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Rock group's CD blitz includes Mr. Potato Heads

By Scott Mervis, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

KISS Mr. Potato HeadHow many Kiss Mr. Potato Head kollectibles are you going to need?

For many fans, the answer will be two of each -- one set for you and one for the kids to play with, and lose all the pieces.

The Kiss Mr. Potato Head -- sure to be the most entertaining piece of merchandise the band has ever issued -- will take its place in the Kiss Korner at Walmart on Oct. 6 as part of a merchandise blitz that accompanies "Sonic Boom," the band's first album in 11 years.

With CD sales struggling over the past decade, the pitch for merch has intensified, but Kiss is taking it to the next level. The Kiss Korner will include T-shirts ($5), a fleece blanket ($10), limited edition Kiss M&M candies, catalog CDs ($5-$9) and makeup kits, masks and wigs (at select Walmart stores, $5).

"Sonic Boom" will be a three-CD package ($12) with the new 11-track CD, a re-recorded greatest hits CD with classics like "Rock and Roll All Nite," "Deuce" and "Black Diamond," and a live DVD shot in Argentina during the "KISS ALIVE 35" South American tour. One new track, a vintage-style rocker called "Modern Day Delilah," is already making the rounds of YouTube.

Kiss is just the latest in a line of artists to sell their new CDs exclusively through a big-box retailer. The movement goes back to the mid-'90s when Best Buy struck a deal to package additional materials like photographs and archival interviews with the "Beatles Anthology." For a while, albums by the likes of Rod Stewart and Britney Spears were sold at these mass-market stores with extras.

In 2005, Garth Brooks signed the first exclusive distribution deal with a single retailer, Walmart, for "The Limited Series," a boxed set that quickly went platinum. Walmart delivered more platinum for The Eagles comeback "Long Road Out of Eden" in 2007 and AC/DC's "Black Ice," the second biggest-selling album of 2008. Like with Kiss, there was an AC/DC store-within-a-store with T-shirts, hoodies and other items. Industry people estimated AC/DC sales more than tripled because of the Walmart connection.

"It was a game-changer for the music industry," says Ed Christman, retail editor at Billboard magazine. "And Kiss lends itself even more to this type of merchandising."

Guns 'N Roses didn't have the same magic with a Best Buy deal for the long-awaited "Chinese Democracy," which came in below expectations, debuting at No. 3 and selling 369,000 in the first week. In March, Prince went to No. 2 on the charts with the Target-only 3-disc set "LOtUSFLOW3R."

Christman notes that the downside to the big-box deals is that it's pulled people away from smaller, more endangered retailers, potentially hurting the industry in the long run.

Even with the successes of the Eagles, AC/DC and others, CD sales are well below what major artists were selling during the early '90s boom when the Shania Twains, 'N Syncs and Pearl Jams of the world were going 10-times platinum. To make up for it, superstars are turning to T-shirt sales in big-box stores, not to mention such hot properties as Guitar Hero Aerosmith and the much-anticipated Beatles Rock Band, due next Wednesday.

The Beatles and Kiss are among those bands to be immortalized already with action figures, but Kiss, once feared to be "Knights in Satan's Service," is the first on the block with its own Mr. Potato Head and package of M&Ms (please tell us there will be Van Halen M&M's without the brown ones!).

The only downer news for Pittsburghers in this whole Kiss "Boom" is that the KISS ALIVE 35 tour, supposedly determined by an online fan vote, is not coming here. The closest stop is Cleveland on Sept. 28.

We'll hope for a second leg while we pull off Gene Simmons' Potato Head tongue.

Scott Mervis can be reached at smervis@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2576.

Read more: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/09247/995424-51.stm#ixzz0QL8BuvME

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