Part 39 of my series of Kiss reviews, leading up to the release of Monster!
KISS – The Box Set (Deluxe mini guitar case edition, 2001)
These days it’s pretty common to see deluxe versions of box sets, for the mega-fan who just has to have everything. In 2001, it was less so. Am I giving Gene Simmons credit for creating the concept? Kind of, yeah. This, the very first KISS box set, was available in three editions. First I’m going to discuss the one that I chose — the mini guitar case edition — and we’ll go from there! Gene is pretty much a business genius, and he knows if he makes something available, people will buy it. “If you build it, they will come.” I don’t blame him in the least and I’m the last person who’d call him “Greed Simmons”. He’s not taking our money — we’re giving it to him.
So, leave it to KISS to package one version of their first box set in a miniature replica guitar case. Granted there have been much cooler box looking sets before and since (see: ZZ Top, Pink Floyd) but everybody needs a KISS box set in a case like this, don’t they?
Well, I did. It’s a handsome sturdy black case, with handle and silver KISS logo emblazoned on the front. If memory serves it cost me about $250. I got it from the American Amazon site, I had it on pre-order and I was so stoked to get it.
Included are 5 CDs (around 6 hours of music), an awesome hardcover book with loads of liner notes and rare photos, and 31 rare or unreleased tracks. Some have been released on singles or compilations before, which I will discuss in greater detail, but most are previously unheard.
The box doesn’t hold the CD jewel cases all that well when you open it, so be careful. Under one of the CDs is a secret compartment, with a thing of silica gel (“DO NOT EAT” helpfully written upon it) and keys for the case!
Before I go through the discs, I’ll mention a few things that KISS fans often moan about when it comes to this box set:
- “Gene promised the entire Wicked Lester album, and it’s not here.”
- “There was supposed to be entire early KISS show would be in the box.”
- “Gene said there’d be a video or a DVD.”
- “The Elder demos are not on here, and Gene said they would be .”
- “Where’s ‘Rip And Destroy’ and the acoustic version of ‘Beth’?”
- “I have bootlegs of this stuff already, and it sounds better on the bootlegs.”
Since the release of this set, KISS have released ample DVDs (the KISStory series will be hitting 4 volumes this year) so I think that point is moot. When questioned on other points, Gene always responds, “Be patient. It’s coming.” A buddy of mine, Mike Lukas of the band Legendary Klopeks, actually asked Gene some of these exact questions in person, and Gene said, “I know. It’s coming. Be patient.” I’m sure that will bear out to be true. As for the sound quality issues, I have bootlegs of some of this stuff on CD already, and none of them sound better than this box set, so I don’t know where people got that better sounding stuff. And plenty of this stuff has not been bootlegged before.
Onto the music!
This CD starts off with a whopping 12 rare tracks before you even delve into the first KISS album. The first two, Eddie Kramer demos of “Strutter” and “Deuce”, have been released before on singles and compilations, but many casual fans did not have them until now. These tracks just smoke, with “Strutter” being quite a bit longer. They are raw and have great playing from Ace. Three tracks from the Wicked Lester album are included. Wicked Lester was Gene and Paul’s original band, which transformed into KISS when they fired the other three guys. Many Wicked Lester tracks were later recorded by KISS. Yes, it would have been nice to have the whole album. Maybe it will be released officially one day, maybe we will have to live with the crap-sounding bootlegs. If it is never released, I won’t blame Gene. It’s pretty terrible.
More demos abound including an early Gene song and an early Paul song. Both hint at some directions they would explore within KISS and their solo albums. A live take of the unreleased song “Acrobat” follows (essentially: “Love Theme From Kiss” melded with an unreleased song called “You’re Much Too Young”, which contains an early version of the “Detroit Rock City” riff — whew). From here, there are nine tracks from the first three albums, ending with “Rock And Roll All Nite”. Not a terribly generous slice of music from those first albums, but it does prevent too much duplication with the songs already included as demos.
Live tracks from Alive! kick off this disc, which is mostly made up of songs from the 4th through 6th KISS studio albums. One really cool track is “Doncha Hesitate” which was completely unknown to me previously. It is especially cool because unlike later KISS demos, it includes all four members. Plus, it is actually a really great song! It just didn’t fit in with the direction of Destroyer; it is clearly in the mould of early KISS, which is why it never made the album.
Paul’s “God Of Thunder” demo is here (Paul’s lead vocal and alternate lyrics about Aphrodite), as well as an early version of “Dr. Love” called “Bad Bad Lovin'”. The disc ends with another previously unheard song, a Gene demo called “Love Is Blind” which reveals his crooning Beatles roots.
