41 Years Ago: KISS Releases 'Destroyer'
One of the many trademarks of KISS is their famous makeup. Throw in the pyrotechnics, the over-the-top costumes and Gene Simmons' long and wiggly tongue, and you've got a show! But on March 19th, 1975, Destroyer became the album that ultimately changed the face of the band.
Destroyer was produced by Alice Cooper's producer Bob Ezrin, who met KISS by a chance enounter walking through a stairway in Toronto after the band had performed on City TV. "If you ever need any help, call me," he said to the band. Three months later KISS' manager Bill Aucoin gave Ezrin a call asking if he wanted to produce their fourth studio album. Today we remember that album as Destroyer.
At the time, KISS was just another rock band going from gig to gig. "I saw them play at an arena in Ann Arbor, MI, and the place was only half full, but everybody in the join was on their feet from the time the band started until the show was over," said Ezrin. “The one thing I noticed from the show, aside from the fact that each and every one knew the words for every song and were all singing along, was that they were all teenage boys. There were hardly any girls in the audience. And I thought, ‘This is an opportunity. If they could just get to the girls this would be the biggest band in the world.’”
At first, the members of KISS were hesitant about working with Ezrin and changing their sound at the time, but eventally they put their trust in his intuition. “They really wanted to be a tough, rugged band,” Ezrin said. “They liked the idea of being the bad guys and I told them, ‘Look, you can still be the bad guys, but let’s be like Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront. When Brando played the leader of the motorcycle gang he was dangerous, scary, and every mother’s nightmare, yet underneath it all there was this certain sensitivity and beauty that made him attractive. Every girl in the world wanted to mother, nurture, and f— him.’ They related to that and from that point on they were pretty open to all of my ideas.”
Seven of the nine songs on Destroyer were written by Ezrin and he took the lead of every recording session from the beginning. Aside from songwriting, Ezrin also added other elements into the songs that gave them some extra flavor, like the sound effects that tell a story in "Detroit Rock City, childrens' background vocals on "God of Thunder", and orchestral sections on "Great Expectations" and "Beth." Ezrin also made sure each band member was performing at their top quality, otherwise he's make them replay their parts over and over again until they sounded perfect. He also replaced guitarist Ace Frehley's parts in "Flaming Youth", "Sweet Pain" and "Beth" with those from Dick Wagner of Alice Cooper.
Fans became hooked after listening to their opening track "Detroit Rock City", whose 90-second intro that featured a family gathered at a kitchen table while listening to the news of a teen involved in a fatal car accident. The song concludes with the sound of a car door slamming shut and a subsequent car collision.
“That’s one of the songs I’m most proud of having written,” says Paul Stanley. “’Detroit Rock City’ is a fleshed out song that’s dramatic and big. It’s the difference between a regular movie and IMAX. Between the music and the lyrics it broadens the scope of the presentation and it’s still pretty spectacular.”
“It showed more of a theatrical side to KISS,” Ezrin added. “It was a real story and Paul comes off very plaintively and shows a lot of heart and real emotion so the girls loved it.”
The next song that drove female fans crazy was the sensative acoustic ballad "Beth", which was written by drummer Peter Criss. “It showed that we weren’t just one thing,” Simmons said. “We could do anything we liked and our fans loved it all and appreciated us for stretching out boundaries like that.”
However, "Beth" didn't start out as the slow and heartwarming song it turned out to be. “When ‘Beth’ first came in it was called ‘Beck,’ and it was upbeat and much more of a ‘f**k you’ song,” said Ezrin. "‘I’m not coming home. It’s me and the boys. The boys understand me and I’m gonna hang with the boys.’ I took it home and rewrote it a bit, turning it into more of a ballad and making it more heartfelt and vulnerable.”
According to Ezrin, KISS weren't too happy with all of the changes he was making to their songs. At least at first. They preferred that "Beth" would be more upbeat like they originally had in mind, but Ezrin maintained that it was "politically necessary" that Criss have a song on the record. Plus, Ezrin wrote the foundation of the song as well. “That was his song, so it was tolerated,” Ezrin said. “But Peter sang the hell out of it and we found Peter’s true heart. Even though he was this street kid from Canarsie, Brooklyn, he was a soft and gentle guy inside. So he was completely believable and the girls fell in love with him.”
Four singles stemmed from Destroyer, with "Shout It Out Loud" being the first to hit the radio before the album made it to store shelves. The next three singles to follow were "Flaming Youth", "Detroit Rock City" and "Beth", which ultimately boosted the album to double platinum status by September 9th, 2011.