International Times

Originally Published: July 1972

Alice Cooper: Nightgowns & Poisonous Cobras...

It could only happen in the USA. A headlining rock group puts out an album and single in July. They are the hottest thing since hula-hoops and their audience consists almost entirely of young white kids. They call it, get this, School's Out. Yes, SCHOOL'S OUT. What style, what foresight, what merchandising!!!

As Heavy Metal Music goes, the single is fine, with its skullsplitting sledgehammer attack on your sensibilities, the two-note guitar solo, the kids chorus, the remorseless amphetamine full tilt city stomp behind the demonic shout of "Schoolzout for summer!"

It's loud and blatant, it let's you know it's there. Mandraxed up to the eyeballs you may be, but nobody sleeps through this song. It's not I'm Eighteen, but then how could they top that? How could anyone top that? Even Pete Townsend. Eighteen is the definitive hard-rock single of the Seventies, and Alice was just flashy recording it in 1971. He's given the opposition nine years to come up with something better.

While we're talking about last year, a word about Alice's British debut at the Rainbow last November. It was one of the best shows yet seen there. The glamourous drag prince from Amerika came to town and tore the place up. Perfectly structured singles rolled out from Love It To Death, a rocking razzamatazz in gold and silver lame, like a scene from Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.

What have I got, sang Alice to his boa constrictor, that makes me want to love you? Is it my body? It seemed it was as the affectionate reptile invaded his flimsy leotard. Further adventures with a straightjacket and electric chair followed, keeping the audience bewildered. The suffering was so sham it was surreal. No wonder Salvador Dali offered one of his paintings as a future LP sleeve. All the lads are former art students, as you should know by now. WHAT? You haven't been doing your homework?

Since their debut nobody knew what to expect, apart from the publicity about sexual duality and fowl play. The show wasn't evil and it wasn't feminine either. Alice wore black thighboots and tarantula eye make-up but he still looked pretty raunchy, and the drummer Neal Smith sounded like Rocky Marciano.

Their lyrics are smart and nasty but the basic sentiments are nothing new. Eric Burdon was here six years ago: we gotta get outta this place, you'll be dead before your time is due, girl there's a better life for me and you. The Animals are an obvious influence but there are plenty more. Musically, Alice Cooper are the brightest band of kleptomaniacs you'll ever hear. They've nicked a lick from everybody, Yardbirds, Who, Steppenwolf, early Velvet Underground, even Country Joe - it's all there, Sixties rock hacked up and re-cycled Detroit-style. Their sound is World War III, the sound of 15 psychopaths having a destruction derby with 15 bulldozers.

Narcissism, danger and materialism are among their most perennial themes, and they surface strongly on Killer, their last album. Recorded in Chicago, it features eight songs written by the band for the band. Until this album I couldn't imagine Alice Cooper jamming, but I gotta admit their playing is now ultra-proficient.

Michael Bruce offers a crackerjack chick song called Be My Lover: "Told he that I came from Detroit City, and I played guitar in a long-haired rockanroll band, she asked me why the singer's name was Alice..." The longest and most ambitious number is Halo of Flies where a menacing funeral intro gallops into a tom-tom TV-space-series soundtrack. It seems that Alice is off to Monte Carlo. "Daggers and contracts and bright shiny limos, I got a watch that turns into a lifeboat, glimmering nightgowns and poisonous cobras." A trifle obscure and longwinded, with Moog, bass solos and a neanderthal drum bash, but like all their well-built material, it enjoys a certain momentum.

"You're as dead as a desert night" howls Alice on Desperado, "You're a notch and I'm a legend." Paranoia rears its ugly head amid the dive-bomber guitar stylings of You Drive Me Nervous, and there is grim story about little Betty who eats a pound of aspirin. Dead babies can't take things off the shelf. This is music to watch the News at Ten by, a half hour horror show with a slice or two of comic relief. What is life, anway, but a bitter comedy of survival?

Sometimes I have doubts. I wonder if they really wanna make friends with a lot of people in the danger zone. How about an album live from Alcatraz? Death Row? Attica State? Or maybe they should go to Vietnam instead of Bob Hope. Not to scare the Vietcong, just to show the GIs things are a bit wild back home.

Alice says all their theatrics and gimmicks are choreographed, but not so much that it precludes improvisation. Some of the mistakes come out beautifully, he says. Lets hope so. At presstime I'm looking forward to their show at the Empire Pool. It should suit them since they play all the huge halls in the States, colossal basketball stadiums and roller rinks, selling out wherever they go. At their last London production I suspended judgement and became a fan. As music it's not half bad, as showbiz it's riveting and as trash it is absolutely incomparable.