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Alice Cooper

Son of a preacher man – oh yes, he was, theatrical shock-rock exponent ALICE COOPER (born Vincent Damon Furnier, February 4, 1948 in Detroit, Michigan) was all the rage in the 1972 when he staked him claim as god of ghoul-glam via generative anthem, `School’s Out’. There was no looking back for Alice and his team of conspirators, although there were periods of rock’n’roll hardship along the way; make-up stripped away, ace golfer and all-round “Mr. Nice Guy” Alice/Vincent (delete as appropriate) would wile away the hours on the fairway.
The story of ALICE COOPER (the group) can be traced as far back as ’64, when as a teenager he formed Phoenix, Arizona-based combo The Earwigs, alongside partners in musical crime, Glen Buxton (lead guitar), John Tatum (rhythm guitar), Dennis Dunaway (bass) and John Speer (drums). Relocating to L.A. and becoming SPIDERS, they delivered their first 45, `Why Don’t You Love Me’, flipped incidentally with a rendition of MARVIN GAYE’s `Hitch Hike’. With Tatum superseded by high school footballer Michael Bruce, the garage quintet (and now graduates) enjoyed healthy airplay for their second single, `Don’t Blow Your Mind’, a local No.1 for the Santa Cruz label in ‘66. After a low key third single, `Wonder Who’s Loving Her Now?’, under an all-too brief moniker switch to The Nazz (TODD RUNDGREN had also adopted the name), the combo chose the improbable moniker of ALICE COOPER, taking it from a 17th Century witch, apparently; John Speer had now made way for Neal Smith.
Dubbed the “worst band in L.A.” by critics, they nevertheless found a worthy patron in FRANK ZAPPA, who signed almost immediately to his own Straight Records. Turgid, clumsy cod-psychedelia, their debut album, PRETTIES FOR YOU (1969) {*6} didn’t bode well in many eyes and ears, their post-BEATLES acid-garage exampled on tracks such as `Living’, the PINK FLOYD-esque `Reflected’ and `Fields Of Regret’ plus `Levity Ball’ (their best song here) were at times knotty and disjointed.
While follow-up, EASY ACTION (1970) {*5} fared a little better commercially, the record has elements of glam (a la BOWIE), while Alice’s vox gets into its grizzled groove on opener `Mr. & Misdemeanour’, `Return Of The Spiders’ (the B-side of the rather twee-pop flop, `Shoe Salesman’) and the PINK FLOYD-esque calamitous closer `Lay Down And Die, Goodbye’ (re-modelled from a SPIDERS B-side).
Moving back to Detroit in 1970, the ALICE COOPER band found inspiration from the Motor City madness of MC5 and The STOOGES, tightening up their sound and developing their theatrical shock tactics in the process. Furnier simultaneously used the band name for his ghoulish, androgynous alter-ego, infamously embellishing the band’s stage show with all manner of sick trickery: simulated hangings, mangled baby dolls, a live snake, mmm… nice. Signing to Warner Brothers and drafting in Bob Ezrin on production, the band actually started writing material to match the effectiveness of their live shows. This wasn’t gloomy, horror soundtrack minimalism, however, it was freewheeling, revved-up rock’n’roll, often with more than a touch of tongue-in-cheek humour. Meanwhile, one could catch Alice and the band performing `Ride With Me’ (a STEPPENWOLF cover) in the 1970 Richard Benjamin/Carrie Snodgrass flick `Diary Of A Mad Housewife’.
While third album, LOVE IT TO DEATH (1971) {*9}, loosened its grip from the dated the acid-psychedelia of its predecessors, ALICE COOPER were now writing trashy anthems for the youth of the day; none better than US Top 30 hit `I’m Eighteen’, or even `Is It My Body’. Following the rollicking hard-rock of `Long Way To Go’, the 9-minute epic `Black Juju’ (complete with climactic IRON BUTTERFLY-meets-The DOORS crescendos) is just a full-on mind-blowing trip; an equal to the prog-ish majesty of the “Juju” came the all-too-short, but just as menacing and evil `Hallowed Be My Name’. If `Second Coming’, bookends minor hit `Caught In A Dream’ and `Sun Arise’ (yes, the Rolf Harris dirge!) were masked under angst-pop, the creepy `Ballad Of Dwight Fry’ more than exorcised any dainty demons.
