Alice Cooper

We're not worthy!

Well, as a matter of fact, you probably are worthy: after all, Vincent Furnier is just a mildly amusing hack entertainer who possesses a bit of wit and doesn't does much to disguise the fact that underneath the makeup he seems like a basically normal, decent chap. But let's get things straight: in the early '70s, Alice Cooper was the name of a band. From their humble beginnings in suburban Arizona to a move to Detroit to capitalize on the nascent MC5/Stooges/Nugent heavy metal sound pouring out of Motor City to teenybopper superstardom, the original Alice Cooper band managed to offend square parents and responsible older hippies at once with their tactical brand of shock-rock. Today Cooper's antics seem tame and silly, but a quarter of a century ago America hadn't grown used to the morbid sacrileges that thousands of bands have since taken as de rigeur in Alice Cooper's wake. No more than an authority on staged phony rebellion than John Lydon has claimed that the Sex Pistols' biggest inspiration was Alice Cooper, and let's just mention Marilyn Manson. Or, uh, maybe let's not mention... okay, so Alice Cooper's influence is undeniable, but it's probably more negative than positive: rock would certainly be much better off without blood-soaked horror-flick theatrics, right?

But back to the issue I originally addressed: Alice Cooper was a band. Vincent Furnier took the name as his, but the other members wrote the majority of the songs. Let's give a credit where credit is due, folks: guitarist Micheal Bruce wrote the lion's share of the songs, and other members chipped in, too, notably drummer Dennis Dunaway. Furnier himself only co-wrote a handful of those early tunes, even though as the frontman he was responsible for 95% of the band's visual image -- and believe me, their visual image was crucial to this band's success. Frank Zappa took a shine to them, and landed them a record contract in 1969; their first two albums weren't commercial successes, but with 1970's Love It To Death, they broke through to the mainstream and piled up a string of memorable hard rock hits that were on the lips of every junior high kid in America. Unfortunately, they were seemingly incapable of producing consistent albums; the hits were great, but well... at least there's less filler on these early '70s albums than on your average Motown album. Though they were even less musically competent than the MC5, Stooges, or the New York Dolls, somehow they were the proto-punk/metal-heads who found real success. Perhaps it's because the material was so catchy, with a bubblegum heart underneath mangy guitars that possessed the bite of a Doberman's rotted teeth. Sloppy, insincere, meaningless, goofy - it's only rock'n'roll and it's show-biz, baby. The Alice Cooper band's true roots were in vaudeville more than anything else, but unfortunately Furnier decided to fire all the members of the original band in 1974, to pursue a career that really did descend into pure vaudeville, sans any redeeming qualities. I'm not even going to try to pursue the many albums Alice Cooper the solo act has released since 1975; my list only covers albums recorded with the original Alice Cooper band line-up.

Reader Comments

Axe Maintainer,

I really don't agree with your Alice Cooper band-v-solo assessment at all. Alice Cooper the band was notably mainly for balancing a very large cargo of image on an extremely small infrastructure of actual hits, and soon, except for 'School's Out' and 'Eighteen' and maybe one or two other decent rockers, it was buried under the thick, syrupy stratum of heavy metal that settled over the 70s. Alice Cooper the individual, however, in between the predictable posing (we all got to earn a living ya know), went through a remarkably sarcastic and tongue-in-cheek period (Flush the Fashion/Zipper Catches Skin era) which IMHO contains all the interesting music ever to bear the Cooper name. Flush the Fashion in particular is a billion miles from the cod-rock of so many of his contemporaries. See, listening to Alice Cooper, you shouldn't focus on the zitty teen *buying* the record, you should focus on the cunning bastard *making* the record.

Pretties For You (1969)

Their first, Zappa-produced album.

Easy Action (1970)
Love It To Death (1970) ***1/2

Probably the best album the band ever released, it starts off really great with "Caught in a Dream," and the immortal single, "I'm Eighteen" ("I've got a baby's brain and an old man's heart," - has anyone writ better lines summing up adolescent self-loathing?). "Long Way To Go," isn't as good, but it's good enough. Unfortunately, then the album stumbles off a precipice from which it never fully recovers: the nine-minute "Black Juju." "Black Juju," is considerably better than the Stooges' like-minded goth indulgence, "We Will Fall," but in the same bat-cavern, and like "We Will Fall," nearly ruined the otherwise classic first Stooges album, so "Black Juju," very nearly ruins Love It To Death. The rote filler of "Is It My Body," and "Hallowed Be My Name," do nothing for me, and their cover of "Sun Arise," ends the album on an unspeakably awful note. However, "Second Coming," has a twisted anti-anti-Christ majesty, and "The Ballad of Dwight Fry," is the second half's centerpiece: an oddly moving six-minute ballad sung from the POV of a mental patient that seems to have affected Axl Rose in a profoundly tender and influential manner.

