Classic Album Review: Kiss – Destroyer

A Bernie Sparrow piece as originally published for Cool Album of the Day. Check them out.

It is difficult to pinpoint the exact point in time that KISS ceased being a band and morphed into the soul sucking, cross marketing, American Idol appearing, corporate sell-outs that they are today. After all, this is the band that released Alive!, a self proclaimed live album that was cleaned up in post-production with actual guitar licks layered in, and more after-the fact enhancements than an air brushed Playboy centerfold.

These were the guys who kicked Ace Frehley out of the band for partying too hard (who among us doesn’t pine for those Vinnie Vincent, Mark St. John years), and deceptively tried to disguise Tommy Thayer in Ace’s Spaceman makeup and dressed Eric Singer in the Peter Criss Catman outfit thinking we would be to stupid or too stoned to notice.

At least we can take some Rock and Roll solace in the fact that we can wear a KISS T-shirt, change our babies KISS emblazoned diapers, and even travel to our final rewards in a KISS coffin. And let’s not forget the KISS miniature golf course in Las Vegas, or the Anaheim, Ca expansion Arena Football League franchise where Gene Simmons is part owner. Heck, we can even go on a KISS Kruise where Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons might even helicopter in for twenty minutes to grace you with their presence, leaving you to mingle with the the somewhat less famous band members in the musical meet and greet equivalent of being stuck in a hot tub at a Three Stooges convention with Shemp and Joe Besser.

And finally, in a ripped from the headlines example of the “screw the fan” hubris on the part of those that own the trademark, Gene and Paul are at this writing are refusing to perform with the original KISS band members at their upcoming Rock and Roll Hall of fame induction ceremony. This would be like John Lennon and Paul McCartney not sharing the stage with Ringo and George.

In the interests of full disclosure, the KISS pinball machine is actually pretty bad-ass. The original KISS themed Bally machine originally distributed in 1978 features all four of the original members prominently displayed with sound and visuals that are straight-up cool. I would own one, but I cant afford the additional $10.00 per strike up-charge that Gene Simmons gets every time the silver ball hits the bumper that contains his picture. Ironically, or perhaps not, there is no charge for hitting the the faces of the other members of the band.

But I digress………….

Destroyer, released in 1976, is one fine old school Rock and Roll record. With the sound glossed to more of an ear-pleasing sheen than their prior efforts courtesy of Alice Cooper Major Domo Bob Ezrin who gets writing credits on seven of the ten tracks on the album, this record pretty much set the stage for their future live performances, a template the band would hone to perfection in the years to follow.

The scorching, rubber burning first track Detroit Rock City, much like Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A., takes on a bit of a different meaning when the lyrics are contemplated, and you realize the song is about a concert goer’s untimely death meeting a truck head-on while speeding down the highway presumably on the way to a KISS show. Here, for one of the first times on vinyl for this band, a subject matter that does not include drugs, girls, or sex is presented to the listener. Now a concert opening staple that replaced “Deuce” from their self-titled second record as their walk-out selection, the song has taken on a life of it’s own generating a movie, an excellent book of the same name that covers the Detroit Rock and Roll scene of the 60’s and 70’s, along with countless cover versions.

The anthems are all here, loud and bombastic as you would expect, with “King of the Night Time World,” a Paul Stanley standout, and “God of Thunder” another Stanley tune that Gene Simmons absolutely owns, and with the possible exception of Rob Zombie, he is the only front man that could bring out all of the demonic qualities inherent in the song. Who else other than those two guys could “slowly rob you of your virgin soul.” “Shout it Loud,” almost gets lost in the shuffle here, but along with “Flaming Youth” is a real stand-up and shout, audience participation favorite.

The elephant in the Destroyer room of course is the Peter Criss ballad, Beth. Originally considered to be the Rock and Roll equivalent of a chick flick, the song was actually the B side of the “Detroit Rock City” single, and quickly became of of those disc jockey turns the 45 over one day by happenstance success stories, scoring the band a top ten hit. Showing an outrage the likes of which had not been seen on the music scene since Dylan Plugged in, the KISS Illuminati was definitely polarized in their disdain or acceptance of this mostly innocuous tune. I for one, was firmly in the pro-”Beth” camp. Finally, a KISS song your girlfriend would let you play while we were making out in the back seat of your Ford Pinto.

Pound for pound, “Great Expectations” is my favorite song on the album. A slower tune that has a distinct Ronnie Lane and Slim Chance, English quality. The Bob Ezrin knob twirling on this track complete with school child choruses and Alice Cooper From the Inside atmospheric spookiness really represented something completely different from the Kiss stable here.

Overall, this record has a bit of everything, and is deservedly on the top of many a Kiss Army members list of any era, favorite album, with any record post 1978 where each member released their own solo album on the same day, firmly ensconced in the non-listenable category.

Of course, everyone will have their own opinion on this record, this band, and their legacy.

And that is a VERY good thing.

– Bernie Sparrow San Francisco, California USAPlease-visit-and-LIKE-our-facebook-page

Classic Album Review: Alice Cooper – Welcome To My Nightmare

A Cosmo Crane review originally published on the Cool Album of the Day website. For more reviews like this make sure to check them out.

