Kiss were living the rock ’n’ roll lifestyle by the time they teamed up with producer Bob Ezrin to record their fourth album, Destroyer. And sometimes, as on the single “Flaming Youth,” that meant they had to recruit some outside help when they got too carried away.
Ezrin whipped the foursome into shape at the start of the sessions, giving them a crash course on technical basics like tempos, time signatures and guitar doubling. He also scavenged their collection of spare riffs to piecemeal together new songs, which is how “Flaming Youth” was born.
In the 2004 biography Kiss: Behind the Mask, Gene Simmons said Ezrin insisted the band use the song title after he heard them talking about a New York band called Flaming Youth.
“Ezrin said, ‘What have you got? Let’s put some pieces together.’ Because 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,” Simmons said. “I had a song called ‘Mad Dog’ … 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.”
The producer also encouraged Kiss to expand their sonic palette on Destroyer, playing a calliope on “Flaming Youth.” The steam organ fit the band’s carnivalesque aesthetic, but not everybody appreciated the pivot from their stripped-down, riff-heavy origins.
“There are elements of ‘Flaming Youth’ that I really like and some that just really turn my stomach a bit – hearing a calliope I just don’t get,” Paul Stanley said in Behind the Mask. “That was Bob’s idea. It’s a little too smart and too creative.”
The other major development on “Flaming Youth” was an uncredited guitar solo by Dick Wagner. Ezrin knew Wagner from their work together on Alice Cooper‘s classic ’70s albums, and he previously tapped Wagner to lay down solos on Aerosmith‘s “Same Old Song and Dance” and “Train Kept a Rollin'” off Get Your Wings, which he executive produced.
Listen to Kiss’ ‘Flaming Youth’
In his 2011 autobiography No Regrets, Ace Frehley said he and Ezrin didn’t gel creatively, which made it difficult to track solos.
“I’ve never been great at creating under pressure, so when Bob would tell me to do something in a particular way, and give me a small window of time in which to do it, I didn’t always deliver,” Frehley wrote. “I got the feeling I wasn’t contributing enough, and Bob was always threatening to bring in a studio guy.”
The guitarist also admitted that his hedonistic lifestyle may have prevented him playing to his full potential.
“I was hitting the clubs a lot at night in those days, living the life of a rock star. Sometimes that lifestyle wasn’t particularly conducive to making a record,” he wrote. “I was starting to get out of control, but I probably would have been a lot more cognizant, and I would have showed up more and been on time, if I had gotten more encouragement from Gene, Paul and Bob.”
Released as a single on April 30, 1976, “Flaming Youth” reached only No. 74 on the Billboard Hot 100. But it was bookended by the hits “Shout It Out Loud” and “Beth,” which catapulted Destroyer to platinum status, the first of several Kiss studio albums to reach the milestone.