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The Oral History of Kiss’ ‘Destroyer’: ‘It’s a Miracle We’re Alive’

As rock masterpiece turns 40, original lineup looks back with producer Bob Ezrin.

As rock masterpiece turns 40, original lineup looks back with producer Bob Ezrin.

When Paul Stanley thinks about Destroyer, Kiss‘ high-concept fourth album, turning 40, the only word he can summon at first is “unbelievable.” “It’s stunning,” the singer-guitarist tells Rolling Stone. And then he regains his humour. “To think that it was 40 years ago is absolutely mind-boggling. Because I’m only 40 now.”

Related: Paul Stanley Looks Back on Five Key Kiss Albums

“It seems like yesterday,” drummer Peter Criss says. “I do believe, personally, that album was Kiss’s ‘Stairway to Heaven.’ Let me overstep my bounds [laughs]. But I do believe it was our ‘wow’ album.”

From the opening scene-setting radio broadcast foretelling a Kiss fan’s death before the anthemic “Detroit Rock City” to the album’s big-beat closer, “Do You Love Me?”, and impressionistic, avant-garde hidden track “Rock and Roll Party,” Destroyer proved that Kiss were more than costumed headbangers. It presented a wide swath of emotions, from the moving mega-ballad “Beth,” which won the People’s Choice Award that year, to the boot-stomping, blood-spitting “God of Thunder” to the R&B rave-up “Shout It Out Loud,” all of which became concert staples for the group. And even though the fantastical sleeve art presented the group, which also included vocalist-bassist Gene Simmons and guitarist Ace Frehley, as a jaunty foursome on a Wizard of Oz–styled journey of destruction, the songs proved they reveled in positivity. It was a turning point.

The group recorded the LP in a couple of sessions with producer Bob Ezrin, whose prior credits at that time included smash records by Alice Cooper, Lou Reed and Aerosmith. “We had done three albums, all that sold far less than what we expected,” Stanley says. “Then our manager, Bill Aucoin, gave us the idea of creating a sonic souvenir, almost like something you would bring home from the circus, a memento that captured what you had experienced. That became [1975’s] Alive! Finally, we’d had a hit. Bill said, ‘You could easily go back to where you were if we don’t come up with something that really ups the ante.’ He suggested we work with Bob Ezrin.”

The producer pushed the group to new heights, and helped them craft their commercial breakthrough. Although Alive! was the group’s first gold record, Destroyer was its first to sell a million copies in less than a year. It’s since been certified double-platinum.

To celebrate the legacy of the record, Rolling Stone spoke with Kiss’ four original members, as well as Ezrin and cover illustrator Ken Kelly.

“It’s a cinematic album,” Stanley says. “It’s an album that takes what was the norm and turns it into IMAX. The screen suddenly widened and what we were doing had such atmosphere.”

Kiss’ ‘Destroyer’ and ‘Destroyer: Resurrected,’ as they looked in 1976 and 2012, respectively

Paul Stanley (vocals, guitar): I had met Bob, funny enough, in a stairwell in Toronto when we were doing a TV appearance.

Bob Ezrin (producer): It was at CITY-TV in Toronto. They were in full regalia with their seven-inch heels and their huge costumes. It was, like, a walking Mount Rushmore coming down the stairway at you. Paul was very charming and very pleasant. I just said to him, “Are you happy with your records?” And he said, “Yeah, why?” And I said, “Well, you know, if at any point you decide you’re not, I would love to work with you guys.”

Stanley: I was fairly cocky then, although quite honestly, I never liked the sound of our original albums, and to this day it mystifies me how the engineers and people we were working with couldn’t capture the live sound.

Ezrin: I don’t remember how much longer it was, maybe a year later, I got a phone call and was asked to go see the band play live in Ann Arbor, Michigan. They were playing to 9,000 or 10,000 pimply 15-year-old boys, who never sat down for the whole show. It was unbelievably energetic, exciting, theatrical, powerful and just fantastic. It was pure, balls-out, testosterone rock. What was missing for me was the broader audience. So after I told them I’d do the album, the underlying mission behind the record became that we were going to try and reach out to women, as well as young men, and we were going to try to expand past just heavy rock and into the world of pop.

