Who is Alice Cooper? That’s not a rhetorical question, who is he? Deviant, Born Again Christian, King of Shock Rock, Glam Rock, Glam Metal, the poster boy of 70’s androgyny, the forefather of Punk rock, and he’s been making music for over 50 years at this point. With such a long career, he has had some staggering highs and some staggering lows. With this track by track retrospective, I will give you an overview of the life and crimes of Alice Cooper.
LEVITY BALL- Pretties for You (1969)
You probably have never heard this song, and I really don’t blame you. Alice Cooper’s first studio album is not good. A combination of lazy rock and half-hearted psychedelia. Does that mean there aren’t highlights in this album? Not at all. Levity Ball is perhaps one of the best parts of the album, it’s perhaps the most consistent song on the album, alongside Changing Arranging. Its just a shame that the song on the album is a live cover, that sounds baaaad. Why am I complementing it? Because the studio version is much better! If you can find it, it’s worth listening to the studio demo version, as it does the song justice.
SHOE SALESMAN- Easy Action (1970)
Easy Action shares a lot of problems with its predecessor. It really isn’t good, but it much more consistent in its music. Songs feel less meandering, and a little bit more concise, and also are less of the Frank Zappa school of freak out and psychedelia. Shoe Salesman is a calm, mid-tempo, and a poppy piece of the late 60’s/early 70’s pop. It was actually released as a single but did not chart. And it isn’t hard to see why. The song doesn’t scream buy me to an audience, it’s just a pleasant radio filler song. The music on the album is that little bit better but doesn’t impress. You can hear a lot of later Alice Cooper music in this album though, so could perhaps be considered the real debut of the band. Either this album, or the next one…
THE BALLAD OF DWIGHT FRY- Love it to Death (1971)
I couldn’t listen to a Frank Zappa influenced Love it to Death. The loose song structure and freak out psychedelic sound really didn’t work. Thank god for Bob Ezrin. The young producer, who agreed to produce the band after seeing them in a concert, would shake up the band’s sound in a great way. Rather than the loose, meandering songs of the last two albums, Ezrin made the band condense their work into shorter, more concise and ultimately stronger songs. What sounds better? A 10-minute jam about wanting to be 18 again, or a 3 minute, solid rocker of a song about enjoying being 18?
To describe Love it to Death’s sound, its dark, macabre, creepy, spooky, and altogether ooky. The Ballad of Dwight Fry exemplifies that with its story about an inmate in an asylum. Its end with screaming vocals, declaring that the character wants to get outta here, makes it unsettling, but enjoyable listening. Its piano really does it for me, juxtaposing the innocent, childlike keys with the subject. I love it.
DEAD BABIES/KILLER- Killer (1971)
Now, this is a two for one, because I need to talk about both. Both songs go hand in hand. Listen to Killer, and you will hear perhaps one of the darkest albums ever recorded. It continues the sound developed by Love it to Death but turns it up to eleven. The songs are more aggressive, and the subject matters are much more controversial. Dead Babies, ostensibly about child abuse and child neglect, is so morbid, it can be quite a shock to listen to in today’s PC world. Killer follows that trend of morbidity, with one of the most haunting album closers of all time, resembling a funeral dirge, with distant screaming, and the soft whispering repetition of the song’s lyrics. I absolutely love it, because it is so blatantly perverted and wrong.
I also believe that Dead Babies is a precursor to 1990’s grunge. Listen to that opening guitar, it sounds sort of like Nirvana. In short, Killer, as an album is dark, morbid, and deliciously perverted. Worth a listen. Also, bit of trivia: Rick Derringer, writer and performer of Hulk Hogan theme ‘Real American’ played additional guitar on this album. The more you know.
ALMA MATER- Schools Out (1972)
Schools Out is a welcome change from Killer. I love Killer, but if the band continued their more morbid sound, it is very likely that the fan base would have become alienated. There is a bit more levity in school’s out, its a nostalgic look back at childhood, albeit from an Alice Cooper perspective. The main popularity of this album is due to Schools Out popularity as a song, a UK Number 1. The rest of the album? It’s actually a little overshadowed. The more progressive, and theatrical nature of the band began to shine through the straight-laced rock. The album is full of stone cold classic rock tunes, but I picked Alma Mater because it is a brilliant sequel song to School’s out, from the perspective of a student reflecting on leaving school for the last time. Its a gentler song than others on the album. The ending of this song, the penultimate one off the album, is quite touching, with a lone harmonica playing into a soundless void.
