One of my first music loves was Alice Cooper, inherited from my Uncle Stephen, who had been a die-hard fan when he’d been growing up. Poison quickly became my favourite song and I was delighted to see Alice in concert just after finishing high school, buying myself an appropriately-timed School’s Out t-shirt. He (and yes, I know Alice Cooper was originally a band, not just the lead singer) has had a long and varied career, so I’ll try and do it justice here…
Pretties For You – 1969
When the band started out, they were making very different music to the kind that they became famous for. Signed to Frank Zappa’s label, their debut album was a psychedelic affair that only showed smatterings of hard garage rock, but it is still quite edgy and worth a listen. Most notable is first single Reflected, which was retooled a few years later into smash hit Elected, but there’s quite a few good tracks that show promise, like Swing Low Sweet Cheerio, Fields Of Regret and Changing Arranging. A slightly false start, but not a bad one.
Easy Action – 1970
A step towards the familiar Alice Cooper band sound, but still retaining some of the psychedelic flavour, Easy Action is a transitional album, but a very good one too. Opener Mr And Misdemeanor brings out the instantly recognisable rough edge to Alice’s vocals and the guitars are turned up a bit louder than their debut, though there’s still some soft touches, like Beautiful Flyaway and Shoe Salesman. It wasn’t a success and doesn’t have many classics on it, but Easy Action is still a decent slice of early 70s rock.
Love It To Death – 1971
A year later, with Bob Ezrin on board as producer, Alice Cooper brought out the album that made them famous, helped by hit single I’m Eighteen as well as the classic Is It Body. The more indulgent touches of their first two albums were toned down by Ezrin (most famously on I’m Eighteen), leaving an album that is lean in all the right places (Caught In A Dream, Long Way To Go and Second Coming are all great pop songs) without sacrificing some of the more experimental ideas on Black Juju and Ballad Of Dwight Fry. Finishing with a Rolf Harris cover was a little too odd though…
Killer – 1971
Suddenly on a roll, the group took just ten months to release a follow-up and it shows no sign of being rushed, containing two of their finest and most popular songs. From the sleazy opening guitar riffs and horn blasts of Under My Wheels, it’s clear that Alice Cooper were riding high and they maintain that momentum through another mixture of short catchy songs (the sublime Be My Lover) and longer experimental tracks (Halo Of Flies). Desperado was apparently written in tribute to Jim Morrison and stands as an all-time classic, while controversy started to catch up with them when anti-child abuse song Dead Babies was taken as a sign that the band wanted to kill babies.
School’s Out – 1972
Alice Cooper’s most famous and timeless song, School’s Out comes from an album similarly regarded as a classic, but it’s a curious one. Ask most people to name another song from this album and they’d struggle because there aren’t any other hits on it, because it’s a concept album roughly based on/parodying West Side Story (certainly Gutter Cat vs The Jets and Street Fight fit into that theme). There’s lots of great stuff on here, not least Luney Tune and My Stars, but it’s not a consistently brilliant album in the way that its predecessors were and some of it grates a little.
Billion Dollar Babies – 1973
After that slight misstep, Alice Cooper rebounded back into top gear with their next album. Billion Dollar Babies is packed full with anthems, from the title track to Elected to Hello Hooray (a cover, but one that feels like an original) to No More Mr Nice Guy, and the rest of the material is equally strong. This album represents the high point for the original group, in terms of popularity and quality, because things started to fall apart a little after it, but what a high point it was…
Muscle Of Love – 1973
The group’s first album since Easy Action to not be produced by Bob Ezrin, Muscle Of Love feels like a real letdown after Billion Dollar Babies, which preceded it by just nine months. It’s far from a bad album, with a lovely opener in Big Apple Dreamin’, a good title track and the surprisingly poppy Teenage Lament ’74 (featuring Liza Minelli and the Pointer Sisters!) as well the gentle and reflective Hard-Hearted Alice. However, too much of the rest feels a bit like a filler. The Man With The Golden Gun was an attempt to get a Bond theme, but it didn’t work. Lulu beat them. No wonder they split up.