Gene Simmons (vocals, bass): Destroyer was ultimately a major leap forward for us because of Bob Ezrin. We were basically a garage band. We were just knuckleheads, guys who turn it up to 11 just because we can. We didn’t know anything. We could barely tune our guitars. Before Destroyer, we just did what we did: We played, we wrote songs up to the level of our musicianship, and that was about it.

Ezrin: With our mission in place, we picked certain kinds of songs to do. We did a lot of the writing in New York City at Paul’s place, Gene’s place and my place.

Stanley: Preproduction consisted of us sitting in a circle, and Bob would say, “Who’s got an interesting piece of music?” And someone would play something, and he’d say, “No,” and someone else would play something. Ultimately, he would say, “I like that, who’s got a piece to go with that?” Some of the songs were pieced together like that. Other times, someone might come in with a song, and Bob would fine-tune it.

Simmons: I had a song called “Mad Dog,” which had the riff in “Flaming Youth.” It was an old song, and he said, “OK, we need to take that riff and then we’re going to write a verse and a chorus, and then that riff is going to be sort of like the ‘Black Dog’ riff of the song.”

Stanley: It really was a glorious, exciting time, because Bob was the camp counselor, the camp director. He wore a whistle around his neck and called us campers. You have to understand that at this point we saw ourselves very much as “rock stars” and didn’t take crap from anybody. But we buttoned our lips and bit our tongues with Bob. He was the voice of experience, and clearly knew more than we did. So it was boot camp of sorts.

“Immediately, I could feel Bob Ezrin demanded respect. He glowed.” — Peter Criss

Ace Frehley (guitar): Destroyer is a great record, but some of the moments in the studio were a little tough. Bob Ezrin wasn’t the easiest producer to work with. And I wasn’t the easiest guitar player to work with, you know?

Simmons: He literally stopped recording at one point and said, “OK, it’s time to learn how to tune your instruments.” We just did it by ear. We didn’t know that there was a method of using harmonics and doing all that other stuff.

Peter Criss (drums, vocals on “Beth”): Immediately, I could feel he demanded respect. He glowed. I’ve never met a producer in my life that has his charisma and knowledge of every damn instrument. If you couldn’t get the beat, he’d sit behind you and show you. He was a heavy taskmaster. No one got a break. It was one of the hardest albums I ever worked on.

Ezrin: We needed a common language. When we started, I was asking for some things and getting some blank stares from a couple of people. So I brought in a blackboard and was explaining what a quarter note was and time signatures and what keys were. It’s not that they didn’t know any of this stuff; they just had to be reminded.

Frehley: He actually sat us down in a classroom, and he had a pointer in his hand with his blackboard [laughs]. He was trying to explain all this stuff, and none of it made any sense to me, because I’m not a schooled musician. It’s ironic, because everybody in my family plays piano and can read music. I was like the black sheep. I gravitated toward the guitar, and the rest is history.

Ezrin: Many people have asked me who the studio guys were that I used on Destroyer, and I have to say to them, they were Peter Criss, Ace Frehley, Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley. They played that well on that record. The key to this record was we really rehearsed a lot, and we really knew the material. So by the time they got to the studio, it was just about getting a great performance.

Stanley: I certainly looked at Bob as a mentor, and he really raised the bar for us in terms of lyrics. Up until then, quite honestly, and putting this as simply as possible, we were writing “fuck me, suck me” songs. Bob wanted none of that. He wanted more of an experience of the psyche, and the mentality of youth and what we were about, as opposed to the physicality of it. He would nix lyrics, and send us back.

Ezrin: I saw them as Technicolor, larger-than-life, fantastical superheroes who happen to play amazing rock & roll. I felt like their albums just got the amazing rock & roll but didn’t get all that other stuff. So the idea was to push it up to another level experience-wise.

