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Thursday, September 13, 2012

KISS "Detroit Rock City" Song Analysis

JW asked for a song analysis of "Detroit Rock City," the third single from KISS's hit album Destroyer. Although the song didn’t initially go anywhere on the charts except in Detroit, it eventually caught fire as the B-side of the single “Beth” during a release a year later. Today, "Detroit Rock City" is still a KISS concert favorite, while "Beth" is.........that KISS song with strings. Like with all song analysis, we'll look at the song form, the arrangement, the sound and the production.

"Detroit Rock City" is basically a simple song based around a verse and hooky chorus, but is skillfully put together both to add some length and some interest. The song form looks like this:

intro ➞ verse ➞ chorus ➞ verse ➞ chorus ➞ 1/2 chorus ➞
bridge ➞ verse ➞ 1/2 chorus ➞ solo ➞ chorus ➞ verse ➞ chorus

The lyrics tell a story and rhyme where they have to. They’re not too clever but they never seem forced in rhyme or cadence.

"Detroit Rock City" is cleverly arranged to make it more interesting. The intro is a combination of a harmony guitar line played with the bass leading into the chord progression of the chorus. When the vocal enters you hear the basic instrumentation of the band with the drums playing a double time feel, the bass playing a counter line, and both guitars panned left and right and playing power chords.

During chorus, the lead vocal sings in the holes left by the background vocals harmony (quite the opposite of most songs), while the guitar power chords are augmented by a low octave piano and at the end, a reprise of the guitar intro in the left channel. What’s different from most hit songs is that both the verses and chorus are mostly identical in instrumentation throughout the song, without adding or subtracting any instruments with one exception towards the end of the song.
The second chorus changes in that it’s a half-chorus vocally, then modulates up a whole step to act as a bridge with the same guitar figure playing over it, then drops back down and ends with the chords to the chorus.

After the next verse, there’s another half chorus, then everything is muted except the drums for 4 bars, then a lead guitar line plays 4 bars, which is joined by a harmony guitar for the next 4 bars. When the next chorus plays, a third harmony guitar is added and only the hook of “Gotta lose your mind in Detroit rock city” is sung in harmony.

The next chorus has the first half vocals, then a 4 bar hole with a drum fill at the end, back into the chorus with the harmony lead line playing on the right side to the hard ending with a high guitar and low piano note.
  • The Foundation: drums
  • The Rhythm: bass
  • The Pad: power chord guitars
  • The Lead: lead vocal, guitar line in bridge
  • The Fills: background vocals in the chorus
The lead vocal is doubled, but singer Paul Stanley does a great job because the double is so close to the lead vocal that it almost doesn't sound like a double at all. The vocal also has a short regenerated delay and very bright long reverb on it. The sound is state of the art for that period in time (1976). Stanley has a pretty dynamic voice, and you can sometimes hear the compressor flattening it out as a result, but it doesn't sound too bad in the track. When you're listening, check out how apparent the vocal double becomes in the chorus at around 2:10.

Both the drums (especially the toms) and the lead guitar lines have a long reverb on them, probably the same on as on the vocal.

“Detroit Rock City” is a great production job by Ezrin, not for how good it is but for how bad it could have been. Just about all the instrumental parts are shaky. They’re pretty good, but they’re not precise in the articulations, and certainly not as good as the band would become in later years. As a result of the playing, the song just doesn’t have much of a groove, although everything is in time. Still, several million kids at the time could care less, and loved the song anyway. Chalk that all up to Bob Ezrin's most excellent production.


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Unknown said...


I love these song analyses. You get so deep in the songs and uncover what makes each song work. I can never tell what you will say, and I always find out something I didn't know before.


Fred Decker

Anonymous said...

So interesting! I know this song inside out so thanks for this!

I believe this is the version from Double Platinum that was remixed for that greatest hits package (KISS nerd coming out in me).

It would be interesting to read your analysis of both this and the Destroyer version as I remember there being tons of reverb added to the remix (along with 'new' bits like the 'Gotta lose your mind...' vocal line in the solo and 'Get down' line added to the chorus at the end).

Not sure if Bob Ezrin did the remix...assuming yes? Without going back to listen myself, I remember the DP cut sounding more 'slick' and didn't have the rawness of the original Destroyer version - which I prefered as one of those 'kids' :).

Anyway, as always... great read...thank you!


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