PART II: SECOND COMINGS & BILLION DOLLAR WHISKIES
In November of 1970, when “I’m Eighteen” was released, an instant overnight stardom exploded like Hiroshima for the ever-struggling band. So much so that Warner Bros. Records had almost instantly purchased the rights to the dark and different LOVE IT TO DEATH, from Zappa’s Straight Records Label, and signed the ALICE COOPER GROUP to a 5-album deal. Zappa quite amicably *(and with a certain sigh of relief, I’m fairly sure) signed them over, wishing them well on their journey. Warner Bros. then dropped the album on a completely unsuspecting public on March 8th of 1971. Much like the single, it was an overnight success. *(Keep in mind that Alice has had to play this song at every single live performance he’s given since the first time it was scrawled on a set list – – – that’s gotta be brutal; however, each version had it’s own unique touches, to switch it up, as I imagine that anything other would only help induce madness.)
LOVE IT TO DEATH was something entirely new to the masses: an androgynous, true rock-n-roll villain, who’s stage shows were growing ever more grand in scope, dolled-up as morality tale horror-shows of madness, violence, and dementia. Vincent truly became a different person, Alice, when in makeup and on the stage, as did the rest of the band. The album introduced his/their idea of concept-songs, something to played up further on each subsequent release, and their live performances took on a highly theatrical ambience of gothic terror as this spider-eyed, maniacal being of twisted and ambiguous sexuality *(positively frightening for the status quo of the time) skulked about the stage, got into mock fights while attacking band members, eventually committing a murder, and introducing the straightjacket routine, still used to this day during the brilliant and chilling “The Ballad Of Dwight Fry.” *(Little known fact, the beautiful and demented lead-in song to “Ballad . . . ,” the complex “Second Coming,” is the only song Vincent ever fully composed and arranged himself throughout the entirety of his career.) After getting out of the straightjacket, Alice would ultimately pay for his crimes with an hanging gallows execution *(which, during one performance, the rig malfunctioned, and Alice was up there kicking and fighting off suffocation before a massive and unsuspecting, cheering audience), the death sentence served to him by robed ghouls or medieval-masked executioners, as the climax to the tribal, slithering, creepy and one of a kind “Black Juju,” the finale to the show that tour. Manager Shep Gordon had stayed with the band post Straight Records, and Bob Ezrin became their producer up until he burnt out in 1973 – – – together the seven of them creating a Frankenstein’s Monster that would grow increasingly out of control, as well as a sonic and visual beast that couldn’t be matched. With this came a price – – – a constant work and party schedule that would never end – – – not until they did.
ALICE COOPER enraged every parent and authority figure in the world at the time, of course, and reveled in it in every possible way they could. They were mysterious, seemingly-occultic *(in reality quite the opposite), anti-authoritarian, sexually ambiguous *(which was what rattled cages the most, moreso even than the increasingly surreal violence of both the music and the lyrics, often presented in his classic multi-entendre style), violent, lustful, and just generally distasteful to the average listener, even though their fame grew to an even higher level of success with the release of their next hit, KILLER. By this time the “Group” had been completely removed from their name, and they were now just ALICE COOPER. KILLER had two huge singles, and as for the truly darker aspects, it went to completely unheard of places of bleak surrealism, for the time of its release, in November of 1971. People weren’t ready for songs like “Dead Babies,” “Killer,” and “Halo Of Flies,” a song made of ever switching sets of breaks and riffs, nothing ever repeating it’s appropriated measures. Apparently, the song was arranged from riffs they had written but could never find any use for, so they just kind of slogged them together into the intense masterpiece the song truly is.
The performances for this tour were even more elaborate, involving the chopping up of baby dolls, Alice wrapped in his pet boa constrictor, vile acts performed on dismembered and disjointed mannequins, blood, and a new device with which to dispose of Alice: the electric chair, keeping in line with the jolting death-dirge finale of the album’s title track, as well as the finale of this tour. By now, Alice had really introduced all the elements within their music and appearance that would go on to influence just about every other genre of darkness there is: punk, goth, metal, and beyond. All of the ingredients were there. It’s even been admitted by David Bowie that he had been blown away by a Cooper performance from this period, a mere couple of years before his own overblown theatricality, concept records, and character changes. Speaking of character changes, the androgynous side was far lessened on KILLER, the songs all being of a slightly more masculine nature. The slink of LOVE IT TO DEATH was still there, but it was mutating, transforming.
