Before becoming the theatrically ghoulish figure that everyone is familiar with, Alice Cooper had two "pre-grisly fame" albums, they were -
Titanic Overture/10 Minutes Before The Worm/Sing Low, Sweet Cheerio/Today Mueller/Living/Fields Of Regret/No Longer Umpire/Levity Ball/B. B. On Mars/Reflected/Apple Bush/Earwigs To Eternity/Changing Arranging
The best tracks are Mr. & Misdemeanor, the Beatles-esque Shoe Salesman, the groovy, rhythmic Below Your Means, the beautifully bassy Laughing At Me and the grungy Refrigerator Heaven. After this, everything started to change, with the release of...
Caught In A Dream/I'm Eighteen/Long Way To Go/Black Juju/Is It My Body/Hallowed By Thy Name/Second Coming/Ballad Of Dwight Fry/Sun Arise
Alice Cooper’s first two albums were sort of late sixties psychedelic/acid rock trippy stuff that felt a bit unfulfilled, not quite sure of what direction to go in, despite a few hints on the second album. This is their third offering and it is the one which saw the band start to develop their true rock identity. It is a mixture of short, sharp three minute impressive riff-driven rock numbers with two longer, slightly indulgent exercises and one somewhat bizarre cover. A bit like Doors albums, in that "couple of long tracks/mostly short tracks" respect.
Caught In A Dream is an excellent, riffy, rocking opener, sort of Rolling Stones meets Mott The Hoople. I’m Eighteeen continues the quality rock with one of Cooper’s best early tracks. It is full of great guitar, bluesy in places and rock in others and Cooper’s vocal is starting to show that leery quality he traded on for so many subsequent years.
Black Juju is nine minutes long, very Doors-like in places (Alice’s menacing vocal) and mysterious too. All a bit prog-rock in places, particularly in the swirling organ breaks, but it is certainly not without its good points. The quiet, whispered bit half way through is unneccessary and indulgent, the track could do without it, to be honest.
The riffy rock is back with the Cooper classic Is It My Body. It has airs of Free and Led Zeppelin about it, plus Cooper’s own unique stamp.
The track morphs into the strange cover of Rolf Harris’s Outback-inspired Sun Arise. Funnily enough it sort of works, with its tribal drum sound and pulsating bass rhythms. This was a little-mentioned, but highly-influential album and one well worth checking out.
Under My Wheels/Be My Lover/Halo Of Flies/Desperado/You Drive Me Nervous/Yeah Yeah Yeah/Dead Babies/Killer
After an underrated rock album in early 1971’s Love It To Death, Alice Cooper was back at the end of the year with another solidly impressive offering.
The first two tracks are superb Stonesy, riffy rockers - Under My Wheels, enhanced by some saxophone for the first time and the barnstorming Be My Lover, which is absolutely packed full of, dare I say, “killer” riffs.
I remember at the time that us boys at school who loved Bowie, Mott The Hoople and Roxy Music liked the riffier Cooper material, but were a bit wary of him when he went “prog”-ish. That was for the boys who wore greatcoats and ike ELP. Cooper sort of crossed over between the two. A track that sort of summed that up was Desperado, which had a rock attack to it, but also some noodling orchestration and a few vaguely pretentious bits. The final track, Killer, was also a bit directionless in places (despite its atmosphere), in contrast with the two openers, which were both beautifully succinct in their rock perfection.
You Drive Me Nervous was back to riffage on a searing proto-punk song in whch you can hear The New York Dolls and The Sex Pistols.
Alice liked to shock, of course, and duly comes up with the menacing, creepy Dead Babies which has echoes of both The Doors, Television and the sort of thing Siouxsie & The Banshees would do several years later. Parts of it of are even “post punk”, would you believe. Throw in a few lyrics about graveyards and the like and the song was guaranteed to appall the older generation. That was the intention at the time, long before punk. Funnily enough, under all the shlock, the song’s message was an anti-child abuse one. Nobody saw that, however. The tabloids and some MPs (both Tory and Labour) had a field day warning of this artist who was “out to corrupt our children”. Cooper was thoroughly despised by the “respectable” elder generation in the early seventies, for a while, at least.
