Originally Published: September 1987
Author: Andy Michael
The reception afforded Alice Cooper on his recent return to the music scene after a lengthy abscence has re-affirmed his status as one of the most individual and influential performers of the Seventies. His controversial stage antics tended to obsure his ability as a songwriter, as a sardonic observer of the spiralling decay of U.S. culture. Most of Alice Cooper's discography can be aquired with little trouble as few of his songs have not turned up on LP. However, collectors face more of a challange if they wish to seek out picture sleeve singles and first pressings of the albums.
Originally Alice Cooper was a group. They formed in 1968 and comprised Glen Buxton (lead guitar), Vincent Furnier (vocals), Michael Bruce (guitar), Dennis Dunaway (bass) and Neal Smith (drums). Hailing from Pheonix, Arizona, they had already been known as the Earwigs, the Spiders and the Nazz. A number of unsuccessful independant releases included "Don't Blow Your Mind"/"No Price Tag", credited to the Spiders (1967, Santa Cruz SCR 10.003). "Wonder Who's Loving Her Now"/"Lay Down And Die, Goodbye" (Very 001) by the Nazz has also been attributed to Alice Cooper. The tracks are certainly were not recorded by Todd Rundgren's Nazz and they have since been coupled with the Spiders' sides on a bootleg EP.
The group wound up in Los Angeles, desperate for success. Furnier, who had adopted the band's name for his own, and manager Shep Gordon set about formulating the policy of using shock tactics to draw attention to the band. The antics included exagerated sexual ambivalence, make-up and the use of any props that came to hand.
It was Frank Zappa, father of the local freak scene, who gave the band an opportunity to record. He had established his own label, Straight Records, and was looking for acts to sigh up. He viewed the band purely on a novelty level. At the session for their debut album, Zappa listened to a few raucous tracks and departed, to the surprise of the band who had expected him to produce them! Although later discribed as a "classic" in West Germany, "Pretties For You" was full of rambling, chaotic psychedelic workouts with obscure lyrics. It was a dreadful flop, with only a few thousand pressings available on the original Straight Label. The British pressing had a purple label - as opposed to the yellow U.S. Label - and carried a black Straight logo in the top right hand corner of the cover.
The band continued to tour across the States, running up enormous debts. With little interest from Zappa, they set about recording their second album, produced by David Briggs. Released in June 1970, "Easy Action" was far more listenable than it's predecessor.
Both albums were packaged in gatefold sleeves and original pressings are now highly sought-after. By the end of 1972, they were being replaced by U.S. pressings carrying both the Straight and Warner Bros. logos and the catalogue numbers and bearing the green Warner Bros. label.
With two poorly-received albums behind them, the band moved to Detroit and became part of the flourishing underground scene. They were looking for producer who could help them transform their manic instrumentals into short, pop songs. Their original choice was Jack Richardson whose company, Nimbus 9, had produced many top-selling singles. Richardson refused to work with them and gave the job of rejecting them to his aide, Bob Ezrin. A classically trained musician, Ezrin hated the "five strange freaks" who had become renowned for the disgusting reactions to their live performances. However, after seeing them play in New York, Ezrin discerned some potential, particulary in the band's charismatic lead singer. He set about teaching them to write conventional songs, arranging their ideas and co-writing with them.
By this time Straight Records had been sold to Warner Bros. They were astounded by the quality of songs and performances from the band's first sessions with Ezrin and they released "Eighteen" in April 1971. Instantly recognised as a classic, it was the first in a stunning series of singles. In Britain it was the band's first single and their only one on Straight. It was soon deleted and is now highly prized.
The success of the single in the U.S. (No.21) led to further sessions, which became the "Love It To Death" album, released in June 1971. The first pressings were on Straight, but it was soon released on re-released on Warner Bros. with a new catalogue number and label. This reissue featured a 'censored' cover: painting over Alice's thumb, which had been in a strange position on the original.
The album charted in the U.S. and the band set about recording their next album, released in December 1971. "Killer" met with widespread acclaim. It established the band as a proficient unit, but it was the front man who was drawing most attention for his distinctive vocal style and showmanship. At first, the UK sales of "Killer" were modest. "Under My Wheels" became their second single and the first on Warner Bros. The album was lavishly presented with a glorious use of colour and design. The original pressings had the green Warner Bros. label and came with a calander for 1972. A calander was provided with each pressing up until 1974, when the 'palm tree' label was adopted and the calander dropped. Later pressings of this and other Alice Cooper albums feature the beige Warner Bros. label and these pressings now originate from West Germany.