Part Psycho Circus, part Jerry Springer show, part Quentin Tarantino shock-fest, Alice Cooper’s Welcome to my Nightmare album and subsequent tour was, depending on your point of view, either ridiculous or brilliant. The ultimate answer is of course given the benefit of historical perspective, that the album is ridiculously brilliant. Released in 1975, the album was Alice Cooper’s first post band break-up outing and is by far the best solo record of his decades long career.

Giving up the comfort of a consistent touring band and going to ax person by committee was certain to be a calculated risk. It was going to be hard to improve on Billion Dollar Babies, his previous album that included the hit songs “Elected,” and “No More Mr. Nice Guy,” and was the bands biggest seller to date, and the future of the entire enterprise without guitar muse and songwriting partner Glen Buxton was anything but certain. The new direction was going to turn the theatrical knobs up to 11, and incorporated many of the shock and awe elements from prior albums along with songs that were a bit more visceral in nature dealing with psychological horrors of the mind right alongside the physical ones.

The album was a top 10 seller, largely on the strength of the songs “Department of Youth,” “Welcome to My Nightmare,” and the somewhat controversial for the time “Only Women Bleed,” a song that reached the top ten, and was protested by various women’s groups due to the subject matter that dealt with spousal abuse. The song was also somewhat of a departure for Cooper in that no song he had previously recorded was as political or thought provoking. The fact that it was also a ballad, also served to put the Alice Cooper coven of fans on notice that a change was coming, and they were not necessarily going to like what the future had in store.

A concept album centered around the nightmares of the main character Steven, Welcome to My Nightmare, much like a Broadway play, was expressly written for the stage, and a tour was launched shortly after the release date where the record was performed mostly in its entirety. With production duties handled by long-time collaborator and Cooper Muse Bob Ezrin, the record has the feel of a real concept album in the Tommy mold, and is best digested in one sitting. The mix of rockers like the standout “Department of Youth,” and the guitar heavy anthem “Devils Food,” are intrinsically interspersed with the somewhat creepy “Steven,” a song that seems to share some DNA with the theme from exorcist, with the far off calling of Steven’s mother downright chilling, and the equally scary “The Awakening,” all kicked off in fine macabre fashion with “Welcome to my Nightmare,” a song that goes from a whisper to a scream to set the stage for what we are about to experience. Welcome to my nightmare I think you’re gonna like it. I think you’re gonna feel you belong.

To say that Welcome to My Nightmare marked the end of Alice Cooper’s commercial appeal may be stretching things a bit. After all, his live shows are still immensely popular; he has his own radio show, and has recently been elected to The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. But in reality, the album did mark the creative zenith of his career with subsequent albums Lace and Whiskey, Zipper Catches Skin, Dada, and Hey Stoopid, never even coming close to the artistic marvel that was Welcome to My Nightmare.

Much like anchovies on a pizza, an Alice Cooper show is something everyone should experience at least once. On recent tours, he has assembled a top notch band that includes Orianthi, the Aussie guitar goddess that was scheduled to play “Beat It” on the ill-fated Michael Jackson comeback tour that never was, and he has not lost a bit of his energy, strutting around the stage and striking poses that would make Mick Jagger jealous.

As a rock icon, Alice Cooper is one of the best. Welcome to My Nightmare is not Blood on the Tracks, and it certainly is no Tommy or Quadrophenia. It is what it is, a glorious shock jock guilty pleasure sort of a listen, one that should be consumed with gusto every Halloween.

So turn out the lights, lock the door, place the candy on the porch on a self-serve chair, and put the record on the stereo, at maximum volume of course. The candy may not last past the second set of kids, but your retro time warp back to 1975 will make you a better person, sooth your soul, and your ears will thank you.

Track Listing

  1. “Welcome to My Nightmare” (Alice Cooper, Dick Wagner) – 5:19
  2. “Devil’s Food” (Cooper, Bob Ezrin, Kelley Jay) – 3:38
  3. “The Black Widow” (Cooper, Wagner, Ezrin) – 3:37
  4. “Some Folks” (Cooper, Ezrin, Alan Gordon) – 4:19
  5. “Only Women Bleed” (Cooper, Wagner) – 5:49
  6. “Department of Youth” (Cooper, Wagner, Ezrin) – 3:18
  7. “Cold Ethyl” (Cooper, Ezrin) – 2:51
  8. “Years Ago” (Cooper, Wagner) – 2:51
  9. “Steven” (Cooper, Ezrin) – 5:52
  10. “The Awakening” (Cooper, Wagner, Ezrin) – 2:25
  11. “Escape” (Cooper, Mark Anthony, Kim Fowley) – 3:20


  • Alice Cooper – Vocals
  • Bob Ezrin – Synthesizer, Keyboards, Vocals, Fender Rhodes
  • Vincent Price – Special Effects, Vocals
  • Dick Wagner – Electric and Acoustic Guitar, Vocals
  • Steve Hunter – Electric and Acoustic Guitar
  • Josef Chirowski – Synthesizer, Keyboards, Vocals, Clavinet, Fender Rhodes
  • Prakash John – Bass
  • Tony Levin – Bass
  • Pentti “Whitey” Glan – Drums
  • Johnny “Bee” Badanjek – Drums

Classic Album Review: Mink Deville – Cabretta

A Bernie Sparrow review originally published on The Cool Album of the Day website. For more reviews like this make sure to check them out.

