The KISS Box Set
KISS Box Set
By Tommy Thayer
February 8, 2001 - As I pulled my car up to the ominous KISS warehouse facility back in February, I anticipated the exciting task of uncovering the many rare and unheard KISS recordings to be considered for the KISS Box Set project.
Paul, Gene and I had begun a 'hands on' search through the tens of thousands of KISS tape boxes for the 'Holy Grail' of unreleased tracks and vintage KISS recordings, some 30 years old or more.
The KISS tape storage facility is a hallowed ground for KISS affectianado. An amazing collection that the consummate KISS collector would drool over. Everything is there. All of the original multi-track master recordings from every KISS album, the original Wicker Lester master recordings, tons of never heard before demo tapes from the early years, radio shows, vintage interviews and more. This made selecting material for the box even more challenging.
Due to the enormity of a project like this, it's taken a lot of time, research and planning. I've been working on the Box Set with the band for over a year now. In the beginning, the first task at hand was to find the vintage unreleased KISS tracks that until now, have been carefully stored away for decades. And to most, have never been heard.
It was interesting reviewing the tapes with Gene and Paul. I'd say, "Hey, what's this track; 'Doncha Hesitate?," And I'd hear something back from Gene like, "Well, back in 1902, we were recording a demo at a studio in New York City called Magna-Graphics..." Or I'd hear Paul say, "This tape is my first song I ever recorded when I was 16 years old, called 'Stop, Look to Listen,' check it out." Or I'd hear, "Listen to this, it's the original demo of 'God of Thunder," which turned out to be a very bizarre, upbeat, early version of the song with Paul singing lead vocals.
Due to the age of many of these original analog audio tapes, playing them in their present condition could permanently damage the tape, so preventative steps had to be taken to insure the preservation of the vintage tapes. Digital work tape copies were immediately made so that we could return the original analog tapes back to safe keeping.
Along with the vintage unreleased tracks, we proceeded to go through lists and lists of KISS songs to pick out the ultimate KISS studio and live tracks to fill out the track sequence. Paul mentioned, "I'd like to see 'Parasite' instead of 'Got to Choose' off 'Hotter Than Hell,' and then add 'Got to Choose' from 'Unplugged' because it was actually only released in Japan. Gene and I had agreed that "Anything for My Baby" is a great, and often overlooked track that Paul sings with more attitude than James Brown, and should definitely be added. I'm thinking, "should we include 'New York Groove' or 'Rip it Out' from Ace's solo record, or maybe just add both. Or how many original "Wicked Lester" tracks should be included?
The record company had decided they would like to see four discs in the Box, which would translate to about 80 tracks total. We were having a difficult time fitting 30 years of KISS into that format. The answer: Let's add another disc for a total for five discs and almost 100 tracks total!
Once we had our basic track listing together, we started interviews with each band member. In each interview, the band told amazing stories and recollections about each and every song to be included. Here's a excerpt:
Paul Stanley: "Strutter" started off as one of Gene's songs called "Stanley the Parrot", which was one of those bizarre songs that, to this day, I don't quite understand where they came from. The chord pattern, once we picked up the tempo of it and started playing a lot of suspensions, got a more Stones-y kind of feel.
And, of course, this is where Gene's and my story is a little different. I said it "sounded like strutting, let's call it 'Strutter.'" And the lyric was basically just about what was going on in New York at that point, a lot of hot-looking chicks dressed in hot clothes. Kind of following the philosophy of "it pays to advertise."
When we did the demos for "Strutter" and a bunch of the other songs, it was with an engineer named Dave Whitman who was a protégé of Eddie Kramer's. And Eddie himself, who was of course, renowned at that point for having done Led Zeppelin, and having done "All You Need is Love." I believe he engineered on that. And Hendrix. We were at that time, recording at Electric Lady Studios, although we were just doing demos on spec time, which means you would go there and everyone was speculating when a certain session would end and you would go in on the off time to just try to either knock out demos or work at a much lower rate.
