bonus track
A Japan-only bonus track, “Got to Choose” showcases the final moments of the pre-reunion Kiss in full bloom. The dramatic song flows expertly through Bruce Kulick’s guitar and Eric Singer’s drums as a fitting farewell before Ace Frehley and Peter Criss come out and really get the party (every day) started.
“Sure Know Something” – Kiss Symphony: Alive IV
“Sure Know Something” proved to be a monster hit for Kiss in Australia, and the group makes sure to perform it live whenever they’re Down Under. It’s especially rousing here, fueled by a pretty remarkable backing band—the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra.
“Shock Me” – Alive II
Paul Stanley tells the Los Angeles Forum crowd he’s got a surprise for them tonight: “We’re gonna turn the microphone over to … Ace… FREHLEY!” The Space Man proceeds from there to fire off a, well, ace run through his signature ode to almost getting electrocuted on stage during a 1976 show in Lakeland, Florida.
“Lick It Up” – Alive III
To date, Kiss has not officially released a live version of their transformational 1983 smash that matches the impact and intensity of the studio track. Still, “Lick It Up” is “Lick It Up,” so any chance to hear Kiss roar through the jam is an absolute keeper.
“Hotter Than Hell” – Alive!
The title track to Kiss’s second album—the one to most profoundly influential grunge in the years ahead—manages to sound sludge-mucked and crystal clear all at once.
“I Stole Your Love” – Alive II
It’s fast, it’s furious, it’s a song that goes from butt-stomping to mind-blowing when performed live. Hear the proof and hold on tight.
“Shandi” – Kiss Symphony: Alive IV
Another of Kiss’s Top 5 hits specifically Down Under, “Shandi” naturally proves to be a crowd favorite among the locals and an opportunity for the rest of the planet to catch up on how great Paul Stanley’s Unmasked love song really is.
“Firehouse” – Alive!
The Demon’s fat, filthy bass ignites the blaze of “Firehouse,” and the rest of the band rush in to deal with the inferno. Naturally, the boys respond by just spraying more flames out of their various instruments.
“Shout It Out Loud” – Alive II
“Shout It Out Loud” shuts down the third and final live side of Alive II with such pomp and circumstance that you can hear the onstage fireworks—and you’re not even sure if there were any pyro-technicians working the L.A. Forum that night (there were, of course, but you get the point).
“Unholy” – Alive III
Aside from when you were seven years old in 1975 and caught Kiss on NBC’s The Midnight Special and froze in front of their face-paint and firestorms and dragon-boots and you couldn’t sleep for a month but just wanted more of that exact terrifying experience—that happened to everybody, right?—Kiss doesn’t always really pull off “scary.”
The Vinnie Vincent-Gene Simmons composition “Unholy” comes pretty close, though, especially with its nearly black metal lead riff, doom bassline, and soul-destroying guitar solo. The Alive III version is a testament to dark places the Demon could still take the band, as well as to the alarmingly awesome abilities of Bruce Kulick and Eric Singer on axe and skins, respectively.
“Plaster Caster” – Kiss Unplugged
The sonic celebration of phallus-enshrining groupie Cynthia Plaster Caster has always been a hoot (especially the extremely polite lyrics: “Grab a hold of me faster, plaster, faster/And if you want to see my love, just ask her, ask her… Go on, ask her!”). That’s especially true when the boys are just sitting around playing acoustic instruments and having a ball(s).
“Into the Void” – Alive! The Millennium Concert
“Into the Void,” Ace Frehley’s contribution to the 1996 reunion project Psycho Circus, is a standout track on an album that’s, frankly, not overloaded with them. Perhaps as a result, then, Kiss truly tears it up on this live version.
“Take Me” – You Wanted the Best, You Got the Best
A lost Alive II track recorded in 1977, “Take Me” live manages to bulk up the already bruising rip-roarer from Rock and Roll Over.
“Black Diamond” – Alive!