The second single from "Killer" was "Be My Lover" and again sales were modest. The band were now making waves in the States due to their stage antics. Alice himself was involved in the bulk of the writing with Michael Bruce and Bob Ezrin. He was already proving to be a distinctive vocalist with a witty, sly way with lyrics. "Under My Wheels" appeared on a Warner Bros. compliation called "Fruity", released in 1972 in a circular sleeve and long since deleted.
The summer of '72 saw the release of the all-time classic "School's Out", ingeniously timed to coincide with the simmer holidays. That year it swept the oppisiton aside on both sides of the Atlantic and across the globe and firmly established the group and their singer in the marketplace. It was their first UK single to come in a pictue sleeve, which adds considerably to the present value of the single. To coincide with it's UK success, Alice Cooper came over and played Wembley.
An album of the same name was released shortly after, chalking up enormous sales worldwide. It came in a deluxe presentation with mock desk effect for the cover, with the disc wrapped in a pair of paper panties. Recent reissues have seen the panties dropped, the addition of a track listing on the rear cover and a single sleeve replaced the original gatefold design. Demand started to grow for the band's first two albums. At this stage, UK pressing were still available, although U.S. Warner Bros. pressings were also being shipped over.
The follow-up to "School's Out" was "Elected". This was another big hit and, like it's predecessor, initially came in a picture sleeve. In late 1972, during their European visit, the band were already writing and recording tracks for their next album. One of the sessions took place in London and among those invited to turn up were Marc Bolan, Keith Moon, Harry Nilsson, Rick Grech and Donovan. There are stories that this supergroup line-up augemented the group on certain recordings (and it is certain that Donovan duetted with Alice on "Billion Dollar Baby"), but there is no evidence of this on vinyl. As an introduction to the new album, the 'NME' gave away a flexidisc with one of it's issues. The flexi featured the otherwise unavailable "Slick Black Limousine", as well as extracts from the forthcoming album, "Billion Dollar Babies".
The album quickly hit the No.1 spot across the world and again came in a sumptuous cover, with removable cards, a 'Billion Dollar' bill, gatefold cover and lyrics. Some of the original pressings had the lyrics printed upside down on the inner cover and the recent reissues of the album have abandoned the gatefold design. A mint copy of the album on the green Warner Bros. label, with all the accessories, is now a rarity. Another single, "Hello Hurray", was taken from the album, and helped to consolidate Alice Cooper's position as a commerical act. The album version of the song was considered too long and it was edited for single release.
By the summer of 1973, the band had completed a mammoth U.S. tour and, to enable their audience to hear the first two albums, Warner Bros. released a double set in a new cover with the title "Schooldays". It was later reissued on the 'palm tree' label and is still fairly easy to find. On the singles front, the band had another big hit with "No More Mr.Nice Guy".
October 1973 was spent recording "Muscle Of Love", this time with Jack Richardson at the controls. Another vast seller across the world, it has since been deleted in Britain. It was the first Alice Cooper album to appear on the 'palm tree' label and has become increasingly sought after in Mint condition, and the elaborate cover featured a cardboard box design. Only one single was lifted from the album in the U.K., "Teenage Lament '74", and it maintained the series of classic hits, making the Top 20 in January 1974
There then followed a long lay-off before new material was released. Warner Bros. filled the gap by releasing "Alice Cooper's Greatest Hits" in August 1974. The featured all the singles and some other tracks. It is still available but without the inner sleeve. Early pressings came with a competition booklet, announced by a cover sticker. The LP was preceded by a reissue of "Under My Wheels", which failed to make an impression on the chart.
