The Box Set (11/2001)

There is no way that this box set can be considered the "Mother Of All Box Sets", but it isn't bad either. Without a doubt I believe that fans should consider thus "KISS: The Box Set I", much in the way that The Beatles have their "Anthology". Who else's format would Stanley and Simmons copy? The packaging. While the deluxe edition's guitar case and hard-bound booklet are a nice concept, it wasn't available at the record store I visited on the 20th. Price wise, I thought that what was being asked was fair - it's right in line with what you'd pay for a volume of KISStory, and no doubt it's not cheap to manufacture. The standard edition is no slouch. For $59.99 you're getting the same contents, albeit with a soft-bound booklet. The container is simple, an oversized version of the 1978 KISS solo album promotional item, which the Japanese marketing guru's have described as the "Cigar Box" (the call the deluxe version the "Super-Duper" version!). Yet, standard, deluxe, or Gold version, what really matters are the CD's and what they contain - "It's the music, stupid" (Simmons). Yet, standard, deluxe, or Gold version, what really matters are the CD's and what they contain. The book is absolutely fantastic, with 120 pages, with the band member's reminiscing about the tracks from the inane to the obscure. Photographically, all eras of the band are celebrated and the final page of the introduction is backed with a wonderful Elder-era photograph of the late great Eric Carr. While the "essay" might be a bit brief for fans who think that they know it all, Jeff Kitts does succinctly cover the history of the band. The explanations of the songs are interesting, to say the least, with a mix of humbleness, adroitness, humor, sniping, and even revision and mis-remembering. Regardless, the whole package is put together very well, though the number of KISS albums sold worldwide has grown from 80 million to "between 80 and 100 million" now!

For years there has been conjecture about what a KISS box set might possibly contain, and there is no doubt that we hardcore fans would have preferred nothing but demos, obscure live performances, and oddities. One must realize, however, that that is not what a box set usually is. The purpose of a box set, since they're usually not major money spinners, is to sum up a band's career. Other issues which affect fan expectations of the box set run from phantom demo recordings, material rumored to exist but never actually written or recorded; the legal ability to include material, such is the case with Lyn Christopher, Mr. Gee Wiz, AMC commercials, Chelsea, etc. While these would make nice additions to make the box set seem well-rounded, it often is just not possible due to economics, as was the case with the Van Halen recording of "Christine Sixteen"; there is also the small matter that master recordings may be lost, damaged, or unavailable. Take for example Wicked Lester live, there surely is a tape of one of the few shows the band played, but perhaps the sound quality is poor and would be unacceptable on the box. Perhaps another caveat should be added that the box should not include too much "rare" material so that the band can later milk that material at a later time. People should also not forget, that bands, the musicians and artists are the creators of the material, and music is their business, so it would be foolhardy to give all the good stuff away in one shot - even if they could, for record labels own their souls. Whatever, the band is going to be unable to please everyone with the release, so hopefully everyone who purchases it will find something to make it worth their while.