Although at that point I was in awe of Eddie, he was a rather colorful, if not questionable, character. He walked around with a cane and wore a cape at times, which was somewhere between aristocratic and idiosyncratic. I think we were both inspired by him being in the studio and slightly intimidated, but we knew that, having worked on the "Wicked Lester" project and having that turned into something far from what we originally envisioned, we knew that working with Eddie and Dave, we would come out with exactly what we had in mind, and that was, another piece in the puzzle... to become the band we did.
Gene Simmons: I've always been a big movie fan, and remember seeing a great black and white movie called "Great Expectations" with Laurence Olivier. And so I sat down, without having a preconceived notion of where I was going, just starting to strum an acoustic guitar. I fell into reworking an old song that I had written called "You've Got Nothing to Live For." In particular, I took the verse and rewrote it as a song about the band: "you watch me playing guitar, you see what my fingers can do, and you wish you were the one I was doing it to." The lyric kept referring to the singer and the drummer and so on, and all about the expectations of some of our female fans. And the point of the song was what you see on stage may not be something you can take home.
I didn't actually think it would be right for the group. A lot of the songs I had written stylistically veered more towards the Beatles and three-part harmonies, and only the tougher songs wound up on the record. But when Bob Ezrin was producing us for a record that was to become "Destroyer" by early 1976, it was clear that this was going to be a record unlike any other KISS had recorded.
For one thing, we had choirs, strings, and any number of other elements we never thought would fit into KISS. "Great Expectations" was recorded and rewritten. Bob Ezrin suggested a number of lyric changes and added a Mozart piano passage, I believe, that gave the song its "classical" feel.
Recording the song was torture for Peter in particular because he couldn't rely on his free-for-all rock and roll drumming; he actually had to learn and stick to his parts. Ezrin would often make the band leave the studio and would stay in there with Peter one on one and force him to record the tracks the way he heard them.
After we heard the finished product, I was pleasantly surprised and proud that the song would wind up on the record. Ezrin knew I was particularly fond of this particular track, so in one of his continuing series of pranks, he decided one day when I walked into the control booth, to have his head in his hands, bemoaning the fact of how terrible it was that "Great Expectations" was accidentally erased and that we had lost it forever. I freaked. But as everyone broke into laughter, I realised it was a very effective joke at my expense.
These great stories, along with a ton of rare KISS photos through the eras will be contained in a hard bound book to be included in each and every box set.
When Paul, Gene & I started meetings with the record company about the actual "physical" Box design or packaging there was a lot of ups and downs. After many go-arounds of ideas, "How about this..," or "What if we..," we thought we were on the right track of something truly impressive. Two months later, we reconvened with the record company execs to find that our original "box" idea had been watered - down to a mere booklet with the CD discs inserted inside. What came next was a scene I'll never forget.
After the presentation of the booklet idea at the meeting, Gene stood up and politely asked, "Is that what you're suggesting the KISS Box Set package is?" "Uh, yes it is." And then Gene added, "The KISS Box Set? The Mother of all Box Sets? The box that KISS fans are expecting and demanding?" "Uh, yes Gene." At that point, Gene simply says, "I'll pass," and he added, "The idea you've come up with, really sucks." What followed was a 20 minute reaming of the record company execs on the fundamentals of what KISS fans want and that the concept of the KISS Box Set must be bigger and better than any other, and must definitely, "Go where no box set has gone before."
Although we're not finished yet, the KISS Box Set will be something truly special. As a matter of fact, the KISS Box Set will be two box sets. First to be released, will be the "premium" version - the ultimate box for the ultimate KISS collector. In a massive package that no other box set has ever come close to, KISS will include a personal momento to each fan that you will keep in your home forever, I'm even excited to get one!
Soon thereafter, the KISS Box Set will appear, stuffed with enough vintage KISS tracks and band history, in an amazing "box" that will insatiate all KISS fans.
The monstrous KISS Box Set project has been one of the most exciting endeavours I've personally been involved in with KISS. As we near completion of the box set, I can't tell you everything about it yet, but I hope I've given you a good taste of what to expect.