I was listening to Alice Cooper’s syndicated radio show recently on Boston’s WZLX and was thinking what a great life this guy has now. Of course he had to give up drinking, but in exchange he still gets to rock when the mood strikes him, does his own radio show from his house in Arizona once a week and plays golf the rest of the time. Give or take a couple of Mexican drug cartels encroaching on his personal space, he’s living large. Sounds like a good life to me. Long before Shock Rockers like Marilyn Manson and Rob Zombie began to get a foot hold in the business in the late 90′s, there was Alice Cooper. Before Kiss went behind the mask of makeup there was Alice Cooper. Before Glam Rockers The New York Dolls were calling for a Showdown, there was Alice Cooper. I know I’m not the only Alice Cooper fan on the planet. I saw Gov’t Mule cover “Is It My Body” a couple of summers ago and just about lost my voice singing along. I never ever get sick of hearing “I’m Eighteen” either. What a great tune. In fact, none other than The Sex Pistol’s Johnny Lydon, the man who loves to criticize, called Alice’s 1971 album Killer the greatest rock album of all time. Bob Dylan famously called him an overlooked songwriter in a 1978 Rolling Stone Magazine interview. The Flaming Lips and They Might Be Giants are also fans. You can add the late Ronnie James Dio and Roger Daltrey as well.
Ironically, Alice Cooper almost didn’t make it, according to a recent Rockumentary on VH1. A lucky name change in 1966 set the stage for what would become Alice Cooper. The first incarnation of Alice Cooper was named The Nazz, which luckily was also the name of one of Todd Rundgren’s projects at the time. Thank God. Feeling like he needed some type of stage persona and gimmick, the band named themselves Alice Cooper and their lead singer took on the name. Alice Cooper didn’t have a ton of early success even after being introduced to Frank Zappa and his Straight Records label. They famously showed up for a intro rehearsal at Zappa’s house at 7 AM instead of the appointed 7 PM, but Zappa signed them anyway. They didn’t do much in terms of sales initially, but they stumbled on the Shock Rock sch-tick when a live chicken made it’s way onto their stage at The Toronto Rock & Roll Revival Concert in 1969. Alice thought chickens, with wings, could fly so he tossed the thing off the stage into a crowd of handicapped wheelchair fans who, according to our friends at Wikipedia, tore the poor thing to pieces. Naturally Alice was accused of biting the head off the chicken and drinking it’s blood the next day in the papers. Frank Zappa, who called to inquire if any of this was true, advised him to run with the publicity. That certainly predated Ozzie Osbourne’s famous shenanigans.
Two early records; 1969 Pretties For You and 1970′s Easy Action fell pretty flat for Alice Cooper. After years of warming up for bands like The Doors, Alice took their act to Detroit, where today’s birthday boy, Vincent Damon Furnier a/k/a Alice Cooper, was born on February 4, 1948. Detroit was a little more tolerant of “different” acts than laid back Los Angeles has been. A second 1970 album called Love It To Death had a hit single called “I’m Eighteen” and Warner Brothers was impressed enough to buy the rights to Alice Cooper from Zappa and Straight Records. Wouldn’t you know it? Alice Cooper began to take off behind “I’m Eighteen” and “Is It My Body.” Amazing what a little promotion can do when mixed with a Rock loving blue collar audience. I’m always amazed at how bands used to release three and four albums inside for 24 months. It’s almost like if they didn’t buy the first one, what makes them think more spending will change anything? Bands like Creedence Clearwater Revival and Steppenwolf seemed to be releasing a new LP every six to eight months in the late 60′s. It was particularly irritating when the same song appeared on consecutive records. I guess consolidating the quality and making the public hungry for more caught on many years later. Nowadays they still love you if you leave ‘em hanging for years it seems. Fans of bands like U2 starving for product congregate like piranhas when a new release appears. Hey, if you’ve earned it I guess.
Back to Alice; the second 1971 release Killer had three awesome tracks called “Under My Wheels, Desperado (one of my all time favorite Cooper tracks) and Be My Lover (also tremendous).” Four albums in, Alice Cooper, with all the on stage antics, was a household name. Who knew young Vincent would hang on for 40 more years and a trip to The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame? In 1972 Alice Cooper had a quantifiable smash hit with the deliciously juvenile “School’s Out.” This twelve year old was rocking rather hard back in the day now. School’s Out the LP, could conceivably be seen as a step back from Killer, but nobody noticed. “School’s Out” was as big a hit by a “new” band as you are ever going to see. Everybody loved that track. Today, with Cooper’s monstrous catalogue down to about four or five singles thanks to relentlessly monotonous Classic Rock radio format, folks have forgotten how great records like 1973′s Billion Dollar Babies was. Look, 1973 was long long time ago, but nobody has any trouble remembering Dark Side of The Moon do they? The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars? There wasn’t that much competition in 1973 so it’s kind of hard to figure how Billion Dollar Babies got lost in the awesomeness of that particular year. Nobody bought Houses of The Holy, Innvervisions, Raw Power, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Selling England By The Pound, Greetings From Asbury Park, Band On The Run, Tubular Bells, Aladin Sane, Quadrophenia, Pronounced Leh-nerd Skin-nerd, Berlin, Catch a Fire, Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, Countdown To Ecstasy, Let’s Get It On, The Harder They Come, Overnite Sensation, The New York Dolls, Lark’s Tongues is Aspic, Desperado, Brain Salad Surgery, Here Come The Warm Jets, Closing Time, Tres Hombres, Tales of Topographic Oceans, Queen’s debut album, For Your Pleasure, Stranded, The Captain and Me, Grand Hotel, A Wizard, A True Star, Mott, Piano Man, Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only The Piano Player, Aerosmith’s debut album, Wake of The Flood, The Smoker You Drink, The Player You Get, Mystery To Me, Pin Up, Past, Present & Future, Tyranny & Mutation, Goat’s Head Soup, The Six Wives of Henry The VIII, Dixie Chicken, Brothers & Sisters, Abandoned Luncheonette, Mind Games, For Everyman or Janis Joplin’s Greatest Hits that I know do you? I own ALL of them! Are you FREAKIN’ Kidding Me? No wonder Alice’s best album got kind of lost in the sauce huh? I can’t believe it wasn’t album of the year (he said facetiously).
In 1975 Alice’s Welcome To My Nightmare boasted the hit single “Only Women Bleed,” but Alice Cooper the hit making machine began to fade. The bottle took it’s toll, but if you believe the VH1 Rockumentary Vincent had a tough time separating himself from one of Rock’s all time great characters. You try being Alice 24 x 7. I can barely be John that much. I loved Welcome To My Nightmare, but I understand the decision to take that particular show on the road knocked the stuffing out of our hero. I don’t know if played up the mental instability part of his legend to the hilt or what, but there are tons of fans that love him for what he did after 1975, which is kind of amazing to me. Whatever the case, the Alice Cooper legend has long since been cemented on the plus side. I’ll be a fan ’til I’m six feet under and I know I’m not the only one. His little anecdotes on his radio show are priceless. I just wish it wasn’t on Saturday nights. It’s not quite Bob Dylan’s show on XM or Sirius where he can play whatever he wants, I hear way too many hits from the regular programming for my tastes, but it’s still fun to listen to Alice tell his stories. Lord knows he’s got a boat full of them. Happy Birthday Alice from The Giant Panther.
Buy or Download Monsters & Mascara: The Best of Alice Cooper From Amazon Here.