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Originally Published: 1987
Author: Paul A. Royd
He is loved and adored by his fans, positively hated by the mothers of his many female hangers on, and either priased to the skies or completely cut down by various critics. The mans name? Alice Cooper, of course, lead singer amd mentor of "the most bizarre and entertaining rock-theatre in the world", "a wonderful mixture of Frankenstein and Charlies Aunt" and other such critical praise. But all this positive praise was heaped on him during the seventies, when our hero was celebrating success after success and it seemed as if nothing would stop his onward, and upward progress. But, at the end of the seventies things began to go down hill. Even his most loyal fans began to desert him, as he released one weak album after the other. Alice was on the verge of being completely forgotten. It has taken him until 1986 to make people sit up and take notice of him, with his new album "Constrictor". The aptly named "He's Back" gave him the kind of comeback to the rock world that most people deemed impossible. HURRICANE fills in the background to this shady and mysterious figure.
On the 2nd February 1948, Vincent Damon Furnier first saw the light of day, supposedly under mysterious circumstances. What these circumstances were, nobody knows, but the less said the better. Secrecy and speculation also surrounds Furniers' father. Some people say that his dad was an electronics engineer, others say that he was a Mormon preacher.
He had a normal childhood. When he was just eleven years old his family moved from Detroit, Michigan to Phoenix in Arizona. This is where, six years later, Alice was to enrol in the local art college and become a typical student. At art college he was to meet four other kindred spirits and this would result in a fruitful relationship.
The five of them decided to mix the best of the theatrical world with the more powerful elements of rock and roll. Neal Smith (percussion), Michael Bruce (guitar, piano, organ), Dennis Dunaway (bass), Glen Buxton (guitar) and, of course, Alice brought the concept to life and their first appearance was in cabaret. Under the name of the Spiders, they began to get a local following and in 1965, they released their first single "Don't Blow Your Mind". Unlike most first releases, this one had a relatively good measure of success as it went to number one on the local radio station charts. The Spiders had their collective feet in the door. They were frequent visitors to Los Angeles and finally, in 1966, they decided to move there. Inspired by the famous Lord Buckley dialogue, they changed their name to Nazz, but as a Philadelphia band had already the rights to the name, they settled on Alice Cooper. The name was to sum up all that was good and wholesome about the typical middle class, white American mother and housewife. Our hero was turned on to this way of thinking after a visit to a hypnotist in Phoenix. The hypotist had told him that one's consciousness was made up of three parts: the first was male, which was responsible for power and strength, the second was feminine and had as it's qualities wisdom and knowledge, and the third was childlike, which was trust, hope and belief. Alice took these to heart and began to build them into his show.
By now, the band were beginning to appear on stage dressed in women's clothes, carrying childrens toys and playing hard masculine rock music. The concept had matured. For a good two years the band lived from hand to mouth in squalor. According to close friends of Alices' at the time, he would often be forced to sleep in his coffin. In spite of many controversial appearances, nothing much happened career wise for the band. It was only in 1969 that they began to make major headway. The band were booked to play a gig which in fact was an excuse for a massive party. The minute the band played, the two thousand or so invited guests split. But in the middle of the crazed mass were two guys who were to put the band on the right tracks. One of them was the underground cult hero, Frank Zappa, whose comment on the disaster was: "Lots of incredibly negative energy". That was a good enough reason for Zappa to sign them to his Straight record label. The other guy was Shep Gordon who was later to say that: "The minute I saw the band I knew that I had to manage them". No sooner said than done. In spite of having no experience in this field and being only 22 years old, he took the band on...
The first Alice Cooper album "Pretties For You" appeared the same year and gave the band the opportunity to reach a wider audience, with mastermind Alice firmly in control at the helm, with their brand of Dada-rock. This name that the band had become labelled with, was more than just a moniker, for it represented the direction that the band were taking, towards Dadaism, a way of thinking in which the listener or viewer is made familiar with events or objects through shock exposure to it. Not only is the person made familiar with it, but also can get a different perspective or viewpoint that differs from the normal way of looking at something. The tools of this concept are montage pictures, maximum volume, words and phrases that at first do not seem to have any connection.
