Destroyer (1976): The Concept Album that Established Kiss as Mega Stars
Destroyer Cements KISS as Mega-Stars
KISS is back in the mainstream news to the most significant degree since the original lineup of the band reformed around 1996. The news, unfortunately, is about all the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame drama. Although truth be told, the publicity everyone involved is getting is unbelievable.
What a shame the publicity could not be about something more positive or, perhaps, actually focused on the band's music.
KISS performances can be such a spectacle (not a bad thing mind you), the music can be overlooked. Fun, loud, and brash, KISS indeed remains one of the most fun hard rock bands of the 1970s, and among their most memorable albums was (and is) Destroyer.
Alive was the album that saved KISS. The vast sales helped keep Casablanca Records, well, alive. It also set the stage for allowing KISS to continue to record studio albums, something that was doubtful after the commercial failure of the first three albums.
The return to the studio yielded Destroyer, which was released on March 15, 1976, to a very unceremoniously slow start. The album looked like it was going to bomb, making Alive appear to be a fluke. Signs showed KISS was never going to succeed as a band capable of recording successful studio albums and garnering the commercial and mainstream success that goes along with a hit album.
The slow start was just that...a slow...start. In the end, the album was certified double platinum.
Destroyer was an eventual massive success once more, and more people became aware of the music on the actual album. Destroyer represented a departure for KISS, a work far removed from previous releases.
With Bob Ezrin hired to produce, the decision was made to turn Destroyer into a concept album removed from the original straight forward, live in the studio production typical among the first three albums. The move was a risk since any mainstream appeal was no guarantee, and there existed the chance fans of the band would be turned off.
The decision was a good one.
The record was a huge hit and was THE major album that helped KISS finally gain mainstream attention. KISS-mania would soon begin to sweep pop culture, and, ironically, this would set in motion the beginning the end for the original line up of the band.
Through the lens of music history, Destroyer is not dated or a relic. The songs mostly stand up quite well, and this is why many of them remain favorites during concert performances.
DETROIT ROCK CITY
Before the song kicks in, we realize this is not going to be a traditional KISS LP thanks to the sound of someone fumbling with keys, getting into a car, and driving off what sounds like a less than the safe rate of speed.
Once that beginning ends, we segue into the brilliant guitar work, lyrics, and Paul Stanley's voice and a classic signature KISS song. The upbeat nature is quite out of place when you realize what the song is about: a KISS fan who died on his way to a concert. Paul pontificated on the fleeting nature of life with Detroit Rock City and tried to show how a day that started out wishing for a fun night at a concert turns into a tragic event.
Is the tempo of the song out of place with such morbid subject matter? No, this is a KISS song and KISS is not exactly a band known for Pink Floyd levels of depression. The subject matter and upbeat sound get across the tragic irony found in the inspiration that spawned the material.
And that Ace solo.....by far one of the most memorable and most excellent guitar riffs in rock history.
KING OF THE NIGHTTIME WORLD
Teen angst is captured brilliantly by Paul Stanley. Young men indeed do become tired of ''living at home...so far from the city'' and when they do get the opportunity to cut loose, they live it up. Paul gives inspiration to all those young men who really do want to become their own private king of the night time world. Not the greatest of all KISS songs, but a very good one and perfect for the first half of a live concert set.
GOD OF THUNDER
God of Thunder (''and rock and rolllll'') is the quintessential Gene Simmons song. Not only is it the perfect Gene song to listen to, God of Thunder provides Gene with the perfect stage platform for his act. Stalking the stage like a haunting horror film inspired Bat Demon, Gene evokes an air of menace while going way over the top and spitting and spewing blood on stage. The song itself sometimes becomes a backdrop to afford Gene a platform for his theatrics, and that is fine. KISS understood visuals were very important to a live concert and never sought to just stand there and play like the vast majority of bands. Peter Criss was also given center stage thanks to GOT as the live concerts featured an extended drum solo allowing the Catman one of three chances to shine during a show. (The others would be his performance of Beth and Black Diamond)
The most ironic thing about the quintessential Gene Simmons song is it was originally written and recorded by Paul Stanley. The demos of Stanley on God of Thunder are interesting. The pace is a lot faster, delivering upbeat, fast guitar riffs clearing, putting the Stanley version closer to the sound of Detroit Rock City and King of the Night Time World. Producer Ezrin felt the song's lyrics did not fit Paul well, so it was handed off to Gene where it became the bass-heavy, Alice Cooper styled theatrical event. End result? A massive home run.
