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My first experience of Alice Cooper came via re-runs of the UK Seventies music show ‘The Old Grey Whistle Test’ with host ‘Whispering Bob Harris… Those were the days when it didn’t matter what a ‘Whistle Test’ was, let alone why it had to be an ‘Old Grey’ one; and where everything was new and you had to actually seek out music rather than Google it or YouTube it. And when a bloke who wanted to go by the name of ‘Whispering Bob’ could do without fear of ridicule… But I digress.
For those who want to though you can of course see Alice performing ‘Under My Wheels’ on YouTube from that very show with just the merest touch of the keyboard...
Alice is still very much a part of my musical life some thirty odd years later (and that show is 40 years old this year). It was those early Alice Cooper albums that really helped shape my musical tastes though, and it was only a matter of time till I had tracked down everything from the legendary “Love It To Death” (which remains one of my favourite albums of all time) to “Lace and Whiskey” which still sounds forgettable.
Alice has of course re-invented himself many times since, and unlike some, I’m a big fan of this early eighties ‘Japanese Kabuki Housewife’ output especially the gem that was “Special Forces”. Younger fans will be more familiar with his late eighties dabbling with hair metal and tracks like “Poison” once a massive MTV staple. Then there's my Grandad who recognises him from pro-celebrity golf; and these days there’s also the radio show. And if you’re in Phoenix try out AliceCoopertown, his restaurant, just don’t order the ‘Big Unit’…
So what’s all the fuss about? Here is the second instalment in our artist retrospectives: Alice Cooper.
Here we go...
Pretties For You (1969)
Steve says: Where it all started. With a lot of bands, the debut album can be the best. That is certainly not the case here. Opening with the instrumental ‘Titanic Overture’ the album is almost psychedelic. Contains no hint at what was to come on future albums. Absolutely nothing going for it unless you are a hippy.
Easy Action (1970)
Steve says: More psychedelica from the band but there are signs, albeit very well hidden, of the band evolving. ‘Still No Air’, ‘Return of The Spiders’ and the wonderful ‘Refrigerator Heaven’ (unfortunately not a Cold Ethyl prequel) hint at the darker side to come. A vast improvement on the debut with better playing and vocals but still a bit hippyish.
Mark says: It is an improvement on the first outing but for me Frank Zappa's influence is still looming large and there's certainly nothing on here to prepare you for Alice's next album - the masterpiece Love It To Death!,
Love It To Death (1971)
Steve says: Now we’re talking. From the very start of opening track Caught In A Dream you know this is the Alice Cooper sound we all love. Produced by legendary Bob Ezrin, the sound is much cleaner than the two previous albums. Contains the first Alice classics (I’m Eighteen, Is It My Body & Ballad Of Dwight Fry) Even the quirky tracks seem to fit in. Only let down is album closer Sun Arise but even Alice put his own twist on it.
Steve says: Album four and they really hit their stride with one of their darkest albums. Containing ‘Under My Wheels’, ‘Desperado’ ‘Be My Lover’ and the wonderful ‘Dead Babies’, this is one of most consistent albums. This is how it should be done. Sounds almost like the soundtrack from a horror movie.
Mark says: Another classic, from the blistering ‘Under My Wheels’ through the TV theme tune meets Eastern tinged Mary Poppins mash of ‘Halo of Flies’ – this really is dark and experimental rock. ‘Desperado’ and ‘Dead Babies’ too start to build that legend. One to own.
School's Out (1972)
Steve says: The album that made them stars. Mainly because of the title track but there is more to the album than that. Although few of the tracks are classics it’s not all bad. ‘Gutter Cat vs. The Jets’, ‘My Stars’ and ‘Public Animal Number 9’ are all worth checking out.
Mark says: Strangely this is one of Alice’s least interesting early albums and contains a number of largely forgettable tunes. I just didn’t get this one at the time and still don’t today. Had it not been for that teen anthem though, we may not have got the next classic release…
Billion Dollar Babies (1973)
Steve says: Number one album in both the USA and the UK. From opening track ‘Hello Hooray’ through Elected, the title track then ‘No More Mr. Nice Guy’ the album flows perfectly. The dark element of the album comes in two of the final three tracks. The sinister ‘Sick Things’ and ‘I Love The Dead’ split by ‘Mary Ann’ a strange almost concert hall piano led track.
Mark says: Amazing! There’s probably only ‘Unfinished Sweet’ about a visit to a rather unsavoury dentist that doesn’t stand repeated listens. This album is gold and came in gatefold with its own Alice Cooper dollar billion dollar bill (that I still have!). Throw a dart and it lands on a classic, though for me it’s ‘No More Mr. Nice Guy’ and ‘Generation landslide’ along with the title track that land this one.
