Classic Rock

Classic Rock - June 2006

Classic Rock
(June 2004)

Originally Published: June 2004

Billion Dollar Babies

Their outrageous behaviour prompted a statement in the House of Commons and their songs thrilled a generation. Classic Rock talks to Alice Cooper, Dennis Dunaway, Neal Smith and Michael Bruce about how their band survived the golden age of decadence.

Author: Ian Fortman

Forget Marilyn Manson, forget the Sex Pistols; when it came to shocking the self-appointed guardians of international morality to the core, Alice Cooper pretty much wrote the handbook. Flaunting a sketch past swathed in urban legend and cunningly fabricated falsehoods concerning witches, ouija boards, dismembered chickens, blurred genders and necrophilia, Alice Cooper succeeded in outraging the forces of decency to an unprecedented degree over the course of his casual early-70s transition from cult notoriety to mainstream ubiquity.

Cooper's infamy was such that in May 1973 Leo Abse, the incumbent Labour MP for Pontypool, spluttered in the House of Commons: I regard his [Cooper's] act as in incitement to infanticide for his sub-teenage audience. He is deliberately trying to involve these kids in sado-masochism. He is peddling the culture of the concentration camp. Pop is one thing, anthems of necrophilia are another."

The nation's leading censorial nanny figure, Mary Whitehouse, head of the National Viewers' and Listeners' Association, offered eager support to Abse's campaign to ban Alice Cooper from returning to the UK. But as public reaction veered in the general direction of hysteria, sales of 'Billion Dollar Babies' (Cooper's most provocative recording to date) soared stratospherically; then, as now, controversy sells, and in 1973 nobody was selling more than Alice Cooper.

Of course, back in those days Alice Cooper were a band; five individuals who had translated a shared fascination for the mop-tops and the macabre into a million-dollar industry that had not only bought them universal vilification as depraved, corruptive pariahs, but also celebrity beyond their wildest dreams.

The quintet's story begins innocently enough in Phoenix, Arizona, when track athlete Vincent Furnier is volunteered to organize the Cortez High School's autumn 1964 Letterman Talent Show. Unfortunately no one seems to boast ant discernible talent, so Vince encourages some friends to take the stage as The Earwigs where they mime along to Beatles records while wearing Beatles wigs.

Guitarist Glen Buxton can actually play his instrument. And while drummer John Speer fumbles his way around the rudiments of percussion, bassist Dennis Dunaway hones his craft with the benefit of some valuable lessons from Glen. The Earwigs metamorphose into The Spiders; they play local Battle Of The Bands shows; and they replace their departing rhythm guitarist John Tatum with ex-Cortez High football star Michael Bruce of The Trolls.

Following a move to LA in spring ’67, the fledgling Coopers, now known as The Nazz (but not for long, thanks to Todd Rundgren’s band of the same name), replace John Speer with fellow Phoenix émigré Neal Smith and set about endearing themselves to the Sunset Strip in-crowd by hosting regular séances.

Soon enough – now that they’re mixing in a social circle that includes The Doors' Jim Morrison and Love's Arthur Lee – Miss Christine (of The GTOs: Girls Together Outrageously, the world’s first all-female rock band) arranges for the band to audition for Frank Zappa's Straight label. The somewhat over-eager Cooper famously turn up for their 6:30pm appointment at 6.30am, but find their naïve tenacity amply rewarded when Zappa offers them a record deal.

Two days after changing their name to Alice Cooper they are taken on as the house support band at the 20,000-capacity Cheetah Ballroom, where they gradually build a following in spite of the fact that their vocalist – having ditched the name Vince in favour of the infinitely more noteworthy Alice – had taken to wearing full make-up and a pink clown costume.

Gradually, the winning Alice Cooper formula takes shape, and after recording a brace of feet-finding collections on Zappa's Straight imprint (1969’s 'Pretties For You' and '70's 'Easy Action') the band signed to Warner Brothers and, with Canadian whiz-kid producer Bob Ezrin at the controls, hit the peak of their form with three set-piece collections released in rapid succession: June '71's 'Love It To Death' (the album that shocked America), December '71's 'Killer' (the album that conquered America) and July '72's 'School's Out' (the album that conquered the world).

'School’s Out', bolstered by the enormity of its anthemic title track, quickly attained the accolade of being the biggest-selling album in Warners’ history and, thanks to a frenzied tabloid press virtually foaming at the moth with a level of hyperbolic vitriol unseen since the advent of The Rolling Stones, Alice Cooper became the most newsworthy and controversial band on the planet.

But now came the difficult bit. In the face of blanket condemnation form the great, the good, the humourless, the pious and the post-pubescent, the band needed to consolidate their position. Specifically, they needed to make the greatest album of their career: an over-inflated Grand Guignol masterpiece; an ostentatiously offensive, flashy, crass and unbelievably expensive combination of Herschell Gordon Lewis and Busby Berkeley positively guaranteed to expand the generation gap to Grand Canyon proportions.

