Boxing Thirty Years Of Kiss

It's not like the tongue-wagging, fire-breathing Gene Simmons to be squeamish. But the Kiss bassman admits that the band's long-desired boxed-set retrospective has been delayed over the years because

It's not like the tongue-wagging, fire-breathing Gene Simmons to be squeamish. But the Kiss bassman admits that the band's long-desired boxed-set retrospective has been delayed over the years because he and singer/guitarist Paul Stanley weren't exactly comfortable with some of the demos and early tracks they wanted to include on what has become "Kiss: The Box Set" (released Nov. 20 via Island Def Jam/Universal Music Enterprises).

To Simmons, it's kind of like flipping through a stack of baby photos and high-school snapshots. Ya know -- bare asses, ridiculous haircuts, stuff like that. But the Kiss Army's "God of Thunder" has decided to let 'em fly on "Box Set," a five-disc, 94-song collection that includes about 30 rarities. "We literally put out the most obscure stuff," Simmons says. "I've got a song on there called 'Leeta,' which I must have recorded when I was 19. And there's [material from] Paul's first band, the Post War Baby Boom."

Although few of the rarities are all that wart-bearing, certain songs -- like the early, flute-filled version of the eventual Kiss classic "She," recorded by Stanley and Simmons' pre-Kiss group Wicked Lester in 1971-are sure to raise an eyebrow or two. "We hardly sound like Kiss on that one," Simmons says. "In fact, if anything, we sound like Jethro Tull meets the Four Seasons. But, hey, that was then, this is now."

Simmons and Stanley originally envisioned a single-disc collection of vault cuts, but with the band's label asking for a boxed set "every year," they reconsidered. "We said, 'Let's make everybody happy -- let's make the record company happy and the fans happy, and maybe we'll sort of get a kick out of it.'"

The set spans the New York-born group's roughly 30-year history, starting with pre-Kiss rarities and extending through the band's heyday in the 1970s, its "unmasked"/hair-metal phase in the '80s, a mid-'90s appearance on "MTV Unplugged," and into its post-reunion material.

In addition to Wicked Lester cuts, there are tracks from Simmons' earlier group, Bullfrog Bheer, a cut from one of the band's earliest shows ("Acrobat," taped Aug. 25, 1973, at the Daisy in Long Island, N.Y.), and even what were arguably major missteps for the band (the disco-y tracks "I Was Made for Lovin' You" and "Sure Know Something" and the "Music From the Elder" songs "A World Without Heroes" and "The Oath").

While piecing together "Box Set," Simmons was reminded of what was lost after founding members Peter Criss and Ace Frehley left the group roughly 20 years ago. "Ya know, the band has certainly reached the heights. The question is, 'Could we have gone further than the heights?' Here we are standing right behind the Beatles in number of gold records by any group in history. Could we have gone further? Yes."

Frehley, who was not involved in the compiling of "Box Set" -- "This is basically Paul and Gene's baby," he claims -- says the retrospective seems perfect for the band's newly acquired devotees.

"If I had never seen Kiss before and was introduced to Kiss on the farewell tour," Frehley says, "the box set would be a great gift. If I fell in love with the group, that would be a great gift, because then you could be acquainted with the whole career of Kiss -- from the early days to the present."

Retailing for about $75, "Box Set" is also available in an alternate, mini-guitar-case configuration, which sells for about $200. Both include the identical track listing and booklet, carrying anecdotes about each song. Richie Gallo, senior VP of sales and marketing for Universal Music Enterprises, says the label expects to sell about 100,000 copies of the two together before Christmas. In addition to Kiss' devoted fan base, Gallo says the label is certain "to reach -- and I use the word with kindness -- those closet Kiss fans who don't tend to admit that they may be -- or nevertheless are -- Kiss fans."

If's pre-order tally is any indication, "Box Set" just may reach that number. As of Nov. 6, the online retailer had received roughly 700 pre-orders for the deluxe version and 480 for the standard version. They are selling for $164.99 and $64.99, respectively, according to merchandise manager for music Jeff Somers. "That shows the strength of their 'army,'" Somers says. "Their fans have wanted this for years. They've been clamoring for it. For many of them, it's a dream come true."

Simmons -- whose kiss-and-tell-all autobiography, Kiss and Make-Up, is to be issued Dec. 11 -- says the band's farewell tour has not yet ended, as it has yet to hit Europe, Asia, and South America. Though he says it is unclear at this point whether Criss -- who was ousted in February after an apparent disagreement over compensation -- will finish the seemingly never-ending jaunt, U.S. fans should expect a grand finale. "We're going to pick one special place, one special time to finally get up there and say goodbye for the last time."

But in the meantime, "Box Set" will be doing the talking for the group, making the statement that "we were here, like those guys who landed on the moon," Simmons says. "They put up the flag so that a million years from now, when we're all extinct and an alien lands on the moon, he'll see this little flag: It says, 'We were here.'"