This disc chronicles KISS’ decline in popularity in the early 80’s. It starts out with a bang, “Detroit Rock City”, which is out of chronology. Some tracks from Alive II and the solo albums (with another Gene demo) take us into the disco years. The demo and live versions of the disco tracks reveal the harder edge intended when those songs were written. Not many rarities on this disc, although “Nowhere To Run” is included, one of my all time favourite songs from KISS Killers, an import-only hits compilation with bonus material.
There are even fewer rare tracks on this disc, which is strange because there are tons of demos from the 80’s floating in collector’s circles. I guess they’re probably just not that good. This CD covers Lick It Up (1983) through to Hot In The Shade (1989): The non-makeup part of the 80’s. “Ain’t That Peculiar” is one of the best rarities here, an Eric Carr demo of what would become “Little Caesar”. There is also a demo of Paul’s “Time Traveller”, a keyboard-based pop rock song which has not aged well. Unfortunately, due to squeezing so many albums onto this CD, Lick It Up is criminally underrepresented. It had many more great songs than just the two singles presented here. “Let’s Put The X In Sex” should have been dropped in favour of “Exciter”, “And On The 8th Day”, or “A Million To One”.
Eric Carr’s final recording (and Eric Singer’s first with KISS) was “God Gave Rock ‘N’ Roll To You II”, which kicks off this disc. Eric Carr was sick with heart cancer, and was unable to play drums on the track. He did sing the background vocal, which is a highlight of the song. Eric Singer, who had played with Paul Stanley on his 1989 solo tour, was called to replace Carr for the sessions. Sadly, that replacement would have to become permanent when Carr died in November of 1991. I would have preferred the original mix of this song, from the Bill & Ted soundtrack, personally.
As far as rarities go, there is not much on this disc. A Gene demo of “Domino” is neat, but underwhelming. “Got To Choose” from the Japanese version of MTV Unplugged is very welcome, but where is the live take of “New York Groove” from the Japanese version of You Wanted The Best? I would really like to have that in a digital format — I only have it on vinyl.
“It’s My Life”, from the Psycho-Circus sessions, was an old KISS song written back in the 80’s and first released by Wendy O. Williams on an album written and produced by Gene Simmons. KISS finally released their own version of it many years later on this box, and it purports to include the entire original band playing on it. I am skeptical of this, but it does definitely have a verse sung by Ace Frehley, while Gene sings the main part. “Nothing Can Keep Me From You” is on here, a terrible song from the Detroit Rock City movie, and actually more of a Paul solo song since no other members appear on it. The unreleased full-length version of “Childhood’s End” from Carnival of Souls (featuring a coda called “Outromental”) round out the non-album stuff.
A bad song choice or two from Revenge, some of the wrong tracks from Carnival of Souls, and a few too many from Psycho-Circus are the main flaws with this disc. A track from Alive III would have been nice.
The box set ends with the “live” (not really though, actually dubbed) version of “Shout It Out Loud” from the Greatest KISS album, and a “preview track” from what was intended to be the forthcoming Alive IV: “Rock And Roll All Nite” (the only song to be repeated). This version of Alive VI ended up getting shelved in favour of a symphonic live album, which was then dubbed Alive VI: Kiss Symphony. The original version of Alive VI has since been issued in another KISS box set.
As I said earlier in the review, I am sure that KISS will release more rare stuff in the future. It has already started to happen with the afforementioned KISS Alive Box, and KISSology DVD sets. As Gene said, be patient, it’s coming. On the whole, quibbles aside I very much enjoy listening to the KISS box set. It is quite interesting to hear the band evolve, and you gain an appreciation for their charisma and songwriting. Regardless of what the critics say, Kiss are quite talented songwriters. Often simple, but we’re still listening to them almost 40 years later. And they said it would never last six months.
The liner notes are quite insightful if not entirely accurate (Peter Criss did not play on any tracks from Psycho-Circus except one, no matter what the notes say).
I mentioned there were other versions available. There is a basic version, with a softcover version of the book, in a simple black box. It retails for around $100. That’s the version most people should grab. The only difference is the box it comes in, and the softcover book vs. hardcover. Oh, and the guitar box also came with a print of a note in what appears to be Paul Stanley’s handwriting, talking about the long awaited set. Not a huge deal.
Then, for the ultimate fan, there is the box set that actually came in a full sized guitar case. The Premium Gold Edition. It appears to still be available.
It comes with an RIAA gold record of Kiss Alive! and apparently “hand written” liner notes in gold ink on parchment paper. Retail price to us Canucks: $850 smackaroos!
For the music itself, I rate this one: