Certain Songs #879: Kiss – “Detroit Rock City”

Album: Destroyer
Year: 1976

For those millions of teenagers who wondered what Kiss would do in the wake of the massive mega success of their alive, the answer came pretty swiftly — Destroyer was released a scant six months later while Alive! was still riding high on the charts.

I must be feeling charitable in my dotage, but I will give it up right here right now for one aspect of Kiss during their glory years: their willingness to flood the market with product. Or as fans would put it: their willingness to release more music!

Either way, as I’ve previously praised bands I loved like Hüsker Dü or Guided by Voices for being prolific, so six albums from Kiss to Love Gun in a little over three years (not to mention Alive!) is pretty impressive.

In any event, Destroyer was produced by then reigning hard rock guru Bob Ezrin, and leads off with what I’ve always considered their best song, the first person teen car crash epic, “Detroit Rock City,” which was clearly about a dude who’d figured out how to rock and roll all nite and party every day. Or at least he clearly thought so.

“Detroit Rock City” was a weird title for a song in which not a single detail in the lyrics was specifically about Detroit (outside of the word “Detroit” in the chorus, of course) and honestly could have been called “Boston Rock City” or “Fresno Rock City.” But at the same time, it’s also a fucking great title for a song, isn’t it?

(And who knows, maybe it was a shameless way to try to get the Detroit-based CREEM Magazine on their side. And if so, it might have worked as I remember reading at least one hilarously overwrought Robert Duncan article singing their praises, a fact that I doubt I brought up when I met Robert Duncan when his ad agency went to work for a web startup I happened to be working for 20 years later.)

ANYWAYS. Also fucking great: the long musicless intro that featured the poor doomed fan drunkenly singing along with “Rock and Roll Nite” blasting from his car radio before driving directly into the spiraling opening riff of the song. Normally, that kinda thing can be annoying, but it really sets the scene for what’s coming next.

With Gene Simmons knocking on the window of the car with his bass fills and Peter Criss motorvating through his drums, “Detroit Rock City” kicks into full gear with the big riff that comes after the chorus — a long, involved riff that reminds me of what Aerosmith was doing at around the same time. Which is probably why I liked it: when it came the superpopular 1970s American hard rock bands, I was (and am) Aerosmith all the way.

Also pretty boss was the Ace Frehley / Paul Stanley guitar duel that dominated the second half of the song, which eventually spiraled over the Aerosmithy riff and directly to one last verse and eventually to song-ending car crash, which went karranging right into the next song, “King of The Night Time World,” which was exactly the kind of anthem that scolds would insist led to the kind of behavior which got the guy in the song killed in the first place.

In any event, “Detroit Rock City” was in a long tradition of teenage death songs, but was kinda unique because it was neither preachy nor sad, and, in fact felt pretty fucking realistic from a band that wouldn’t even show their true faces.

“Detroit Rock City”

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