ARTISTS THAT MATTER (to me) – Alice Cooper Part 1: 1969-1980

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In this episode, we will explore the master of shock rock, the one that cannot be killed (no matter how hard they try), ALICE COOPER. Alice has a very special place in my heart, as his was the first indoor concert I attended, and he was also one of the first identifiable rock starts thanks to seeing him on The Muppet Show. He’s the ageless, timeless rock n’ roll rebel, and wrote the book on how to entertain a crowd. Back when Ozzy Osbourne was walking about barefoot, Alice was being taught how to drink by Jim Morrison and Janis Joplin, and ‘tearing chickens apart onstage”. Kiss modelled their entire gimmick on Alice after seeing him on his Killer tour. Marilyn Manson’s act is a dumbed down version of what Alice has been doing since the summer of love. Innovative, yes, but also a damn good song writer; I’m Eighteen, Under My Wheels, School’s Out, Billion Dollar Babies… and they all were released before the mid-seventies! 26 Studio albums, 10 live albums, 46 singles, and several long form videos have given fans of Alice Cooper quite a bit to digest, and each album contains so many great songs.

In 1964, a Vincent Furnier and some pals from the high school track team decided to get together and play some music, and after a few name changes, they finally settled on a lineup and an band name: Alice Cooper. Cooper created the persona of Alice based on the idea of a wholesome girl smiling with a big butcher’s knife hidden behind her back, and has been shocking audiences and parents the world over ever since. The first album, Pretties For You, is a strange foray into Psychedelic rock, and didn’t quite work, as Alice Cooper was a band of drinkers, not trippers. The follow up, 1970’s Easy Action, was a move towards a more coherent rock sound. Both were released on Frank Zappa’s label, and neither was very successful. All that would change on the third outing, an appropriately titled “Love It To Death”. This LP spawned the instant hit anthem of teen angst “I’m Eighteen”, and the epic live favourite “The Ballad Of Dwight Fry”. More focused, and showing a genuine talent at creating music that inspires nightmarish rebellion, Love It To Death is the first in a string of classic rock albums. Killer followed, as did School’s Out. But it was 1973’s Billion Dollar Babies that put the Alice Cooper band at the top of the charts, literally becoming billion dollar babies. It was around this time that the Alice Cooper group’s live shows were at their most violent and shocking, with dolls and mannequins being hacked up on stage, boa constrictors used as props, and a variety of executions carried out on Alice (the gallows, electric chair and finally guillotine), outraging conservatives the world over. The following album, Muscle Of Love, was unable to capitalise on the success of Billion Dollar Babies, and amid band tensions, Alice puts the band on indefinite hiatus and goes solo, delivering the masterpiece that is Welcome To My Nightmare. This fully realised concept record and stage production tells the story of Steven, a young boy who has a nightmare, and is so unhinged by it that it damages his mind, and he eventually becomes Alice Cooper. Featuring giant spiders, a Cyclops, dancing skeletons, and narration by horror film great Vincent Price, Welcome To My Nightmare was unlike anything the rock and roll world had ever seen. Watching the live recording of a performance in 1975, one is bombarded with vaudevillian theatre of the macabre variety, where Alice loses himself in the role of Steven. It is a testament to the little realised fact that Alice Cooper, the man, is the greatest actor in rock and roll, one that could hold his own against any of the Hollywood hacks of today. Billy Bob Thornton even went as far as describing Alice as the Lon Chaney Snr of rock.

Following the universal success of Welcome To My Nightmare, Alice’s second solo album, Alice Cooper Goes To Hell didn’t quite meet the commercial or critical success as WTMN, but it featured songs such as Go To Hell, I’m Always Chasing Rainbows, and the ballad I Never Cry. I Never Cry was an alcoholic confession, Alice addressing publically his alcohol abuse, and the effect it had on him. The following year saw the release of Lace And Whiskey, where Alice drops the sinister character and portrays a hard drinking private investigator. A less hard rock approach was taken with this album, and its results were mixed, Almusic giving it 2 stars out of 5. Alcohol was taking its toll on the singer by this point, and it was after the King Of The Silver Screen tour that he was institutionalised for his addiction. His experiences while in rehab lead to the concept of the next album, From The Inside, and its tour, Madhouse Rock. Characters such as Nurse Rozetta came alive onstage to further torment Alice, and eventually become his victims. Vincent Price returned for this tour, lending his voice as the narrator/ hospital administrator. The newly sober Alice closed up the 70s by experimenting with contemporary sounds, as can be heard on 1980’s Flush The Fashion. Synthesisers, drum machines and a distinctly new wave sound featured prominently on tracks such as Clones (We’re All), which was the albums lead single. Clones was also backed by a conceptual music video, at the birth of the MTV generation. The music video was a format that Alice pioneered several years earlier with Elected, and then The Nightmare, a TV special starring Vincent Price as Alice/Steven’s dreamscape tormentor. It was at this time that Alice fell off the wagon and began drinking again. His next three albums (Special Forces, Zipper Catches Skin and Dada) are referred to as his “blackout albums” as Alice reputedly cannot remember writing, recording or the single tour during this period. His health in shambles, personal life strained and a succession of albums that failed to have any chart impact at all, the 1980s began as a trying time for our hallowed shock rocker. But impending tragedy was turned into creative success towards the second half of the decade. Next time I will look at the blackout albums, and Alice’s return to mainstream success with Constrictor, Raise Your Fist And Yell, and the chartbusting Trash.

Alice Cooper Top Picks 69-80

Desperado

Billion Dollar Babies

The Black Widow

Go To Hell

Nurse Rozetta

The albums Billion Dollar Babies and Welcome To My Nightmare are essentials for any rock enthusiast.

By: Tyrone Blackman

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