1974 was spent writing new material, but it was apparent that Alice Cooper was turning into a solo act. The original idea was for the whole band to work on their own albums, but the policy disputes which were to lead to the break-up of the band were already being aired. In early 1975, Cooper signed a one-off solo deal with Anchor Records for the release of his next album in Britain, which carried with it a massive worldwide campaign. There were stories of a rift with Warners over this, but they did not prevent the album, "Welcome To My Nightmare", and accompanying tour, from being an enormous success. To coincide with the release of the album. Warner Bros. put out an EP of recent hits, but Cooper fans showed more interest in the new material. "Department Of Youth" was lifted from the album as a picture sleeve in the spring of 1975. By the time that Cooper arrived in Britain for his first solo tour with a new band, the title track was out as a single, followed by "Only Women". None of the Anchor singles charted in the UK, although the latter gave Julie Covington a No. 12 hit in 1977, under it's full title of "Only Women Bleed".
In Decemeber, Anchor repackaged their singles as an EP which, like all the original Anchor releases, soon became hard to find. The album is now only available as a U.S. import.
In between these releases, Chrysalis released a concept album called "Flash Fearless Vs. The Zorg Women", which featured Alice Cooper and other artists. He sang on two tracks, one of which - "I'm Flash" - was released in August as a limited edition promo-only single in a picture sleeve. The other side featured "Trapped", sung by Elkie Brooks (Chyrsalis CHS 2069). The album came with a comic and is now deleted.
By 1976, Alice was established as a solo artsit, working with a team that included Bob Ezrin and guitarist Dick Wagner, with whom he wrote and recorded until 1978. He had renewed his contract with Warner Bros., who earlier in the year had reissued "School's Out", backed with "Elected". The first single from his new album, "Alice Cooper Goes To Hell", was "I Never Cry", which earned a gold disc for sales in the States. The album featured the same personnel as it's predecessor. Later pressings, which omitted the inner sleeve, are still easy to find.
By 1977, his music was appealing to a broader audience and like many of his contemporaries, Alice Cooper was reveiled by the punk movement. Nevertheless, his new album, "Lace And Whiskey", and singles "(No More) Love At Your Convenience", sold well, but would have fared even better if he had toured Europe. Early pressings of the single have Alice Cooper's name printed in a gothic typeface, whilst later pressings featured a rearranged label. "You And Me" was the follow-up, but it failed to emulate it's U.S. chart performance.
Towards the end of 1977, "The Alice Cooper Show" was released. This had been recorded during that year's tour, but was poorly received by fans and critics. At the same time, Anchor decided to get some more mileage out of their back-catalogue by releasing a 12" EP of Alice Cooper material in a picture sleeve, and this is now a collector's item.
At this time, Alice was recovering from alcoholism. He appeared in a disastrous movie based on the Beatles' "Sgt. Pepper" album, the soudtrack of which featured Alice's version of "Because". A limited edition of the album was pressed on pink vinyl.
Alice spent 1978 touring the U.S. and writing for his next album. He joined up with Bernie Taupin, Elton John's lyricist, and together they came up with the "From The Inside" LP, produced by David Foster and, again, mostly co-written with Dick Wagner. The album came in another striking cover and featured the new beige Warner Bros. label. UK copies were pressed over here, but used the covers printed in the U.S.A. Alice employed the cream of L.A. session players, including Steve Lukather and Jeff Porcaro to Toto, plus members of his 1978 touring band and vocal contributions from Kiki Dee and Marcy Levy.
Album sales were moderate: Warner Bros. seemed to be giving priority to newer acts. As far as Cooper aficionados were concerned, "From The Inside" presented a crisper, less ornate sound. The single, "How You Gonna See Me Now", was yet another ballad and helped to keep Alice's name in the public arena. For the first time ever, the B-side was a non-LP track, "No Tricks", which featured soul singer Betty Wright sharing lead vocals. The song dealt with the problems of kicking addictions.
In 1979 Alice maintained his regular touring schedule in the U.S but, for various organisational reasons, failed to reach Europe. The "Madhoue Rock" tour saw a return to a darker, more threatening Alice. The special effects related, in an exaggerated way, Alice's experiences when he was undergoing treatment for alcoholism.