Simmons: Bob took the point of view that the album as a whole made a statement and that all the songs somehow had to feel like part of that statement, beginning with the car starting up with voices in the background on your way to “Detroit Rock City.”

Stanley: When I first wrote “Detroit Rock City,” it was just an ode to Detroit as a great rock city. But then I’d heard about someone who got hit by a car and killed right out in front of an arena where we were playing down south. It really struck me. So I turned the song into a story of somebody going on a journey to a Kiss show and never making it, and the disparity of wanting to celebrate life and it ending in your demise. Then it became so much more than just a song about a rockin’ city; it had a subtext. Bob really pushed us, and I think we rose to it. I will tip my hat to Bob.

Simmons: “Detroit Rock City” was a demo Paul and I had done of his song in a small, four-track recording studio. And the original song went, “I feel uptight on a Saturday night” [hums quick jazzy bass line]. There was no breathing between the verses, and Ezrin was the one who came up with the bass lick [scats song’s bass], which sounded like it came from Curtis Mayfield’s “Freddie’s Dead” or something.

“Bob Ezrin is almost the Banksy of rock.” — Paul Stanley

Frehley: Bob and Paul came up with the intro riff. I just put the icing on the cake, with my inverted rhythm guitars. If you listen to a lot of Kiss songs, I’m always playing an octave above Paul to make it thicker sounding. It seemed to work over the years.

Stanley: The arrangements on Destroyer have Bob Ezrin’s fingerprints all over them. I didn’t realize how much Bob had to do with Alice Cooper until we went into the studio and I started hearing a very familiar point of view and Bob sang some of the parts. He is almost the Banksy of Rock.

Frehley: I’ve got to give Bob Ezrin credit where credit’s due. He was the one that came up with the solos that me and Paul played. He sang them to us note-for-note, and we figured it out on guitar. And I think they’re genius.

Stanley: With a gun to my head, I never could’ve come up with a solo like he did for “Detroit Rock City,” which is so thematic and so dramatic.

Simmons: When I first heard it, I went, “What’s that? Flamenco music? What kind of solo is that?”

Stanley: It reminded me of Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, “The Lonely Bull,” almost like a trumpet solo.

Ezrin: It was very emotional and on one hand heroic and, on the other, a little mysterious and almost foreboding. I would say there’s a little bit of a “Bolero” lift in the guitar solo of “Detroit Rock City.” I think it was a classic Spanish folk-theme. Or maybe I just adapted a whole bunch of things that I’d heard in the past. But it just felt like the right thing to do at that place. I felt it was really powerful to have it go into harmonies like that.

Stanley: On “Detroit Rock City,” he had us leave for an hour or two, and worked with Peter and taught him that drum pattern. It really was a time of learning, and I think we were all open to it.

Simmons: Peter Criss just played from feel and wasn’t a studied musician. I mean, hell, none of us were. He would get very, very upset because Ezrin would stop recording and say, “You’re not playing in time. This is not the verse pattern. You’re doing the chorus pattern,” and Criss would throw his sticks down and run out and go, “What is this shit? What is this? What is this? Music school?” And actually yeah, it was.

Criss: Each piece that Bob did was a portrait. Every song had to be up to par. Whether it was “God of Thunder” or “Detroit Rock City,” each song had to be as good.

Ezrin: The idea with the special-effects intro was to create a filmic experience on the first song. It struck me that the story needed something of a setup. I didn’t think we should start with a big drum fill or a slow build or any of those things you were used to hearing on rock records. So to start with a radio broadcast, and then this little playlet that introduced you to the character, and then to go into the song, it became something like a movie in a song. You hear the story, and then at the end, we get shunted back to the screen and we get to see the crash in Technicolor.