In short, they needed to make 'Billion Dollar Babies'.

Following 'School's Out' was always going to be a daunting task, but with band morale at an all-time high no one involved harboured a shred of doubt that they could not only do it, but also do it in style.

"I knew we had a great team," Alice remembers today, "and when you're that age you think you're indestructible. I don't tink we really conceived of how big 'School's Out' was. We were really flying by the seat of our pants back then. But, again, we considered ourselves indestructible, so we didn't feel pressure at all."

Reflecting the dogged buouyancy and inner confidence that kept their spirits high in the face of blanket media condemnation - and also in grand show business tradition of 'if you've got it, flaunt it' - the band elected to celebrate their newly elevated status in the album's title itself.

"The 'Billion Dollar Babies' concept was simply making fun of ourselves," Alice Cooper says in retrospect. "Here was a band nobody would touch three years ago, and now we're the biggest band in the world. We'd look at each other and go: 'We're like billion dollar babies'.

"We were getting voted best band in the world over Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones and The Beatles. We'd look at that and laugh. I almost called up McCartney and said: 'Listen, we didn't vote on this'. Led Zeppelin we would give a run for, but when it came to The Beatles and the Stones we were embarressed to be ahead of them in anything.

"'Billion Dollar Babies' was out most decadent album. It was reflecting the decadence of a time when we were living from limousine to penthouse to the finest of everything including... well, the finest of everything. We couldn't believe people were actually paying us to do this. We would have done it for free, because we were just a garage band who happened to be at the right place at the right time."

Despite gigging themselves to virtual standstill, appearing in every print publication in existance and working on a movie project titled Good To See You Again Alice Cooper (belatedly scheduled for a DVD release this summer through Rhino Home Video), the band were still on a creative high and writing songs of exceptional quality.

"We'd been writing pretty much constantly since 'Easy Action'," Michael Bruce recalls. "So by this point we had really started to come into our own. We were on a upward spiral."

And with this confidence came a desire to push the enevlope even further into the arena of the bizarre.

"Dennis Dunaway had a lot to do with the insanity of the band," Alice admits. "I let Dennis be as surreal as he wanted to be. He and I were both artists in school and were both really into Salvador Dali. Also, Dennis did a lot more... let's just say experimental stuff, than I did."

"I was always the crusader for the avante-garde," Dennis agrees. "Anything that we would come up with that sounded like anyone else, I was always there to change it. So the songs would always be under attack from me if they didn't sound unusual enough."

Making sure that the Coopers' collective vision was realised in the recording studio (no matter how unusual it became) was a man generally regarded to be the band's sixth member, producer Bob Ezrin, who had helped to hone the Alice Cooper sound since 'Love It To Death'.

"It was like two trees growing next to each other." Alice explains "Bob Ezrin was ready to produce a band, and we were ready to get a producer. He was a young guy with a theatrical background, and we were a rock'n'roll band that wanted to be theatrical. Bob Ezrin was our George Martin."

"I don't want to underestimate how important Bob was," Neal cautions, "but I don't want to overestimate it either. In getting out sound on record Bob was hugely important, but 'Billion Dollar Babies' was a team effort. His biggest achievement, I think, was helping create Alice's character. Because between 'Easy Action' and 'Love It To Death' a character evolves vocally that pretty much solidifies into the real Alice Cooper and Bob had a lot to do with that."

"Bob definately came along at the right time," Dunaway says. "Mike Bruce's songwriting had improved leaps and bounds. Neal and I had improved across the board, and Alice's voice had matured - gotten much stronger and less nasal than the early days - but when Bob came along we were still trying to fit a million ideas into each song. It took him to come in and say: 'No, this isn't a song, this a whole album' to finally focus out direction."

The 'Billion Dollar Babies' album was recorded in three stages. Initially a mobile studio from New Yorks Record Plant was parked up outside The Cooper Mansion in Greenwich, Connecticut, and the basic backing tracks were laid down. After a couple of months of furtive recording in between their myriad of other commitments, the band flew to London's Morgan Studios to record overdubs and vocals, then returned to the Record Plant for mixing. Unsurprisingly, given the band's perchant for partying and their choice of friends, the Morgan Studio sessions in London soon played host to drunken, after-hours jams featuring some of the greatest - and indeed the most indulgent - stars of the day.

"We had access to a lot of the stars here," Alice remembers "In fact T.Rex, Donovan, Harry Nilsson, Ringo Starr and Keith Moon are all on that album somewhere, but none of us know where because the session was so drunk."

"Keith Moon would come down with Marc Bolan," Neal Smith recalls. "In fact Alice, me, Keith and Marc were sitting at a table one time when Marc kept on pushing at Keith to be in a band with him, which was so funny because I couldn't imagine a worse combination of two musicians."

"Harry Nilsson had a really negative effect on the session," Dunaway says. "We could have got a lot of great things out of that group of individuals jam-wise, or even for use on the album, if Harry Nilsson hadn't been there, falling drunk on to the mixing board and wrecking it up. The guy could hardly walk, but he'd sit down at a piano and out would come this beautiful voice and beautiful melody. Jeez, I never figured out how he could do that."

Also present at the Morgan sessions were a pair of session guitarist colleagues of Bob Ezrin: Dick Wagner and Steve Hunter who, unknown to many contemporary fans, were often called in to cover for an increasingly ailing and erratic Glen Buxton.

"Hunter and Wagner were definitely on the album," Alice says. "And we wanted everybody to know it. We weren't going to pretend like Glen was playing everything, and be phoney about it, so we gave them a credit. Later on I used them exclusively for 'Welcome To My Nightmare'."

"We knew Dick from Michigan," Michael Bruce says. "There were alwys musicians that were better than us in every studio we went. Having him and Steve on the album wasn't seen as some dark potent of things to come, they were just incredible players. If a library doesn't have a book you want, you just go to another library. We'd already used Dick on 'School's Out' and 'Under My Wheels'."

While in London the band were photographed by David Bailey for the inner sleeve of 'Billion Dollar Babies'. It presented yet another golden opportunity to gleefully taunt their legion of apoplectic detractors, and the band rose manfully to the challenge. Dressed in diaphanous while silk and surrounded by literally stacks of cash, the musicians casually caress albino bunny rabbits, as their singer presents to the camera a live human baby which is naked except for a splattering of trademark Alice Cooper eye make-up.

"Any chance we got to exaggerate anything, we did it," Alice says when considering the revolutionary cover design of 'Billion Dollar Babies'. "We made a giant, billionaire's wallet, and inside it there was a billion-dollar bill: very American; everything big and expensive. And we used the best photographer, the guy we were sure was the guy in Blow Up, because we thought there was going to be models laying naked around the place...and there were a few.

"We brought in a million dollars of real money from Brinks. What you didn't see in that picture were the two guys with machine-guns who were guarding the money. Everything we did was overblown and the British audience loved it. They love this big American band that the MPs just hated. The fact we were flaunting it was even better, because we suffered so much at the hands of the press."

"That cover shoot is actually a recreation of one we did for 'Love It To Death'", Dunaway points out. "We brought a photographer into the farm we had in Pontiac, set up a brass bed in the living room and posed with some white rabbits that my wife Cindy had. Of course, we didn't have the million dollars then. In fact the reason those shots never got used was beacuse we couldn't even afford to pay the photographer's bill."

Directly prior to the release of 'Billion Dollar Babies', a promotional flex-disc single was given away with the February 17 issue of the New Musicial Express. The B-side was short excerpts from the album, while the A-side boasted the exclusive track 'Slick Black Limousine'.

"That was one of the few songs we had laying around," Neal Smith explains. "It was supposed to be an Elvis Presley, rock'n'roll kind of thing, but in the end it got more Cooper-ish, with rolling drums and dark psychedelics."

Finally released in March 1973, 'Billion Dollar Babies', despite being critically crucified for it unprededented lack of taste, entered the UK chart at No.1. Within days, and with the band already out on the road promoting it to the hilt with their soon-to-be record-breaking Billion Dollar Babies Show, the album had replicated the chart-toppoing achievement in the USA.

By now the press were in meltdown. Just four days into the tour Melody Maker announced that Alice had been killed due to a fatal malfunction during his 'I Love The Dead' guillotine finale. Almost as soon as this story was evetually adjudged to be false, yet another urban myth had arrived to take its place around water coolers the world over: apparently the baby in 'B$B' cover shot had been rendered blind by incaustiously applied make-up. (But before you all rush to tell your friends, obviously it hadn't)

The Billion Dollar Babies Show may have been the largest-grossing rock tour in the history of mankind, but it was also one of the most grueling. Flying from city to city for months on end is one thing, but being beheaded twice a night is something else again.

"Again, you're indestructible," Alice explains. "When you're selling out six nights a week and every night there's 15,000 people out there you feel no pain. But underneath I was eroding. You couldn't tell by the stage show, you couldn't tell by my personality, but every night the alcohol became a little bit more like medicine and a little less like fun.

"By the time I was doing '...Nightmare' I was ready to die, go into hospital or have a nervous breakdown. There came a point where every time I saw my costume I would almost start crying and almost throw up."

"The 'Billon Dollar Babies' tour was horrendous the way that it ended up," Mike Bruce grimaces. "It was supposed to be sixty dates in ninety days, but I think it ended up being almost eighty."