That eerie “Black Diamond” guitar intro casts a spell on Alive! and you can hear the crowd entranced. You can also hear them slammed to the back of the arena once the main riff swings forward with wrecking ball force. Teenage street prostitution kind of got weirdly romanticized in the ’70s; “Black Diamond” bulldozes home the horrific reality.
“Calling Dr. Love” – Alive II
Kicking off side two of Alive II, “Calling Dr. Love” is pure rock-and-roll afrodisiac, pumped directly into thousands of screaming fans and packaged potently into piles of platinum records.
“God Gave Rock and Roll To You II” – Alive III
Kiss reworked Argent’s 1973 anthem “God Gave Rock and Roll to You” for the Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey soundtrack, and also included their take on the 1992 album, Revenge. The Alive III take captures and conveys the sweep, grandeur, and sometimes (very agreeably) ridiculous overwhelm of the song in a proper packed-arena setting.
“C’mon and Love Me” – Alive!
The wall of sound rises from the stage when Kiss lights in to “C’mon and Love Me,” and it crashes down on the audience, flooding the concert hall with brawny rocker passion so flawlessly of its moment that it could only start off with: “She’s a dancer, a romancer/I’m a Capricorn and she’s a Cancer!”
“Two Timer” – You Wanted the Best, You Got the Best
The surly swagger of a 1975 Detroit performance of “Two Timer” benefits enormously from remastering in this 1996 release. How could anybody cheat on wronged romantics who rock this hard?
“Comin’ Home” – Kiss Unplugged
The title really could say it all, but the moment when Paul Stanley asks, “You ready?” and the band launches into a spirited rendition of a Hotter Than Hell deep cut, the music itself makes the moment supremely moving. The four players on stage know that Ace Frehley and Peter Criss are waiting in the wings, poised to shortly reassemble the mightiest force to ever rock and roll all night and party every day. Here they come.
“Beth” – Alive II
Ah, sweet “Beth.” Any ninny who’d label Peter Criss’s humongous weepie love ballad “sappy” doesn’t deserve to possess working ears. The hyperventilating throngs at Tokyo’s Budokan Hall that can be heard on this live track certainly get it. So, too, should anybody you ever want to talk to about music—or anything.
“Heaven’s on Fire” – Alive III
Paul Stanley’s cascading whoop that opens “Heaven’s on Fire” stands as one of the great male wails in all of rock. Perhaps some wondered if the Star Child could keep it up in concert. The invigorating evidence is all right here, as Paul power-moans the song open and the band completely slays the whole rest of the way.
“Love Gun” – Alive II
The drums are the true ammunition that makes “Love Gun” go off with such impact. Peter Criss bangs away brilliantly here, while Paul rhapsodizes, Gene booms, and Ace discharges riff after lick into a beyond on-target, rapid-fire solo.
“Let Me Know” – You Wanted the Best, You Got the Best
This 1975 Detroit “Let Me Know” performance showcases Kiss loud and proud—and, after some remastering, clear—at the peak of the powers, playing the shows that would become Alive! and turn all involved into rock immortals.
“I Was Made for Loving You” – Kiss Symphony: Alive IV
Kiss’s pulsating mirror-ball adventure comes to life as never before with the assist of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, who bring to mind how important string sections were to many, if not most, huge ’70s disco hits.
“Cold Gin” – Alive!
“Alright!” Paul Stanley roars from the stage, “How many people out there tonight like the taste of alcohol?” The crowd goes nuts. Paul continues: “Alright! You know, it’s gettin’ so hot outside tonight, you always need something to cool you off! There’s got to be some people out there that like the taste of tequila!” There are. “I was talking to somebody backstage before,” Paul says, “and he was telling me there’s a lot of you out there that like to drink vodka and orange juice! Yeah!” He’s right again. “I tell you something,” Paul says, “when you’re down in the dumps and you need something to bring you up, there’s only one thing that’s gonna do it the way you want it. What’s that?” The crowd, in unison, responds. “Cold gin!” The banter alone from the famously alcohol-eschewing Starchild makes this an instantly cherished track. The performance of the song makes it an ass-kicker.