Unfortunately, in some ways, all that messing around with snakes and guillotines on stage detracted somewhat from the fact that Alice Cooper, in this era, put out some seriously good rock albums.
School's Out/Luney Tune/Gutter Cat Vs. The Jets/Street Fight/Blue Turk/My Stars/Public Animal #9/Alma Mater/Grand Finale
Now starting to build a solid reputation as a rock band, after two impressive albums in Love It To Death and Killer, Alice Cooper and his band now found themselves crossing over into the gaudy world of “glam rock” as well. This suited a showman like Cooper fine and they full embraced it all. This is by far the most “theatrical” of the Cooper albums so far, almost playing like a sort of concept album, with some very “stagey” songs. In that respect it was a bit of a strange album, but it sort of set the tone for the grandiose glam theatre of Billion Dollar Babies. As you can see below, the original album came complete with a pair of see-thru pink (or sometimes white) panties.
The album still has some of their naturally instinctive rock sound, however, kicking off with the massive number one riffy glam single School’s Out. It sticks out against the rest of the album somewhat, it has to be said. It is one hell of a track too.
Luney Tune is a sort of Doors meets T.Rex over a riffy but also orchestrated backing, with some superb rock guitar in the middle. It is a marvellous piece of glammy, showy fluff.
My Stars is another mini-epic with some of that almost “prog rock” indulgence that always separated Cooper from the Bowies, T. Rexs, Mott The Hooples and Roxy Musics, catering to his different fan base. It is full of inventive guitar, crazy vocals, mad pace at times but desite its vibrant appeals, I am never sure what the point of it was. Again, despite that, it is enjoyable and well delivered, instrumentally. The Cooper band were underrated musicians.
Grande Finale is an excellent slice of funky, horn-driven instrumental rock to end things off. It is like the finale of a stage musical, as the cast all get ready to take their bows. It has been an odd album, but a strangely fun, experimental one.
Hello Hooray/Raped And Freezin'/Elected/Billion Dollar Babies/Unfinished Sweet/No More Mr. Nice Guy/Generation Landslide/Sick Things/Mary Ann/I Love The Dead
1973's Billion Dollar Babies was the only really big album for Alice Cooper, every parent's bete noire in the early seventies. The supposed corruptor of the nation's youth crammed the album full of largely upbeat rock songs predictably covering taboo subjects like rape, necrophilia, blasphemy, horror and even fear of the dentist's drill. Forgetting all that over the top, showy schlock for a while, this was actually a very good rock album - heavy enough to keep the hard rockers happy but catchy and commercial enough to appeal to the chart rock and "glam" fans. I remember myself and at least three other of my friends had this album, along with Aladdin Sane, Mott and Free's Heartbreaker. It was extremely popular among teenage boys, it seemed.
The opener, Hello Hooray, is actually a cover version of a musical show-type song that Alice wanted as a sort of overblown intro to his latest creation. It works too - dramatic and featuring an over the top vocal and some great guitar.
My all-time favourite, though is, the first 45rpm single I ever actually went out and bought - Elected. I can still remember my excitement as I put it on the turntable, lowered the stylus and my father, surprisingly, allowed me to listen to it on his stereo system. It was late 1972, not many people had access to a stereo system. The sound of that introductory guitar riff and the drums booming out was incredible. I was hooked on amplified rock music ever since. I also loved the fact that various media commentators and stuffy Tory MPs loathed Cooper. He would do for me, if only for that. He was pictured on the inner sleeve holding up a distinctly uncomfortable-looking baby complete with Alice Cooper eye make up and a leering Cooper and his band looking as if they are about to indulge in some shocking ritual. Even at fourteen, I knew it was all for show. I couldn't understand why the older generation got so uptight about it.
Billion Dollar Babies is another suitably bad-taste song about eating babies or whatever. Never mind, it had a barnstorming drum sound.
No More Mr. Nice Guy was a hit single - a Stonesy/Mott The Hoople riff-dominated rocker about a preacher laying into Alice for his hypocrisy.