If you ask Alice Cooper about his secret to the longevity of a career that is now into a fifth decade, he has no doubts about the answer. “It’s about the musicians that you have around you,” the 66-year-old rocker says. “It’s about how you can get them to portray what you conceive musically.”
Alice Cooper: Metal Detector
Metal Hammer's guide to the sultan of shock rock from 2008
And over the years Alice has worked with a succession of quality talent, from guitarists Glen Buxton and Michael Bruce from the original Alice Cooper Band, producers Frank Zappa and Bob Ezrin, lyricist Bernie Taupin and even latter-day musos like Kane Roberts (the muscle-bound six-stringer who was part of a resurgent Alice Cooper band in the 90s) and Kip Winger. Then again, for a man whose career has encompassed shock rock, glam, hard rock, garage, goth and metal and who certainly inspired Marilyn Manson, that probably doesn’t come as much of a surprise.
Originally under the aegis of rock legend Frank Zappa, Alice Cooper (a name Vincent Furnier conjured up to convey “a sweet little girl with a hatchet behind her back”) was originally a band who began to make a real impact in the early 70s with albums like Love It To Death and Killer, and hits like I’m Eighteen and Under My Wheels. Hitching a ride on the coat tails of glam with School’s Out and Billion Dollar Babies, Alice’s horror-themed stage show reached its zenith with 1975’s Welcome To My Nightmare extravaganza. But battles with alcohol in the latter half of the 70s saw Alice – by now the sole owner of the name – falter, spending spells in rehab, and initial attempts to hold his own with the new wave boom of the 80s were little more than a disaster.
A sobered-up Alice turned his attention back to metal in the mid 80s with albums like Constrictor and Raise Your Fist And Yell, before becoming a huge star with the hit Poison from 1989’s Trash. The stadium era lasted until the mid 90s, since when Alice has released a string of more garage-orientated albums and toured consistently, maintaining a reasonable level of success. Alice himself told us that his latest album, 2008’s Along Came A Spider, is a nod back to the horror days.
WELCOME TO MY NIGHTMARE
We think you’re going to like it
The preceding year’s Muscle Of Love album was the last to feature what were known as the Alice Cooper Band, and frontman Alice hit the solo trail. It wasn’t a bad start. Retaining the services of producer Bob Ezrin, who had worked on Love It To Death, Killer, School’s Out and Billion Dollar Babies, meant that the glammish production sheen of those albums was retained, while musically Alice allowed himself to spread his wings in impressive style.
Welcome To My Nightmare is a concept album, hardly surprising as the things were very much in vogue in the mid 70s. However, unlike the impenetrable progressive workouts offered by the likes of Yes and Emerson, Lake & Palmer, this is pure horror rock theatre, concentrating on a journey through the nightmares of a central character called Steven. And what a selection of tunes they are.
Beginning with the salaciously enticing title track, the album veers through the heavy rock of The Black Widow (featuring an excellent voiceover from the legendary horror film actor Vincent Price), Devils Food and Cold Ethyl, all the way through to the progressive inclinations of the disturbing Steven (listen to that on headphones with the light off!), Welcome To My Nightmare is a terrific piece of work. And in the tasteless yet sympathetically delivered Only Women Bleed, Alice had an unlikely top 10 ballad on his hands.
Owing to a legal dispute at the time, the album originally appeared on the little-known Anchor label in the UK, although has since been reissued on the Rhino label. However this probably accounts for its relatively lowly chart placing of 19 (it reached number five in the US). Regardless, Welcome To My Nightmare saw Alice at the very pinnacle of his 70s success. It inspired a TV special, Alice Cooper: The Nightmare, as well as a massively successful world tour which was filmed and released as the Welcome To My Nightmare concert film in 1976. Some might say that things were never as good for Alice Cooper following this album. It’s hardly a sad indictment of a great career.
BILLION DOLLAR BABIES
WARNER BROS, 1973
Shock rock spectacular
With glam rock in full swing and the preceding year’s School’s Out making those outside of the US aware of the Alice Cooper phenomenon, Billion Dollar Babies is the album that cemented Alice’s reputation as a superstar of the 70s. Probably better than School’s Out, due to the proliferation of massively successful songs, the likes of Hello Hooray, Elected, No More Mr Nice Guy (once covered by Megadeth) and the title track all remain staple parts of Alice’s live shows, and the album shot to number one in both the US and the UK. Then there was the shocking tale of necrophilia in I Love The Dead and the equally creepy Sick Things which further elevated Alice’s status as shock rocker par excellence, tabloid fodder and a man whose every move was probably being studied by a certain young Brian Warner.
