Andre Gardner

Rock group Kiss performs live on stage, for a one-off Independence Day show as a fundraiser for the Help for Heroes charity, at The Kentish Town Forum on July 4, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Jim Dyson/Getty Images)

For the second week in a row, a live album tops our countdown chart. This week on MGK’s Thursday Top 10 Countdown, we spotlight the classic Kiss live album that isn’t really live!

On paper, a live album is fantastic idea. It can almost capture the feeling of being there in person. Man, there have been some incredible live albums released over the years. James Brown Live At The Apollo, Frampton Comes Alive, The Allman Brothers’ Live At the Fillmore and Cheap Trick’s Live At Budokan are some classic examples. In the mid 70s, almost everyone I knew had a copy of another classic live album, Alive! by Kiss. As we’ve come to find out about that LP, barely anything about that album was “live.”

How “Alive!” Came To Be

By 1974, Kiss’s record label, Casablanca Records, was having some financial difficulties. A Johnny Carson double album, featuring highlights from his “Tonight Show,” was a bomb, and the label lost a ton of dough.

Teetering on the verge of bankruptcy, Casablanca Records needed cash. Label head Neal Bogart, in what was considered a rather desperate move at the time, arranged for the release of the first KISS live album. Granted, the label couldn’t even pay to have the shows recorded. KISS’s manager, Bill Aucoin, had to foot the bill himself, at a cost of over a quarter million dollars.

Aucoin had enough money to record four of KISS’s shows during their Dressed To Kill tour in the spring of 1975. One of the shows they recorded was in Wildwood, NJ of all places, at the Wildwoods Convention Center. They also recorded KISS concerts in Detroit, Cleveland, and Davenport, Iowa.

Is It Live, Or..?

In listening to the tapes, it was quite clear an album couldn’t be released in its current form. While KISS shows were certainly full of onstage action and excitement, it didn’t make for very clean recordings. The band and label brought in legendary producer Eddie Kramer (Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, etc.) to help. And help he did. He brought the band into Electric Lady Studios in New York City, where they worked on repairing the unusable parts. The stories have changed over the years, but it’s generally understood that only Peter Criss’s drums are actually from those live shows. The rest were all overdubbed at Electric Lady with the band and Eddie Kramer. Even the crowd parts were changed. Kramer would take the loudest crowd cheers and mix them in throughout the songs.

So, while Alive! is the classic Kiss live album that isn’t really live, it’s hard to argue its success. For one thing, it helped save Casablanca Records from going under. After that album, disco hit big, and the label made a boatload of money. KISS’s Alive! tops our Thursday Top 10 Countdown for January 18, 1976.

  • 10. Born To Run - Bruce Springsteen

    I love how, for many years afterward, Bruce and The Big Man would replicate their pose on the cover of Born To Run in concert. It was an iconic cover, AND album, and was #10 on January 18, 1976.

  • 9. Wish You Were Here - Pink Floyd

    Pink Floyd’s legendary tribute to Syd, the second album to give a nod to him, was recorded over a six month period at Abbey Road Studios in London. While initial reviews were mixed, it’s stood the test of time as another Pink Floyd masterwork. Wish You Were Here drops to #9 on our Thursday Top 10 Countdown this week.

  • 8. A NIght At The Opera - Queen

    At the time, it was billed as the most expensive album ever made, and Queen’s A Night At The Opera gave them their first international exposure. It hit #1 in the U.K. and #4 over here, and on its way there, it was #8 on January 18, 1976.

  • 7. Toys In The Attic - Aerosmith

    Aerosmith had only written four songs for their fourth album, and the rest were basically made up in the studio. It turned into their most commercially successful album, approaching ten million copies sold. On this week’s countdown, Toys In The Attic is #7.

  • 6. Fleetwood Mac - Fleetwood Mac

    Chart success was only beginning for Fleetwood Mac. Their tenth album, self-titled, was on a long, slow crawl to the #1 position. It would eventually hit it in September, but on January 18, 1976, Fleetwood Mac was #6.

  • 5. Who By Numbers - The Who

    John Entwistle was not only the bass and horn player in The Who, he was quite the artist as well. He designed the cover for the band’s seventh studio album, The Who By Numbers. The album peaked here at #5 on MGK’s Thursday Top 10 Countdown.

  • 4. One Of These Nights - Eagles

    The Eagles’ Glenn Frey, who we lost 8 years ago today (1/18), called this Eagles album “a Philly record,” meaning the songs had a bit of that Philly Sigma Sound/R&B sound. One Of These Nights became the first in a string of #1 albums for the group, and dropped to #4 on January 18, 1976.

  • 3. Face The Music - Electric Light Orchestra

    Thanks to being the opening act for Deep Purple during their ’74 US tour, Electric Light Orchestra got a whole new group of fans, and the album that followed that tour, Face The Music, was their biggest U.S. hit thus far, and the first ELO album to go platinum. On January 18, 1976, it peaked at #3.

  • 2. Red Octopus - Jefferson Starship

    In 1974, Jefferson Airplane emerged with a new sound and a new name..Jefferson Starship. Their second album under this new moniker would be their biggest to date. After hitting the #1 spot three separate times, each for just one week, Red Octopus drops one to #2.

  • 1. Alive! - Kiss

    Topping the chart this week is the fourth album, and first live work, by KISS. After the band’s record company took a big chance releasing this album, it paid off big dividends for both the label and the group, and still stands today as one of Classic Rock’s greatest live albums..even though most of it was a product of the studio. The #1 rock album on January 18, 1976 was Alive! by KISS!

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