Stanley: “Do You Love Me” is another song that Bob challenged me on. It’s not a “fuck me, suck me” song on the record, but I can remember being in the studio and those were the lyrics that came — no pun intended — most readily and easily and they were immediately nixed. Bob would say, “No, not good enough. That’s not what we’re doing.” But “Do You Love Me” is less carnal and more cerebral. It’s like, “I’ve got all this, but do you really, do you really love me?” But at the end of the day, quite honestly back then I couldn’t have cared less.

Simmons: Nirvana covered it on a Kiss tribute record that had the Melvins. I loved Nirvana’s cover, but I knew that they were, as the English say, taking the piss. The truth of it is when Kurt and the guys were touring in a van, the side of it was painted with Kiss. It was part of his childhood. But clearly by the time Cobain and the band were doing this Kiss cover, they were like, “Hey, we’ve moved on from this.” Which is great. When I heard that compilation, I decided, “OK, I’m going to do our own Kiss tribute album,” which became [1994’s] Kiss My Ass.

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Paul Stanley, Gene Simmons and friend, circa 1976 Richard Corkery/Getty

Stanley: Bob was always the final voice, the final vote. “God of Thunder” is a good example of that.

Simmons: That song began with Paul and I making fun of each other. He says to me, “All you do is write monster songs like ‘God of Thunder’ and stuff like that.” I go, “Hey that’s an idea.” So he went home and wrote a song called “God of Thunder” the way I would have done it, and I said to him, “All you ever do is write girl songs like ‘Christine Sixteen.'” It just came out of my mouth. And he said, “Hey, that’s kind of cool.” So I went home and wrote “Christine Sixteen.” That didn’t make it on a record or two, but “God of Thunder” was Paul writing a “Gene song” if you will.

Stanley: Gene thinks everything is done with him in mind. “God of Thunder” was the quintessential “Paul” song. It was very much a song about being the son of Apollo, being one of the gods, and I was the god of thunder and rock & roll.

Simmons: When Ezrin heard the demo, he said, “Yeah I like this, but it’s not right. Gene, you’re going to sing this one and we’ll slow it down.” And Paul was flabbergasted. He was like, “What?”

Stanley: That got handed over to Gene. I played it for everybody, and Bob said, “Oh, that’s great. Gene’ll sing it.” If somebody could’ve taken a photo of my face then, I was absolutely heartbroken and stunned. But, in hindsight, he was right. Now it’s Gene’s most identifiable song, written by me.

Ezrin: That decision was made not based on sound, but on the fact that these guys were playing characters. To me, Paul was the band’s romantic lead, if you will. So he’s the guy who sings “Do You Love Me.” And Gene was both the monster and also the cocksman of the band. So Gene gets to play the “God of Thunder.”

“To me, Paul was the band’s romantic lead, if you will … And Gene was both the monster and also the cocksman of the band.” —Bob Ezrin

Criss: Bob Ezrin came up with this wild idea when we were recording that song. He goes, “There’s an elevator shaft, and I think we could hook the mics over it. It’s empty, around three in the morning. We’ll put the drums in there and you play ‘God of Thunder.'” And I’m thinking, “Well, what the hell? I’m a Brooklyn guy. I’m tough. Why not?”

Ezrin: He wasn’t the first person I had play in an elevator shaft [laughs]. But yes, he was there in a loading bay in the back of the Record Plant Studio A, where we did this album. There was a freight elevator back there, too. And that was very reverberant. And the drums sounded amazing back there, so I had him do the big drum break in “God of Thunder” there.

Criss: So they set it up. And I’m alone in there and it’s a long hallway, and it’s full of old garbage cans. All of a sudden, we’re into it. I hear Bob on the headset, we’re starting, and the door opens and two Mexican guys walk in. Garbage men. And they see me all dressed up, long hair, looking crazy, banging drums in the elevator [laughs]. And they flip out. And I flip out. No one knows what to do. And I keep hearing Bob, “What’s the matter?” And then they said, “OK, to hell with this,” as New Yorkers do, and they start moving the garbage. Bob is listening, and he hears, like, a war! He’s like, “Peter!” And I’m like, “You’ll never believe it! You gotta come over here, man. They’re moving the garbage.” We laughed and laughed and laughed I don’t know how long.