HELLO HOORAY- Billion Dollar Babies (1973)
I am surprised that this song is a cover! This is perhaps my favourite Alice Cooper album, as a band. I consider this album to be the best because it is a balance between the darker themes of Killer, and the more levity based Schools Out. It is an album that makes fun of the fans, in a nice way, by making good, catchy songs, about horrible experiences and subjects. Unfinished Sweet, for example, is a song about dentists and the fear of a dentist. Raped and Freezing is about being sexually harassed, and there’s a comedic song about necrophilia closes the album! The opener, however, is the highlight. It isn’t a fast rocker, or a slow ballad, but is a grandiose, mid-tempo, with piano. The theatricalness of the song makes it brilliant, it gets you ready for a great show. The lyric ‘god I feel so strong’ sums this up well, I feel. Billion Dollar Babies is a brilliant album, and the best album the band ever made. And Hello Hooray is the best song on this album.
HARD HEARTED ALICE- Muscle of Love (1973)
The last album released by the band, and it is ultimately quite underwhelming to listen to. Which sucks really, as I want to like Muscle of Love so much. Stripping back the sound to be more ‘basic’ than the last two albums was not the best move, I feel. When The Beatles tried it with ‘Let it Be’, it didn’t work. Back to Basics rarely works in music, as people associate you with the development that has come before. There are, however, some highlights to Muscle of Love: The Man with the Golden Gun (which I have discussed before) was to be the theme to the Bond film of the same name, but it was sent a day late, much to Christopher Lee’s disappointment. Teenage Lament ’74 is a piece about trying to be cool but failing. Hard Hearted Alice, is a progressive, sub-5-minute rocker that starts off quiet, but gradually increases in volume. The meaning of the song, however, eludes me somewhat. I think it is a response from the band about the reception the album would receive…I guess they knew it would get mixed reviews.
With Muscle of Love, that was the last album that the band would release, before disbanding in 1974. No one knows the exact reason why, as the band different reasons for the break-up. Regardless, lead singer, Vincent Furnier, decided to take the name as his own and would become Alice.
THE BLACK WIDOW- Welcome to my Nightmare (1975)
The choice of Alice Cooper to change his name and go solo was, by his own admission, his best career decision. Watching pre-solo career interviews, interviewers would refer to Alice as Alice, and very rarely, were the band involved in interviews. There is no definitive reason for why the band broke up, each member giving conflicting reasons. If I were to guess, I’d say creative differences.
Welcome to my Nightmare is my reason for saying that. It is a return to the more cabaret inspired music of Schools Out and Billion Dollar Babies. Unlike those two, it feels more like a musical, as it is a concept album. Throughout the album, we listen to the nightmares of a boy/man called Steven. I wouldn’t want to spoil the album’s ‘plot’ but it is a good one. I have this album on vinyl I love it that much. The Black Widow is a strong reason for me liking this album so much. Its vivid imagery about eating people, mates, and babies is a sickening idea, that is just pure Alice. Its one of the songs that Cooper still plays live on stage to this day, with Welcome to my Nightmare being one of the most represented albums in all his tours.
GOING HOME- Alice Cooper Goes to Hell (1976)
Welcome to my Nightmare was a successful album, it sold a lot, and also garnered a hit single; Only Women Bleed. Alice Cooper Goes to Hell is, in many ways, a sequel to Welcome to my Nightmare, thematically. But I view it more as Cooper’s attack against the more conservative parents, outraged by the past actions of Alice Cooper. To say this album is a sequel to Welcome to my Nightmare would be wrong. I think it shows quite a bit of what goes on behind the curtain. I Never Cry, a soft ballad about Cooper’s drinking, while a hit on the radio, is sad for other reasons upon second and third listens.
I really like this album, and I chose Going Home because it is such a brilliant album closer. The horns and the chorus singing, and the rather optimistic sound of the song. Quite a bit of this album has a sense of humour, but this one is less humourous, but more upbeat to listen. It is like a show tune. And that is its best aspect. I would suggest to any non-discriminatory listener that they ‘go to hell’ and give this album a listen.
KING OF THE SILVER SCREEN- Lace and Whiskey (1977)
This is where it gets interesting now. Lace and Whiskey sees Alice change his character for the first time ever. Becoming drunk PI Maurice Escargot, and having a much more varied sound compared to the last two albums, with 50’s rockabilly, 1940’s references, and other, pulp fiction esque trappings. If you don’t like this one, it is at least interesting to listen to. I like it because I like sillier themes on occasion.
