Destroyer is an album traditionally found at or near the top of those Best Kiss Albums features you’ll find on the internet (hell, we’re as guilty as anyone), and with good reason.
It’s Kiss at their peak: a performance of rare invention and strutting braggadocio, the band portrayed as comic book super heroes on the cover and delivering several of their most iconic songs inside, the band pushed to their creative limits by producer Bob Ezrin.
In 2021 Destroyer celebrated its 45th birthday with an expanded, deluxe release. Lord knows what they’ll pull out for the half century.
1. Before landing upon the album title Destroyer, there were numerous titles being bandied about, including Dynasty, which the band would eventually use for their 1979 album. Ultimately, the idea for the title of Destroyer came from an unlikely source.
Gene Simmons: “Back in the seventies, Howard Marks was Kiss’s business manager. He was a financial suit-and-tie New York City guy who worked in advertising. When we were trying to think of a name for the new record and couldn’t come up with a title, Marks said: ‘My son heard your conversation and suggested: “Why don’t you call the record Destroyer?’” Just like that. We all looked at each other like: ‘Out of the mouths of babes, I guess.’ We immediately went: ‘Yeah, that’s right, Destroyer. Wow, that’s cool.’ I remember wanting to call it Dynasty, which we used much later on, you know, like the Ming Dynasty, the continuation of China.”
2. Detroit Rock City is a colossal mind movie, a cinemascope fantasia of sound and fury. Unveiling its tale of an unlucky teenager tragically killed in an automobile accident on his way to a Kiss show, in the song’s introduction, producer Bob Ezrin is the voice you hear as the newscaster reporting this tragic tale.
Corky Stasiak (engineer): “We put his voice through a little radio and recorded it off the radio. If you listen to this opening through headphones, you get this eerie feeling that this is all happening to you.”
3. Whether working with Alice Cooper, Pink Floyd, Deep Purple, Kiss or any of his other clients, producer Bob Ezrin is a wellknown task master in the recording studio. During the recording of Destroyer, Ezrin wore a whistle like a camp counsellor, which he’d use to keep Kiss in line.
Paul Stanley: “[Bob] would blow the whistle and call us ‘campers’. He was not above pointing a finger in your face and yelling at you. That’s pretty funny when you’re selling out arenas and you have somebody in the studio that’s treating you like an imbecile. Really what it was was musical boot camp. It was trying to get the best out of us and try to get us to set a new standard for ourselves.”
4. With its Spanish flamenco flavour and flairthe signature lead guitar solo that explodes at the centre of Detroit Rock City was an idea that came from producer Bob Ezrin.
Bob Ezrin: “I wrote the guitar solo on Detroit Rock City. We got to the point that we had seen the introduction and met the characters, and it was time to set up a little tension with a moment of high drama. I felt like this was the sequence where he was driving and this would be the music that would go underneath it. I wrote that in my head; I don’t think I actually picked up an instrument. It’s not exactly original. It is pretty well an old-fashioned flamenco theme adapted to hard rock music. And it’s not because I’m some kind of musicology major. It was my take on gladiator music.”
5. The classic bass line underpinning the verses to Detroit Rock City were borrowed from an unlikely source.
Gene Simmons: “The bass part is very nontypical of me. It’s very R&B, almost like the song Freddie’s Dead by Issac Hayes [Ed’s note: Freddie’s Dead is actually by Curtis Mayfield]. That’s the bass line from his song Shaft. The bass line from Detroit Rock City is similar, but it’s not the same thing note for note.”
6. Riding high on the massive success of their 1975 album Alive!, Kiss had finally broken through in the big leagues of rock. With Destroyer it was crucial that they capitalise upon that success. They achieved this with a lushly orchestrated ballad called Beth, a song that originally had its genesis from Peter Criss’s band Lips.
Peter Criss: “The melody for the song came to me on a train going to New York City, and Stan [Penridge] and I worked on it to finish it. It was changed from Beck to Beth by Bob Ezrin.”
7. In order to achieve a larger-than-life, almost cinematic sound for the record, producer Ezrin employed orchestration, circus calliope and even grand piano to enhance the blockbuster power of Detroit Rock City and King Of The Nighttime World.
Paul Stanley: “Bob was very much into texture and depth and colour. I think when we came into the studio we probably thought colour was how much treble or bass you’d put on your Marshall amp. On Detroit Rock City and Shout It Out Loud, all the power chords are being doubled with a grand piano. It really gave it a unique sound.”
8. King Of The Nighttime World, one of the standout tracks on Destroyer, was a cover of a song by a Hollywood, California band called the Hollywood Stars. The song had been pitched to Kiss by music impresario/Hollywood scenester/hustler Kim Fowley and reworked by Paul Stanley, who gave it the requisite swagger and bombast it deserved.
