Albums You Might Like: Destroyer by Kiss
Ah, guilty pleasures: eating raw cookie dough, enjoying a bad movie, running naked through golf course sprinklers late at night (don’t ask). We all have them. When it comes to music listening, most of us have more than we would care to mention (these are the songs you don’t broadcast listening to on Spotify or the music you only play in your car). This is music that you would be horrified to expose to a potential mate in fear of losing them (and they might horrified, too). It feels awful when you start singing along with or moving to a song and the person you’re with says, “You like this?”
So, I’m exposing a musical skeleton in my closet by recommending Destroyer by Kiss. Millennials won’t know and most Gen-Xers might not remember just how big Kiss was in the mid-1970s. They were the biggest American band: bigger than Aerosmith or Van Halen. They were all spectacle: the costumes, the makeup, the loud guitars, the effects, the blood and fire-spitting, the lunchboxes, the pinball machine, the t-shirts, the action figures, and the Halloween costumes (I think I was every member of Kiss for at least four or five halloweens in a row). They had a television special and two live albums within three years. Every kid with access to makeup or facepaint and tennis racket put on a Kiss show in his (or her) bedroom.
Now, Kiss may have been one of the biggest bands, but they weren’t the best musically. In fact, they were kinda awful. They were a New York City quartet that took the New York Dolls and Mick Ronson look and sound and made some pretty simple records. Their first three albums are by and large lousy. But, the band wisely relied on the energy of their live shows to record Alive!, their first big hit record. The 1975 album gave the world, “Rock and Roll All Nite,” the party rock anthem of the 1970s. Kiss were suddenly megastars and needed to capitalize on their new-found fame. They needed to do more than just rock, they had to be accessible and bring in a new audience.
Bring in Bob Ezrin, a producer who helped hone their sound with an amazing set of songs that would become Destroyer. Kiss swung for the fences with this album, both sonically and musically. It is by far their best work and most impressive musical statement (although their follow-up Rock and Roll Over is pretty good). To describe the album in a word, it is anthemic. “Rock and Roll All Nite” taught Kiss the power of a solid rock anthem, and the band nails several of them here: “Detroit Rock City,” “God of Thunder,” “King of the Nighttime World,” “Flaming Youth,” and “Shout it Our Loud.” Big sounds, big guitars, great production. This is the album that blared out of suburban neighborhoods and teenagers washed their cars on Saturday afternoons. Ezrin co-wrote or is credited with most of the songs on the record and his influence shows, the band would never sound better. Too bad he only got one shot to produce the band.
Of course, it took the ballad “Beth,” to get teenage girls and radio DJs to start playing the album. The single hit #7 on the Billboard charts, album sales took off, and even credit eventually gave the album its due (it squeaks into Rolling Stone’s Top 500 albums). To quote RS, it’s a “ridiculously over-the-top party-rock album that just gets better with age.” OK, this isn’t the Velvet Underground or Clash here. Lyrically and musically, Kiss are the predecessors for bands like Poison and Motley Crue. It’s all sex, parties, and rock n’ roll. And it’s cartoonish, from the lyrics and big vocals to the album cover art. But, Destroyer has a charm that anyone can get; you don’t remember the big Kiss belt buckles or small, framed Kiss mirrors that they gave away at local carnivals to enjoy it.