FLAMING YOUTH & SWEET PAIN
Both Flaming Youth and Sweet Pain only receive one review because they are minor songs on the album. Both get about ''Two Stars'' as they are okay songs and decent filler material on the album. Flaming Youth was clearly an attempt at a young rebels anthem with such lyrics as ''My parents think I'm crazy and they hate the things I do, I'm stupid, and I'm lazy, man, if they only knew....'' It just did not work. KISS had high hopes for the song since Flaming Youth was the second single released off the album...a single that quickly died a radio airplay death. The song was dropped from the concert song set shortly after the Destroyer tour began. A black and white video recording of a Jersey City concert presents very rare footage of the song performed live.
A silly song...to the extreme and that was the intention. The bawdy, double entendre lyrics combined with an accompanying orchestra is pretty strange. Initially, the song was a parody of The Beatles as it made fun of members of the band calling each other by name. The original demo version of the song saw each member get his name mentioned in a stanza. The eventually recorded version for the album dropped this in favor of a generic narrator. Great Expectations can be considered a novelty song and one that was forgotten until it was resurrected for KISS Alive IV.
If there was one song that people who despise KISS positively hate the most, it is Beth. The venom inflicted against Beth is a little over the top. Peter Criss' love song ballad is far from the worst tune ever written. Sappy? Yes. No way is it as awful as Run Joey Run or any number of other forgettable releases from the era.
The song was a total departure from anything KISS had done before. One of the original guiding principles of the band was to give everyone a chance to shine. Ace and Peter only rarely took opportunities to write and sing on earlier albums. Much of the songs Peter did try to write were rejected. Beth made the cut.
The song was originally called Beck and was recorded for Criss' old band, Chelsea. The dusted off song was given a makeover and errantly placed on the B side of the 45 with Detroit Rock City. The single release of Detroit Rock City was a flop.
A DJ in Atlanta chose to start playing Beth instead of DRC, and album sales started moving in the city. Soon after Beth was pushed on radio stations across the USA, Destroyer became a big seller. Beth likely drew in a lot of customers to the album who may not have been KISS or, for that matter, hard rock fans to begin with.
The failing LP was now on its way to being certified platinum setting the stage for the KISS fad of the tail end of the 1970s. Maybe that is why the song is so hated.
DO YOU LOVE ME
The final song is the SECOND song on the LP about groupies, although this is a fun rock and roll song as opposed to the weird arrangement known as Great Expectations. Paul laments about whether or not groupies like him for who he is or the ''money, honey, that I make...'' I guess it depends on the groupie. Do You Love Me made a fine transition to live concert performances and remains a fun song that is totally and utterly KISS through and through.
SHOUT IT OUT LOUD
Funny how one of KISS' all-time best songs started as one of Wicked Lester's worst. (My, the original version of this song on the Wicked Lester demos is downright AWFUL) The song ended up becoming an anthem rivaling Rock and Roll All Night as the quintessential KISS song. Shout It Out Loud was the first single to be released for radio airplay and did zero to move sales on the album. In time, Shout It Out Loud became THE KISS song that truly summarized the appeal of KISS to young fans who wanted nothing more than to have fun and were bored with the pretentiousness embodied by so many rock bands during the era.
Word to the wise....If you do not want to hear about all the drama about KISS and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, just watch the induction with the volume on the TV off and crank up Destroyer on your turntable.
KISS doesn't make great albums anymore, but you cannot deny one fact: the band still makes money. The recent tour was a monster smash at the box office.
New Book Out Soon
Shout It Out Loud is the name of a new book covering the topic of the making of Destroyer. Look for a review in the near future.