Let's clear up one thing right away. Alice Cooper is the name of the group's lead singer. He was born with the unlikely name of Vincent Furnier back in '48 (February 4th). To add to the confusion the group was also named Alice Cooper and consisted of lead guitarist Glen Buxton (who passed away 10/19/97), rhythm guitarist Mike Bruce, bassist Dennis Dunaway and drummer Neal Smith. OK?
One might ponder how a band of Phoenix, AZ high school buddies, with a minister's son as lead singer and a knack for cranking out third rate covers of the Rolling Stones, The Who and Yardbirds could, rather quickly, evolve into the founders of Shock Rock. First as the Earwigs, then the Spiders and finally the Nazz, the roots of Alice Cooper (the band) began to take hold. Finding there was another band recording under the moniker the Nazz (with Todd Rundgren) forced a change. Off an ouija board came the name Alice Cooper. Or so the legend goes.
The band relocated to LA and signed with Frank Zappa's label. In that environment, every bit of weirdness was encouraged. Alice Cooper (the lead singer) even managed to become an occasional drinking buddy of the Doors' Jim Morrison. But after two albums nothing seemed to jell so the group left glitter town. They moved to the heartland, Coop's hometown - Detroit. Playing long and hard, and heavily influenced by the MC5 and Iggy Pop and the Stooges, Alice Cooper was ready.
You'd think a bunch of guys who called themselves Alice Cooper would be some drag outfit. If gender bending was their intent they could have done a lot better job with the make-up (see David Bowie). Nope. A.C.'s contribution was merging gothic theater and Rock. Taking the whole idea, to what was then, the extreme. Growing up, Vinnie (the future "Alice" or "Coop") loved old horror movies and slapstick comedy. The vision was to put the two together in a sick, twisted sort of way.
Coop always went for the showbiz jugular. Over the top or forget it. Give 'em what they came for: Rock, violence, death and sex - in that order. Alice Cooper bonded with their audience, expressed their frustrations and prayed on their desire to be on top, or at the very least get even. Driving, riff-laden guitar Rock propelled teen or anti-social (usually the same thing) anthems. Even though the band's high school days were nearly a decade behind them, they knew how it felt to be unpopular, left out and constantly put down by the "in-crowd." And they never forgot.
Alice Cooper (the singer) had a snarling voice and wild, out of control demeanor. The stage show grew with the band's success and excess. First, it was throwing chickens into the audience. Rumor had it that Cooper bit the head off a live chicken during a show. Cooper always denied it, blaming the chicken's demise on an over zealous audience. Still, the ASPCA ordered them not to bite the heads off any more chickens. Nearly a decade later, Ozzy Osbourne had the same problem, only with bats.
The Cooper stage show also included a gallows and Cooper's "execution." However, an Atlanta court ruled that Cooper couldn't use feathers, an electric chair or gallows during their show in that fair city. Why bother? Then there was the boa constrictor. She was wrapped around Cooper in something just short of the death grip. The snake was an indispensable part of the act. And that was what it was. An act. It was a '50s horror movie with a hard Rock beat. Nostalgic yet contemporary, shocking but often performed with a wry sense of humor. A startling, compelling combination. You had to watch. By being the anti-role model, Alice became THE role model.
With the arrival of the "Killer" album Alice Cooper found themselves on the cover of Rolling Stone. The accompanying article was entitled "Gold Diggers of 1984." The title had extra punch since that magic year was still a ways off. The article also mentioned that Alice Cooper drank a case of beer a day. Shortly thereafter, there were numerous reports of teenage boys getting seriously ill or being taken to the hospital after trying to down twenty-four beers in one sitting. Even if they made it through one day they couldn't sustain it. You have to pace yourself.
Also, on a more tragic note, there was a report of a death when a guy tried to hang himself as he'd seen Cooper do. Cooper's gallows was a prop with safety devices. Those devices failed during one show and nearly sent Cooper to the great beyond. Definitely, not something to try at home.
Another thing that made Alice Cooper was timeliness. As eighteen year-old boys were registering for the draft and the possibility of being sent to fight in Vietnam, Alice Cooper released the empathetic "I'm Eighteen." As summer approached "School's Out" vaulted up the charts. When the '72 election loomed Alice Cooper threw his hat into the ring with "Elected."
One huge Cooper hit not connected to a specific event was the sneering "No More Mr. Nice Guy." "It was me screaming back at the public," said Alice several decades later. "At the time I was guilty of every single thing that was wrong with America. And it ended up being one of those songs everyone connected to."
Not too far into the '70s Alice Cooper (the group) was having trouble functioning for all the usual reasons. Alice Cooper (the singer) dumped the band and went solo taking the name with him. The band re-surfaced momentarily as Billion Dollar Babies. After spending a considerable portion of the decade in a haze, Cooper checked into the Betty Ford clinic. He even managed to cash in on the misery with the "From The Inside" album and found commercial success with a couple of tepid ballads (the last resort of a fading Rocker).