"You're pushing yourself on exhaustion," Dunaway adds. "You'd be lucky to get to bed by four in the morning, then you'd have to get up to catch an early flight or drive to the next city. Alice and I were long-distance runners - that's how we met - so we had this keep-going-at-all-costs mentality that pulled us through some situations where a lot of other bands would have given up."

"It was gruelling," Smith concludes, "but it wasn't unbearable... This band lived for the road."

And, of course, road-life did have its moments: "The groupie scene was beyond anything you can imagine," Alice leers. "Go backstage now - if you want to see a bunch of fat guys move amps. But back in the seventies if you went on tour with Rod Stewart and The Faces you'd see anything. It was the golden age of decadence."

Of course, over the years Alice Cooper has ceased to be perceived as a band at all, and is now popularly considered to be an on-stage persona adopted by the artist formerly known as Vince Furnier - a kind of evil Dame Edna, if you will; a Mister Hyde-styled alter ego so immensely dominant that it's all too easy to forget that Vince's golf-loving Docter Jekyll even exists. Until he chums up to Ronnie Corbett on TV, that is.

Yet although the former Furnier retains exclusive custody of the lucrative Cooper brand - and legitimately so, as it was he alone who initially coined the moniker - the actual development of the finer points of the Alice Cooper character was very much a team effort.

"Alice came up with the name," Dunaway says, "and I thought it was a genius idea. It shocked me when he first suggested it, but when I ran it by my parents and saw their mouths drop open I knew it was the name for us.

"The name did belong to the band, but we didn't want people to know that we'd helped Alice develop the character. However, the make-up was my idea, the snake Neal's idea, and the executions were band ideas.

"The Alice character was born of necessity; in the early days of 'Pretties For You' Alice was shy. He had a temporary case of stage fright, where he'd stand with his back to the audience for the whole set, and we weren't sure what to do about it. Then at one rehearsal, when the band was starving in California, I suggested that he develop a different character for each song, because he didn't have a problem with he was on stage being Keith Relf or Mick Jagger, it was only when he was wanted to project.

"So during 'Nobody Likes Me' he was a lonesome guy singing through a window; for 'Levity Ball' a kind of Gloria Swanson, Sunset Boulevard character that developed into a strong part of the Alice Cooper persona. We had a song called 'Fields of Regret' that has this sort of dirge-like sermon in the middle that I think was influenced by Alice's father being a minister, but Alice became this darker, more sinister character for that particular songs. And people loved it, so I said: 'we should write more songs that have that character in them'. It didn't happen overnight, but by the time we got to 'Love It To Death' that concept of the Alice character had really taken root."

Alice, meanwhile, has rationalised his need to attain Cooper-ism thus: "Alice came out because there were all these Peter Pans and no Captain Hook."

He also admits to having based Alice's singular sense of style on Anita Pallenberg's sadistically seductive Black Queen character from Roger Vadim's classic cult fantasy Barberella: "I saw the Black Queen and went: 'That's Alice right there'. Black gloves with switchblades at the end, black make-up, with the eyepatch over her eye... that is so good. Then I'd see something else in a comic book. And as I stitched all these characters together, pretty soon there he was."

Somewhat surprisingly, Alice Cooper were never really perceived as a drug band.

"We were way too American for that," Alice insists. "Too mid-West and to wholesome. We drank, watched football, baseball and horror movies, called our moms, had Thanksgiving dinner and were the most all-American, homespun guys you ever seen in your life. All on the track team, cross-country team, letterman, we were just as wholesome as you could get. Church on Sunday..."

Okay, enough already. But is Alice's memory entirely reliable?

"Put it this way," Neal Smith says: "Alice is the one who went through rehab. I tried everything that was ever around in those days. Michael, Dennis, Glen and I all did. You didn't have to buy it, anywhere we went it was alway there. But I never liked anything as much as drinking beer, and we probably consumed more alcohol than any other band on the planet."

Alice has started drinking in Los Angeles and had drunk constantly ever since. He and Glen Buxton would routinely split a case of beer a day, and Alice would never take to the stage with less than a six-pack inside of him.

But, as luck would have it, he was an uncommonly 'functional' drinker.

"I could get, drink beer all day, but when it came to interviews I would never slur a word and when it came to do TV I knew every line."

"Alice was a real professional drunk," Mike Bruce agrees. "He was always where he was needed to be, and never complained. So it was a bit of a shock to me when he spoke of his alcoholism. I mean, he was always really thin and ghastly looking, so it didn't really sink in."

But while Alice had his drinking under some degree of control, the same could not be said for his drinking partner. "Everybody was worried about Glen," Alice has said, "because Glen was just not progressing. Everybody seemed to be getting better at what they were doing and Glen just wanted to have his drink, his cigarette and just kind of float."