King of the Silver Screen is perhaps the high point of the campy, 1940’s film noir aesthetic, a solid rocker with so many 40’s and 50’s actor references. It is a silly novelty song, with one of the most bizarre endings for any Alice Cooper album ever. I won’t spoil anything for you, but you need to listen to it. This really is a silly album, just take a look at this performance!
After this album, things for Cooper would take a bit of a downturn. He was eventually sent to a sanitarium for his alcohol addiction. He was there for 3 months, and would eventually make an album about it.
HOW YOU GONNA SEE ME NOW?-From The Inside (1979)
From the Inside is perhaps the best post ‘Nightmare’ concept albums that Cooper did in the 1970’s, as it was a much more vulnerable album than previous outings. The semi-autobiographical piece showcases the characters in an asylum that Alice has been locked in, as well as listening to Cooper’s own thoughts about being locked up, and missing home. How you gonna see my now, a ballad to his wife is a testament to that vulnerability. How was his wife going to see him after being locked up and becoming a different, sober person? That’s what the song is about, and it is a lovely ballad. From the Inside was not the best selling album it could have been, but Cooper’s sobriety was the start of a new era…and boy the new era is something!
While Cooper had quit alcohol, he started using Cocaine. He began to lose weight, and would again change his image, for the sleek, new wave that led the 80’s.
CLONES (WE’RE ALL)- Flush the Fashion (1980)
Clad in all black, shorter hair, and essentially a skeleton in clothes…
Cooper was already quite skinny, so to lose even more weight was most certainly unhealthy. Cooper came back with a mixture of new wave and rock for Flush the Fashion, with Clones (We’re All) becoming a UK number 1. It’s certainly the most radio-friendly song on the album, and one with more of a new wave sound. The producer for this album, Roy Thomas Baker, did a lot of work in the past for Queen, The Cars, and other classic 70’s and 80’s rock bands. This album is not bad, but It is a very half-arsed attempt to make new wave music. Not that I think Cooper should be critiqued for it, as there are some good songs and ideas in there. And cocaine. That cocaine addiction would get worse before it got better…
SEVEN AND SEVEN IS- Special Forces (1981)
Watch this video.
This shows how much Alice had physically and mentally deteriorated at this point. This is truly Alice Cooper’s scariest look, and not just by design either. He was really unwell. Special Forces, for me, will always be an album that is maligned by the drug addiction Cooper have. It is also the first of his ‘blackout albums’. He remembers nothing about them. I feel that it is weaker than Flush the Fashion; even if it is more confident in its new wave sound. While there isn’t a lack of great ideas, it falls flat, mostly down to the performer being unwell.
Seven and Seven is, a cover of the Love song, takes the proto-punk and 80’s it up with synth. It is a high tempo, energetically frantic piece that is probably the only song I’d call truly good on this album. It feels a little flat to my ears, however, so it can only be considered good.
ZORRO’S ASCENT- Zipper Catches Skin (1982)
I really love the album cover to this one. The lyrics printed on an off-white cover, with black and red text, organised to see Alice Cooper spelt out by the lyrics, and under the title of the album, a smear of blood. The music is a lot more comical in theme, and was made to avoid cliches and be lean, down and dirty. Dick Wagner came back for this album, but left, due to the cocaine use by Cooper and his session band. They did manage to co-write 3 songs. Zorro’s Ascent is not one of them, but I love this one as a solid rock and roll song. All of them are solid rock and roll songs. Zorro’s Ascent, in particular, has an excellent guitar solo. I must also mention Make that Money (Scrooge’s Song), as that is really damn catchy.
PASS THE GUN AROUND- DaDa (1983)
Perhaps one of Alice Cooper’s darkest songs, and one of his darkest concept albums. Being the last of his blackout albums, he does not even remember recording it, but has been quoted as saying that it ‘scared him’. I remember the first time my Dad played this album to me, and it scared me. Years later, he would tell me he first heard it when he was 12, smoking cannabis, and being freaked out. This album is terrifying, and Pass the Gun Around is harrowing in the context of Cooper’s substance abuse, and return to drinking. This song feels like a suicide note. The last verse ‘I don’t I can take this anymore’ actually makes me really sad. Its well made, with Bob Ezrin and Dick Wagner working on this album, but it is such a sad album. By 1983, Cooper was fired by Warner Bros. Records, divorced from his wife, Sheryl, and would end up near death in hospital, suffering from cirrhosis of the liver. He would not return for 3 years.
