Paul Stanley Explains the Evolution of Kiss’ ‘Detroit Rock City’
Detroit was a rock 'n' roll city for decades - Bill Haley even rocked around the clock out of its Highland Park neighborhood - before Kiss dubbed it "Detroit Rock City." But it's a title that's been embraced and celebrated in the decades since the opening track from 1976's Destroyer was released as the album's fourth single on July 28.
But truth be told, the Motor City is a somewhat incidental presence in the song beyond its title.
Paul Stanley and his bandmates had every reason to sing Detroit's praises. It was one of the first cities to get behind Kiss in a big way, with radio play and headline shows. And it was at the city's Cobo Arena where much of the breakthrough Alive! album was recorded.
"Detroit, for me, has always been an incredible city with a great allure and a great history," Stanley tells UCR. "You have Motown ... which is mind-boggling. And then you have this great, blue-collar city with Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels, early Alice Cooper, Stooges, MC5, Bob Seger. It's a city that really embraces rock 'n' roll. And we were a headliner in Detroit before we were anywhere close to that in other parts of the country. We were headlining Cobo before we were doing anything close to that anywhere else in the country."
In the wake of Alive!'s Top 10, gold-certified success, Stanley set out to repay that devotion with "a song that really championed and gave props to a city that was so important to us, and to so many others. It started off as just a song to sing the praises of this rock 'n' roll city."
Then producer Bob Ezrin asked for more.
"Bob Ezrin at the time really wanted us to push ourselves in terms of our lyrics and perspective," Stanley recalls. "And I remembered that a fan going to our show in Charlotte got killed, was hit by a car, and I just remember thinking about the idea of somebody traveling to see something that celebrates life, and in the process losing their life. So the song became about somebody traveling to a Kiss concert and not making it. It was still championing Detroit but also memorialized somebody who didn't get there."
Listen to Kiss' 'Detroit Rock City'
In addition to the core Kiss quartet, Ezrin contributed keyboards and a spoken-word part to "Detroit Rock City." The single failed to chart initially, but its B-side, "Beth," began getting airplay and became Kiss' biggest hit ever (No. 7 on the Billboard Hot 100) as well as their first gold-certified single.
Nevertheless, "Detroit Rock City" became and remains a staple of Kiss' repertoire - a fixture on subsequent live and compilation albums; it's also served as the opening number on the band's End of the Road farewell tour. (It also provided a title for the 1999 film about four Cleveland teenagers traveling to see their idols in, of course, Detroit Rock City.)
"It's certainly a dream come true," Stanley says of the song's legacy. "I do believe that when you write truths, they don't have to be complex to stand the test of time. When we first came on the scene and were singing songs about self-empowerment, about doing things your way, going against the odds, those songs were thought of as trite in the face of other music that was supposedly deep and profound. Most of those other songs have gone way of obsolescence, and ['Detroit Rock City'] rings true today."