Shortly before the 'Billion Dollar Babies' tour, Glen Buxton's alcoholic over-indulgence cause his pancreas to 'explode'. And following life-saving emergency surgery the guitarist returned to the Cooper Mansion in Connecticut to recuperate. With regular substitute Dick Wagner unavailable Mick Mashbir and keyboard player Bob Dolan were brought in to paste over gaping cracks in the band's live sound.

As has already been established, the battery-recharging sabbaticals enjoyed by today's major stars where simply not an option in the 1970s, and consequently the serious debilitated Alice Cooper soon found themselves back on the recording treadmill. On this occasion, however, not only was Buxton's contribution seriously below par, but Bob Ezrin - who already committed to producing Lou Reed's 'Berlin' - was also out of the equation. As a result, 'Muscle Of Love', the early awaited follow-up to 'Billion Dollar Babies' - was a commerical, as well as creative, catastrophe. That's relatively speaking, of course - it still succeeded in shifting 800,000 copies.

But the band should have been prepared for the worst - they had been warned.

"Bob Ezrin heard the songs and went: 'Guys, this isn't up to par'," Alice admits. "But we were swimming in popularity at that point, we could do no wrong. So it was a perfect example of a band being over-confident. The songs were okay, but put them all together and it didn't work."

"We simply wanted to do an album of great songs," Neal Smith shrugs. "we'd also heard that there was a new James Bond movie coming up, so we wrote 'The Man With The Golden Gun' specifically for that (the band's contribution was ultimately passed over in favour of Lulu). The major differences with 'Muscle Of Love' was that it wasn't a concept album, we didn't have a show based around it. The previous four had all come complete with an accompanying stage show. I guess we just couldn't figure out another way to kill Alice."

"Glen's problems took priority," Dunaway add, "so we weren't able to work on songs as we had before. We had different musicians coming in, and the whole album sounded much more safe because Bob Ezrin wasn't there. He'd always been very tolerant of my interest in pushing the avant-garde, but that's not really Jack Richardson's style."

"As as producer, Jack Richardson was about as close as you could get to a Bob Ezrin," Mike Bruce offers. "He also came from Nimbus 9 Productions in Canada, and had even engineered a couple of our previous albums alongside Bob Ezrin. So it wasn't as a much a matter of what went wrong with 'Muscle Of Love' as what didn't go right.

"We'd insisted on packaging it in a cardboard carton; that was another problem. When we toured it there was a truckers' strike, so we couldn't use out normal stage set; we would often just turn up and play."

With their lead guitarist plummeting into oblivion and their sales figures apparently embarking on a similar course, the Alice Cooper group decided to take a year-long hiatus that has so far lasted for three decades. At least that's how three of them see it.

"They guys were tired of spending all the money on the show," Alice says. "I understand that, but it's what got us there. And they wanted to wear Levi's. So I said: 'If that happens I can't be part of it. I can't be the lead singer in Creedence Clearwater here.'.

"In the end everybody wanted to do their own album. So I went: 'If that's going to happen, I've got to let you know right now that I'm going to take every penny I have and invest it in the next album which was 'Welcome To My Nightmare'. If you thought 'Billion Dollar Babies' was the biggest thing you have ever seen, I want this to be bigger'. So, worried about having to watch their money go down the drain, they said: 'You're on you own', So I said: 'Okay. No hard feelings'. At least we knew where everybody stood. Nobody argued, nobody yelled, everybody just went, okay.

"So they all did their albums, and I took Bob Ezrin, our manager Shep Gordon and said: 'Let's roll the dice. We're either going to be totally broke after this or we're going to be really, really big'. And that's when I started writing '...Nightmare' with Dick Wagner."

"Well, it's not true," Dunaway insists. "Mike, Neal and I did the 'Battle Axe' show [billing themselves as The Billion Dollar Babies] after that, and I think I spent more on that than we had on the previous Alice Cooper tour. So no, that wasn't the reason at all. I also hate that spin about how we refused to wear stage costumes. I mean, who would believe that? Just walking down the street we looked more outrageous than most bands.

"I didn't like the idea of bringing in schooled dancers. I though it would make the show too slick and take away the raw edge that was our power. Neither did I like the idea of big, fluffy monsters; I wanted something more gritty - the chopped-up mannequin approach."

"Well, Alice says that stuff," Mike Bruce says, "and it's like he believes it so much that it's become his reality. But no, it wasn't that the band didn't want a stage show, we just wanted to tone it down a little, make it into a funkier, West Side Story kind of thing as opposed to a big, labish, Billion Dillar Broadway Babes type thing. We had also been touring to the point where we needed to back off on the throttle and let momentum carry us. The road had taken its toll: physically speaking, our cheques were cashed and the bank was nofified."