In June of 1972, their first fully conceptual piece came out, SCHOOL’S OUT. This was the album that propelled them to an even higher status, and featured a loose-concept based upon West Side Story and some of the bands own “Alma Mater” experiences *(they had all been friends since high school, and in that particular song, the name of their high school is actually mentioned). The title track has also become a staple of every live performance he’s ever given, perhaps even being their most popular song *(45 GRAVE did a wicked version, as did GWAR, actually). This stage show involved gang turf wars, stabbings, more surreal props, but almost entirely distanced itself from the “gothic horror” angle they’d been honing at the time. It had a great packaging, the gatefold cover looking like a high school desktop, and inside, the record slid into a sleeve shaped like a pair of skimpy paper women’s underwear *(that packaging was eventually discontinued due to the panty-sleeves being highly flammable for whatever reason, and I dare say stoners was how this was discovered). Also, the androgyny had been replaced by a full onset of machismo, as well as a change in his makeup. It was now a different kind of sinister, projecting a leering grimace of sneering death. Which, internally, the band was beginning to feel at this time, their increased schedules of non-stop touring and recording beginning to show slight signs of wear between members, but nothing unfixable. Yet. *(Incidentally, this is my least favorite of the original lineups releases, though it does contain my favorite song, “Luney Tune,” a proto-punk rocker about a graphic mental-ward suicide, and the closest thing to a “horror” piece on the album, even sonically slightly disassociated from the sound of the rest of the album, but still completely in line with the ‘Teen Angst’ concept of the album.)
On February 25th, 1973, the horror returned in spades, in a guise even grander and more depraved than any to precede it, BILLION DOLLAR BABIES *(the title track of which has a guest appearance from Donovan, of all people, showing the strange intermingling of showbiz types that had by now become the band’s norm, and the beginning of an ever more strange cast of guests on various COOP albums throughout his career). The album is one epic anthem after the next, touching on everything from delusions of grandeur *(opener “Hello, Hooray”), reverse sexual abduction *(“Raped & Freezin’”); horrific dentist trips due to overconsumption of Halloween candy (*Unfinished Sweet, which live involved violent dentists and dancing teeth); a surreal ode of appreciation to their fanbase *(as well as their own by now monstrously demented and sinister egos, “Sick Things”); an eerie tale of a strange woman, presented in a sparse piano and vocal only vaudevillian fashion *(“Maryanne,” whom would many years later appear on another album in a much different form); and finally, closing with the ultimate taboo, necrophilia *(The brilliant “I Love The Dead”). Dark, sleazy, on-point satirical, and outrageous, with BILLION DOLLAR BABIES they had hit their peak, with a stage show equally as gruesomely grand guignol as it was grandiose. Murders, boa constrictors, audiences attacks, sneering sleaze, thousands of Cooper-faced bills falling from the ceiling, bubbles, amazing black-glitter costumes of death *(designed by sister of Bassist Dennis Dunaway, and married to drummer Neal Smith, she assisted in the creation of many a tour-costume design for the band), murder, raped and abused mannequin torsos and limbs, blood, chopped and sword-stabbed baby dolls, and finally, the introduction of his most popular and long lasting punishment, the guillotine. Which from afar, looked pretty damn real, and involved much blood, as did the rest of the performance *(oh yeah, I mentioned that). Then one of the executioners would pull his head from the basket, holding it high for all to see, and dripping with gore. Alice has said the overall general concept was “people do have sick perversions.” The albums ghoulish tone managed to capture them all, in the music as well as in their the live shows, wholly chaotic and surreal-to-absurd. It was sheer genius, all of it.