WARNER BROS, 1972
Alright kids, let’s go
Originally available in a sleeve that was a replica school desk that rather tastefully came housed in a pair of schoolgirl’s pants, School’s Out pretty much secured The Alice Cooper Band’s reputation as the kind of band you wouldn’t let your daughter anywhere near. This has much to do with the ebullient title track, which was one of the biggest hits of the summer of 1972 and still remains one of the most instantly recognisable Alice Cooper songs there is. Yet the bulk of the album tracks tended to shy away from the shock rock of previous albums, the likes of The Gutter Cats Vs. The Jets, My Stars and Grand Finale all displayed a conceptual, almost progressive bent. It proved there was a lot more to the band than shock tactics and many had underestimated their versatility based on earlier hits like I’m Eighteen and Under My Wheels. The sound of a band on a roll.
Not half clever
The song Poison, from 1989’s Trash, may have been a smash hit, resurrecting Alice’s career in a major way, but it was a carbon copy of a John Waite song (Encircled), which sullied the success somewhat. And equally these days it’s been tiresomely played to death. The follow-up album, Hey Stoopid, with its dark themes of drug addiction, is, in fact, a far superior album because it maintains its high level of quality from the opening title track all the way through to Wind-Up Toy. It also boasts a stellar backing cast – including Slash, Ozzy, Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, Nikki Sixx and Mick Mars – and is very much a fine example of the horror-themed stadium rock with which Alice found himself back headlining stadiums. The appearance of Feed My Frankenstein in 1992’s Wayne’s World, along with a cameo by Alice himself, only served to make it even more popular.
Fancy a snake bite?
Having seen his career all but disappear in a haze of alcohol in the late 70s and early 80s, not to mention ill-advised dips into a more new wave sound, a newly cleaned-up Alice sought sanctuary in metal with his first album in three years. With a band featuring guitarist Kane Roberts and future Winger mainman Kip Winger on bass, Constrictor is one of the heaviest Alice Cooper albums, as well as featuring some of his finest songs for almost a decade. Opener Teenage Frankenstein and the likes of Simple Disobedience are cracking metal tunes, while He’s Back (The Man Behind The Mask) also featured in the film Friday The 13th Part VI: Jason Lives. The ensuing The Nightmare Returns tour was hugely successful, and along with 1988’s Raise Your Fist And Yell, Constrictor was hugely influential in the resurgence of Alice Cooper’s career.
ZIPPER CATCHES SKIN
WARNER BROS, 1982
The tasteless sleeve, depicting a blood smear across a mundane text-based backdrop, is, in fact, one of the most tasteful things about this example of Alice’s attempts to move with shifting musical tides. Unfortunately, like the following year’s DaDa, it didn’t help that Alice himself had fallen off the wagon after a 70s stint in rehab, and claims to remember nothing whatsoever of recording the two albums. He toured neither album and they marked the end of a long tenure on Warner Bros. The track I Am The Future, which had featured on the lousy horror flick Class Of ’84, is perhaps the only redeeming musical feature, but only because (the normally interesting songwriter) Alice didn’t have a hand in penning it. The remainder, like the execrable Zorro’s Ascent, represents the very nadir of Alice’s career.
All the collectables from your fave bands
Given his status throughout the 70s, there’s a wealth of archive material for you to unearth without having to trawl sites like eBay and Amazon when it comes to visual entertainment. And let’s face it, with a stage show legendarily festooned with beheaded chickens and babies, the python (rumoured to have had its spine removed to prevent it from crushing Alice at the time) and a guillotine, then we’re talking about an artist who really knows how to put on a show.
So, where to start? Well, Good To See You Again was a feature film in 1974, but was released on DVD by Eagle in 2005. It originally featured a ridiculous themed section which was swiftly removed and although it still looks pretty dated, it’s a good representation of the band and stage show during the Billion Dollar Babies tour. Welcome To My Nightmare _was a terrific album and saw a brand new conceptual tour which was allegedly hugely impressive. Not so if you watch the _...Nightmare DVD, which was released on Rhino in 1975 (and on DVD in 2002), which suffers from terrible sound which all the giant spiders, dancing skeletons and a huge Cyclops type creature fail to rescue it from.
Far better is the 1986 tour, The Nightmare Returns, which found Alice back in fine metallic form and with Kane Roberts and Kip Winger in his band (yes, it appears Kip is wearing ballet shoes) and saw the light of day on DVD through the Geffen label in 2006, while Trashes The World (Epic DVD, 2004) is a 1989 concert shot in Birmingham during the Trash tour. The bulk of more recent DVDs are merely live shows from recent Alice tours.
And if you’re as much of a fan of golf as Alice himself is, you might care to indulge in Alice Cooper: Golf Monster, a four CD audio book with Alice reading his own tome on the game. Fore!
This was published in Metal Hammer issue 181.
Alice Cooper Goes To Hell was released in June 25, 1976.
Find out about the new Alice Cooper comic here.
Read the story behind the Welcome To My Nightmare album here.