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Originally Published: August 2005
Author: Martin Popoff
Yes, shine on... an aged but unbowed Alice Cooper is still making spirited, vital records. 38 years after his first coupla' singles, still greatly participating in life, still energetic and disarming in conversation, heck, still touring Australia, which is where the man called from to dicuss his shook-down, stripped-down latest record Dirty Diamonds.
"It's great, oh yeah," begins Alice, asked whether Australia shows the love. "We've been here many times. This is a big Alice town. We showed up at the airport last night, and they're all at the airport and then they were at the hotel. It's going to be one of those days where you can't go anywhere because of them being everywhere (laughs). And that, to me, is not a problem. But I'll bet you're warmer than we are here, we're in wintertime here."
That shouldn't prove much of an issue to Alice and his white-hot band of young racehorses, especially given the warm, old school, glam rock tones of the new record, the second in a row that espouses a certain shake and bake method to fortunate results, The Eyes of Alice Cooperfrom late '03 going to similar summery places.
"Yes, this is definately part two," says Alice. "I mean, not officially, but it's the same theory on this one, which is write a song, record the song, put the song to bed. I'm a very big advocate of, if you're going to do an album like this, the first thing you're getting from the band is going to be the best thing you get. Let the band be the band. When you hear the record, don't let it be a slick, overly produced version of the band. This band is so good live, that, you know, I saw we write the song, let them record the song live, in the studio, take 20 takes, take the best take. On The Eyes of Alice Cooper, I wouldn't let anybody go in and do any overdubs, but on this one I'm saying, OK, we can add a guitar, or we can add this or that, but, we're not going to change the basic tracks. Because I want to hear a band feel through everything. So I put all the pressure on the writing and on the performance, rather than production. And that way, you get 12 great songs, other than, you know, nine songs and three fillers that you have to work on to make them into songs. I hear that a lot, I hear records where I go, OK, here's half the song, and they decided, well, we like the chorus on that song, so let's just keep adding stuff until the verse sounds okay (laughs)."
Hence, Dirty Diamonds, "because that's what they are. All of them are little gems that have been left upolished. If Bob Ezrin was going to produce this album, we would have been in the studio for three months, and we would have been really working hard on each section of each bit where it would've been a different album. It would have sounded like Billion Dollar Babies of School's Out, and I would've went 'OK, that's great. That's not what I wanted to do right now.' Right now I'd rather take the songs, and like I said, make it sound liek a garage band, but a really good garage band. Because you know, bascially, every good hard rock band is a garage band. I think the Stones were a great garage band - AC/DC, Guns N' Roses, Aerosmith - every guitar band tha is out there making it, was probably a great garage band. Jet is a great garage band."
And man, the guy has really gotten to the point where he's not afraid to turn in an oddball, excellent sort of trip much akin to his golden era records. The Eyes was a cool record, a good start, a welcome change from the mechanistic, apocalyptic concept spreads dominated and stifled by producer Bob Marlette. But The Eyes was closer to a Slash solo record, a modern take on '70s rock. As brave as that album was, Dirty Diamonds is much braver.
"Definately, yeah," affirms Alice. "And the thing is, in all honesty, I could put every one of these songs in a hat, pick one out and say, that's the single. And one of them could be a song I would pick as the song to be on the radio. It is definately eccentric and eclectic, as far as... you can almost take each song and pick an old Alice album and put it on that album. Which is great. If anything, I've captured Alice on this album (laughs)."
And graphically at the end of weird, there's 'The Saga Of Jesse Jane', a wild west transvestite tale vibed like 'Desperado'. What gives? "Well, that one's great, because, it was one of those songs that was borne out of working on a song, or two songs, all day. And then somebody coming up with a country western riff, and somebody just starting off singing 'I was born in a Texas town' like Johnny Cash. Pretty soon it ended up being Jesse Jane; the play on words again, Jesse James into Jesse Jane. All of a sudden it was what it was, and it became one of the classic Alice songs on the album. We just kept writing and going, 'No, no, more country; go more Johnny Cash on this. Steel guitar, let's put a steel guitar on it.' And I like having at least one novelty song. On Eyes, it was 'The Song That Didn't Rhyme', and the funny thing is, when I go to Europe, this is the first song they'll mention."
"I'm a car addict," laughs Alice, when prompted for a little look-see into one at the other end of the spectrum, the Kiss-like 'Steal That Car'. "I think I've gone through ten cars in the last year or two years. I'm driving an Aston Martin DB7, which I'll never get rid of, because it's the best car I've ever had. I mean, I'm building a '66 GTO right now. A friend of mine, and my son and I have got a company together, where we build old cars and then sell them at the big auctions. And to me, it's just a great hobby,. I like to build them, drive them, then sell them. It's just something I really enjoy doing. My son and I... it keeps us close. But at the same time, we love finding old cars and saying, 'OK, this one's doable; let's do this one.' And it doesn't matter what it is, as long as it's a '60s or '70s muscle car. 'Steal That Car' is just borne out of that. I go to these big auctions and I'm sitting there looking at the Ferrais and stuff, and I'm going, 'OK, I'm going to steal that car' (laughs). And then that song was, let's do a sort of hard rock rockabilly. It's such a great riveting guitar riff, and on stage it's unbelievable. We put that right next to 'Under My Wheels', so they really connect up nice."
What else is in the driveway?
"Let me see, there's a little runaround Porsche there, that I kind of use every day. A '60 Shelby Mustang, grabber orange. Problem is, at this time of year it just overheats like crazy. So I drive that in the wintertime. But of course, that's one of my prizes there. Anything that's a '60s classic is something that I go for. And my son's got a Mustang Mach 1."