Killer (1971) ***1/2

Cut for cut, this is more consistent than Love It To Death, except that the best doesn't peak quite as high as the peak highs on Love It To Death. There are not one, but two extended psychedelic freakouts this time: "Halo of Flies," and the title track, and while they're still not that interesting, they are both miles better than "Black Juju." "Under My Wheels," is a good laugh, and so's "Be My Lover," ("She asked my why the singer's name was Alice/I said listen baby, you just wouldn't understand") but neither are as epochal as "I'm Eighteen." "Desperado," is a waste of spaghetti western. The electro-shock rocker, "You Drive Me Nervous," contains plenty of excitement; "Yeah Yeah Yeah," is similarly fine; but the real centerpiece is "Dead Babies," a sick little goth ditty about said subject. Who takes this junk seriously -- don't you get it, it's a joke, man.

School's Out (1972) **

The title track has a special place in my heart, since my parents had an old copy of the single when I was in the first grade. It was the first rock song I really flipped for - my first anthem! Too bad that, no matter how awesome 1972's best rock single is, the rest of the album is crap. Okay, so I upgraded my grade from my original idea of 1 1/2 stars to 2 stars because it's sort of grown on me, but aside from the opening cut, there ain't a single keeper for my proposed 2-CD set covering the peaks of the original '69-'74 Alice Cooper band. This ain't rawk'n'roll, man, it's corny showtune music beefed up garage guitars and punk attitude, and no amount of gnarly guitar riffery or sneering adolescent vocals are gonna make me forget that I loathe showtunes. Stuff like the goth "Luney Tune" (about an escaped mental patient, has nothing to do with the theme, but all concept albums tend to get off track, don't they?) and the anthemic "Public Animal #9" would have done okay as routine filler on the previous two Alice Cooper releases, and yet they count as highlights amongst this gunk. If I want to hear West Side Story, I'll just rent the video, or not rent the video, 'cause I've got an allergy to hackneyed street opera. There's no way I'm going to defend the sub-Badfinger "Alma Mater" or the marching band vs. Alice Cooper Band instrumental "Grand Finale"; "My Stars" relies on a gimmicky arrangement to cover up its compositional inadequacy; "Blue Turk" is bad Doors via cabaret, or is that bad cabaret via the Doors? In sum, by veering away from the teenage garage rot electro-shock rock of short, punchy Stones/Who anthems and instead going for a musically ambitious concept album, the Alice Cooper band display their obvious weaknesses and limitations quite clearly on one of rock's most disastrous concept albums.

Billion Dollar Babies (1973) ***

"No More Mr. Nice Guy," is one of the band's best singles and a hard rock classic, as even Pat Boone is aware. However, there isn't much that measures up to that standard here. I get a kick out of their Watergate cash-in "Elected,", the title track is fine second-hand Sabbath, and I'm kinda fonda a real vaudeville piano ditty, "Mary Anne." Though all the songs reach the level of OK - which is an accomplishment, considering the lows of certain previous Cooper albums - most don't do much more than provide a generally listenable audio experience for me. And generally listenable is no goal to shoot for, is it? Especially if you're as gaudy and glammy as Alice Cooper. "I Love the Dead," is no "Dead Babies," and songs like "Sick Things," "Hello Hooray," and "Generation Landslide," amount to fairly forgettable. At least this album's six-minute freakout, "Unfinished Sweet," (about being scared of the dentist, a common phobia among kiddies - who said they weren't cynical enough to play to their core audience of pre-teens?) is bearable.

Muscle of Love (1974)

The final album by the original band before Alice fired them, to keep all the royalties to himself, I guess.

Alice Cooper's Greatest Hits (1974) ****

This is shockingly inconsistent considering what could have been assembled, but since no one has deigned to get the package right and doubtfully anyone will (are you actually willing to shell out good money for The Life & Crimes of Alice Cooper four-CD box set, that also covers his -gag- solo career?), this will have to do. Novices might well be advised to stop and end here, given the fact that Cooper never released a consistently listenable album, except that there are too many great songs that aren't on here. Where's "Caught In A Dream"? "The Ballad of Dwight Fry"? The oh-so-essential "Dead Babies"? Why did they include "Hello Hooray" and "Desperado" instead? Oh well, what's a poor boy to do? Well, can you live with yourself if you don't have "School's Out," "No More Mr. Nice Guy," "Be My Lover," "Under My Wheels," or "I'm Eighteen" within handy reach? Methinks not. The first side's much stronger than the second side, which must make do with "Elected" and "Billion Dollar Babies," to keep it from sagging. I don't know, go ahead and strangle a puppy with this as the soundtrack, you zit-faced loser.

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No More Mr. Nice Guy