Welcome To My Nightmare – 1975
The first Alice Cooper solo album showed that he could stand up on his own without his band, though he has was certainly helped by the return of Ezrin as producer. A concept album (the plot for which I still don’t really understand) about someone called Steven, this is a stone cold classic from start to finish, featuring one of Alice’s most famous songs, Only Women Bleed. He even used Vincent Price almost a decade before Michael Jackson had the same idea, and there’s plenty of inspiration going around in all directions on here.
Alice Cooper Goes To Hell – 1976
A sequel of sorts to Nightmare, Goes To Hell reunited Cooper with Ezrin and new songwriting partner Dick Wagner, and while it doesn’t quite live up to its predecessor, it’s another very strong and colourful effort, from the catchy title track to the emotionally honest ballad I Never Cry, which laid bare some genuine demons that were haunting the increasingly alcohol-dependent Alice. The disco-influenced You Gotta Dance is good fun and the closing duo of Always Chasing Rainbows and Going Home are lovely, rounding off an very good album.
Lace And Whiskey – 1977
Cooper’s alcoholism had worsened by the time he made Lace And Whiskey, but with Wagner and Ezrin still on board, there was no adverse effect on the music. However, it did mark a change in ‘character’ for him, ditching his traditional persona for a noirish theme, and the use of strings on beautiful ballads You And Me and I Never Wrote Those Songs is a world away from what you’d expect from an Alice Cooper record, without being syrupy. The rest of the material is pretty good, and King Of The Silver Screen is great fun as is the rollicking Ubangi Stomp, making this an underrated release.
From The Inside – 1978
A stay in rehab did for the booze (for a while at least), and inspired Alice’s next concept album. From The Inside is set inside a sanitarium and mixes fantasy with brutally honest reality as he documents his feelings from such a bleak time as well as creating some characters based on people he met there. Elton John’s lyricist Bernie Taupin helped shape these lyrics while members of John’s band also came on board. As on previous solo works, there’s a classic ballad, the heartbreakingly sad How You Gonna See Me Now, and the title track and Inmates (We’re All Crazy) are just two other highlights from the best album Alice would release for a long, long time.
Flush The Fashion – 1980
On the front, it says “Alice Cooper ’80″ and it’s a very apt description for Flush The Fashion. This is the point in his career where he started chasing the zeitgeist, and you can’t place this album at any other time other than the early 1980s, with a New Wave sound that is most prevalent (and successful) on Clones (We’re All). However, with Davey Johnstone still on board and co-writing songs, there’s plenty of quality here, with tracks like Pain, Nuclear Infected, Model Citizen and Headlines all great fun, and it’s a decent enough album.
Special Forces – 1981
This album however, is not. The nadir of Cooper’s career, Special Forces sounds like a man adrift (his alcoholism had returned with a vengence) and unsure of what direction his career should take. The 80s production is hollow and soulless and there’s little more life in the recordings, with a terrible cover of Love’s 7 And 7 Is and a pointless ‘live’ remake of Generation Landslide summing up the poor offerings here. Some of it isn’t bad, but none of it’s particularly good.
Zipper Catches Skin – 1982
Much better, Zipper Catches Skin is one of two albums that Cooper doesn’t remember making, which shows how far gone he was by this stage in his career, but it’s entertaining enough. Zorro’s Ascent and Make That Money are a lively start to the album and set the tone for a more straightforward set of rock songs than he had recorded for a while. The highlight is the album closer I’m Alive (That Was the Day My Dead Pet Returned to Save My Life), which is just as good as the name suggests.
DaDa – 1983
Bob Ezrin and Dick Wagner returned to the fold on this album, but Cooper was still a way off from his revival and while the production values are much improved on his recent efforts, DaDa is a mixed bag. The title track and Former Lee Warmer are both atmospheric and spooky, while Scarlet And Sheba is one of the catchiest tunes of his fallow period. Overall it isn’t a patch on the other Cooper/Ezrin/Wagner efforts, but it’s far from a waste of time.
Constrictor – 1986
After getting sober once and for all, it took Alice three years to return, the longest gap between albums so far in his career. With musclebound heavy metal guitarist Kane Roberts his new muse, this was a fresh start all round, with subtlety thrown out of the window and replaced by loud guitars, brash lyrics and lots of make-up and gore. Teenage Frankenstein and He’s Back (The Man Behind The Mask) set the tone for it all, fun, dumb and full of energy.