Willy DeVille is a rock star. Just look at him.  If you saw Bryan Adams or Elvis Costello walking down the street they could be mistaken for a mechanic, college professor, or accountant, certainly not for rock stars. But Willy Deville, looking like a slightly less road worn version of Keith Richards with a few less battle scars, could only be mistaken for the front man for the seminal post-punk band Mink DeVille and a rock star of highest order of which he is both.

Willy Deville was a product of the 60’s, from the West Village New York City. Very much influenced by the urban street scenes of his youth the young Willy grew up listening to Fred Neil, street Doo-Wop group groups, Motown, Phil Spector records, as well as Stax soul sounds, Simon and Garfunkel harmonies along with a vast rainbow of street sounds he absorbed growing up in  this urban environment.

Billing himself and his band as Mink Deville, Willy soon became a fixture at the famed CBGB’s night club that gave birth to the Ramones, Blondie, The New York Dolls, as well as a host of other iconic musical artists that were largely responsible for bringing that punk, softened just a bit to appeal to the general public, sensibility that would become hugely popular.

With the release of his debut album Cabretta in 1977, the Rock Star very quickly established himself as a force to be reckoned with Rolling Stone reviewing the album by saying “Cabretta is one of the best albums of the year, with the charm of its’ popular rock &roll urban rhythm and blues of the 50’s and 60’s, between The Drifters and Phil Spector.”

That Phil Spector sound was largely created by Jack Nietzsche, the arranger back in the “Wall of Sound” days that was the producer of the album, and the rest was from the musical collage of sounds that Willy absorbed from his youth.

The record just oozes cool with every track starting effectively with the opening track “Venus of Avenue D” that would have been a great Velvet Underground song with a daring street snarl, and danger lurking around every corner saxophone serving to set the urban mood. We are told that The Venus of Avenue D is the queen of his block, and who are we to argue?

We walk further down the musical street and run into “Little Girl” that is a straight on Phil Spector girl-group inspired song that could have been the B side of “Leader of the Pack”, and “Mixed Up, Shook Up Girl” is a piano based, bongo and maraca’s exquisitely sounding song that showcases the range in DeVille’s voice along with his skill in delicately turning a phrase and changing tempo at will.

“Gunslinger” is another punk influenced song from the Lou Reed urban songbook, and “Cadillac Walk” is one of my desert island songs with a distinct Dire Straits on uppers feel to it. And the coolness continues.

The true diamond in this sea of jewels is “Spanish Stroll”.  DeVille lowers his register a little bit here throws in a bit of Mariachi Spanish influence, and delivers a tour de force story of Mr. Jim with his finger on his eyebrow and left hand on his hip, he’s such a lady killer’ he thinks he’s so slick, and of course, he does the Spanish Stroll.

I won’t even tell you anything about the last two songs on the record.  By the song titles alone, “She’s So Tough” and “Party Girls” you inherently know they are good. And they are, extraordinarily so.

Willy Deville went on to record seven critically admired yet criminally ignored albums under his own name, including Miracle with side-man and producer Mark Knopfler, as well as five additional records with Mink Deville.

The “Rock Star” Willy Deville passed  away in 2009 due to complications from pancreatic cancer after doctors discovered it after providing the musician treatments for hepatitis –C. He was 58 years old.

Always the pragmatic optimist Willy was ultimately realistic about his legacy.  When considering how he would be viewed after his death he told an interviewer “I have a theory.  I know that I’ll sell more records when I’m dead.  It isn’t very pleasant, but I have to get used to the idea.”

A music critic also wrote, “Willy DeVille is America’s loss even if America doesn’t know it yet.”

I’m not sure that truer words have ever been spoken.

— Bernie Sparrow San Francisco, California USA

Track listing

Unless otherwise noted, all songs by Willy DeVille.

  1. “Venus of Avenue D” – 4:57
  2. “Little Girl” (J.Barry,E. Greenwich,P.Spector) – 4:19
  3. “One Way Street” – 2:50
  4. “Mixed up, Shook up Girl” – 3:44
  5. “Gunslinger” – 2:09
  6. “Can’t Do Without It” – 3:15
  7. “Cadillac Walk” (John Martin) – 3:14
  8. “Spanish Stroll” – 3:38
  9. “She’s So Tough” – 2:30
  10. “Party Girls” (Willy DeVille, Rubén Sigüenza) – 4:30


  • Willy DeVille – guitar, harmonica, vocals
  • Thomas R. “Manfred” Allen, Jr. – drums
  • Steve Douglas – saxophone
  • Louis X. Erlanger – guitar, background vocals
  • The Immortals – background vocals
  • Max Bowman
  • Val Heron
  • Mike Johnson
  • Bobby Leonards – piano, keyboards
  • Allen Rabinowitz – background vocals
  • Rubén Sigüenza – bass


Listen to the full album below