The lowdown on Alice Cooper
The Alice Cooper group in 1970 were the sort of group that only Frank Zappa could love (which is presumably why he signed them to his label). Then they had the great luck to hook up with a young producer called Bob Ezrin who completely transformed their sound and sent them flying up the charts in the process. The material from this period forms one of the best greatest hits sets of the 70s (see below).
After splitting up in 1974, the singer took the name of the band for himself and since then has had a remarkably resilient solo career. He’s never really retired, and has been releasing albums pretty much every 2-3 years or so in that time.
The best place to start:
1974’s “Alice Cooper’s Greatest Hits” does a flawless job at cherrypicking the Alice Cooper group’s string of albums from 1971 to 1974. All the hit singles are here, alongside strong album tracks such as “Billion dollar Babies” and “Desperado”. Future compilations add mid 70s AOR ballads and 80s metal to the mix, which distracts rather than adds to the experience.
The absolutely essential masterpiece(s):
1. “Billion Dollar Babies” (1973): Stuffed with hits (3 UK Top 10s: “Elected”, “Hello Hurray” and “No More Mr Nice Guy”), ambition and dark humour, this album seems to have more ideas than it knows what to do with, so it just crams them all in anyway and hopes the lid stays on. The big production’s strings and overdubs can blunt its rock edge sometimes, but you won’t mind too much as the tunes and ideas are just so good. Pick it up on vinyl, as it has one of the 70s best cover designs, i
2. “Killer” (1972). Killer is lean (30 mins or so) and has a less dense production than his subsequent 70s albums. This suits it fine, and its best tracks are straightforward rock songs such as “Be My Lover” and “Under My Wheels”. There’s a case for saying that the roots to Hair Metal are here, but don’t hold that against it. You won’t notice them too much.
Advanced listening/watching/reading etc.
Few groups have owed as much to their producer as Alice Cooper owe Bob Ezrin. The four albums that the group recorded with him from 1971 to 73 are all good: “Love it to Death” (1971), “Killer” (1972), “School’s Out” (1972) and “Billion Dollar Babies” (1973).
After Alice went solo in the mid 70s he released a series of concept albums, of which “Welcome to my Nightmare” (1975) and “From the Inside” (1978) are the best. The former, with its rock horror themes, set the template for much of his solo career. Like “Billion Dollar Babies”, it’s over the top, inventive, and doesn’t take itself too seriously, and songs such as “The Black Widow” and “Only Women Bleed” still make his set list. “From the Inside” is a rock disco album written with Bernie Taupin. No wait! It’s surprisingly good fun, and has a nice, clean production that has aged well.
Albums released after 1980 should be approached with caution, if at all. There are a couple of exceptions.
“The Eyes of Alice Cooper” (2003) is an attempt to return to his early 70s sound with a new band that works pretty well. Alice (mostly) drops the horror schtick and the result is a straightforward rock album that is better than it should be.
“Da Da” (1983) is the strangest album in his catalogue and ended his relationship with Warner Bros, after it presumably sold less copies than that Kevin Rowland album. Alice was reunited with Bob Ezrin and the result was an album full of 80s synthesizers and drum machines. However, it holds together well and has a couple of neglected gems like “Former Lee Warmer” and “I Love America”.
Where others fear to tread….for completists only:
As mentioned above, you should approach albums released since 1980 with caution. In the case of 1987’s “Raise Your Fist and Yell”, you should not approach at all, unless you like clunky, uninspired 80s heavy metal played by a a band with a guitarist dressed up like Rambo. If you find yourself in its vicinity, keep calm, avoid eye contact and run like the clappers.