Disc one is covered with an early shot of the band, possibly from the Filmore showcase of January 1974 with Paul in his bandit makeup. The rear cover has Gene as the underlay both on the rear and under the jewel case tray. Musically, this appears to be the most interesting of the five CDs. From the start listeners are given the June 1973 demo recordings of "Deuce" and "Strutter". While these are superior, with the Eddie Kramer supervised Dave Wittman production, than the later Bell Sound Studio recordings of the Autumn of 1973, both have long been available as B-sides, even on CD-Singles as far back as 1990, so it might have been nice to include two of the other three songs from those same sessions instead, regardless of these being key recordings in the KISS catalog. Fans expecting the whole Wicked Lester recordings will be disappointed to get only three, of the 5 band written songs (those not included are "Simple Type" and "Molly", with the rest of the songs being covers or songs purchased by Ron Johnson for the band to record). In essence the songs sound little better than some versions of the full recordings which already circulate in collector circles, and there's something about the vocals on "Keep Me Waiting" which makes me wonder how much clean up work was done on the recordings. "She" and "Love Her All I Can" are as good as they always are in this eclectic format. Demo recordings of "Let Me Know" and "100000 Years" sound more like the repertoire rehearsal recordings that they are than demos as such. There is an annoying beep at 3:03 in "100000 Years" which should not be there. It is an electronic signature which certainly was not around in 1973 so has ended up there in the modern era. Regardless, "Let Me Know" has an even more 60's rock and roll feel to it than the later recorded version and "100000 Years" has more of the extended live format with plenty of drum interplay. That track's free-form style with Paul's rapping make it one of the more fun tracks on the set. Stepping into the true past we are given Paul's first studio recording of "Stop, Look To Listen" which he had composed while in the studio with his first band Uncle Joe in 1966. By far it is on the Blue Cheer side of 1960's heavy with no bass, and is light on lyrics. As a controlled jam session of three teens it is an admirable effort even though it is clear that Paul is learning how to sing. It is that which makes this another of the most important tracks in KISStory. Gene's early effort is "Leeta", which he had recorded with Bullfrog Bheer in 1969. Actually owning Gene's Richcraft acetate of this recording (and "Stanley The Parrot") I can only say that my own audio cleanup work of the track is equal to what the band have accomplished with Gene's excellent McCartney-esque ballad. Brooke Ostrander's keyboards and acoustic guitars make this a wonderful development track. It is interesting that this track was included, especially since it already circulates, when Gene's 1970 publishing tape includes so many other songs including "About Her", "Little Lady", and "Eskimo Sun", which do not. Still, I would suggest that putting "Stanley The Parrot" on the box would just have left too many people questioning Gene's claim to never have willingly touched alcohol or other mind-altering substances! More Bell Sound Studio demos follow with "Let Me Go, Rock 'N Roll", which at that time would still have been known with its' original title "Baby, Let Me Go". As is the case with "Let Me Know" this has more of a traditional rock and roll feel than the anthemic attempt the eventual studio recording would be. It certainly sounds better than that version too, though the recording still has more of an in concert feel than studio track. "Acrobat" recorded live at the Daisy is probably one of the most anticipated recordings on the box. Recorded on August 25th and mixed by Ace's buddy Eddie Solon this track suffers somewhat from the 9 channel 27 input Peavy Sound System used for the recording. Even better, since versions of this song circulate from recordings of KISS in Memphis and Washington D.C. in 1974, would have "Life In The Woods" (a.k.a. "Want You Beside Me") or KISS' version of "Simple Type" which were part of the same show. Regardless, the piece remains a great jam song showing the young band in full flight, with no rules, with Ace and Peter as the key performers! A final vault escapee is the Bell Sound Studio demo of "Firehouse" which has a great false start and goofing off which show that the band was at least fun at one time. Most notable is the slightly plodding arrangement of the song, though all of the elements of the later version are there. The remainder of the tracks are cuts culled from the first three studio albums including "Black Diamond", "Hotter Than Hell", "Strange Ways", "Parasite", "Goin' Blind", "Anything For My Baby", "Ladies In Waiting", and the obligatory "Rock And Roll All Nite". These choices pay attention not only to the obscure, but to Ace and Peter.

