“We were into fun, sex, death, and money when everybody was into peace and love. We wanted to see what was next. It turned out we were next, and we drove a stake through the heart of the Love Generation.” Alice Cooper on their adventures in LA.
When my friends and I first became aware of Alice Cooper, we didn’t wanna know them. They were theatrical. They did a macabre stage show. We were purists, snotty little gits who believed you were either a musician or playing the fool. (This, given that maybe one of us even knew HOW to play an instrument.) When we eventually shut up and listened, we found out that they were a pretty good band with some good meat-and-potatoes rock. A little history is in order. And stick around for a little surprise (and Spotify list) at end.
Vincent Furnier was born in Detroit in 1948. (You’ll love this next part.) His father was an Evangelist in The Church of Jesus Christ and his paternal grandfather was an apostle in, and President of, that church. His family eventually moved to Phoenix. His high school yearbook ambition was to be a “million record seller.”
In 1964, Vince wanted to participate in the high school’s talent show. He used to run track so he and a couple of his teammates got together, dressed up as the Beatles and did song parodies. Despite the fact that they were mostly miming and only one guy knew how to play an instrument, the crowd went wild and they won the freakin’ show. They decided to form a real band, doubtless because some girls looked at them differently and 99.9% of guys go into music for no other reason other than to get laid.
They called themselves The Spiders and managed to put out a couple of singles locally. Eventually, with stars and even hotter girls in their eyes, by 1967 they moved to LA. For a while they started calling themselves Nazz but on realizing Todd Rundgren had a similarly-named band, needed a new handle.
They had started becoming more theatrical and their music was somewhat heavy so they came up with the wholesome-sounding Alice Cooper. After their initial success, Furnier in 1975 adopted that name for himself and later stated it was an important career move.
They wanted to stand out in the hot-house of ’60’s LA and so decided that a little Grand Guignol would go a long way. Their choice of a look for Alice was, to a certain extent, inspired by movies. In the flick Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? Bette Davis “wears disgusting caked makeup smeared on her face and underneath her eyes, with deep, dark, black eyeliner.”
Jane Fonda’s Barbarella also starred Anita Pallenberg. “When I saw her in that movie wearing long black leather gloves with switchblades coming out of them, I thought, ‘That’s what Alice should look like.’ That, and a little bit of Emma Peel from The Avengers.”
Wikipedia: “One night after an unsuccessful gig at the Cheetah club in Venice, California, where the band emptied the entire room of patrons after playing just ten minutes, they were approached and enlisted by music manager Shep Gordon, who saw the band’s negative impact that night as a force that could be turned in a more productive direction.
Shep then arranged an audition for the band with Frank Zappa, who was looking to sign bizarre music acts to his new record label, Straight Records. For the audition, Zappa told them to come to his house “at 7 o’clock.” The band mistakenly assumed he meant 7 o’clock in the morning. Being woken up by a band willing to play that particular brand of psychedelic rock at seven in the morning impressed Zappa enough for him to sign them to a three-album deal.”
The band – consisting almost entirely of Furnier’s high school cross-country teammates- released its first album Pretties for You in 1969. They hadn’t yet developed their hard rock sound and in a year when, say, Let it Bleed was released, the album didn’t get much notice.
The band appeared at the Toronto Rock and Roll Revival concert that year and the stage show they became famous (or infamous) for was born. “A chicken somehow made its way onto the stage into the feathers of a feather pillow they would open during Cooper’s performance, and not having any experience with farm animals, Cooper presumed that, because the chicken had wings, it would be able to fly.
He picked it up and threw it out over the crowd, expecting it to fly away. The chicken instead plummeted into the first few rows occupied by wheelchair users, who reportedly proceeded to tear the bird to pieces. The next day the incident made the front page of national newspapers, and Zappa phoned Cooper and asked if the story, which reported that he had bitten off the chicken’s head and drunk its blood on stage, was true. Cooper denied the rumor, whereupon Zappa told him, “Well, whatever you do, don’t tell anyone you didn’t do it.”
LA was too laid-back for the band so they went back to the rough ‘n tumble of blue-collar Michigan where their stage show and style were better received. In 1971 they released Love it to Death which became their critical and commercial breakthrough and introduced a harder-rocking sound.
I’ve always dug the song “I’m Eighteen” which inspired more than one punk-rocker:
Alice was once asked “What’s the greatest three minutes of your life?”. Cooper said: “There’s two times during the year. One is Christmas morning when you’re just getting ready to open the presents. The greed factor is right there. The next one is the last three minutes of the last day of school when you’re sitting there and it’s like a slow fuse burning. I said, ‘If we can catch that three minutes in a song, it’s going to be so big.'”
How can you have an Alice Cooper six-pack without “School’s Out?” You can’t. Starts with a great but impossibly easy to play lick:
For sake of space, I’ll leave “Elected” for you to enjoy when you (of course) listen to the Spotify list. And so here’s the surprise. Alice Cooper has announced that he will release a new album, titled Detroit Stories, early next year. The legendary shock rocker’s latest LP will arrive on February 26th. Here he is doing a pretty nice cover of Velvet Underground’s “Rock ‘n Roll.”
Alice Cooper were inducted (by Rob Zombie) into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2011.