"We had come back from Europe," Neal Smith says. "And because Michael had some material that he wanted to record himself, we all decided to take a year off to do our various solo projects. Michael did 'In My Own Way', I did 'Platinum God' and Alice did 'Welcome To My Nightmare'. Alice found success on his own with '...Nightmare' and, what with the continuing Glen situation, we never got back together again."

And have the former Billion Dollar Babies been left harbouring regrets? Well, as you might expect, some more than others.

"I certainly would've loved to have continued with the band," Smith admits. "I wish after we'd done our solo projects we'd have honoured what we'd stated and gotten back together to record the ninth Alice Cooper album. And who knows, maybe we will one day."

"If I had to do it all over again," Bruce reflects, "I'd probably try and keep it going longer than it did."

"I just wished we recorded more," Dunaway says, laughing. "We never had a tape recorder, and as a result we lost a lot of really good songs by forgetting how they went."

"I wish I'd seen a bit more of those days sober," Alice confesses, "so I could remember more. Every once in a while I'll get a flashback - like, because that's all I can remember: I was driving, Steven Tyler had a gun and we were on some mission. We ended up at my house, but all I remember is a Rolls-Royce, Tyler, a gun and a lot of alcohol. Did we shoot someone and bury them? I have no idea."

Ironically, while Glen Buxton's premature death from pneumonia in October '97 effectively rendered a fully-fledged Alice Cooper reunion impossible, it may well have made it easier for the four surviving member to finally regroup. After all, the band was as much Glen Buxton's as it was anybody's, and while he was not in any condition to tour, for his bandmates to have reunited without him would have been simply unthinkable.

But now their former sparring partner has finally been laid to rest arguable there's really no obstacle to the quartet sharing the same stage once more. In fact they've already done so: at Alice's Cooper'stown restaurant in Phoenix during the course of the second annual Glen Buxton Memorial Weekend in October '99.

So could this on-going detente between Bruce, Cooper, Dunaway and Smith ultimately developed into someting a little more substantial?

"I would work with those guys in a second," Alice asserts, but cautiously stipulating, "if it was the right project. I don't know how we could ever do it authentically without Glen. Mike... [Alice briefly sucks thoughtfully on a tooth] Well, Neal and Dennis are easy. I'll just say that. They both still play great, but I don't know if they could do an entire tour. I mean, I'm in really good shape, but we're not twenty-eight anymore."

"I can't say whether it'll ever happen or not," Neal Smith says, "but if it does it will be something that all four of us will decide upon democratically. It won't simply be Alice saying: 'Hey, guys, let's get together'. And if that time ever does come there would be nobody happier than me."

"I said to Shep Gordon on the night that I played on 'School's Out' with Alice at Wembley in 2002," Mike Bruce recalls, "that it would be nice if we got together to redo the Billion Dollar Babies Show for Europe - do the songs on the same stage, with Mick Mashbir and Bob Dolan. We never toured Europe with that show.

"I'd love to see something happen with the four of us, but it's up to Alice to suss it out and put it into his game plan, becuase he's the figurehead. The impact of anything that we did would be most felt by him. If it were a success the critics would say he should have done it sooner, and if it were a failure it would be: 'So, you don't have it any more, huh?'. So I guess Alice is between a rock and a hard place."

"Well," Dennis Dunaway concludes with a sigh, "Neal and I have been making that offer to Alice for thirty years now. I mean, he was supposed to sing on the 'Battle Axe' album, but we couldn't get a return phone call. It's certainly not Michael, Neal, or I, or even Glen, that have kept this band from ever getting back together. That part I know."


Where are they now?

Neal Smith

Having sold a million albums, Neal Smith went on to sell real estate worth a million dollars.

Formerly the drummer with the longest hair in rock, Neal these days favours a more professional and busines-like look: all neatly styled coif and sports jacket.

He still plays drums, and along with his long-term bass buddy and brother-in-law Dennis Dunaway (who has been married to Neal's sister Cindy since their B$B heyday) has hooked up with guitar and vocalist Joe Bouchard (who formerly played with the Blue Oyster Cult) in the inspiringly named Bouchard, Dunaway And Smith.

Those interested in abailing themselves of some attractive property in Connecticut could do a lot worse than go to www.nealsmith.com for a little 'area relocation expertise'.

Michael Bruce

"Normality is never easy," Michael says. Especially when, having once been 20 per cent of the most controversial rock band in the world, you're suddenly expected to slot back into a society that expects you to do things like light your own cigarette occasionally. But now, having struggled through more than his fair share of scrapes, Michael seems to finally be getting the hang of it.

After a decade's experiment with marriage, during the course of which he produced a trio of little Bruces, Michael has returned to the world of flaying manfully at an over-cranked plank of polished wood, and is on the verge of releasing a CD/DVD package of solo versions of classic Alice Cooper songs recorded live in Iceland.