Mark Anthony (co-writer): “That was a song by my band the Hollywood Stars. I wrote all the music and Kim Fowley came up with the lyrical ideas. Bob Ezrin called and said: ‘Whatever happened to that song King Of The Night Time World? He gave a tape of it to Paul, who rewrote some of the lyrics and rearranged the song.”
9. During a Kiss show, their concert anthem Shout It Out Loud can always be counted upon to rally the Kiss Army. A fist-waving hard rock classic, the catchy answering vocals that drive the song are Motor City-inspired but not derived from the world of hard rock.
Paul Stanley: “We wrote Shout It Out Loud one morning before we went into the studio. That was when Gene lived across the street from me. So Gene came over and we went over to Bob Ezrin’s house, and Bob had a piano. Before we went in to do one of the Destroyer sessions, he played piano and we were writing the song. We were trying to cop some Motown kind of stuff, Four Tops kind of stuff with the answering background vocals.”
10. Shout It Out Loud has been a permanent staple in Kiss’s set-list for decades. Yet the title for this metallic rabble rouser did not come from the brain trust of Stanley/Simmons. Instead, its lyrical refrain ‘shout it out loud’ was cribbed from British ban The Hollies’ song I Wanna Shout, a deep cut from their 1970 album Confessions Of The Mind.
Gene Simmons: “I came in with the title, because in Wicked Lester [Stanley and Simmons’ pre-Kiss band] we used to do a Hollies song called I Wanna Shout. I came up with: [singing] ‘Shout it, shout it, shout it out loud.’ I always thought the idea was bigger than what they were trying to say with it, with the lyric implying: ‘We have a secret, but don’t tell people we have a relationship.’
“I always thought just like that commercial on TV, that it was just ‘Shout It.’ When you’ve got something you want to shout it out to the world and it doesn’t matter what it is. Bob and Paul kept saying: ‘Shout what?’ I said: ‘Who cares!’ Whether it’s national fervour or my team’s better… it’s a team rally.”
11. Guitarist Dick Wagner is best known for his session work for the likes of Lou Reed, Alice Cooper and Aerosmith. With Ace Frehley missing from the sessions, Bob Ezrin called in his old friend, who laid down guitar solos on two Destroyer songs – Sweet Pain and Flaming Youth – as well as the elegant acoustic guitar heard on Beth.
Dick Wagner: I did all my guitar work on Destroyer in two days. I loved the direction of the album. I thought it was very good, fundamental, guitar-oriented stuff that really appealed to me. I was very happy to play on the album. As far as not being credited on the album, with Kiss and Aerosmith, they wanted to make it seem like the group is playing everything. So at that particular point in their career they didn’t really want to give credits. I’m sure today they’d feel differently. They’re great guys, it was fun to hang out with them.”
12. God Of Thunder may be Gene’s signature track, the sonic and savage personification of his ‘Demon’ persona, but the defining track for his monster character was not written by Gene, but by Paul, who was also initially slated to sing the lead vocal on it.
Paul Stanley: “God Of Thunder was originally written as my theme song. I went in and did the demo of it, and we started rehearsing it with Bob. Bob wanted to slow it down, and that was great, it sounded really heavy. And then Bob said: ‘And Gene’s gonna sing it.’ I was devastated. Our rule was producer has final say, because Gene and I could bat something back and forth so endlessly that we needed somebody else to come in to be able to put an end to that.
“So I was floored and completely incredulous that Bob wanted Gene to sing the song. But you know what?It’s a perfect Gene song and I never could have done what Gene did with the song, because it’s really the embodiment of who he is. It’s always interesting that Gene’s signature song is mine [laughs].”
13. In his quest for perfection in the studio, Bob Ezrin insisted on the rhythm section being rock-solid and in perfect time. Kiss drummer Peter Criss attacked the drums with an almost jazz-rock sensibility, infusing a Gene Krupa-like swing into their tribal rhythms.
But in the studio, against Ezrin’s demand for perfection, Peter Criss experienced trouble meeting his ‘great expectations’ for metronomic precision. In order to maintain a steady tempo, Ezrin came up with a workable solution: while Peter was laying down drums, he hit on a box to keep the ‘Catman’ in time.
Peter Criss: “Destroyer was a very difficult and hard album. God, I worked so hard on it. At the time, I actually went to a primal therapy institute where John Lennon went, because I went so far into it that I totally lost all reality. Ezrin truly knew how far to push us, he really had his thumb on it. Especially with me at times, cos I have a raging temper. He would really push me to that stage, and then I would take it out on the drums and it would turn out great [laughs].”
14. Flaming Youth, a song that reflected the angst and rebellion of disenfranchised teenagers around the world, took its name from an unlikely source.
Gene Simmons: “We were talking to Ezrin about a New York band called Flaming Youth. We opened for them on our first show at the New York Academy Of Music. Ezrin just immediately went: ‘Flaming Youth, what a great title! We’re gonna write a song called Flaming Youth.’ Then Ezrin said: ‘What have you got? Let’s put some pieces together.’”