Alice saw it this way: "We used crutches, broomsticks, and blow up toys in the same way that Dali used clocks in his paintings" he explains. Alice Cooper and his band raised American Kitsch and the American "way of life" to cult status and art form. The American love affair with consumer durables had finally been elevated. Alice saw the band as "The end product of the affluent society. We like to go onstage and show the audience what has become of their sacrosanct world. More than often they are shocked at what they learn."
Two components made up their music. The first was the three way dadaist concept of male/female/child, and the second was the TV. Whilst most bands of the sixties were busy discovering their roots in the blues, Alice and his henchmen were getting their raw material from the cathode ray tube. This led to Alice including elements of TV series '77 Sunset Strip' into his show. Alice explains: "We are a mirror for the people. That's why they react so strongly when they see things that they don't like. Things that they don't want to see." The band attacked the American TV viewers fuddled brain with cynicism, fear and loathing. Their strategy was supremely clever. "We never made any suggestions. We adopted the same approach as the modern psychiatrist. Rather than answer the patients questions, the psychiatrist keeps quiet and lets the patient come up with his own answers."
It wasn't long before Alice found a champion for his eccentric cause. Salvador Dali, Dadaist of the first degree. began to sing the praise of Alice and his sidekicks. Dali even went so far as to dedicate his "Geopoliticus Child" painting to him.
The big time still evaded the band. "Pretties For You" and it's follower "Easy Action" can be spoken of being relatively successful and certainly they did bring the bands name to a wider audience, but the main event was still very elusive. Alice would have to blow a few more minds.
It was with "Love It To Death" in 1971, that they succeded in making the big jump to the land of fame and fortune. Some 750,000 copies flew across the store counters, and that was in the states alone. "Love It To Death" was not only the bands first major album, but also their last on Zappas' Straight label. "In fact, Zappa didn't fully understand our music." In spite of the split from straight, Alice and the boys kept in touch with Zappa, to "visit him and steel his beer!".
But this was to become Alices downfall. His love of the little blonde that came in a can started to become his staple diet. His consumption of Budweiser began to take on monsterous proportions. Surprisingly, the breweries never took up on Alice as he headed for the major league time.
After his split with Straight Records, Alice headed back to his original hometown of Detroit. It was in Detroit that he met top producer Bob Ezrin, a man who nowadays is credited with the steep take off of the band's career. Ezrin pointed the band towards Warner Brothers and soon an Ezrin produced single "I'm Eighteen" was released, which turned out to be a smash hit of the first order that took Alice and his men into the charts and into the land of endless opportunities. By now, the Cooper mania couldn't be stopped. The album "Killer" hit the million sales mark.
The next LP "School's Out" appeared in 1972 and was also produced by Bob Ezrin. It outsold it's predecessor. The single of the same name and the album combined to sell some 14 million units and resulted in Alice being at the top of the charts worldwide. Natually Alice Cooper and his band became a much sought after act, but these new superstars decided to stay in their own country. A drawn out tour criss-crossed North America. All concerts were sold out and the album sales continued to climb. The success of 1972 was astounding: seven figure sales and pockets full of money.
1973 started with even more punch. In February of that year the album "Billion Dollar Babies" appeared. It was as musically exciting as Alice was visually exciting. The album was recorded in Alices' house in Greenwich, Connecticut. Alice was by now giving lectures at New Yorks Eastman School of Music and then threw himself yet again into a mammoth tour that covered the length and breath of America. In 62 days, Alice and his musicians hit 56 different cities. The stage show was even grander and more spectacular then the last tour. All the stops were pulled out. His repertoire included an electric chair, a guillotine, smoke bombs, exploding pillows and much more. The high point was when Alice was decapitated on stage during the song "I Love The Dead". By this time, Alices Boa constrictors were very much part of the show.
