A Six-Pack of Alice Cooper

“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:

Spotify

Killer, which Johnny Rotten called the greatest rock album of all time, was also released in 1971 and had two songs I dug, “Under My Wheels” (with Rick Derringer) and “Be My Lover.” I love how the latter slows down to a nice bluesy riff at the end. And then that little part where the drummer knocks his sticks together during the ending flourish. Nice touch:

Spotify

She asked me why the singer’s name was Alice
I said baby you really wouldn’t understand.

Spotify

The band had by now become somewhat notorious for it stage act which typically featured a boa constrictor hugging Cooper on-stage, the murderous ax chopping of bloodied baby dolls, and execution by hanging at the gallows as well as Mr. Furnier having his head cut off by a guillotine.

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:

Spotify link

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.”

Spotify

Alice Cooper were inducted (by Rob Zombie) into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2011.

Source: Wikipedia, other random recollections

10 thoughts on “A Six-Pack of Alice Cooper

  1. Man, we cut our teeth on Alice Cooper. School’s Out blaring on a ghetto blaster as we emptied our lockers into the hallways on the last day of school. Billion Dollar Babies was the last album I could get into; when they broke up & Furnier continued as Alice with a new band, I think they lost a step.

    Like

    1. I considered Bilion Dollar Babies but I had to throw that Velvet Underground Cover on. It’s pretty good. Interestingly, Steve Hunter and Dick Wagner of Lou Reed’s band played on that album. What inspired me to do this post was seeing a picture of Alice helping out on a food line for kids somewhere.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. While one could think a guy hugging a boa constrictor, chopping of bloodied baby dolls and performing executions on stage may need to have his brain checked, based on some interviews I’ve seen, Alice Cooper seems to be a pleasant person, no matter his song “No More Mr. Nice Guy.” I don’t know his music in-depth, but “I’m Eighteen” and “School’s Out” are true rock classics in my book.

    I ended up seeing Mr. Shock Rock in New Jersey in August 2017 when he shared a bill with Edgar Winter and Deep Purple. While I really came to see Deep Purple, I enjoyed his set. He had impressive guitar shredder Nita Strauss as part of his backing band.

    Cool he’s coming out with a new album. I hadn’t been aware of it.

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    1. Yeah, he’s pretty much a straight-up dude. He’s an avid golfer and has spent a fair amount of time playing with other celebs. Frankly I always found that somewhat disappointing. Sounded too bourgeois. But apparently he used it to wean himself off of booze.

      That whole show you mentioned sounds cool. I like Edgar Winter too. But here’s a weird thing and why I responded fairly quickly. I bought a guitar magazine today. It has exercises in it, one of which is called 30-minute lickbag. So it has licks taken from six artists that they show you how to play. One is Nita Struass who is barely in my consciousness. I read it five minutes before you wrote your note. Odd or what?

      I only discovered the new album by serendipity. Their cover sounds really good.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi there….discovered your blog a couple of months ago, it’s a very enjoyable read.

    Love It to Death was big in my college dorm decades ago, but I haven’t listened to it in years. Time to crank up spotify and give ut another go.

    Best…RichD

    Like

  4. CB likes every cut you posted. I liked that early Alice. I never got the stage stuff. I guess it was a way to get his music over. What’s with all these early rockers coming from Detroit and Michigan? I betcha those guys like looking back at that pic you used. Their kids would razz the shit out of them.

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    1. Detroit is a no-bullshit blue collar working class town. Plus they’ve got the college town of Ann Arbor maybe 40 miles to the west. Nice mix. They had the MC5. Seger. Jack White.Glenn Frey. And Motown came right outta there too. I remember there was a bootleg Stones album called “We never really got it on till Detroit.” Geils used to love the place, calling it their second home. Audiences didn’t sit on their hands there.

      Liked by 1 person

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