Heaviest track on Dirty Diamonds - on what is perhaps Alice's least metal record since the early '80s - would be the maurading, QOSTA-styled title track - very cool, very weird. Sez Cooper, "When I think of how Alice connects up, cinematography to song, I tried to make that sound like a soundtrack for a movie that hasn't be written yet. If there was a movie like, lock, stock and two smoking barrels, and it was called Dirty Diamonds, this would be the soundtrack for it. We wanted it to sound like either a heist movie or a little bit of James Bond in there, and then on stage, it explodes. There is no movie called Dirty Diamonds, but there should be - I've written the whole script in the lyrics (laughs)."
It's strange that we should be applauding a record from Alice that doesn't burn rubber all the time, but if you look back at the most beloved albums from the band, those records between 1971 and 1974 - six in less than five years - they were hugely eclectic, all manner of the hugely frightening live show. So which of those old records does Dirty Diamonds mirror or emulate most?
"Oh wow, that's interesting, becuase, it really could be a Killer-type album. And Love It To Death had a lot of those songs like 'Long Way To Go', stuff like that. 'Sunset Babies' which is another one that could be a single, reminds me of certain things from that era. Thatsong was just truly borne out of the fact that every picture I see of every little Hollywood starlet, they've got one of these little Chihuahuas in their hands. So yeah, 'sunset babies all have rabies,' and then there's that secondary thought that they're all capable of biting you and giving you a disease (laughs). At the same time, on stage, we gave Britney a break this year - she's pregnant; she has her own problems. You know, you always attack somebody when they're on top, when they can fight back. Britney can't fight back right now. But Paris, Paris just walked right into the crossfire, and so, Calico (Alice's daughter - part of the live show) this year, instead of Britney she's doig Paris, and of course the Chihuahua does rip her throat out, much to everyone's delight.
From the bottom end, straight to the top
To commemorate our first cover story with Alice Cooper, we thought we'd gather a few reminiscences from a member of the classic line-up besides Alice himself. Bassist Dennis Dunaway first met Alice in high school in 1963, both being ardent long-distance runners. Dennis proceeded to ply the fat strings on all of the band's golden era records up until 1974's Muscle Of Love. Currently, Dennis is finishing a solo album (good friend Ian Hunter from Mott The Hoople is included in the mix), as well as working on live dates and a second live record with BDS, which includes in the ranks Joe Bouchard (ex-Blue Oyster Cult) and Neal Smith, drummer on the classis Alice Coooper albums (see www.nealsmith.com for more).
On deciding the band had, in fact, "made it"...
"Well, the Alice Cooper group had a lot of detractors throughout. We had a lof of people who hated us and weren't afraid to let us know at any chance they got. So it was hard to all of a sudden think that we had made it. Also, all of our profits basically went back into our massive staging. No band before had their own stage, or even lighting on the road. If you think about it, Hendrix, The Who, none of those bands; they would show up and use whatever lighting was available and whatever staging was there. So, a lot of our money went back in. So, financially I couldn't say we had made it. Until we played the Hollywood Bowl. When we went back to LA as a successful band and played the Hollywood Bowl, that was the night I said, 'Well, I have to admit that we've made it' (laughs). Elton John was there that night, and he was backstage raving about our costumes. And that had a lot to do... all of a sudden he was flamboyant from that night on."
On the perils of playing live...
"Alice would point his cane at the audience and this flame would shoot out above their heads, and that would kick the show off. But we were safety-conscious. This wasn't really pyro like a charge; it was a flash paper, like magicians use. We could have been the first band to use later beams, which Blue Oyster Cult ended up doing, but we were concerned about the safety factor, so we passed on that, as well as other things. Our show had this dangerous look to it, but we didn't really throw anything into the audience that would hurt anyone. A lot of people threw things back that would hurt us. I mean, Glen went to the hospital one time because someone threw a hammer and hit him in the knee. Neal got a dart in his back one time. In Toledo, Michael Bruce had an M80 thrown and it blew up right next to his head."
"We got this guy in Detroit we called Larry The Chicken Man, to go out and get chickens, and then they would all of a sudden appear on top of Glen's amp, and then the thing was, we decided, as a band, that we wouldn't acknowledge that they were there at all. It was like, 'What chickens? We don't know about any chickens in here.' And then the thing that was funny, that I loved, was that these chickens would sit on top of the amps, and then Glen would do these kinds of chicken-sounding noises, and then the chickens would actually tilt their heads like they were trying to understand what he was saying. These weren't in cages; they were just walking around on stage. And that's when we got the ideas to blow the feathers, to make it look like the chickens were... that something exciting was happening to the chickens."
"The famous story was when the snake pulled up missing, becuase it was in Alice's bathroom. They couldn't find the snake, and we had moved on to the next gig. And the next thing you knew, we read in the paper that it had come up in a different rooom in the hotel, in Charley Pride's room. He freaked out becuase the snake came up out of his toilet, and evidently is had gone down the toilet in Alice's room. But as far as any other problems... I think it was in Pasadena, wherever the Queen Mary used to be parked, in California. Anyway, our snake had just eaten or something, so right after it eat, or right when it was ready to be fed, we wouldn't use it on stage. But we had this big gig there, so Warner Bros. said they would supply a snake. So there was this big basket on the floor of the limousine, and we're riding to the gig, and everybody is kind of bored, and it was like 'Well, you wanna look at the snake?' 'Yeah, let's look at the snake'. And we look in this basket and it's solid snake. This was the biggest snake I'd ever seen in my life. It's like, 'Woah, wait a minute, what's going on here?!' And during the show, when the roadies ot this snake out of the basket, there were like five guys trying to manhandle this snake out to the stage. So they walked it to Alice, Alice sang to the snake, and then they went backstage and spent the rest of the night trying to get this snake back in the basket. That one wasn't a boa constrictor; it was an anaconda. That thing... I bet it was 20 feet long."