“A World Without Heroes” – Kiss Unplugged
Kiss’s good sense of humor regarding their ambitious but perhaps wrongheaded 1981 concept album Music From “The Elder” is on full display as Paul Stanley introduces “A World Without Heroes.” Then, alas, Gene performs the closest thing Elder had to a hit, and you’ll want to go back and reinvestigate the lovingly bad-mouthed LP anew.
“Strutter” – Alive!
The very first song on the very first Kiss album is the second track on Alive! Its snazzy, sassy, extremely ’70s sex magic is even more spellbinding here.
“God of Thunder” – Alive II
During “God of Thunder” in concert, Gene Simmons famously spits blood, breathes fire, and stomps around the stage with the louder-than-life authority of the title. You don’t need to see him do it on the Alive II version—somehow, you can actually hear him.
“Great Expectations” – Kiss Symphony: Alive IV
Destroyer’s oddball operatic track “Great Expectations” gets performed live properly for the first time with an assist from the Australian Children’s Choir—who, like the musicians backing them in the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, donned full Kiss face-paint for the occasion.
“Hard Luck Woman” – Alive II
Peter Criss’s throaty vocal on Paul Stanley’s shoulda-been-a-hit-for-Rod-Stewart never sounds more heartfelt and convincing than it does on Alive II. And "Hard Luck Woman" always sounds heartfelt and convincing.
“2000 Man” – Alive! The Millennium Concert
Kiss’s great Rolling Stones cover from 1979’s Dynasty turned up as a bonus track on the 2006 Kiss Alive! 1975-2000 box set. It’s part of the Alive! The Millennium Concert and was an exclusive to Best Buy shoppers. Lucky them.
“I Love It Loud” – Alive III
“Hey-yeah-uh-hey-yeah! Hey-yeah-uh-HEY-yeah!” The irresistible chant that drives Kiss’s percussive masterwork “I Love It Loud” only looms huger, harder, and more impossible not to shout (it out loud) along with the sound of an arena full of fans carried away in the Kisstastic moment.
“Deuce” – Alive!
“Deuce” kicks off Alive!, and, in terms of the world finally taking notice of the hottest band in the land, Alive! kicked off Kiss.
“Room Service” – You Wanted the Best, You Got the Best
It’s ferocious, this “Room Service,” and it was recorded in Detroit during the original 1975 Alive! tapings. How it didn’t make the first cut is a little baffling, but its inclusion on this later comp just turns the experience into an extra treat.
“Going Blind” – Kiss Symphony: Alive IV
Gene Simmons performs the weirdest item in the Kiss canon movingly and rather beautifully, then ups its inherent bizarro factor by rendering a song about a nonagenarian man breaking up with his high-school-age girlfriend into an anthem of lost mermaid love. After singing the standard line, “I’m ninety-three and you’re sixteen,” Gene adds, “Little lady from the land beneath the sea/Can’t you see I’m going blind?”
“Detroit Rock City” – Alive II
Kiss had much to prove by following Alive! with a direct sequel just two years later. Opening up with “Detroit Rock City” at full firepower made it plain that they came to win—and did.
“Nothin’ to Lose” – Kiss Unplugged
Unplugged’s full six-man Kiss lineup has a backdoor ball with Gene Simmons’ rollicking plea for rear-entry romantic relations. Drummer Eric Singer starts off the vocal before passing it to Peter Criss. Everybody sings the rest of "Nothin' to Lose" together in upbeat harmony, sounding like they’re really enjoying it while it lasts (which, yes, does invite any number of jokes relating to the song's very subject).
“Rock and Roll All Nite” – Alive!
There could be no other #1. “Rock and Roll All Nite” is nothing less than, as Paul Stanley has accurately proclaimed on stage, “the rock-and-roll national anthem.” More specifically, the Alive! concert version is actually what got Kiss played on the radio, racing up the Billboard charts, and permanently entrenched rock history and popular culture. It remains a party—ev-er-y day.