Raise Your Fist And Yell – 1987
It didn’t take long for Cooper and Roberts to repeat the successful formula of Constrictor, and Raise Your Fist adds a lot more gore to the mix with a loose concept theme about a serial killer over the second half of the album (Time To Kill, Chop Chop Chop, Gail and Roses On White Lace) making it all very unpleasant. But what else would you expect from Alice Cooper? He still wasn’t back to his best, but this was another step in the right direction.
Trash – 1989
Perhaps realising that he wasn’t going to score big hits with Roberts, Alice made a push for the charts by enlisting Desmond Child on Trash and it paid off big-style. Ditching the violence for smut, Trash is one long hot booty call from a man approaching his 40s, but it worked, with Poison hitting the top ten around the world and giving him his first hit in over a decade. With members of Bon Jovi and Aerosmith joining in, Trash was a slick and consistently entertaining album that cemented Alice’s living legend status.
Hey Stoopid – 1991
He kept up his winning form two years later with another star-studded affair, adding people from Guns n Roses, Motley Crue, Ozzy Osbourne, Joe Satriani and Steve Vai. Feed My Frankenstein (helped by Wayne’s World) became another smash hit (and his second song to mix up Frankenstein and his monster). As with Trash, ballads were back on the menu, and Might As Well Be On Mars is one of my personal favourites. Hey Stoopid certainly kept up the quality levels of its predecessor and is an essential part of anyone’s collection.
The Last Temptation – 1994
Having revived his career with 80s hair metal, Alice toned things down for the mid-90s, probably aware that it would seem rather dated in the age of grunge (Soundgarden singer Chris Cornell co-write one song and provided vocals on two). In the process, he recorded his best album since Welcome To My Nightmare. Whether it was inspired by his born-again Christianity of not doesn’t really matter, but this tale of temptation and redemption is a classy and timeless record that recalls the very best of 70s Alice Cooper albums. It’s Me and Lost In America even got into the UK Top Forty and the latter is a regular in his setlists to this day.
Brutal Planet – 2000
It took six years for Alice to follow up on his masterpiece and Brutal Planet was a very different kind of album. Seemingly inspired by the nu-metal sound that was all the rage at the time, the guitars crunch like never before and there was a temptation to see it as a shame that he’d been swayed into trying to sound like everyone else rather than ploughing his own furrow. However, Brutal Planet is a pretty decent album with lots of catchy songs and memorable lyrics reflecting on very modern social concerns.
Dragontown – 2001
A year later and he was back with a kind of sequel, continuing the heavier sound, but with a much stronger set of songs, from the rollicking opening trio of Triggerman, Deeper and Dragontown to the more humorous tracks like Fantasy Man and Disgraceland (Elvis in Hell, basically). It still wasn’t quite up to the standard of his classics, but Dragontown was another very impressive Alice album.
The Eyes Of Alice Cooper – 2003
Alice ditched the industrial nu-metal sound in time for the garage rock revival led by the likes of The White Stripes, and while you can claim it’s a fairly cynical move, he wastes no time in reminding us all that he played a big role in popularising this kind of music. Detroit City features fellow oldie Wayne Kramer (of MC5) and is just one of the highlights of this great album, with Between High School And Old School and particularly the funny Man Of The Year. A great album.
Dirty Diamonds – 2005
He kept up the garage rock sound for his next album, with his guitarist Ryan Roxie now operating as his songwriting wingman in the manner of Wagner and Roberts before him. The humour is still all over the lyrics, with sly social commentary on Sunset Babies (All Got Rabies) and a tale of a transvestite lorry driver on The Ballad Of Jesse Jane. There’s also a nod to the very earliest Alice Cooper albums with the cover of The Left Banke’s Pretty Ballerina, and it all adds up to another impressive release.
Along Came A Spider – 2008
Alice’s most recent album is a bit of a curious one because it’s his weakest in quite a long time. It’s a concept about a serial killer, with the lyrics thankfully done with a bit more subtlety than they were on Raise Your Fist And Yell, but the music is a bit of a disappointment. It falls somewhere between the garage rock of his two recent albums and the heavy metal of the previous two and while none of it is bad, not much of it really stands out, making for an album that passes by without much impact. Hopefully his next, a sequel to Welcome To My Nightmare, will be a return to top form, it certainly sounds promising.