KILLER (1971) {*8} probably stands as the band’s other peak achievement, supporting their everything-goes `Under My Wheels’ and the classic `Be My Lover’, the band really graffiti’d their rock credentials to wall. A sort of cussing cousin to “Juju”, the prog-heavy `Halo Of Flies’ (all 8 minutes of it) spat out from the vaults of Alice’s vicious and venomous psyche. Part schizoid Stetson growl, part orchestral pastiche, `Desperado’ was the set’s calming effect, while follow-on cut `You Drive Me Nervous’ was wanton glam for the Generation X brigade; as for the disturbing `Dead Babies’ and the curtain call title track, maybe a parental guidance warning might be a necessity.
Unadulterated indeed, the well-timed `School’s Out’ chart-topper (Top 10 in the US) was an irrepressible blast of adolescent-style attitude that propelled the name of ALICE COOPER and “parent” album, SCHOOL’S OUT (1972) {*7} to the upper reaches of the charts on both sides of the Atlantic; whether the un-PC free panties giveaway gimmick was responsible was anybody’s guess. Thematic and almost conceptual from its grandiose opening title track salvo, some of the arty-farty cocksure tastes of swing-era America (`Blue Turk’ for one) are lost, although the Leonard Bernstein/West Side Story-esque mock-up on `Gutter Cat Vs. The Jets’ and `Grand Finale’ work well within their boundaries. The delightful `My Stars’ (the longest piece here at just under 6 minutes) was textbook stuff, as was `Luney Tune’ and The BEATLES-esque `Alma Mater’.
The `Elected’ single (aka `Reflected’ Mk.II) was another major hit and the accompanying BILLION DOLLAR BABIES (1973) {*8} album – complete with free dollar bill – made No.1 on both shores. Opened by a Top 10 (US Top 40) rendition of Rolf Kempf’s `Hello Hooray’ (last heard on a JUDY COLLINS LP!), the set was stronger in song than its theatrical predecessor, smash hit `No More Mr. Nice Guy’ included. Dissing the likes of the ill-conceived `Raped And Freezin’’, four other tracks that stood out from the pack were `I Love The Dead’ (his best non-45 since “Halo” or “Juju”), the equally ghoulish `Sick Things’, `Generation Landslide’ and the poignant title track.
Packaged and sold in a cardboard box sleeve, the hype of MUSCLE OF LOVE (1973) {*4} didn’t fare quite so well, as cracks were beginning to show in the group’s songwriting armoury. But for the inclusion of lonesome hit, `Teenage Lament ‘74’ (pop-bile but featuring backing vox from Liza Minnelli and The POINTER SISTERS), the DEEP PURPLE-esque `Big Apple Dreamin’’, the title track and `Man With The Golden Gun’ (rejected by makers of the James Bond flick of the same name), this record might’ve sunk even further than an ill-fated Bond villain.
The alter-ego took over as ALICE COOPER subsequently sacked the rest of the band in the summer of ‘74, hiring instead a cast of musicians (including right-hand man Dick Wagner and Steve “Deacon” Hunter on guitars, Prakash John on bass, Pentii “Whitey” Glen and Josef Chirowski on drums); all had previously played for LOU REED. Featuring Ezrin back as producer/co-writer, WELCOME TO MY NIGHTMARE (1975) {*8} – complete with eerie narration by legendary horror-ham Vincent Price – was to many the last great vintage ALICE COOPER set. A macabre concept album that spawned the hit single, `Only Women Bleed’ (6 minutes here later edited and covered by “Rock Follies” lass JULIE COVINGTON), the enigmatic frontman displayed cabaret quality on the likes of the title track, `Devil’s Food’ and the metallic `The Black Widow’. As much in the same mould of this gruesome trio, `Department Of Youth’, `Cold Ethyl’ and `Escape’, were spookily overshadowed by ungodly frighteners, `Years Ago’ and `Steven’. That year, Alice was also part of the Various Artists concept album `Flash Fearless vs. The Zorg Women, Pts.5 & 6, singing `I’m Flash’.