As the eighties dawned, Alice - forever keen observer of L.A.'s style plagiarists - saw the British new wave and post-punk sounds become the vogue. He was particularly drawn towards synthesisers and, together with touring colleagues Davey Johnstone (from the Elton John band) and Davey Mandel, he wrote the songs which made up the "Flush The Fashion" LP in the spring of 1980. He chose as producer Roy Thomas Baker, who had established his reputation as Queen's producer. The album and single, "Clones (we're all)", were healthy international sellers and the ensuing U.S. tour saw a stripped down back-to-basics performance and the choice of smaller venues. In the UK, WEA decided to reissue the "School's Out"/"Elected" coupling, this time with a new picture sleeve. 1980 also saw the release of the "Roadie" soundtrack. In the film Alice played himself and the record featured re-recorded versions of "Road Rats" and "Pain", with Todd Rundgren's Utopia as backing musicians and Rundgren as producer.
Alice's 1981 album, "Special Forces", saw a continuation of the new wave influences. Teaming up with producer Richard Podolor, he recorded a volatile blend of rock and contmeporary snthesiser sounds. A raucous rendition of the old Love track, "Seven And Seven Is", was chosen as the single. This initally featured a gatefold and then a single picture sleeve.
The sleeve notes to "Special Forces" referred to a track called "Look At You Over There, Ripping Sawdust From My Teddy Bear", which was omitted from the album after the cover was printed. The LP included a new version of "Generation Landslide" which previously appeared on "Billion Dollar Babies".
Following another successful U.S. tour, Alice returned to Europe for a series of shows in Britain and France - his first in six years. The years away had not diminished the fanaticism of his audience nor esteem in which he was held. The shows were based loosely on the sparse, new Alice image, with a military flavour echoing the hawkish attitudes of the U.S. people. Alice was so taken with the depth of feeling for him that he and the band remained in London to record the "For Britain Only" single. The B-side was a version of "Under My Wheels" recorded live in Glasgow, whilst the 12" featured bonus tracks from that show.
Maintaining the momentum of the tour, Alice recorded another album. This time he was credited as producer, along with bass player Erik Scott. "Zipper Catches Skin" was a collection of pop songs, which skilfully avoided the cliches that many hard rock revivalists were working. The single "I Am The Future", was written by Lalo Schiffrin, who had composed many film themes over the years: this one was for low-budget horror film, "Class Of '84". The single was a different mix to the LP version.
The album also marked the return of Dick Wagner after a four-year abscence and, in 1983, they teamed up once again with Bob Ezrin for the "Dada" album. The album was not promoted heavily and sold poorly. Nevertheless, it was well received by most Cooper fans and, like it's immediate predecessors, it contained much of Alice's finest work. By this time, WEA were no longer manufacturing records in the UK and West German pressings were shipped over. "I Love America" was lifted off the album as a limited edition 12" single.
There was two year silence from Alice Cooper, while he took a break from the music business. During that time a horde of bands in America and Europe borrowed or stole his musical and visual styles. In April 1984, a picture disc was released by a small British label. This contained tracks recorded at the Rock And Roll Revival Festival in 1969 in Toronto. This was re-worked later as "Freakout Song" and another permutation has appeared recently on Magnum's Thunderbolt label. None of these releases have been approved by Alice Cooper's management.
In 1985, Alice Cooper made an appearance on Twisted Sister's "Come Out And Play" LP and in 1986 he finally released a new album on MCA Records. "Constrictor" was preceded by a single, "He's Back (The Man Behind The Mask)", the theme song from "Friday The 13th Part Six". The single was packaged with a poster and the 12" pressing featured an extra track, recorded live in 1976. Sales were respectable and the album (which was also available as a picture disc) made a showing in the UK charts. Alice Cooper returned to Britain for a triumphant tour, which once again established his as a force to be reckoned with. "Teenage Frankenstein" bacme the second track to appear as a single, released in the same formats as it's predecessor.
Alice Cooper remains one of the most individual writers and performers on the rock scene. With an inspired catalogue of recordings behind him, his return to the music scene will give his imitators and detractors serious cause for concern!
ALICE COOPER: "Ladies Man"
(Thunderbolt THBM 005)
Not for the first time, this set includes six tracks from the band's 'performance' at the 1969 Toronto Rock'n'Roll Festival. On this showing, it was a good time to go and queue for the toilets. The sleeve notes recall that the early Alice cooper were pursuing a reputation as "the worst band in the world": on this basis they qualify, no problem. The album ends with two studio tracks, supposedly early Alice Cooper outing, though they sound far too competent mid-Sixties British R&B style. For complete completists only.