Saturday, 20 October 2018

Alice Cooper

Before becoming the theatrically ghoulish figure that everyone is familiar with, and several successful albums, Alice Cooper had two "pre-grisly fame" albums, they were.... 

Pretties For You (1969)

An album that has virtually been completely forgotten for us here - this was an eminently forgettable, nigh on unlistenable attempt at a psychedelic rock album, featuring snippets of songs in places and a poor sound quality. It contains little or no particularly memorable at all. Admittedly, there are probably just a few fleeting moments, here and there - the grinding 
Living and the psych guitar swirl of Fields Of Regret -
  but nothing that gets me wanting to return to it anytime soon. What ever Alice Cooper was trying to be - both musically and stylistically - he definitely hadn't hit upon it yet.

Easy Action (1970) 

The second of these early albums is by far the better of the two, having a much heavier, attractively riffy rock approach, a deeper, warmer bass sound and a bit more of Cooper's personality making itself known (but nothing approaching how he would develop over subsequent years). I can listen to this, at a push, and can hear small signs of what The Alice Cooper Band would become, but the debut album was pretty much dispensible. 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...

Love It To Death (1971)
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 HoopleI’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. Long Way To Go is a fast-paced punky number five years before punk. The guitar and bass runs are pure punk, however, even before The New York Dolls. Check out that punky drumming too. I’m sure The Vibrators and Eddie & The Hot Rods had listened to this. Both The Ramones and The Sex Pistols latterly cited I’m Eighteen as highly influential.

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. Hallowed Be Thy Name sees Cooper deliver one of his supposedly sacreligious songs that so vexed parents back in the early seventies. It is once again very Doors-influenced. It has some excellent percussion on it near the end too. Second Coming starts with Cooper sounding just like Paul McCartney against a piano backing, before the huge clunky guitar kicks in. It is another quasi-religious questioning rant. It segues via some classical-influenced piano into the epic and unusual Ballad Of Dwight Fry that belies description. there are all sorts of things mixed up in it, heavy guitar riffs, singalong refrains, madcap ranting, melodic piano, strange sound effects, countless changes of pace. It is a bit of a difficult listen, but also a quite intoxicating one. What is was about, though, I guess only Alice and co-writer Michael Bruce knew. 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.

Killer (1971)

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. 

Halo Of Flies is one of those mini-rock opera type songs that Cooper specialised in at the time - eight minutes plus of all manner of changes of pace, great guitar riffs, bass lines, hooks and weird noises. It appealed to those fans who wanted a bit of “prog-rock” type organ and indulgent drawn-out instrumental passages, while the short, sharp rock numbers kept the burgeoning “glam rock” market happy. I remember at the time that us boys at school who loved BowieMott 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 PistolsYeah Yeah Yeah is another guitar-driven one than wouldn’t have sounded out of place in 1976-77. In fact, I read that Johnny Rotten called this album the “greatest rock album of all time”. Alice liked to shock, of course, and duly comes up with the menacing, creepy Dead Babies which has echoes of both The DoorsTelevision 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 (1972)

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. 

Gutter Cat Vs. The Jets is like something from the New York stage, a madcap mini rock opera. It paraphrases lines from West Side Story. To be honest it doesn’t really work for me. It is all a bit messy. I would rather they stuck to their straight ahead rock, but they always liked to put a few tracks like this on every album. The track merges straight into the short bass workout of Street FightThe old “side one” ended with the soulful, mysterious ambience of Blue Turk, with its slightly jazzy and funky stylings. It ends with a trumpet solo, some jazz guitar and sumptuous bass-percussion. All very Broadway. The campness is just a little overdone at times, and I sort of miss the outright rock of Love It To Death and Killer, but I also admire them for trying something slightly different.

My Stars is another mini-epic with some of that almost “prog rock” indulgence that always separated Cooper from the BowiesT. RexsMott 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. 
Public Animal #9 is rhythmic and full of some trademark riffs and returns to the proto-garage rock sound so appealing on their previous two albums. Alma Mater has Cooper sounding like Paul McCartney (not for the first time). At the end Cooper asks his old scholmates to “remember “The Coop”…”. I’m sure they did, probably as Vincent Furnier, however. 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.

Billion Dollar Babies (1973)

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 David Bowie's Aladdin SaneMott The Hoople's 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. Raped And Freezin' is tasteless lyrically - "hey I think we gotta live one..." but its Latin-tinged rock rhythms and verses are impossibly catchy. One of my favourites on the album.

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. 
Unfinished Sweet features some agonising "dentist drill" guitar, a powerful heavy riff and traditional rock vocal. It is also has a lengthy instrumental part that features some James Bond Theme-fashion guitar bits and also a fabulous, dramatic rock finale. It is an enjoyable, preposterous romp, to be honest. 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. Generation Landslide is probably the most credible, "serious" rock song on the album. Thereafter, though, it is back to shock and show. Sick Things plays up the "I'm one evil, sick, twisted whatever" thing for all it's worth, as indeed does the necrophiliac anthem I Love The Dead, again, all hammed up for shock value. Alice was a bit of a weird artist, but he had an unorthodox, anti-establishment appeal. A sort of punk before punk.

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