So much of what Alice Cooper started has shown up repeatedly. Marilyn Manson and Rob Zombie are two of Cooper's more obvious music/showman offspring. That attention has fueled various comebacks including a hilarious '04 Staples (the paper products outfit) back-to-school commercial, playing on the "School's Out" theme, and the '05 release "Dirty Diamonds."
Taking a concept that might have worked better in the '70s - a wayward tour inside the mind of a serial killer - Cooper, with contributions from ex-Guns N' Roses guitarist Slash and Ozzy Osbourne, issued "Along Came A Spider" in '08. While the theme was most certainly in bad taste it was just the sort of subject that Cooper's blend of twisted humor and horror had at least a shot at pulling off. As a result, Cooper continued to display an uncanny knack for trouble. He was forced to tone down his performance on CBS' Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson after network officials deemed a planned segment too graphic. Cooper initially intended to re-enact a scene from his "Vengeance Is Mine" video by pretending to strangle a female audience member with a scarf. That was a no-go. Oh well.
In a move that some, including Cooper himself thought would never happen, Alice Cooper (the band) was one of the 2011 inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. They were selected along with Darlene Love, Dr. John, Tom Waits and Neil Diamond.
Later in the year, Alice Cooper returned in a way that they could not have conceived of back in the 70's. The band appeared in "4-D" during the Jagermeister Ice Cold Event at the Battersea Power Station in London. A holographic image of Cooper performing in the U.S. with the surviving members of the original band (Dennis Dunaway, Neal Smith and Michael Bruce) was beamed to England. "Working with Jagermeister to appear as holograms on the other side of the Atlantic is the ultimate experience - a cutting-edge conjuring trick that celebrates the future and our history," said Cooper in a statement.
Revisiting and re-inventing his past once again, Cooper's "Welcome 2 My Nightmare," a continuation of '75 classic "Welcome To My Nightmare," was released in '11. "Welcome To My Nightmare" was Cooper's debut solo album. Both it and "2" were produced by Bob Ezrin (who also produced the band's early albums).
Alice Cooper (the band) Studio Albums:
1969 Pretties For You
1970 Easy Action
1971 Love It To Death
1972 School's Out
1973 Billion Dollar Babies
1973 Muscle Of Love
Alice Cooper Solo Albums:
1975 Welcome To My Nightmare
1976 Alice Cooper Goes To Hell
1977 Lace And Whiskey
1978 From The Inside
1980 Flush The Fashion
1981 Special Forces
1982 Zipper Catches Skin
1987 Raise Your Fist And Yell
1991 Hey Stoopid
1994 The Last Temptation
2000 Brutal Planet
2003 The Eyes Of Alice Cooper
2005 Dirty Diamonds
2008 Along Came A Spider
2011 Welcome 2 My Nightmare
There are three great Alice Cooper records: "Killer," "School's Out" and "Billion Dollar Babies." "Killer" has the potent "Under My Wheels." From the opening guitar to the fierce horn-driven chorus, not to mention Cooper's in-your-face vocals, this is everything a Rock song should be. The album also contains one of the few Hard Rock westerns in "Desperado." "School's Out" has the title track, Alice Cooper's biggest hit, but there is so much more. "My Stars" and "Public Animal #9" are excellent with lyrics promoting Cooper's emerging seditious persona. They even take the "Jets Theme" from "West Side Story" and gave it some real venom. "Billion Dollar Babies" has the most hits ("Elected" and "No More Mr. Nice Guy") including the ballad "Hello, Hurray," another show tune.
After a couple false starts, Alice Cooper got a producer worthy of them. Bob Ezrin not only delivers the group's vision, he expands it. The album opens with "Under My Wheels" a ferocious Rocker. There's no looking back. The songs range from tongue in cheek put-downs ("Be My Lover") to horror movie reality ("Halo of Flies") but all are energized Rockers, with a trace of the Yardbirds. Then there's the dramatic "leather and lace" western "Desperado" which casts Alice Cooper (the singer) as a gunslinger who mourns for himself rather than his latest victim. The victim is dead, at peace, while Cooper is still on the run. Great theater, and if you're fourteen or fifteen, it's irresistible.
School's Out 1971
This album made Alice Cooper a household name while social conservatives fretted over what the group's popularity meant. Was this the final decline of western civilization as we know it? In reality, Alice Cooper was about as threatening as a Frankenstein movie and used many of the same elements. The title track deals with a kid's hatred of school but "Alma Mater" touches on the uncertainty that awaits everyone after graduation (school is safe, life is not - of course schools aren't safe anymore but these were simpler times). They also add prison songs "My Stars" and "Public Animal #9." Alice Cooper pulls off these guises masterfully.