Muscle Of Love (1973)
Steve says: A concept album loosely based around the life of a teenager on the streets. Not as immediate as previous albums but still contains ‘Teenage Lament `74’ and ‘The Man With The Golden Gun’ which was meant to be the title track for the Bond movie and you can certainly tell. Song wise the band seemed a million miles away from the one that had recorded the previous four albums. Which led to the band splitting up, which in turn led to one of Alice’s greatest....
Mark says: I remember buying ‘Teenage Lament ‘74’ on single in a second hand shop, I was disappointed, but it’s still the best track on here. It’s so hard to believe that this came between two classics. Best left on the shelf…
Welcome To My Nightmare (1975)
Steve says: After the split up of Alice Cooper the band came Alice Cooper the solo artist. Again produced by Bob Ezrin (who also features on the album) this is a concept album all about the nightmares of the boy Steven. Also featuring Dick Wagner and the narrative talents of Vincent Price this became arguably his most famous album. Controversial track ‘Cold Ethyl’ featured the subject of necrophilia and spawned the huge hit ‘Only Women Bleed’. Thanks to the album, Alice also featured on The Muppet Show.
Mark says: The band became the solo artist and things couldn’t have sounded better. ‘Cold Ethyl’ is hilarious lyrically and continued to play on the risqué nature of songs like ‘Dead Babies’ and ‘I Love the Dead’, but it’s showstoppers like ‘Steven’ that show that Alice could just lay down a track that was years ahead of its time. Plenty more to like too.
Goes To Hell (1976)
Steve says: Following the success of ...Nightmare Alice released another concept album which is almost a sequel to it. Very much is similar to it also. After the hit ‘Only Women Bleed’, Alice tried to copy it here with ‘I Never Cry’. Nearly entirely written by Cooper, nowhere near as good as his previous effort but not a turkey either. While ‘Go To Hell’ stands out, the rest of the album is certainly worth a listen, with the exception of ‘You Gotta Dance’ & ‘I’m The Coolest’. A Lot better than some reviews will have you believe.
Mark says: Gloriously inconsistent Alice proves again that the best chaser for a sure-fire winner is a lame turkey. I actually didn’t mind ‘I Never Cry’ it may be Alice at his softest but it shone surrounded by most of the other tracks…
Lace And Whiskey (1977)
Steve says: With Bob Ezrin again at the helm, Alice created a new persona. Hard-drinking PI Maurice Escargot. Another ballad, lead-off single ‘You And Me’ was his last top ten US single for over a decade. Live shows from this tour were recorded for the Alice Cooper Show live album. Very heavily influenced by his love of 40`s & 50`s music. ‘King of The Silver Screen’ has Alice at his theatrical best. With ‘Ubangi Stomp’, Alice goes rockabilly.
The catchy ‘(No More) Love At You Convenience’, which Alice says is the worst song he has ever written (not even close) and the heartfelt ‘I never Wrote those songs’ finish the album.
Mark says: Ok so the Pi’s name was funny, but like Steve said the only songs really worth mentioning are the lightest numbers: ‘(No More) Love At You Convenience’ and ‘You and Me’ which are sort of poorer cousins to ‘Only Women Bleed’. ‘It’s Hot Tonight’ isn’t the worst song Alice ever recorded either…
The Alice Cooper Show (1977)
Steve says: Recorded live on the Lace And Whiskey tour, The Alice Cooper Show is a very poorly recorded album. Overall it’s a huge disappointment and definitely not Alice at his best. Only the two ballads ‘Only Women Bleed’ and ‘I Never Cry’ sound even half decent. ‘Sick Things’ is shortened to under a minute and ‘Devils Food’ and ‘Black Widow’ are rammed together and sound a mess. A good enough set list but poorly executed.
Mark says: Not one of the best live albums you will ever hear…
From The Inside (1978)
Steve says: Another concept album from Alice. Inspired by events and characters he encountered during a stay in a New York sanatorium due to his increasing battle with alcohol. One of my favourite Alice albums from opener and title track to album closer ‘Inmates (We’re All Crazy)’ through the stark ‘The Quiet Room’, the lecherous ‘Nurse Rozetta’, the basic but sinister ballad ‘Millie And Billie’ and the beautiful ‘How You Gonna See Me Now’. A classic Alice album, which is notable for appearances by Bernie Taupin, Steve Lukather (Toto) and Rick Nielsen (Cheap Trick).
Mark says: a bit hit and miss for me, like Alice’s take on ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’, but nothing really stands out except the wonderful lyrics.
