Originally Published: October 2003

Last Night A Record Changed My Life

The Great and the good choose the albums that altered their world

Back when he was dodging Phoenix rednecks as frontman of The Spiders, Alice Cooper's heart opened to a Broadway show soundtrack..

When we were known as The Spiders back in Phoenix, the West Side Story Soundtrack album had a big impact on the band. Not just me; we were all affected by that somehow. I think it was the juvenile delinquency. Remember, this was pre-Clockwork Orange. There was something about the gang thing and the band mentality that intrigued us. We made that connection right away. Glen Buxton and Neil Smith were originally from Ohio, and I was from Detroit, so we had some big town roots. West Side Story definitely helped inspire the theatrics of Alice Cooper. Certainly we weren't gonna dance like that - but there was an undeniable coolness about it. When we took it to the next level of make-up, we still had the gang attitude. In fact, none of us ever went out alone. There would have to he three or four of us together. Those were less enlightened times, and with our long hair and the clothes it was a real risk to travel solo.

While we were a proper band, we still kinda looked at it as a gang from West Side Story. We decided that when we got big enough, we'd tap into it somehow. So on School's Out we threw a little of the jets theme into Gutter Cat Vs. The Jets. That's how Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim wound up on an Alice Cooper album.

The funny thing was, when I saw Clockwork Orange, and I saw Malcolm McDowell's character, Alex, he's got make-up on and he's got the cane and he's got a snake. I went, Wait a minute, there's an awful lot of Alice Cooper in this. We had already made our mark as this rock band that didn't mind a little violence in their show. I've talked to Malcolm McDowell since then, I play golf with him, and I said, OK Malcolm. When you guys were doing } Clockwork Orange, you referred to Alice a few times, right? And he said, "Yeah, we did." But you can really blame it all on West Side Story.

When it came to rock bands, it wasn't The Beatles and it wasn't even the Stones. It was Having A Rave Up With The Yardbirds. They made the guitars really scream at you. We'd never heard a band that could make their amps feedback, and had that kind of power and control. So they immediately became our band.

When we were The Spiders we got a chance to play with The Yardbirds when they first came to the States. We were playing a club with them, and every single song in our set was by The Yardbirds. They were shocked there was this local hand that knew every one of their songs. Years later, Jeff Beck told me he remembered us.

So I guess if you cross West Side Story with The Yardbirds, you get Alice Cooper. We really focused our personality after we moved to Detroit in 1970. It's the world capital of screaming guitars. And the audiences there loved our theatrics; they couldn't get enough. It was the first time people had taken to us like that. For pure hard rock, those were some of the greatest concerts ever. People never believe me when I tell them the bill would be Alice Cooper, the MC5, The Amboy Dukes and The Stooges, all on the same show.

Jaan Uhelszki

West Side Story Original Soundtrack
Released: 1961 Recorded: Hollywood, August 9-10,1960
Tracks: Overture / Prologue / Jet Song / Something's Coming / Dance At The Gym / Maria / Tonight / America / Tonight / Gee, Officer Krupkel / I Feel Pretty / One Hand, One Heart / Quintet/ Rumble/ Somewhere / Cool / Boy Like That / I Have a love / Finale
Notes: With music by Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim's lyrics, the Romeo and Juliet-based Broadway show of 1957 came to the screen with vocal performances from George Chaklris, Jim Bryant (singing Richard Beymer's part) and Marni Nixon (singing for Natalie Wood) With a strong theme of ethnic and generational strife, the film and soundtrack strove to appeal to teenagers and succeeded.