Frehley: I always thought that song had a great guitar riff.

Simmons: Bob Ezrin’s kids were very young at the time, and they came to the studio with ray guns and space helmets, and he let them go into the studio and ran the tape. They heard the riff, and Ezrin said, “What do you guys hear?” “Oh, Godzilla! Godzilla!” And those little sounds were the little ray guns that the kids had.

Ezrin: It started out just as a fun game for the kids when they came into the studio. I had just bought them this walkie-talkie set, where one piece was a space helmet and the other was a walkie-talkie, they could talk back and forth. I just recorded them talking while I played “God of Thunder” to them. I was telling Joshua, who was four years old, to be a monster. So he was the little growly voice — “rar rar rar” — but then he started yelling, “What? What?” He couldn’t understand what I was saying to him and he yelled out, “I don’t know about monsters!” So that’s in there if you listen very carefully. And David, his older brother, was nine at that time, and he got it completely. He was making the wolf noises and the gnashing of teeth and the howling in the background. I thought, “This is awesome!” I stuck a butt-load of reverb on it, and the band was great about me putting it on the track.

Simmons: “Great Expectations” started off as a song I wrote called “I Am a New Man.” It went, “I am a new man, born in the ashes of ruin/Born in the meadows of lies, born in the meadows of your lies.” The chordal patterns were more English and less bluesy. It was kind of ethereal. And then I saw the movie Great Expectations, which I felt was slow, but then the lyrics hit me: Gee, if you’re a sad girl, and you’re looking up on that stage, you watch me playing guitar and you wish you were the one I was doing it to, well you’ve got great expectations. I played it for Ezrin, saying, “Here’s some other Beatle-esque things I do,” he goes, “Yeah. I really like that. Why don’t we get Kiss singing along with a symphony orchestra?” I’m going, “Wait, wait? We’ve never done that.” So we hired the Brooklyn Boys Choir to come in.

Ezrin: One of the melodies in “Great Expectations” is a lift from Beethoven, from the Sonata Pathétique. I didn’t think he’d mind. I wasn’t gonna hear from his lawyer. I felt like if Beethoven were alive, he would’ve loved Gene Simmons. So I figured it was OK.

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Kiss, circa 1977 Michael Montfort/Getty

Simmons: When we started in Wicked Lester, we did a song that was written by, I think [Roger] Cook and [Roger] Greenaway, the guys that used to write lots of hits for English bands called “We Want to Shout It Out Loud.” The Hollies had done a demo of it, and we recorded it for a Wicked Lester record that Epic signed and we subsequently bought back so they wouldn’t put it out when we reformed the band and started Kiss.

Ezrin: “Shout It Out Loud” happened in my apartment on 52nd Street, with both Gene and Paul sitting beside me at my piano. We just knew that this thing was going to be huge-sounding. Having the two of them there at the same time, co-creating and defining their spots, and finding where they would be in the song, that was really exciting. It was really thrilling for me.

Simmons: I started humming, “Shout it, shout it, shout it out loud.” He goes, “I like that. I like that. OK, hold on.” And then we started tossing some chords and melodies around. It was written in about a half-hour.

Stanley: “Shout It Out Loud” certainly tips a hat to the Four Tops. It’s a lead vocal and has vocals in the background that answer it, which was something the Four Tops did a lot of. Levi Stubbs would sing, “You’re sweet, you’re sweet as a honeybee” in “Same Old Song.” That’s really what it was patterned on. We didn’t necessarily get inspired solely by the influences that you would expect. I think our love of different genres of music always found its way into what we were doing.

Criss: The drum beat on “Shout It Out Loud” came from “Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch.”