In contrast to his super-freak, anti-hero stage character, offstage Alice was becoming something of a celebrity, hobnobbing with the Hollywood elite and even hosting his own TV show, wherein the man shamelessly trotted out past glories. While one could probably vouch for the disco-driven concept-rock of GOES TO HELL (1976) {*6} – containing another Top 20 soft-ballad hit, `I Never Cry’ and a cover of nostalgic nugget, `I’m Always Chasing Rainbows’ – one couldn’t say the same for 50s-styled rock cop-outs, LACE AND WHISKEY (1977) {*4}, crazy concert combination THE ALICE COOPER SHOW (1977) {*4} and his Bernie Taupin collaboration FROM THE INSIDE (1978) {*5}. During this self-indulgent period as punk and new wave suffocated its originators (including the once creative COOPER), his musical output had degenerated into AOR mush and he spent time in rehab for substance and alcohol addiction. There was a little light relief, when the man performed (alongside The BEE GEES) in The BEATLES vehicle movie musical of Sgt. Pepper’ (and who could forget his appearance in The Muppets); proper film flick `Roadie’ (1980) was his next venture alongside MEAT LOAF and others.
Alice’s early 80s work was hardly awe-inspiring as album after album failed to emulate anything from the previous decade. 1980’s FLUSH THE FASHION {*5} was a prime example of the changing times, as Alice and CARS producer Roy Thomas Baker tried to fit into the electro world via covers of MUSIC MACHINE’s `Talk Talk’, David Carron’s `Clones (We’re All)’ and The OTHER HALF’s `Leather Boots’; one of a handful penned by Davey Johnstone and Fred Mandel, `Grim Facts’ sounded as if DEVO had walked impromptu into the studio.
Featuring a mirror-ball cover of LOVE’s `Seven & Seven Is’ and a live re-vamp of `Generation Landslide’, SPECIAL FORCES (1981) {*5} tread the same sorry path as “Flush”; ZIPPER CATCHES SKIN (1982) {*5} and DADA (1983) {*6} – the latter generating a satirical anthem, `I Love America’) – marked his poorest sales since the late 60s. Entering a new deal with M.C.A. Records, 1986’s comeback set CONSTRICTOR {*6} resurrected the Alice of old, reinventing the hard-rock singer much in the same way as OZZY OSBOURNE after his bout of rehabilitation. Alongside former Criminal Justice axeman Kane Roberts, ALICE COOPER were reborn as anthemic, arena-rock act (think KISS); examples `Teenage Frankenstein’, `Thrill My Gorilla’ and `He’s Back (The Man Behind The Mask)’.
RAISE YOUR FIST AND YELL (1987) {*4} failed to resurrect the (unclean) spirit of old, although it did contain the cliched `Freedom’ and others of that ilk in an attempt to recreate the heady rock’n’roll of yore; COOPER even resuming the schlock-horror for the subsequent “Nightmare Returns” tour. His first real acting role (as “street schizo”) came via 1987’s John Carpenter flick, Prince Of Darkness; he’d later take on the part of “Mr. Underwood” in another horror feature, Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare, four years later.
However, it was only with the help of hair-rock songsmith Desmond Child that Alice once again became a major player on the metal scene, the `Poison’ single seeing COOPER return to the UK Top 10 for the first time since his 70s heyday. The accompanying platinum-selling album, TRASH (1989) {*7}, fared almost as well, although it sounded about as menacing as a BON JOVI record; the derivative `House Of Fire’ and `Bed Of Nails’ all managed to pull in lost punters from everywhere while there was room aboard for JON BON JOVI, guitarist RICHIE SAMBORA and lots of AEROSMITHs.
Opening with the hit title track, HEY STOOPID (1991) {*6} – showcasing the excellent `Feed My Frankenstein’ consolidated COOPER’s newfound success, as did 1994’s THE LAST TEMPTATION (1994) {*6}, his third record in a row to hit the UK Top 10, although sales in America were scaling down. The latter found COOPER abandoning his trusty Kane for other scribes such as Tommy Shaw (of STYX) and Dan Wexler on the respective hits `It’s Me’ and `Lost In America’. Things went quiet on the recording for a while (he’d cameo’d in the Wayne’s World movie), although the pro-am golfer COOPER continued to pop up in places where you’d least expect such as US chat shows, etc.
With appearances from the likes of ROB ZOMBIE, SAMMY HAGAR and SLASH, 1997’s A FISTFUL OF ALICE {*6} was one of the man’s better live efforts, featuring as it did a mixture of old and new tracks. BRUTAL PLANET (2000) {*6} finally found the granddaddy of gore back in the studio. More sleazy and streetwise than schlock, the album delivered a sharp poke in the eye to those who’d already written him off for the umpteenth time; veteran composer Bob Marlette was Alice’s nu-metal foil as the players rocked us dirty ’n’ deep via `Wicked Young Man’, `Sanctuary’ and `Blow Me A Kiss’.