Dennis Dunaway

With a quick wit and a tangible air of contentment about him, Dennis Dunaway is a hard man not to like. Never particularly enamoured of the rock star lifestyle, he has managed to relax into a life of relative anonymity with more grace than most former groupie guzzlers, and still keeps his hands in with the aforementioned Bouchard, Dunaway and Smith, a combo whose fortunes presently seem to be in the ascendant, having packed them in at The Whiskey-A-Go-Go and all points west.

Having suffered a bout of ill health five or six years ago, Dennis was stunned by the amount of support he received from Alice Cooper fans via the internet, and has since started to appreciate just how much esteem the band still engender.

Glen Buxton (1947-1997)

"He was your buddy that you couldn't save," Alice says of the late Glen Buxton. "He was the guy you saw heading towards destruction from the first day you met him. He would smoke two packets of cigarettes and drink two six-packs of Bud every day of his life, and there was never one human being on this planet that could talk him out of it."

Bob Ezrin

Since starting his production career with Alice Cooper's 'Love It To Death' album, Bob Ezrin has produced albums for, among others, Lou Reed, Pink Floyd, Aerosmith, Peter Gabriel, Jane's Addiction, Kiss, Rod Stewart, Kansas and Hanoi Rocks. The man is a genius, it's as simple as that.

Alice Cooper

Last year Alice Cooper released one of the best albums of his entire career. It's called 'The Eyes of Alice Cooper', and you really ought to own it. He is also scheduled to play Hammersmith Apollo on June 27 and - trust me - you really ought to go.


Billion Dollar Babies, song by song

'Hello Hurray'
(Rolf Kempf)

An introductory statement of evil intent, with mock heroics spread thicker than girders.

Alice Cooper: "Bob Ezrin brought that song in. He said: 'You need a big opening, something you wouldn't necessarily write that's almost like a Broadway show.' We tried writing a few things, but when this song came in we all looked at each other and said: 'Yeah, let's go with that.' So what if we didn't write it? We make our own rules."

Dennis Dunaway: "That's Ezrin's forte: big, open songs with slower tempos."

'Raped And Freezin''
(Michael Bruce, Alice Cooper)

Tex-Mex girl-rapes-boy tomfoolery. Well, it was the 70s.

AC: "Here's a guy trying to get a ride who gets picked up by this girl and she rapes him. He wakes up in the middle of Mexico, lying in the desert. His pants are gone and she's gone. She had her way with him and took off. Musically it had this hillbilly, Rolling Stones thing to it. It's just a really runny juxtaposition song, with really great guitar."

'Elected'
(Alice Cooper/Neal Smith/Dennis Dunaway/Michael Bruce/Glen Buxton)

A towering epic complete with everything-but-the-kitchen-sing, Phil Spector-type production.

DD: "Elected" was a resurrection of an earlier song from 'Pretties For You' called 'Reflected'. Which was something we commonly did in those days."

AC: "Alice in political office? That would be my hell. I hate politics. I've got to be honest with you... I don't care about taxes or any of that crap."

'Billion Dollar Babies'
(Alice Cooper/Michael Bruce/Reginald Vinson)

AC: "Donovan asked me: 'What's it about?' And I said: 'I really have no idea'. A lot of people starting thinking it was about masturbation. I had never thought about it like that, but listening to the lyrics it could be interpreted that way: 'Maybe your little head will come off in my hands'? Hmm, perhaps they're right. That song started with a drum beat."

Neal Smith: "I don't have a songwriting credit on that, but without that drum part it would never have been the same. It goes back to Charlie Watts on 'Get Off Of My Cloud'."

'Unfinished Sweet'
(Alice Cooper/Michael Bruce/Neal Smith)

Very probably the only rock song to feature dentist's drill solo.

AC: "We grew up on James Bond and listening to John Barry all the time. The guy in the song is under anaesthetic, having his tooth pulled, and has a spy dream. At one point The Man From Uncle, I Spy and the Bond theme are all playing simultaneously on three different guitars and they all mix in perfectly."

DD: "'Unfinished Sweet' came together relatively easily. I mean, you'd think it would have been like pulling teeth."

'No More Mr. Nice Guy'
(Michael Bruce/Alice Cooper)

A riff-driven rabble-rouser with 'hit' written all over it.

AC: "Almost every song we wrote had the flavour of some other song that we really liked, and 'No More Mr. Nice Guy' was 'Substitute' by The Who. Lyrically, while the rest of the world was saying: 'Alice can't get any more depraved', I was saying: 'Okay the gloves are off. I'm gonna get really nasty now'."

DD: "A plain great Michael Bruce song, as many of them as there were. All we did was learn it. The basic song as he presented it was barely altered."

