The song, recorded and released as a single in 1976, was the third single from Kiss's album Destroyer and was planned to be their last in support of the album. As a single, it did poorly in sales and radio play (other than in Detroit), and failed to chart in the U.S. even though it would prove to be a fan favorite. It came as a surprise that the B-side "Beth", a ballad written and sung by drummer Peter Criss, wound up catching on in different markets in the United States, so the single was reissued with "Beth" as the A-side and "Detroit Rock City" as the B-side.
While the song briefly references Detroit, the real-life incident which inspired the lyric evidently did not take place there. "I had the basic riff of the song, the 'Get up, get down' part," Stanley recalls, "but I didn't know what the song was about except it was about Detroit. And then I remembered on the previous tour, I think it was in Charlotte, somebody had gotten hit by a car and killed outside the arena. I remember thinking how weird it is that people's lives end so quickly. People can be on their way to something that's really a party and a celebration of being alive and die in the process of doing it. So that became the basis for the lyric."
On Destroyer, the song segues into "King of the Night Time World", via the sounds of a car crash. The songs were played together on the Destroyer tour.
During the Love Gun/Alive II tour, Stanley changed the lyric, "I know I'm gonna die, why?" to "I know I'm gonna die, and I don't care!" The song was #6 on VH1's 40 Greatest Metal Songs and is featured on the album Heavy Metal – The First 20 Years. "Detroit Rock City" was based on an earlier song that Kiss performed only in concert called "Acrobat".
- Its title was used for the 1999 motion picture of the same name, which revolves around a Kiss concert in Detroit.
- The Detroit Tigers often use the song when the team takes the field at the beginning of the game.
- The Detroit Red Wings play the tune right before the first face-off of a game and also during television and radio broadcasts.
- The fictional venue—The Rock City Theater located in Detroit, Michigan—appeared in the music video game Guitar Hero II.
- It is featured in the 2007 music video game Rock Band, in which the master track from the album version is used (without the car engine sounds).
- Kiss played it on an episode of Gene Simmons Family Jewels.
- It is featured in the 2008 music video game Rock Revolution.
- The Rock Band version of the song appears in the movie Paul Blart: Mall Cop.
- It is featured in the 2008 movie Role Models.
- It is featured in the 2009 music video game Dance Dance Revolution Hottest Party 3.
- It is featured in the 2011 movie The Dilemma.
- Due to the popularity of this song, Kiss is among the several recording artists to have a banner hanging from the rafters of the Palace of Auburn Hills to commemorate their many Metro Detroit sellouts.
- The song is featured in season 25, episode 3 of "The Simpsons.
- It is featured in the 2015 movie Scooby-Doo! and Kiss: Rock and Roll Mystery.
- Duralex Sedlex - The Evil Eye (1991)
- Rich Kids on LSD - "Berlin Rock City" - "Greatest Hits, Live in Berlin" 1988
- Halloween - "No One Gets Out" 1991
- The Mighty Mighty Bosstones – Kiss My Ass
- Hayseed Dixie – Let There Be Rockgrass
- Alien Fashion Show – "Detroit Swing City" (single, 1998)
- Metallica, Kid Rock, Sevendust and Ted Nugent live collaboration from New Years' Eve 1999 concert at the Pontiac Silverdome
- HammerFall – Crimson Thunder (bonus track)
- Radio Cult – "Grooves from the Grave" (2008)
- Sweet Siren
- Gwar during concerts around 1994
- GO!GO!7188 – "Kazari Janai no yo Namida wa" (originally by Akina Nakamori) on their cover album, Tora no Ana 2
- Bullet LaVolta – Gimme Danger / Hard to Believe: Kiss Covers Compilation
- Dee Snider – Spin the Bottle
- Racer X – Live Extreme Volume II
- Green Day – "Live in Detroit" July 14, 2009 (only played beginning)
- Paul Stanley - lead vocals/rhythm guitar/backing vocals
- Ace Frehley - lead guitar
- Gene Simmons - bass guitar/backing vocals
- Peter Criss - drums
- ↑ Leaf, David and Ken Sharp, KISS: Behind the Mask - The Official Authorized Biography