With the post-millennial DRAGONTOWN (2001) {*6}, COOPER proved that middle age hadn’t mellowed him just yet. A half decent attempt at teaching the young upstarts a thing or two about being bad, Alice proved that, lyrically at least, he still has few challengers when it comes to twisted humour. No prizes for guessing the subject matter of `Disgraceland’, a PRESLEY “tribute of sorts” that didn’t quite match The CRAMPS’ “A Date With Elvis” – but tried very hard.
THE EYES OF ALICE COOPER (2003) {*6} marked a return to the man’s natural environs of sleazy hard-rock, leaving behind his half-realised attempts at getting hip to nu-metal. Lyrically, he was still outsmarting almost any other writer in his peer group (and most of the young bucks as well), with pinpoint portraits like `Man Of The Year’; COOPER could also be seen opposite wee pal Ronnie Corbett in a TV ad for Sky.
Taking time out from his golfing sojourns, Alice cut another warped back-to-basics effort, DIRTY DIAMONDS (2005) {*6}, right back to his 60s psych beginnings and with a cover of the LEFT BANKE’s `Pretty Ballerina’ in among hedonistic stuff like `Woman Of Mass Distraction’, `Sunset Babies (All Got Rabies)’ and his JOHNNY CASH-like trucking paean to JUDY COLLINS, `The Saga Of Jesse Jane’.
The conceptual ALONG CAME A SPIDER (2008) {*6} kept the motor running, as he told the gruesome tale from inside a spider-infused serial killer’s mind. Much in the same mould as his earlier Welcome To My Nightmare horror show, and aided by KISS drummer Eric Singer, SLASH on guitar and production from both Greg Hampton and Danny Saber, titles such as `Wake The Dead’, `(In Touch With) Your Feminine Side’ and `I Know Where You Live’ were unsettling and brutal as anything he’d preached in the 70s. Time then for another concert CD/DVD, THEATRE OF DEATH: LIVE AT HAMMERSMITH 2009 (2010) {*6} pulled out all the stops as he poured out red blood, sweat tears on most of his grimiest and goriest tunes, updating for a metal crowd as only he could do. With most of the “Welcome To My Nightmare” LP on show here, it was without shock that his next project would reprise and sequel (along with reviving the 1975 line-up of Wagner, Hunter, Dunaway, Neal Smith and producer Ezrin) for a WELCOME 2 MY NIGHTMARE (2011) {*7} Top 30 return. Commitments of DJ-ing every week night for Planet Rock couldn’t stop this grandiose outing. And while tracks were a little claustrophobic than its predecessor, the celebrity guest list (ROB ZOMBIE, Kip Winger, Ke$ha, et al) more than coped on primeval examples like `I Am Made Of You’, `Last Man On Earth’ and `What Baby Wants’. That year he was also inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Yes, Alice and “your” nightmares were back.
Deep from within the depths of darkest Los Angeles, a resurrection of sorts was about to unfold under the auspices of HOLLYWOOD VAMPIRES – the moniker snatched from the annuls of time by Count COOPER himself, Alice. Forty years since the initial insurrection of the nocturnal bats out of Hell, LENNON, MOON, STARR, NILSSON and er… DOLENZ was laid to rest, an all-new bunch of soused soldiers carried the spirit of old – if not the spirits and booze of the past masters – into 2015. Led by Alice in his own wonderland of fame and fortune, method actor/guitarist Johnny Depp (the young pretender to KEITH RICHARDS a la Pirates Of The Caribbean) and AEROSMITH Glimmer Twin lead guitarist Joe Perry, the scene was set for an hour of heavy metal karaoke debauchery on the eponymous HOLLYWOOD VAMPIRES {*7}. Without an L.A. GUN in sight or Vincent Price to do the voiceover, the real Count Dracula stood up in the form of Christopher Lee – sadly his last performance before the Grim Reaper carted him to Thespian Heaven – to create the mood on the opening narration. Augmented by an all-star cast of replacement Beatle, PAUL McCARTNEY (on `Come And Get It’), plus guitarist Tommy Henriksen, the glam-rock stripped back the years to pursue classic-rock anthems, `My Generation’, `Whole Lotta Love’, `I Got A Line On You’, a medley of `Five To One’ & `Break On Through (To The Other Side)’, `Jeepster’, `Cold Turkey’, `Manic Depression’, `Itchycoo Park’, `School’s Out’ (twinned with `Another Brick In The Wall’), and lots more besides.
© MC Strong 1994-2008/GRD-LCS-MCS // rev-up MCS June2012-Oct2015

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