But it also burnt the band out, for all intents and purposes. If you look at the release dates of the albums, they are seriously close together, and the tours were long, grueling affairs for members and crew alike. Dick Wagner and Steve Hunter, of LOU REED’S band, had to occasionally fill in for guitarist Glen Buxton, at the time suffering pancreatitis, most assuredly induced by their coping mechanisms: alcohol and nonstop partying. For everyone except Vincent, that is, for once Alice was gone, Vincent retreated quietly to his hotel room, never even a groupie, and proceeded to drink himself to death while watching classic films on late-night local stations. The band was, as a whole, moved into Connecticut’s Galecie Estate, where the initial Warner Bros. demos for the band had been recorded back in 1970. Apparently the mansion had a particular natural reverb and spooky way of altering sounds, and the band thought it the perfect place to write, rehearse, and record. That helped in the toll taking, as they were locked up together for close to six months putting the album together, exhausted and putting their all into this out and out horror rock classic; it really is an amazingly thought out album. But after the sheer brutality of incessant recording and extensive touring from 1970 to that point, it had broken them. *(A concert film of this tour exists, never officially released, but popular amongst the bootleg circuit, and is amazing to behold – – – I forget the goddamned name – – – just about every part can be found on youtube, but not in full, unfortunately. Also, all effects and illusions, of which there were many, were created, and often executed – – – no pun intended – – – by magician extraordinaire James Randi.)
MUSCLE OF LOVE was released the same year, 1973, dropped on November 20th. There was no communication, personally or creatively. The band felt the BILLION DOLLAR BABIES tour was way too much, and any more would be ridiculous. Vincent disagreed. He wanted to go bigger, darker, try stranger concepts. But everyone was tired, strung out from alcohol and money and drugs and fame. MUSCLE OF LOVE, essentially, is a disaster. *(It also had a packaging ploy, that of the actual cover sleeve being in a stamped and stained cardboard box sleeve, like a UPS package – – – on the actual inner sleeve, the band are all dressed like sailors – – – yikes.) It includes a song called “The Man With The Golden Gun,” recorded for a James Bond film, but another song by the same title was ultimately used. Aside from that, the main theme of the album was “sexual awakening” and the roughness of adolescence in general, as Vincent put it at the time. Also, Bob Ezrin had stepped down as producer. The album is an unfocused mess, though I am partial to the bizarre sci-fi “Woman Machine,” about a sex robot, the title track, and “Teenage Lament ‘74.” But overall it’s tired; you can feel it in the bored songwriting. The tour was incredibly toned down theatrically, what little there was attempting to be comical, lighter, all the heady ideas of their earlier material just – – – disappeared. Same goes for the music and lyrics. The rollercoaster was on a rapidly steep decline. The band then called “hiatus” to the public, but had in fact broken up. Warner Bros. released ALICE COOPER’S GREATEST HITS to fill the gap of 1974, and conceal the breakup as long as they could. MUSCLE OF LOVE sold on the level of the Straight Records period albums. What was it? It was too much, too quick, and no break time in that interim, for the band or the fans. Their schedule was relentless. Add to this the clashing of compulsively intoxicated egos – – – they’d officially become victims of their own success. Exhaustion, addiction, and sore feelings built to a head as Vincent returned to L.A. and began to show up in all kinds of mid-70’s television pap, from Hollywood Squares to other crapola of the era, making sure to keep himself in the public eye to some degree.
Both factions still wanted, and fully intended, to record and release music, but couldn’t come to a happy medium, as the musician faction wanted to cut theatrics entirely, and Vincent wanted to go as over the top as possible – – – and Alice had a particularly interesting nightmare brewing. The rest of the band? Something else entirely. They were officially done, and both had full on intent of regaining their drastically rapid-fading success. Only one would indeed do so.
However, who was going to keep the name in this time of change and battle of egos, wills, and career expansions, implosions, and explosions?
Up Next: PART III: WELCOME TO THE NIGHTMARE OF ALICE & WHISKEY; A HOLLYWOOD VAMPIRE FROM THE INSIDE OF HELL.
Vincent Daemon, writer, editor, musician, photgrapher, film/music buff and historian, and rabblerouser, can be found on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/vincent.daemon.1 as well as his spontaneously updated blog of writing news and nonsense THE WRITINGS OF A DEPRAVED MIND http://vincentdaemon.blogspot.com/Some of his music can be painfully experienced at http://www.reverbnation.com/vincentdaemonsageofdesire3 His email is firstname.lastname@example.org