Flush The Fashion (1980)
Steve says: A huge change in musical sound for Alice on this album. Very ‘New Wave’ in influence. One of the most overlooked albums in his collection. Gone are the concepts and big productions and in comes short poppy songs. Stand out tracks are ‘Pain’ and the single ‘Clones’. The rest is all guitar based pop.
Mark says: this is the album that momentarily stopped me buying Alice Cooper albums, but his next for me was a classic…
Special Forces (1981)
Steve says: Alice continued to alter his music sound with this release. While the music was poppy and ‘New Wave’, the lyrics kept a dark edge to them with the likes of ‘Skeletons in the Closet’. ‘You’re A Movie’ and ‘Look At You Over There Ripping The Sawdust From My Teddy Bear’ are good Alice fun. Despite his addictions almost killing him, this is a underrated gem.
Mark says: My favourite Alice album of the decade though you can largely forget the Love cover of ‘Seven and Seven Is’, still he was brave enough to do it! I loved this one from ‘Who Do You Think We Are’ through ‘Prettiest Cop on the Block’ to my favourite dark pop rock of ‘You Look Good in Rags’. Consistently great from start to finish and my second favourite Alice album!
Zipper Catches Skin (1982)
Steve says: Continuing the musical direction of the previous two albums, Alice’s lyrics here are more comical, with some brilliant wordplay. From opener ‘Zorro’s Ascent’ to ‘I Am The Future (soundtrack to Class Of 1984)’ through the ingenious ‘Tag, You’re it’ to the album closer “I’m Alive (That Was The Day My Dead Pet Returned To Save My Life)”
Mark says: once again when you get it right it’s time to find the turkey again. In truth lyrically it’s quite funny, but the songs just don’t stack up. Still tracks like ‘I like Girls’ ‘Remarkably Insincere’ and ‘Tag You’re It’ all have their certain charm.
Steve says: Alice returned with another concept album based on the many different personalities of the character suffering from a mental illness. Featuring a returning Bob Ezrin. The album also features Lisa DalBello on background vocals. Alice has reportedly said he has no memories of recording this album due to his ongoing battle with alcohol. Stand out tracks are the last two songs on the album ‘Fresh Blood’ and ‘Pass The Gun Around’.
Mark says: I slept through this one… I can see why it took three years to get back in the saddle. .
Steve says: He returned in 1986 with his comeback album and a new sound. Sounding like a soundtrack to a horror movie. ‘He’s Back (The Man Behind The Mask)’ and ‘Teenage Frankenstein’ were used on Friday The 13th Part VI. Featuring new guitarist Kane Roberts and guest appearances from Kip Winger and Donnie Kisselbach, it spawned a successful tour and Alice was back.
Mark says: Certainly a step in the right direction and a little jump on the burgeoning ‘hair metal’ bandwagon with limited success…
Raise Your Fist And Yell (1987)
Steve says: Another horror movie like soundtrack from Alice: A very loose story about a serial killer. One track (Prince Of Darkness) also featured in the movie of the same name, which Alice also had a cameo in. Again the album featured Kane Roberts & Kip Winger. The horror theme continues through to the closing two tracks ‘Gail’ and ‘Roses On White Lace’.
Mark says: So many bands were doing this type of thing so much better at the time. Largely written by Kane Roberts and Alice Cooper it wasn’t gelling for me and it wasn’t until the ‘usual suspects’ of 80’s song writers were brought in that Cooper would come back on ‘Trash’.
Steve says: In 1989 Alice hit the jackpot with his first top ten single in over two decades: the title track to the album. Featuring the song writing talents of Desmond Child and Joan Jett; and with appearances from Jon Bon Jovi, Tom Hamilton, Steve Tyler and Steve Lukather; this is a much more sexually themed album. From the polished ‘Only My Heart Talking’ to the horror themed ‘This Maniacs In love With You’. It’s big on production and big on choruses this was his finest album for over a decade.
Mark says: A who’s who of eighties rock song writers graced this one so it’s no surprise really that it hit the spot. It’s a great album from cover to cover but I’ll let the team tell you what it meant to them…
Hey Stoopid (1991)
Steve says: Alice’s revival continued with another star-studded album: featuring appearances from Ozzy, Nikki Sixx, Mick Mars, Joe Satriani and Steve Vai. The title track became another hit but his is a really consistent album with some of his best stuff in a long time. It’s hard to ignore ‘Snakebite’, ‘Dangerous Tonight’, ‘Feed My Frankenstein’ (again) and the sinister ‘Wind Up Toy’. Alice had done it again.
Mark says: like Steve said, the trick worked last time, so this time we get a different cast of writers who almost managed to repeat the magic. Still a great two in a row from Alice and a great introduction to 90’s Alice.