Even though it was a spectacular event, Alices critics gleefully said that all these expensive gimmicks would soon lead to the bankruptcy court. Some magazines even went as far as saying that the end was in sight for the band. In fact, it was quite the opposite. Alice was riding the crest of the wave like never before. "Billion Dollar Babies" easily reached platinum sales, the single releases from the album, "Elected", "Hello Hurray" and "No More Mr Nice Guy" had no problems in reaching the top of the singles charts and the "Billion Dollar Babies" tour finished with a profit of over 5 million dollars. With the end of 1973 another album was released.
"Muscle Of Love" was a much weaker album than before and had no great impact on the charts but still managed to have relativly good sales. Meanwhile, Alice had become a writer. He published his biography called "Me, Alice". Cooper's record company, Warner Brothers, cashed in on their wonderboys success as much as possible. The first two albums, "Pretties For You" and "Easy Action" were released as a double album and had a modicum of success. But things were not all well in the Cooper camp. Dennis Dunaway (bass), Mike Bruce (guitars, keyboards), Glen Buxton (guitar) and Neal Smith (drums) pulled completely out of the business and Alice was left standing by himself. The compilation album "Greatest Hits", which appeared in 1974, marked the end of the first chapter of the Alice Cooper phenomenon.
From the outside, it didn't look as if much was happening. By now, the media had written our hero off, but Alice hadn't been spending his time sitting around. The world may have buried Alice in their memories, but he came back in a fanfare of publicity with "Welcome To My Nightmare". The element of surprise was astounding. The album was an amazing piece of work with Alice showing where his roots lay and, yet again, he had got himself a place in the rock'n'roll hall of fame. Musically there is no comparison between the weak "Muscle Of Love" and the supremely brilliant "Welcome To My Nightmare" and his fans recognised this. "Welcome To My Nightmare" was just as successful as his previous albums bar one. The success of "Welcome To My Nightmare" lay in it's excellent production, thanks to Bob Ezrin. The album was also accompanied by a video which visually encapsulated the albums themes. Alices' partner in the video was Vincent Price who had made his name starring in all the Edgar Allan Poe stories. The "Welcome To My Nightmare" movie was shown as a special feature on American TV and it helped to increase album sales. Alice went ahead and spent some 250,000 dollars on a new stage set.
He headed off on an eight month long world tour with his new band and this time they covered the world. The high point of 1975 was when Alice was invited to join a project with Carmine Appice, Eddie Jobson, Elkie Brooks and John Entwistle. They called themselves "Flash Fearless" and released an album on Chrysalis Records called "The Zorg Women". Alice simultaneously released another album in the "Star Collection Series" which was no more than "Love It To Death" in a new cover. Alice was a happy man at the end of 1975 as he had had a successful comeback.
For the next album, "Alice Cooper Goes To Hell", he spent six months in preparation. Together with Bob Ezrin and guitarist Dick Wagner, who had been with Lou Reed, Alice chose the best out of some 50 songs. Musically, "Alice Cooper Goes To Hell" was a change of direction; the old hardline attack had gone, a new commercial direction dominated. For instance, with "You Gotta Dance", Alice shows leanings towards the disco market and even the single release "I Never Cry" was nowhere near the strength that Alice had shown in the previous years. Even so, the fans excepted the album and once again Alice had platinum sales figures.
On "Lace And Whiskey" the follow up album, Alice took a whole year getting it ready. Once again, the trio of producer Bob Ezrin, guitarist Dick Wagner and Alice were responsible for all the writing. They started work on it in June '76 and it wasn't until April 1977 that the album was finished. No fewer than 17 different musicians participated in the recording and this time the album had even less of the old Alice Cooper sound to it. What was missing on "Lace And Whiskey" was a theme, something that he had had on "Billion Dollar Babies" and "Welcome To My Nightmare". It was Alices first stab at getting away from concept albums. But, once again, the fans remained true to Alice, especially in the USA. Alice meanwhile had been taking dance and acting lessons and appeared in Mae West's film "Sextette". After this he readied himself for another tour and when he went on stage it was apparent that he had not lost his theatrical touch. Many of the concerts were filmed and in the same year appeared as "The Alice Cooper Show". The album showed a good cross section of Cooper material.