15. Flaming Youth is a Frankenstein’s monster of a song – fragments super-glued together to form a cohesive whole. While listening to the demos that Kiss presented for the record, a song of Gene’s caught Ezrin’s ear.
Gene Simmons: “Usually when you write a song by yourself, a verse could be good or a bridge could be good, and the idea is to put together a Frankenstein of body parts of songs. I had a song called Mad Dog that went… [hums part of Flaming Youth]… and that’s where the riff came from. Somehow the lyric was tossed around between all of us, and Ezrin put all the parts together.”
16. Peter Criss’s ballad showcase Beth unwittingly launched Kiss into superstardom. But early into the sessions, another song sung by Peter was recorded, a hard rock ditty called Ain’t None Of Your Business, which remained unreleased until its inclusion in on the Kiss Destroyer 45 box set released in late November 2021.
Bob Ezrin: “Ain’t None Of Your Business was a song Kiss recorded for the album, but it was left off. It was written by Michael Des Barres during his days with the band Monarch. It’s not as sophisticated as the other tracks, it didn’t belong on the record.”
17. The black Gibson Firebird guitar that Paul Stanley is famously holding on the cover of Kiss’s classic 1975 album Alive! was part of Stanley’s guitar arsenal in use for Destroyer, and was accidentally destroyed by engineer Corky Stasiak.
Corky Stasiak: “We had almost finished Destroyer. We did a schmooze-fest at the studio for Bill Aucoin, Neil Bogart and some of the dignitaries over at [Kiss’s label] Casablanca to demo the new album for them. We set up some microphones and did a guitar overdub in front of everyone to kind of get them involved. So here we are in the control room, playing the music back for Neil Bogart and company. Bob said: ‘Let’s do a vocal overdub. They need a pair of headphones.’
“To keep the headphone wire away from your arm when you play, you have to put the headphones through the strap of the guitar. So not thinking, I grabbed the headphone wire and pulled it. Paul’s headphones were still connected to the guitar strap, which was leaning against a case.
“When I yanked at the cord, the guitar started to fall. As it was falling, I leaped across the studio to save it, and just missed catching it. I heard a loud ‘boing!’, and knew exactly what had happened: the guitar had fallen over and the neck snapped in half at the nut.
“That was Paul’s favourite guitar. I went into the control room and told him we had had a little accident, and your guitar fell. He said: ‘Well, just pick it up.’ I walked him out into to the studio. When he saw the guitar lying on the floor, broken, he said: ‘Oh my God, my favourite guitar!’ It killed me, because I knew it couldn’t be fixed. But Paul was very, very gracious about it. To this day I still feel miserable about it.”
18. Destroyer has undeniably one of the band’s most identifiable album covers. Best known for his colourful and brilliantly rendered fantasy/sci-fi artwork, renowned artist Frank Frazetta was asked by the band to create a new painting.
Gene Simmons: “I remember calling Frank Frazetta, who did all the Conan The Barbarian covers. We wanted a painting just like the Conan covers. And then I remember telling him: ‘Don’t put guitars and drums on it, just put us as superheroes.’ In fact, all of us should have a superhero stance on the cover. We wanted Frank to do the cover, but he asked for too much money so we brought in Ken Kelly.”
19. The iconic front cover that adorns Destroyer, with Paul, Gene, Ace and Peter in prime superhero poses, remains a striking visual touchstone to their career. But there was discord over the quality of its first iteration, so artist Ken Kelly went back to the drawing board to fine-tune and ultimately create the classic cover Kiss fans know and love.
Bill Aucoin (manager): “We had some problems with the Destroyer album cover. Ironically, the first oil painting that was done wasn’t exciting. We did that painting twice. The first one just wasn’t dynamic enough, so we had the artist do another. There are two paintings of that cover that exist.”
20. The weird, otherworldly children’s voices heard in God Of Thunder come courtesy of Bob Ezrin’s sons, Josh and David.
Bob Ezrin: “In the middle of those sessions, my sons visited the studio. David was nine and Josh was four. I had bought them a futuristic walkie-talkie set on a trip to Paris, which had a space helmet for one kid and a handset for the other. They were wearing this stuff when they came to the Record Plant to spend the afternoon. I had the idea that we would mic the helmet and get the kids to make monster noises into the handset, and then we would effect these noises to make them lower and more ominous-sounding.
“The kids loved being a part of the recording. They were veterans by now, having already been on Lou Reed’s Berlin [Ed’s note: Ezrin had captured the sound of his children wailing after falsely telling them their mother had been killed in an accident] They started making monster sounds and wailed like little banshees, and the effect was so weird that we decided to keep it the way it was without lowering their pitch.”