'Generation Landslide'
(Alice Cooper/Neal Smith/Dennis Dunaway/Michael Bruce/Glen Buxton)

An usually literate indictment of the American dream.

AC: "I see them as the best lyrics I have ever written. I still, to this day, remember sitting down and writing them as a flow of consciousness in the Canary Islands. I was leaning against a wall, with a pen and a piece of paper, while a big lightning storm went on, and twenty minutes later there it was."

DD: "We all had the London flu from a British tour, so we went to the Canary Islands to recuperate, and wrote 'Generation Landslide', my favourite track on the album."

'Sick Things'
(Bob Ezrin/Alice Cooper/Michael Bruce)

A flesh-creepoing sonic descent into the depth of the macabre.

AC: "'Sick Things' had a lot to do with Bob Ezrin once again. It's a twisted sound collage, and not exactly settling at all."

'Mary Ann'
(Michael Bruce/Alice Cooper)

A cynically sentimental paean to an apoplectic, bespectacled busybody.

AC: "This was pointedly written to infuriate Mary Whitehouse. It was one of those clear shots what we had to take. And it was a very pretty song, real sweet sentiments with the piano going, and then the final twist: 'Mary Ann I thought you were my man'."

'I Love The Dead'
(Bob Ezrin/Alice Cooper)

The epic, execution-accompanying show-closer: a hymn to necrophilia.

AC: "I figured that I wanted to write a real Edgar Allen Poe song, something worthy of the urban legend, something really scary. Listening to 'I Love The Dead', in the dark, under the right substance abuse, can be very scary indeed."


'Manson's got my shock-rock crown now'

'Real rock'n'roll is the way forward,' claims Alice.

Alice Cooper who plays a one-off UK show at London's Hammersmith Apollo on June 27, is soon to begin a new album. The veteran shock-rock frontman released his previous album, the highly acclaimed and garage rock-flavoured 'The Eyes of Alice Cooper', just six months ago, but he's planning to return to the studio. And Alice seems likely to produce the session himself this time.

"Put the band in a room, turn up the amps and say: 'Play...we're going to use that take'," Alice said recently of his current recording ethos. "If the band come in and say: 'We want to go in and fix that', I'll say: ‘No, the band sounds like this'. It's the real essence of what rock'n'roll is."

According to Alice, The White Stripes, Jet and The Vines, all groups that he recommends, have what he’s aiming for. "They're 1968 Detroit garage rock," he says, "and that's what I'm going for: real rock'n'roll."

So Alice isn't shock rock anymore?

"People are unshockable now," he says. "If you can watch a war on TV and see 500 people get blown up live, hanging yourself isn't that shocking. So I've been of the shock list for quite a long time. I kind of passed that on to Marilyn Manson. I'm now purely into entertaining an audience."

Tickets for Alice's only intended UK show of 2004 are available priced 25 from the Apollo box office on 0870 606 3400. There’s also a national credit card number (0870 400 0688) or you can buy on line from www.cclive.co.uk.

Alice's band includes guitarist Eric Dover and Ryan Roxie, bassist Chuck Garric and drummer Eric Singer.


It's Only Shock 'n' Roll

...As the Summer of Love drew to its psychedelic close, it was no longer enough for some performers to make their statement via their recorded material. Rock 'n' roll no longer had the power to shock my simply using words and music alone. There was no discernible sense of outrage any more. Things had become sage again.

At that point, boundaries were still in place and taboos were there to be broken. There appeared to be one particularly great way to accomplish this – and the concept of shock rock was born.

Mention that notion of shock rock to anyone (even those who are not ardent rock fans), and the chances are the first name that will spring to mind is Alice Cooper. Daubing his face with freak-show make-up – the blacked-out eyes, the skewed lines around his mouth – Alice Cooper welcomed us to his nightmare.

And what a nightmare it was. At various times his stage show included dismembered babies, executioners, knives, boa constrictors, straitjackets, and at the end of all the orchestrated chaos the hapless protagonist got his final comeuppance by means of the guillotine or a hangman's noose.

"We brought theatrics to rock 'n' roll. We did it before Bowie, we did it before Kiss and before anybody," Alice has admitted in recent times.

"There was no showbiz in rock 'n' roll before Alice Cooper," he added. "It was taboo and really looked down upon to call yourself showbiz. So when we came along we went as far out on a limb as we could. We did everything we could to annoy every parent in America, then backed it up with anthems that got played. We had twenty five gold albums and sold fifty million records. It was no fluke."

Proof, if you ever needed it, that to shock is to see success. And this is nothing new – especially not these days. Why is it that some of the biggest grossing Hollywood movies are those which repulse us – ones that we sometimes want to watch through our fingers as we can't quite bear, or even believe, what its happening on the screen? Imagery from horror films has been appropriated into rock 'n' roll and back again a million times over...