Even Alices' former band members Dennis Dunaway, Neal Smith and Michael Bruce were active. Together with Mike Marconi and Bob Dolin resurrected the Billion Dollar Babies and released a surprisingly poor debut album "Battleaxe". Therefore it wasn't surprising that, as the band had no commercial sucess, they decided to split up.
Meanwhile Alice was beginning to have problems with alcohol. His already massive consumption of Budweiser began to increase to such an extent that he couldn't go without it. He realised where this would lead and entered a clinic. Ninety days of total abstinence brought his liver back to some level of normality.
His isolation obviously had a strong effect on him as his concept album "From The Inside" delves deep into Alices' psyche, and shows the pain he went through. The album was released in November 1978 and showed Alice at his best. The excellent song material, written together with Bernie Taupin, known for his work with Elton John, satisfied even the most cynical critics. "The idea of capturing the whole feeling of what it's like being inside a clinic on vinyl and on stage came to me whilst I was laying on my bed during a 12 hour long delirium. I knew then that I would succeed in putting across what I felt" comments Alice.
Kiki Dee, duo Flo and Eddie, guitarist Steve Lukather (Toto), Rick Nielsen (Cheap Trick) and of course Alice combined to turn "From The Inside" into a major event. Alice went on an extended tour and then disappeared from sight.
It wasn't until May 1980 that Alice came back with a new album "Flush The Fashion", but many people saw this as a step backwards and it proved to be a great disappointment. Alice appears to have jumped on the new wave bandwagon and lost a lot of his former credibilty.
"Special Forces" appeared in August 1981. Once again most of Alices fans were disappointed and many felt that the album left a nasty taste in collective mouths. Alice had lost his uncompromising stance that was so apparent in his earlier years. Surprisingly, the album was a success in Britain and led to an Alice Cooper comeback. His concerts were all sold out and fans appeared to have regained their enthusiasm for Alice. He was so impressed by this revival of interest in him that he wrote "For Britain Only" that later appeared as an EP which was only available in the United Kingdom. The B-side also contained a few surprises with live recordings of "Under My Wheels", "Who Do You Think We Are" and "Model Citizen" that were recorded on the UK tour at the Glasgow Apollo. Therefore it wasn't surprising that the EP sold well.
If it appeared that Alice had made a comeback, he disappointed everyone in September 1982. The new album "Zipper Catches Skin" was on the whole a major letdown. Only the single release "I Am The Future" and the track "The Class Of 1984" were worth listening to. Alice Cooper was beginning to lose his touch and finally in October 1983 he reached the bottom. He released "Dada" which has to be his weakest album ever and it received his worst criticism. Alice was quick to disassociate himself from it and went into hiding for a while. Over the following years rumour after rumour about a possible comeback could be heard. Alice was still hard at work. He had a guest appearance on the Twisted Sister LP "Come Out And Play" on the track "Be Crool To Your Scuel" which has Alice showing a little of his former self.
But to see Alice at his former best we've had to wait until October 1986. The EP "He's Back" was released and began to awaken a resurgence in Alice popularity. It got bad criticism for it's disco roots and many felt that it was a sellout as Alice had written it specifically for "Friday 13th Part IV". A little later released his latest album "Constrictor" and it has to be one of the surprises of '86. Good, solid, heavy rock... "It's all hard core. No Ballads" Alice explained to his fans. The album was produced by both Beau Hill (known for his work with Ratt), and Michael Wagener (Accept, Dokken etc.) and written by Alice and the totally unknown New Yorker, guitarist Kane Roberts. The album received way over the top critical acclaim from all sides and it wasn't long before the album was setting new sales records.
Still more was to come from Alice. With his new band he tourned the States and played to sold out venues. With new effects he shook audiences all over, but he kept his old gimmicks: the boa was there and so was the guillotine. November '86 saw him play that aircraft hanger of venues, The Wembley Arena. A show to top all shows. He's back... and will be for a long time to come.