HE’S BACK (THE MAN BEHIND THE MASK)- Constrictor (1986)
A brief word about Glam metal. Musically, glam metal combines a traditional heavy metal sound with elements of hard rock and punk rock, adding pop-influenced catchy hooks and guitar riffs. Bon Jovi, ACDC, Kiss, all of them took things Alice Cooper originated and used them. Cooper would do the same for his own music. Constrictor and its follow up, were his two slasher albums. Cooper, while sober, was still in his 80’s phase, and Constrictor, and He’s Back (I’ll save the full title for brevity), is very 80’s. The song was made for Friday the 13th VI, and you cannot get much more 80’s than that. This has a lot more synth than most of the songs on the album, but it is a solid song, even if it is dated. Dated, probably the best word to say about hair metal.
PRINCE OF DARKNESS- Raise your fist and yell (1987)
This album sucks, it is baaaaaad. Its a return to the dark and disturbing themes of Killer, and DaDa, but it is so rushed and full of filler, and in modern ears, comes across as dated. I must give credit to Kane Roberts’ guitar work, as he is quite good at this. Prince of Darkness is about an evil angel who wreaks havoc on the Earth and is everything society despises. Continuing the slasher theme of the previous album, and with a pretty 80’s aggressive metal sound, this is not one I would recommend.
SPARK IN THE DARK- Trash (1989)
This is just a pure anthem. I love Trash, it is better than the last two albums, and is just full of pure arena rock anthems. Poison is the most famous song on this album, but I choose Spark in the Dark because it is a faster and more aggressive piece. Poison just feels a bit overplayed for me to like it at this point in my life. This album is a fun listen, helped by the producer, Desmond Child, whose name should be familiar to people who like music, as he has written and produced a lot of songs for a lot of artists, like Bon Jovi, Aerosmith, Kiss, Bonnie Tyler, and even Robbie Williams (Old, before I die, is a kickass song).
MIGHT AS WELL BE ON MARS- Hey Stoopid (1991)
Hey Stoopid, for me, is a fine sequel to Trash, and maybe even a touch better in some areas. Maybe, due to it being the follow up to Trash, it is looked at a little less fondly, but I like it. It is the last glam metal album Alice Cooper did, and probably for the best. While he’d always have a more metal oriented sound from this point on, the sound was getting old. But I think Might as well be on Mars, which is co-written by Desmond Child (who didn’t produce this album this time), is a wonderful song. It is the glam metal 90’s Alice Cooper ballad, in the same vein as ‘Only Women Bleed’ and ‘I Never Cry’. It is overblown and cheesy now, but it is quite a good ballad. It’s slower, more introspective, and a good love song for the glam metal era.
There is one more thing to discuss with this album, however. Hey, Stoopid is the first song in what I refer to as Alice Cooper’s ‘preaching the good word’ era. The song itself is anti-drug, and that’s commendable, but as we’ll see with the next three albums, the preachiness is going to be unavoidable…
LOST IN AMERICA- The Last Temptation (1994)
The Last Temptation is referred to as a 90’s retelling of Welcome to my Nightmare. Sort of. Some argue that the character, called Steven, is the same as the one in Welcome to my Nightmare. Some say its a prequel or a sequel. I consider it to be a retelling of the story. Trust me, we’ll get a sequel soon. This is the first full concept album Cooper had done since ‘From the Inside’ and is basically about the devil making a deal with a kid called Steven, who beats the devil through the power of God. Lost in America is about Steven’s life, and is a catchy enough, hard rock song, with no hair metal (which is a relief). Cooper, by this point, was a born-again Christian, and that plays a lot into the next few albums, as he covers a lot about the social ills of society, and while he’s not wrong, it does come off as a bit preachy. That is why I refer to this period as the ‘Preachy’ era of Cooper’s career. I am not a big fan of those albums.
TAKE IT LIKE A WOMAN- Brutal Planet (2000)
Alice Cooper does industrial rock might be a cool concept, to some. I am known to be a fan of industrial rock, such as Rammstein and Nine Inch Nails, though I cannot get behind this album. Alice Cooper is not an industrial rock artist. He is much better at glam rock and softer rock ballads, though admittedly with gruesome themes. The things I mentioned about The Last Temptation being a preachy album apply to this as well, and then some. This really is Christian rock, or something very close. Take it Like a Woman conveys the theme of domestic abuse in a very powerful way, however, and is probably the only song on this album that Alice is truly comfortable singing, as it is the most like his usual music, and touches on very powerful themes. I quite like this song, but not this album.
