45 Years Ago: How Kiss Finally Hit It Big on the ‘Alive!’ Tour
Kiss lit the fuse on a rocket that would send them to worldwide fame on Sept. 10, 1975. Their launch pad was located in Chattanooga, Tenn.
On that date, the band kicked off what would become a triumphant North American tour with a headlining show at the Chattanooga Memorial auditorium. It was also the day they released the risky but ultimately career-saving double-live album Alive!
Kiss had been releasing studio albums and performing live at a breakneck pace for the past year and a half. This particular tour started less than two weeks after the end of the one in support of their third LP, Dressed to Kill.
But it was all starting to pay off. "We knew something was going on," noted bassist Gene Simmons, who recalled in the 2013 book Nothin' to Lose: The Making of Kiss (1972-1975) how the band's dynamic shows were making it harder to find opening-act gigs. "We were selling out concerts. We couldn't find groups to play with. We were thrown off of an Argent tour, a Savoy Brown tour. Black Sabbath threw us off their tour."
"After the release of Alive!, things felt different," Paul Stanley said in his 2014 book Face the Music. "It was like watching water simmer before it boils. It suddenly seemed like just a matter of time before things would explode." He was right. Kiss were at their best as a live act, and Alive! captured their energy and charisma better than any of their early studio records. It was just the match they needed to light the fuse they'd built with their constant touring.
"[The fans] devoured Alive! in numbers we couldn't have imagined," Ace Frehley recalled in 2011's No Regrets. "It went gold, then it went platinum, [then] double platinum. The album hit the Billboard charts quickly and stayed there for two years. Two fucking years!"
Eager to fan the flames, Kiss performed 91 shows on what would retroactively become known as the Alive! Tour. The trek ended on April 22, 1976, five weeks after the March 1976 release of the band's fourth studio album, Destroyer. (Naturally, the Destroyer tour began the very next day and found the band playing 57 more shows over the next four months.) "Halfway through the Alive! tour, we were informed that we would be rich beyond our dreams," Peter Criss remembered in his 2012 autobiography, Makeup to Breakup: My Life In and Out of Kiss. "I had no idea that we would become bigger than life itself."
The success of Alive! also had ripple effects on other rock bands. "Before Alive!, bands didn't really release concert albums as legitimate product," Simmons claimed in 2001's Kiss and Make-Up. "They were almost always put out to fulfill contracts. We were one of the first bands to really care about the idea and to package it accordingly. ... Within three years, many more of these elaborate live packages appeared, including Frampton Comes Alive! and Cheap Trick at Budokan."
Midway through the tour, Kiss' last show of 1975 offered two examples of just how much they had accomplished over the past two years. "On New Year's Eve 1975, we headlined the Nassau Coliseum on Long Island, New York," Stanley remembered in Face the Music. "Exactly two years before, we had played another New Year's Eve show, opening for Iggy [Pop] and Blue Oyster Cult. This time, Blue Oyster Cult opened for us."
Backstage that night, the band was presented with gold albums for Alive!, celebrating sales totaling more than a half-million copies. "Receiving a gold album fulfilled a childhood dream," said Stanley. "Elvis had gold albums. The Beatles had gold albums. Now I had a gold album."