Behind the Meaning of “Detroit Rock City” By Kiss

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

Kiss rebranded “Motor City” in 1976 with their song “Detroit Rock City.” While Detroit certainly has its automotive origins, by the time the ’70s rolled around rock music was free-flowing out of that corner of the world. The likes of Grand Funk, Alice Cooper, Bob Seger, Suzi Quatro, and Ted Nugent were all stewards of the “Detroit sound.”

While on the surface, Kiss’ song seems to be paying tribute to that legacy, below the surface lies something darker. Do you know the story behind Kiss’ “Detroit Rock City?” If not, find out below.

Behind the Meaning

In its first iteration, the track was written as an ode to the Detroit music scene. When producer Bob Ezrin heard the demo, he helped Paul Stanley mold it into something deeper.

Though much of their music at this time has a laser focus on hedonism, the lyrics from “Detroit Rock City” tell the story of a young fan who was killed in a car accident on their way to a Kiss concert. Despite the amped-up beat, the song has a somber meaning.

[RELATED: 4 Songs You Didn’t Know Kiss’ Paul Stanley Wrote for Other Artists]

Stanley once said, “There had been an accident outside of an arena in Charlotte. Someone was killed coming to the concert. I thought, how odd and how striking, and the juxtaposition of someone coming to a Kiss concert, which celebrates being alive, to lose your life. That was the twist of ‘Detroit Rock City.’ To change it from a song about your amazing city to something much more epic.”

The version of the song on Destroyer opens with a crackling news story about the tragedy before the sound of an engine revving up takes over. After our titular character gets in the car, the lyrics kick in and we start to hear the story unravel.

At the end of the song, we realize the song was about the driver we hear at the beginning the entire time with the lyric I got to laugh ’cause I know I’m gonna die.

I feel uptight on a Saturday night
Nine o’clock, the radio’s the only light
I hear my song and it pulls me through
Comes on strong, tells me what I got to do

Get up
Everybody’s gonna move their feet
Get down
Everybody’s gonna leave their seat
You gotta lose your mind in Detroit Rock City

Detroit Rock City: The Movie

The song went on to inspire a movie of the same name in 1999. The comedy film—written by Carl V. Dupré and produced by Gene Simmons—follows a Kiss tribute band who try desperately to see their idols in concert.

While the plot is set to follow the same tragic ending, the group does eventually get to the concert, just in time to hear the band play “Detroit Rock City” and catch Peter Criss’ drumstick.

Photo by Tom Hill/WireImage

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