If the Rolling Stones can spend '05 selling out huge venues around the U.S. why shouldn't Alice Cooper still be at it? Keith, and even Mick, are showing their age (and prior over-indulgences) but Alice Cooper, a good five to six years younger, never looked good. And never intended to. Unlike the Stones though, getting older has just made Cooper appear more menacing.
After floundering and rehashing his way through the '90s and early '00s (though "Brutal Planet" at least has some punch), Cooper's back with "Dirty Diamonds." He's still working familiar themes but with more muscle than he has in years. The humorous, yet revved up, "Woman Of Mass Distraction" kicks off the CD. That song, the title track and "Sunset Babies (All Got Rabies)" should convince anyone that Cooper can still approximate his glory days. "Steal That Car" is a dose of Cooper's patented theatrical outlaw Rock. It's an irresistible "I-know-it's-wrong-but-I'm-going-to-do-it-anyway" song.
There are other good, if not brilliant, performances but there are also plenty of curves. "You Make Me Wanna" sounds like a David Bowie track that just missed making the "Ziggy Stardust" album. Only now it's Cooper doing the vocals. "Perfect" ("You're perfect 'til the lights go on") could pass for a Badfinger cut. The song references J Lo (Jennifer Lopez) which is a bit disorienting given Cooper is such a '70s icon and seemingly distant from contemporary fads. Going back even further, there's a relatively faithful cover of Left Banke's "Pretty Ballerina." The tongue-firmly-in-cheek ballad "The Saga Of Jesse Jane" has a devilish acoustic twang. Interesting as these songs are, Cooper (and his audience) need to Rock. It's too late in his career to try to be David Lee Roth.
Blame the Republican Party for the flaw in "Along Came A Spider." In the old days, Cooper's unabashed reckless approach had undeniable teen appeal. Act, don't think. No reflection, contemplation, consideration or, God help us, self-actualization. Destruction (of propriety, a school or the electoral process) was OK as long as it looked cool going down in flames. But near the end of the "Along Came A Spider" there's "Salvation," where Cooper's serial killer ('Spider') claims he only did "what the voices told me to do." Cooper, now a long-standing member of the Arizona Republican Party and recovering drug user knows that everyone has a chance for redemption. Sure that may be true but it's lousy Rock N' Roll theater.
Think about "Desperado" (from "Killer"). As the title indicates the track revolves around a gunslinger (a kindred spirit of 'Spider') who contemplates life and death - his own. And the only time he shows envy is of those he's killed - because they are resting in peace while he is tormented. It's this amoral perspective that made Cooper a star. "Salvation," a regrettable song of regret, comes off mawkish.
Cooper's voice is still sinister but not nearly as edgy. The legendary wit does surface on "(In Touch With) Your Feminine Side" (the title says it all). Though lifting the "Smells Like Teen Spirit" rhythm for "I Know Where You Live" or injecting some AC/DC guitar on "Wrapped In Silk" are good ideas, the album is rather sterile. "Vengeance Is Mine" should be a defining moment but seems forced. When Cooper backs off a bit on "Wake The Dead" and "The One That Got Away" he is more convincing. Still, you rarely get the feeling a murderer lurks - even one with a killer sense of humor. Cooper does connect on the baiting "Catch Me If You Can" and the acoustic guitar ballad "Killed By Love" could replace "Alma Mater" on the "School's Out" album. But Coop's Paul McCartney impersonation on "Something To Remember Me By," from "Welcome 2 My Nightmare," tries to cover the same ground. Unfortunately, it's just a retread of "Only Women Bleed"/"You & I." Even retreads would have been acceptable on "Welcome 2 My Nightmare" if they were from the glory days rather than the waning hours.
Though "Welcome To My Nightmare" was the frontman's debut solo album it was largely dismissed as Alice Cooper's last gasp. The band and lead singer/namesake had parted company. The horror Rock they had created was largely played out. Now decades later, a sequel? More like a quest for cheap laughs.
"Last Man On Earth" is like "Cabaret" crossed with "The Alabama Song (Whiskey Bar)." You half expect a duet with Liza Minnelli, which would have been pretty cool. "Disco Bloodbath Boogie Fever" is operatic comedy and sounds like it could have been written thirty years ago - maybe it was. "Ghouls Gone Wild" (nice pun) is really just an amped up version of "Summertime Blues" and that's just fine. Coop does tap that old inner fury on a couple songs. "A Runaway Train" evokes AC's early drive and the clean-and-sober "Caffeine" ("a little speed is all I need") is a needed jolt. He's traded one drug for another, although caffeine has a less lethal downside (at least according to recent studies). The rest is just phoned in.