Ezrin: Paul was a perfectionist. He was really, really aware of every single note and really concerned with making sure that everything was as perfect as it could possibly be. And Gene was more raw energy and swagger. So when you put that together, you get those two sides of the creative coin. You come up with a thrilling result. Which is not to say that Stanley didn’t have fire. Talk about one of the greatest rock singers of all time. His voice had such high energy to it. Still does. It made my job so much easier. He just had to stand up to a mic and open his mouth and it sounded amazing.

Simmons: “Beth” came about differently than the other songs. Peter hummed a song to me in the back of a limo on our way to Flint, Michigan, of all places. The other two guys were in their own car. And Peter starts going, “Beck, I hear you calling.”

Criss: I sang it at a faster tempo than I was thinking for it because I knew that we’d never do a ballad.

Simmons: And I’m going, “Beck? What is that? Is it about Jeff Beck?” “No, it’s about a girl named Becky.” And in the car I said, “Oh, that’s fun, but why wouldn’t you want to say Beth, which is simple, with a softer syllable so it doesn’t stop you like Beck. Why don’t you sing that to Ezrin?”

Criss: Stan Penridge was a guitarist in a band I was in called Chelsea. The lead guitarist, Michael [Brand]’s wife’s name was “Beck,” Rebecca. She constantly called rehearsal. It’s just like, “Holy shit. Kill this girl.” Stan started messing around, as a joke, “Beck, I hear you calling, Beck come home right now,” and then I jumped in and added some more lyrics and we started messing with it, the two of us. And it became an inside kind of thing, about this guy’s old lady. I kept it in my brain forever.

Ezrin: Peter Criss showed me “Beth” at SIR studios. It was more jaunty and had a little bit of a twang to it, almost kind of a country thing, and it was called “Beck.” I took it back to my apartment and sat at my piano and came up with that little piano figure that kind of informs the song, and then started steering it down much more of a romantic, bittersweet route, so it wasn’t so cocky as the original was. The original was more about “Tough luck, I’m not coming home.” And we ended up with a song about feeling separation, and the melancholy that comes with a feeling of loss. That appealed to women hugely.

Criss: [Kiss manager] Bill Aucoin, rest his soul, said, “Look, put on makeup. We’re going to record with the New York Philharmonic. Come down to the big, orchestrational session.” It was like rock & roll Sinatra.

Ezrin: We decided to turn it into a theatrical experience and invite the press. It wasn’t the whole New York Phil, but it was members. We had them all wearing tuxedo T-shirts and we had the Brooklyn Boys Choir in their formal choir-wear, and I had my whole team in tuxedos. The members of the band were in full costume. I think we called it, the “Kiss First Grand Orchestral and Choral Recording Session.”

Criss: We all sat in the booth in makeup, listening to this masterpiece. Ezrin was playing the baby grand. After we were done, he said, “Peter come on out,” and I come bopping out. And I get up there and the orchestra all stood up and tapped their bows and they had my heart in my balls. I was never so overwhelmed in my life.

Simmons: Before “Beth,” were hardly on the radio at all. We had a medium-sized hit with “Rock and Roll All Nite,’ but it wasn’t until Alive! was released that it became a hit.

Criss: I never thought the song would do so well. As a drummer, songwriter-singer, coming out into the front, I’m so proud of that.

Stanley: When Destroyer came out, it stalled [at] around 860,000 copies, which today, people would give their left nut to sell, and there we were, quaking in our seven-inch heels. At that point, when you sent a single to radio, it was a 45-RPM record with two sides: You would have the side that you felt was your strong song, and the rule was to put the weakest song, the song that had no chance of ever becoming anything, on the B side. So we released “Detroit Rock City” as the A side, and said “Well, hell, let’s put ‘Beth’ on the B side.” You know, “That’s a no-brainer.”

Simmons: A disc jockey turned it over and people thought “Beth” was Rod Stewart or somebody and it became a major hit. It won the People’s Choice awards and all that. I hasten to add it won the People’s Choice Award along with “Disco Duck.” I’m not making it up.