I JUST WANNA BE GOD- Dragontown (2001)
And everything I said about Brutal Planet can be said in this section regarding its hot-on-the-heels sequel. The fact that they didn’t just make it a double album should, in retrospect, have been considered. This album does industrial rock better than its predecessor, however, and the blasphemous themes of this song harbor some good hooks and some great guitar solos. That being said, Dragontown is nothing special.
BETWEEN HIGH SCHOOL AND OLD SCHOOL- The Eyes of Alice Cooper (2003)
The Eyes of Alice Cooper is more like it for me. It is a nostalgic album in how it sounds, capturing some of the hard rock sounds from the 1970’s, making for a quite good Alice Cooper album. It marks a transition in Cooper’s albums too, as the preachy era of his music is now, thankfully, over. Utilising newer musicians, and a younger crew, this is a good mix of old and new techniques which makes this album a very nice listen. Between High School and Old School is a testament to that blend. I recommend giving this album a listen.
PERFECT- Dirty Diamonds (2005)
This song is very reminiscent of the songs on Killer, all the way back from 1971. Again, there is not much to say about this album, as it is basically a sequel to The Eyes of Alice Cooper, though, with this album, one could argue that this album was playing it a bit safe. While the return to older sounds is a good thing, there is a very real risk of singers and bands becoming nostalgia acts. Its happened with great bands, such as ELO, and many others I could name. While having a consistent motif for your music is good, having it for multiple albums, as heard with the previous three, it can be detrimental. Though, with the next album, that’s not a problem.
VENGEANCE IS MINE- Along Came a Spider (2008)
Forgive the low-resolution video clips for the next few songs, as they are not featured on Spotify. I assume that the record label did not have a relationship with Spotify, or didn’t want to put it on the site. Its a shame, as Alice Cooper’s neoclassical era has a soft reboot, as we return to the classic concept album. Along Came a Spider is the most cohesive album Cooper has done yet, with a story about a serial killer who attempts to create a human spider. This album ups the macabre and makes some wonderful music. Vengeance is mine is notable because of Slash’s guest guitar, and he does great. Mind you, it’s Slash, he is pretty good.
Along Came a Spider was a great album, and almost got a sequel. For some reason, however, it was abandoned to make something else…
I AM MADE OF YOU-Welcome 2 My Nightmare (2011)
The nightmare returns. And not just the nightmare, but basically everyone who ever worked with Alice Cooper. All the surviving band members contributed to the album, for starters. Desmond Child co-wrote songs, Dick Wagner also helped write a song and performed. Most importantly, Bob Ezrin returned as a producer. All the elements of Cooper’s past, along with the character Steven from the original album, come together to make one of Alice Cooper’s best. Choosing a song was so hard, that I had to just pick the first one, to compel you to listen to the rest. What I love are the elements that keep this album from being a derivative of the original. The music is as varied, and with guest performers such as Ke$ha; who really shines in her collaboration with Cooper, there’s just enough uniqueness to keep this album from being a dud. It is a worthy sequel, and worth your time.
I must comment though, get the fan pack edition if you can, as it includes the song Under The Bed. That song is excellent.
PARANOIC PERSONALITY- Paranormal (2017)
There are shades of ‘I’m the Coolest’ in this song, with the underlying funk riffs provided by the guitar, and I really like it. There isn’t much I can say about this album, as I have only just listened to it (Hence the delay in this post compared to the other three), and while solid, it does suffer from being a good follow up to what a great album. That being said, the 5-year gap between Paranormal and Welcome 2 My Nightmare was probably for the best, as it allowed the music to come first, and not releasing the albums in quick succession as Cooper did up until Along Came a Spider. Though to be fair, he did make an album with Johnny Depp in the interim.
The Track by Track has covered 50 years of Alice Cooper albums, and it has been a wild ride. By 2024, Alice Cooper will have been a musician for 60 years, and the man has been through so much. He has survived executions, electrocutions, and other forms of malicious evisceration. And those are just the stage shows, he has survived Alcoholism and Drugs. I am sure that Alice Cooper will continue to be rock and roll’s greatest villain for many more years.