Arguably Alice Cooper were ( yes it’s were) a kind of early New York Dolls with bigger dreams. Glamorous trash rock with aspirations. Rock Stars before they even hit their first chord. Outrageous clothes, crazy hair, drinkers rather than junkies (maybe that’s why they could get out of the house), like The Dolls and along with Screaming Jay Hawkins and Arthur Brown the inventors of glam punk into shock rock. Between 1971 and 1973 they made four and a half really great albums as a band.
After the commercial and critical failures of their first two albums, Pretties For You and Easy Action, Bob Ezrin came in to produce this album and sorted them out, ironically it would be him that laid the band to rest. The first two albums really did sound like sixties freaks let loose in the studio, and that’s probably why Zappa signed them to his Straight label. But from the first track on Love It To Death, Caught In A Dream onwards, it’s R’n’R played by a bunch of characters you wouldn’t want your daughter to date, with the longest hair you’d ever seen. The second track written by the band, I’m Eighteen was their breakthrough hit (Number 21 in the States). A classic teenage blast.
Vince Furnier, the singer had grown up in Detroit, son of a priest, that’s probably what did it! After moving to Pheonix he met what would become the core members of the band Neal Smith on drums, Dennis Dunnaway on bass and the two guitarists, Glen Buxton and Michael Bruce. They were soon on their way to California but it wasn’t long before they realised that their music wasn’t working there, the audiences didn’t get it, so they relocated to Detroit where underground bands like The Stooges and MC5 had made an impact on the Mid West rock crowd. A R’n’R band with an intimidating look and with the introduction of props and Vince’s black eye make up – the kids were hooked.
Long Way To Go seems like a pretty standard R’n’R tune but bass player Dennis Dunaway’s Black Juju is the turning point for Alice Cooper. It started with drums building up, I guess to sound like a freaky African jungle, then an eerie keyboard and cutting guitar. This really was the start of a different side of the band, Furnier’s growl and interesting musical parts with a back drop of theatre. Spooky reverb, “Bodies” he sings, this is where the death fascination started in their lyrics. Corpses and worm ridden cadavers, a love of horror films pervades their coming years. I imagine that in 1971 this was controversial but for some reason Vincent Price managed to portray an acceptable monstrous persona along with Christopher Lee as Dracula in the Hammer Horror classics. The public didn’t seem to get AS upset by the slaughtering of young virgins by manipulative older men as they did by men in make up with long hair dressed in their Mum’s clothes, screaming about death and insanity in an aggressive and loud manner – this wasn’t the movies, this was real.
Cindy Dunaway was Neil Smith’s sister and Dennis Dunaway’s wife, there’ s always a woman behind bands that look like this Ha Ha!! Androgyny, electric chairs, blood, gore. What’s not to like? It was the beginning of big hits , massive tours and stage spectaculars as I’m Eighteen rose up the charts. Is it My Body was the B side of the single, a pretty straight forward song but with a great vocal performance and fantastic twin riffing guitars – this band had attitude.
The irreverent Hallowed Be Thy Name was written by the band’s drummer Neal Smith, I guess that explains the rhythms in the song but it must have appealed to Vince’s sensibilities being the son of a preacher, but on the subject of religion, Cooper wrote the next song Second Coming with more religious overtones. Although by this point they had been most noted for their looks, their stage shows, their drinking and that irreverence, for me it’s all the musical passages and the guitars that make them special. Two guitars with great tones and guitar lines, packed full of themes, ideas and epic instrumental passages that they would develop to huge creative success on their next album Killer and to even bigger commercial success on the following album School’s Out.
Second Coming runs into Ballad Of Dwight Fry with little girl voice. Fry (Frye) was an actor from the thirties who played Dracula and various weird insane characters. This song is written through the eyes of one of those characters. Again the guitar parts are inventive, Furnier’s insane “I gotta get outta here” pleas and shouts, over an otherworldly keyboard ending in an explosion and backwards guitar chords are captivating. It continues way after you think it’s done, strange guitars and Vincent Price like delivery. At 6.33 along with Black Juju’s 9 minutes it’s an album highlight. Bizarrely it goes straight into and ends the album with Rolf Harris’ Sun Arise.
Love It To Death 1971, Killer 1971, School’s Out 1972, Billion Dollar Babies 1973, Muscle Of Love 1973. By the patchy Muscle of Love the band was disintergrating and although songs were band credited you can hear Dick Wagner playing all the solos on the first track, a signal that a change was about to come – the band was gone by 1975’s Welcome To My Nightmare replaced by Lou Reed’s R’n’R Animal band that included Wagner and Steve Hunter on guitars, Prakash John on bass and Pentti “Whitey” Glan on drums, amongst others. A sad end to a brilliant band but from 1971-1973 – they were the nazz…