Stanley: The one least likely became a massive, massive hit, and propelled the album further.

Ezrin: I absolutely knew “Beth” would be a hit. I’ve heard many times that certain children were conceived to “Beth.” It was, like, a big romantic hit.

Criss: I’ve never heard from Rebecca. I wrote about her in my book, thinking it might stir something up, but nah.

Stanley: The success of “Beth” caught us by surprise, but then again, everything caught us by surprise. We were reveling in this incredible phenomenon that we were becoming, and were taken by surprise by many aspects of it, from “Beth” to the sold out arenas to the notoriety to the women, it wasn’t unlike when you pull the one-arm bandit in Vegas and all the cherries line up and suddenly money starts pouring out. Success was a geyser. It was gushing.

Ezrin: It was sex, drugs, and rock & roll all through the Seventies, so yes, there were drugs, and yes, there was sex, and yes, there was shenanigans and food fights and fire-extinguisher fights in the hallways and all sorts of boyish, crazy things, but that was a time when we thought drugs were good for you and sex couldn’t kill you. So that was going on, but when you listen to the record, and you understand how much work and attention to detail had to go into that thing, you realize that we weren’t that screwed up.

“Success was a geyser. It was gushing.” —Paul Stanley

Criss: I did have a coke problem and, at the time, it was the thing. I watch that show Vinyl and, Jesus Christ, I think they stole my book. Not everybody was into it, but I did fall into it. It was fuel. Bob also didn’t help the situation. He would give me coke. But it made me work harder. … All I know is that I finished it.

Ezrin: The sessions were meant to be fun and exciting. I wanted a very high level of energy and a high level of passion and desire in everything that we did. Because you can hear it. So we would do a lot of stuff that was silly, fun or crazy, from pie fights to strange sexual escapades. There were all kinds of wonderful or crazy stuff going on in the studio at the time. That was only there to raise the energy level and set the bar. And then we would say, “OK, we’re rolling.” And all of that would stop and some real serious, exciting playing would happen.

Simmons: What was Ace like during the sessions for Destroyer? Drunk. He didn’t play guitar on “Beth” and “Sweet Pain,” which I’d written, kind of an S&M pop song. He goes, quote, “I got a card game. I can’t come down to the studio and do it.” The big money started to come in big and fast, and Ace was surrounding himself with all the hangers-on and the druggies and that was the beginning of the real downward spiral. He wouldn’t come up for air for 35 years after that. Ace is finally, hopefully now semi-healthy, but has nothing to show for it. You reap what you shall sow. That includes Peter Criss as well.

Ezrin: We were a little bit stuck because Ace didn’t show up to the session. We didn’t have a huge amount of time and our budgets weren’t enormous. Dick [Wagner] lived right around the corner, so I called him and he played acoustic guitar on “Beth” and lead guitar on “Sweet Pain.” I think there was a little bit of anger on the part of Gene and Paul towards Ace for not showing up, and I would just get impatient because it was very important to me that we kept moving and stayed on schedule.

Frehley: Bob and I both had our substance abuse problems at the time [laughs]. But somehow, some way it all came together, like a lot of things do, despite any obstacles.

Ezrin: When I listened back to the master tapes for Destroyer: Resurrected, the “Sweet Pain” solo we replaced with Dick was because it was, in quotes, “more professional-sounding,” end of quote. When I went back and listened to what Ace played, the rawness of it, and kind of truth of it, was more effective than the polished solo we got from Dick. And I was really glad to have stumbled back over it, to have been allowed to restore it so other people could hear it. I think it deserved to be heard, and I think Ace did a great job with it in hindsight.

Stanley: The vibe in the band was of excitement. The band, certainly in the beginning, was a product of our combustibility. I always maintain that fame doesn’t change you. It just allows you to be the asshole you are. And certainly we were seeing glimpses of who each one of us had the ability to become [laughs]. Whether it was people not showing up or attitude adjustments being needed.