Disc two kicks off with four tracks from the monstrous "Alive!" album, all of which were recorded at Detroit's Cobo Hall on March 27, 1975. "C'mon And Love Me", "Rock Bottom", "Cold Gin", and "Watchin' You", were in the early years so central to the band's live performance that these are tracks that have to be on the album. They are also some of the best KISS songs in their live formats. When I read that "Doncha Hesitate" would be a demo recording on the box I thought that due to its' title that it would be a prototype of "C'mon And Love Me". How happy I was to be completely wrong. Paul's explanation that the song was one of the early demos recorded by the full band prior to recording "Destroyer" make this track a true gem. Little also had ever been heard about the existence of such a song, making it all the better! While it has a very "Dressed To Kill" "Let Me Know" rock and roll feel it really could have been at home on any of the band's classic albums, especially on the equally produced "Love Gun". This sort of track is the real reason for buying a box set! "Mad Dog" has long been known as a demo which would have it's riff recycled in "Flaming Youth". What was not know was just how much of a song this was. It's a very different Gene Simmons singing this track, with him taking more of Paul Stanley's "from the throat" style, while also using his own more subtle style on parts. A very interesting piece with some great guitar work by Ace Frehley. Another very much anticipated piece was Paul's original demo of "God Of Thunder" which is a faster, happier, rocker. With Gene's version so ingrained in the mind, Paul's original just does not compare, even with JR Smalling's drums. Gene's backing vocals are hilarious, and we can be thankful that Bob Ezrin had Gene sing the song, since having Paul sing "come before me a kneel" just does not conjure the right sort of imagery! Three classic tracks off Destroyer follow with "Great Expectations", ever obligatory "Beth", and anthemic "Do You Love Me". A complaint that it would have been nice to get the demo third-person version of "Great Expectations" and maybe the acoustic version of "Beth" from Phantom of the Park, but these two tracks remain defining moments in KISStory, on showing a KISS song at maximum production, and the other being a totally unexpected hit counter to all of the ghoulish imagery of the band. As a tangent, I wonder if it is Michael Wagner playing the guitar on the Phantom's version of "Beth"... Everyone thought they had heard "Bad Bad Lovin'", so it is nice that the band can still throw some of us hardcore diehards for a loop. Sure, we're heard the latter versions of the song, after it split from the original form, but this early prototype has elements which would be combined with "High And Low" and other Gene demos to become "Calling Dr. Love". This early version is very patchy and not unified, making it very much ripe for the development that it would get. The riff is there, as are the verses, but the chorus is the separate beast. Gene's guitar work is absolutely excellent, though he does play everything on this. Just to illustrate, the studio version of "Calling Dr. Love" follows. Few Paul demos from the 1975-6 period have previously circulated, so the demo of "Mr. Speed" is welcome, though it varies very little from KISS' version. One notable difference is that Bob Kulick plays lead, even this far back the relationship had continued between Paul and KISS' almost guitarist. Four further studio tracks follow with "Christine Sixteen", "Hard Luck Woman", "Shock Me", and "I Stole Your Love". It is a shame that Gene and Eddie were not able to agree terms for the demo version of "Christine", still it and the other three tracks remain excellent KISS recordings. "I Want You" was recorded live during sound check at the LA Forum making it something of an Alive II "Out-take", or even an Alive II track without the audience over-dubbed. Paul's excellent "Love Gun" demo follows. While this, too, has long circulated, the details that the song is performed by Paul and Steve Korff (drums) make it interesting, though the demo still remains as excellent as the recorded track. Closing out this second disc is the wonderful Gene demo for "Love Is Blind". Even though this has also long circulated, the song illustrates the direction Gene was taking with much of his song-writing in 1977/8 often writing material which was far separated to the image he had created around himself. He describes it as Eagles-like, yet regardless it shows the softer side of the demon. Gimme more!