The Last Temptation (1994)
Steve says: After a gap of three years Alice returned with another concept album. Based around a travelling show. The album also features the ‘Nightmare’ character Steven. Featuring song-writing by Jack Blades, Tommy Shaw and Chris Cornell: high points are: ‘You’re My Temptation’ and ‘It’s Me’. Only let down by the awful ‘Lost In America’.
Mark says: Grunge derailed Alice’s successful late eighties resurgence like it did a lot of bands so Alice delved back into concepts this time taking Dan Wexler and Bud Saylor along for the write. In truth it’s not great, but it’s not awful either.
A Fistful Of Alice (1997) (Japanese version)
Steve says: Recorded at Sammy Hagar’s Cabo Wabo club in Mexico and featuring guest appearances from Sammy, Slash & Rob Zombie. Alice certainly sounds like he’s having fun with a great set list and a great performance. Most interesting are the keyboard heavy version of ‘Teenage Lament’ and the inclusion of ‘Clones. A great version of ‘Desperado’ and Rob Zombie featuring on two tracks is a bonus. This is Alice just as he should be. Album closer ‘Is Anyone Home’ is a studio track recorded especially for the album.
Brutal Planet (2000)
Steve says: After a gap of six years Alice returned with one of his heaviest and darkest albums: featuring more social-themed songs, including topics such as: domestic violence, war, starvation and school massacres, lyrically it’s interesting. The band now featured soon to be long time guitarist Ryan Roxie and drummer Eric Singer. It’s a very industrial sounding album. The gruesome ‘Pick Up The Bones’, ‘Wicked Young Man’ and the creepy ‘Pessi-Mystic’ are the best of the bunch.
Mark says: a great Alice-flavored slab of metal!
Steve says: Continuing the heavier almost industrial sound of Brutal Planet, Dragontown is a loose sequel it. Mentioning several titles and characters from the album. With several songs about Hell or sung from the point of view of The Devil, this is definitely a dark album with the only relief being ‘Disgraceland’ where Alice does his best impression of Elvis. Even ‘Sister Sara’ is dark and tells the story of a nun who loses her soul. Only ‘Every Woman Has A Name’ lightens the mood.
The Eyes Of Alice Cooper (2003)
Steve says: Alice left the industrial sound behind and returned to the garage sounds days of his beginnings. From opener ‘What Do You Want From Me’ to the lyrically brilliant sing-along ‘Man Of The Year’. Pure Alice rock and roll he varies between out and out rockers and ballads perfectly. This is what Alice does best and sounds much more like the early Alice Cooper band. ‘Novocaine’, the anthemic ‘Detroit City’, ‘This House Is Haunted’, the quirky ‘The Song That Didn’t Rhyme’ and the thumping ‘Backyard Brawl’ are the pick of the album but this was Alice returning to his best form. This is about as good as it gets.
Mark says: I really liked this one, there are no classics here but it’s a consistent listen and draws on Alice’s past nicely. Well worth checking out.
Dirty Diamonds (2005)
Steve says: Continuing the musical direction of ‘The Eyes Of..’ Alice makes an album which could easily have come from his early days. ‘Perfect’ is a Beatelesque track. The funny ‘Ballad Of Jesse Jane’ is something only Alice could pull off. There are plenty of old school rockers on here like ‘Sunset Babies (All Got Rabies)’, ‘Steal That Car’ and the title track.
Mark says: another cool album from Alice who proves that he still has something to say and isn’t content yet to plough the Kiss- route and rehash the back catalogue year in year out. Probably even better than ‘Eyes’
Along Came A Spider (2008)
Steve says: Back to what he does best: a concept album! This one is the story of a serial killer called Spider. The killer’s victims are wrapped in silk webs and all missing a leg, so the killer can create his own spider. Featuring Ozzy and Slash as guests the album begins with a news report finding the Spider’s diary. Every track flows perfectly to tell the story and some brilliant writing really brings the story to life. Alice sounds better than ever and it’s a very catchy album. The heavy ‘Vengeance Is Mine’ and ‘Salvation’ are the best but this is a great album and well worth listening to just for the epilogue and the mention of Steven.
Mark says: with Slash and Ozzy guesting and the late Jani Lane contributing to the song: ‘The One That Got Away’ this is another fine album from Alice: three in a row makes the 2000’s a fertile decade for Phoenix’s most famous rock star resident.
Welcome 2 My Nightmare (2011)
Check out our reviews page… NOW!!!
By Mark Diggins & Steve Warsap
Thanks to Shayne and Helen for their pick of the bunch
CHECK BACK SOON FOR OUR EXCLUSIVE VEDEO INTERVIEW WITH ALICE, AND COMING SOON LIVE REVIEWS OF DOWNUNDER DATES