Criss: It was like the honeymoon [laughs]. There was a lot of bravado, a lot of screaming, but you’ve got four majorly talented guys going down sometimes the worst streak. Ez would settle it. He’d go, “This is what it’s gonna be.”

“If you don’t appreciate what you have, you’re going to destroy it. I think that perhaps some, more than others, lost sight of how fortunate we were.” —Paul Stanley

Stanley: Fame and success is a powerful enough drug and then when you add something else to it — sycophantic friends and girlfriends and people plotting their own advancement by causing divisions and divisiveness — you have a recipe for disaster. I think each one of us certainly was guilty in our own way of exerting ourselves. Although I can’t remember my own flaws in it, nobody was guiltless. Unfortunately, some people were having a harder time than others. And if you don’t appreciate what you have, you’re going to destroy it. I think that perhaps some, more than others, lost sight of how fortunate we were. So yeah, there were certainly glimpses of problems in the future.

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Kiss’ original members in 2014 at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction. From left: Gene Simmons, Peter Criss, Ace Frehley and Paul Stanley. Theo Wargo/Getty

Ken Kelly (Destroyer cover illustrator): I first met Kiss at their offices. They were just normal guys, talking normal. I walked upstairs and the art director, Dennis Woloch, told me exactly what he wanted: “The four of them abreast, running at you, and very intense.” He wanted all four to be equal. I used a Polaroid camera and took poses of myself and put them together. The reason why the guys are the same size is because it’s me.

Frehley: We had to scrap the original cover. But the cover we used was OK. It’s kinda cool.

Kelly: Casablanca turned down first version I did, because they thought the band was too close to the fire and the buildings; it looked to them as though Kiss had actually set the fires. They thought that was a little too violent and they rejected it.

Stanley: Interestingly and funny, when I came up with the title Destroyer, Bob hated it because he thought it had negative overtones. Yet to me, the whole idea of a Navy destroyer is something that is forceful and keeps the peace except when necessary it will take you out. So it was a terrific experience.

Kelly: They asked me to do another one, except this time, we’re going to take Kiss further away from the trouble. We’re going to put them way up on a mountain, and the trouble is going to be so far behind you wouldn’t know it. And if you look close, you can see burning buildings maybe a mile away behind them. It represented the complete fantasy of living gods.

Stanley: It was a terrific time and very exciting. But interestingly, when Destroyer came out, it was not embraced with the kind of fervor that we expected. We were also aware it didn’t really sound like Alive! or any of our other albums. It was much more cinematic and atmospheric. On some of the songs, power chords were reinforced by grand pianos, and I think that it made people scratch their heads a bit. I would say, though, that those songs make up a large part of our live concert to this very day.

Criss: We sounded bigger. We had bigger guitars and bigger drums, finally — thank you, Jesus. It’s the sound we’d always been searching for, the sound that Kiss always wanted but couldn’t get.

Simmons: As I sit here talking to you today, I’m proud to say that per the RIAA, Kiss is the Number One American gold-record-award-winning group of all time in all categories. We tied the Beach Boys on the number of gold singles we have. Beach Boys and Kiss only have two gold singles apiece. Two. They had “Kokomo” and “Good Vibrations.” Ours were “I Was Made for Lovin’ You” and “Beth.”

Frehley: Those were crazy times. Like, it’s a miracle that we’re still alive and kicking. I’m just thrilled that I’m healthy and happy and making great records and having fun doing it.

Stanley: Ironically, the album scared us, and ultimately we wanted to get away from it as quickly as possible. We felt that we had abandoned or diluted what we were, and our plan in reaction to it was to go back to what we had done earlier with Rock and Roll Over, which in hindsight was kind of a coward’s way out. But Destroyer has aged very well, and it encapsulates so much of the mentality of Kiss, and the champion of the individual, and a sense of self-determination. Whether it’s “Flaming Youth,” or “Shout It Out Loud,” it’s an album of affirmation, and that’s really what we were about and remain about to this day.