Discs three and four are the fluff volumes with very little being appealing it terms of alternative tracks or demos. Both discs also has numerous tracks which were predominately singles, "Detroit Rock City", "Rocket Ride", "New York Groove", "Radioactive" (even though this is the demo version of the song which differs slightly to the album version), "Don't You Let Me Down", "I Was Made For Lovin' You", "Sure Know Something", "Shandi", "A World Without Heroes", "The Oath" (a single in Japan, and B-side in Europe), "Nowhere To Run" (a single in Europe), "Creatures Of The Night" (a single in England), and "I Love It Loud". Some of these could have been made more interesting such as by using the disco version of "I Was Made For Lovin' You" rather than the standard studio version. Also included is "King Of The Night Time World" (Live) and "Larger Than Life" from "KISS Alive II" and "Tonight You Belong To Me" from Paul's solo album. Bob Kulick will be having convulsions reading the credits on "Larger Than Life" which again credit the guitar work to Rick Derringer rather than him. In an interview with Dale Sherman, Bob once made this abundantly clear, "and also that Rick Derringer story... Did he ever say that he'd played on those records? I don't think so. Absolutely not. Ask Gene and Paul. They know what I played on. It's common knowledge, everyone knows" (Sherman, Dale - Black Diamond III interview with Bob Kulick). Apparently not. "You're All That I Want" is presented in it's demo form, a form which is better than the recorded version with heavier acoustic flavor and it is somewhat incredible that this piece dates back to 1977. Eric Carr gets in with a live recording of "Talk To Me" from the Australian Tour of 1980 and while the details may seem off in the booklet description of the venue, that is not important with this being the now third live track featuring the late Eric Carr on drums. Not the best sound recording, there are better in collector's hands, notably Auckland, which as the final show with Ace Frehley would have been a more poignant inclusion. "War Machine" is included as the penultimate track on this disc, though Gene erroneously attributes the song to himself even though it had been recorded by the Investigators when it was still in the original form written by Bryan Adams and Jim Vallance (J. Suhs and I haven't tracked down a copy of that yet, so I can't tell what the differences are between the original and Genied versions. Disc four includes the regular studio recordings of "Lick It Up", "All Hell's Breakin' Loose", "Get All You Can Take", "Thrills In The Night", "Tears Are Falling", "Uh! All Night", "Hell Or High Water", "Crazy Crazy Nights", "Reason To Live", "Lets Put The X In Sex", "Hide Your Heart", "Silver Spoon", and even the single remix version of "Forever". Nine of those tracks were singles in most international markets, and two would be B-sides. The only endearing songs on this volume is Paul's "Time Traveler" demo and Eric's "Ain't That Peculiar". During 1986 Paul was demoing extensively and also writing with a variety of people, with the possibility of working with Cher. This song, co-written with Desmond Child, is very 80's with the keyboards, and would have been right at home on a late 1980's Paul Stanley solo album. Eric's demo shows the transformation of his idea into what would become "Little Caesar" on "Hot In The Shade" before Gene and Adam got their hand's on it. This song sounds very autobiographical about what Eric may have had going on in his life in early 1989 following his involvement in certain projects, though his singing emphasizes what a great talent was lost. To make the other tracks more interesting, it would have been better to include "Lets Put The X In Sex" (Sex-A-Pella Mix) and "Silver Spoon" (Full Guitar Power Mix) instead of the standard tracks. Even the choice off "Animalize" seems very odd when a B-side of "Heaven's On Fire" (Live 12/84) with Eric Carr was released in 1985, let alone that the two songs selected are possibly the worst (add "Lonely Is The Hunter") from that album which does have better material. Two tracks off "Lick It Up" seems completely absurd, and even though one can believe that Vinnie might be a little bit of an issue in using other material, that album was responsible, building on the power of "Creatures Of The Night" in rising the KISS-phoenix out of the ashes of several years of pandering to artistic experimentation. A selection of "A Million To One" or "Exciter" with Rick Derringer playing the solo would have added spice, simply using the standard album tracks.

In some ways it would be easy to also call disc five a fluff volume, yet the inclusion of "It's My Life" makes that an impossibility. Finally, fans have a recording of this awesome Stanley/Simmons anthem, and while it may be 1998 vintage rather than 1982, it is still been worth the wait. There is no doubt that the 1982 version is superior, yet the attempt to recycle it in 1998 was admirable, though one must wonder if Ace (if he was even on it) was comfortable recording a track that dated from an unhappy period in his life. "God Gave Rock And Roll To You II" is a worthy addition due to Eric Carr's limited involvement in the recording, restricted to wonderful harmonizing. "Unholy", "Domino", and the pussy song, pardon me "Every Time I Look At You", were all singles. The recording of "Domino" is an interesting demo, but close enough to the familiar version to make the players irrelevant. Four tracks from "MTV Unplugged" are included, though the true bonus here is "Got To Choose" which was a bonus track on the US vinyl and Japanese versions of the album. "Comin' Home", "I Still Love You" and "Nothin' To Lose", nonetheless, are excellent representations from the album. Getting tracks from "Carnival Of Souls" was somewhat surprising, and the band have tacked on the "hidden" track omitted from the original release of the album back onto the end of "Childhood's End" where it started out as a coda in the first place. The piece was originally included on some copies of the COS advance cassette more than a minute following the conclusion of the final song, "I Walk Alone" where it had been moved possibly because it clashed with the song in the first place, but was still interesting enough to use as a teaser. Regardless, the piece has become known as "Outromental", so christened by Mercury's then KISS Catalog Consultant Robert V. Conte who needed a name to refer to the piece by, and it's nice to finally get it one a proper KISS release just because it's an odd bit of studio experimentation. Several tracks from "Psycho Circus" appear including the title track, "Within", "Into The Void", and "I Pledge Allegiance To The State Of Rock And Roll", nearly half of the album! The dreadful "Nothing Can Keep Me From You", from the "Detroit Rock City" OST gets release, which is appropriate since it was the final KISS-badged (even though it's only really Paul) track released, and was the only "new" track on that album from the band. I'd rather that they had dusted off the 1998 studio recording of "Detroit Rock City" which would have been no more rough than some of the earlier material. It at least would have had all of the members on it, and is really the last true KISS recording. That it kicks ass has nothing to do with my logic! The box set is closed out with the Tiger Stadium 1996 version of "Shout It Out Loud" and the forthcoming "Alive IV" version of "Rock And Roll All Nite".

For the casual fan, the KISS box set offers a broad spectrum of the band's recording history. The box set is in no way comparable to The Cult's "Rare Cult" which really was a diehard's wet dream, yet neither is it a Led Zeppelin Box, which simply collected studio tracks together offering a single unreleased track. KISS' fits in just about where one would expect it to, along side with band's like Aerosmith's efforts which provide a pleasant mix in an attempt to fulfill as many purposes as possible. KISS, of course, trump the Aeroboys in terms of packaging, but at least Aerosmith released a promotional CD for their box. For the diehard fan, the box set boils down to a few key tracks: "100,000 Years" (Bell Sound Studio Demo), Uncle Joe's "Stop, Look To Listen", "Acrobat", "Doncha Hesitate", "Mad Dog", "God Of Thunder" (Paul Stanley Demo), "Bad Bad Lovin", "Mr. Speed" (Demo), "I Want You" (Sound check), "Love Is Blind", "You're All That I Want" (Demo), "Time Traveler", "Ain't That Peculiar", Childhood's End's "Coda", "It's My Life" (the not original version, perhaps better called The Original's Version) and "Got To Chose" (Unplugged). Everything else is fluff, being available elsewhere in equal quality or on previously released albums. Another negative factor which strikes the fan is that this box set is again the Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley show. Perhaps there would have been difficulties, but there is no pre-KISS material from Ace Frehley, Peter Criss, or Eric Carr. It would not have been difficult to include "I Cry At Night" or "Your Turn To Cry", from Eric, and Ace had recorded material with Molimo prior to joining the band, but perhaps this wasn't considered. Peter, too, had studio material, not just the Chelsea album. One pre-KISS track from each would have been appealing. However, Ace has commented that he had limited involvement in the box simply being faxed a list, which is a shame because KISS is about more than just two members. Rating, 8/10, it's definately cool, but a fan always has unmet demands!!