The Alice Cooper band was the originator of the highly theatrical “shock-rock” of the 1970’s. The group’s use of simulated executions and the chopping up of baby dolls on stage was very controversial at the time. The central figure of the show was singer Vincent Furnier, the son of a conservative Protestant minister. At the age of eleven, Vincent’s family moved from his birthplace in Detroit to Phoenix, Arizona. It was there that he met the band’s other original members (Michael Bruce, Glen Buxton, Dennis Dunaway, and Neal Smith) on his high school track team and on the staff of the school newspaper.
The band first called themselves the Earwigs, then the Spiders, and finally the Nazz. They recorded a number of singles and played mostly covers of the Yardbirds and the Rolling Stones. After becoming local attractions, the band moved to Los Angeles to pursue stardom. The group achieved only limited success but did manage to open shows for both the Doors and the Yardbirds.
Exactly how Vincent Furnier changed into Alice Cooper is the subject of several stories. One claims that the name was spelled out on the Ouija board during a reading in L.A. From that incident, the band concocted a story that Vincent was the reincarnation of a young woman of the same name who had been burned alive at the stake hundreds of years ago for being a witch.
Furnier then legally changed his name to Alice Cooper, and the group adopted it as their new stage name as well. The band was eventually signed to Frank Zappa’s Straight Records in 1969 and recorded two unsuccessful albums, “Pretties For You” and “Easy Action”. Alice himself recalled, “We were the most hated group in Los Angeles”.
Three events helped to turn things around for Alice Cooper. The first was the band’s appearance at the 1969 Toronto Rock ‘n’ Roll Revival. During the group’s performance, a fan threw a live chicken on stage. When Alice hurled it back into the audience, the chicken was torn to pieces by the fans. The disgusting story was carried by newspapers around the world and gave Alice Cooper lots of negative but valuable publicity. The second was moving the band to Detroit. The Motor City was known for its hard rock bands such as the Amboy Dukes, the MC5, Grand Funk Railroad, and the Stooges. As a result, Alice’s hometown embraced the heavy guitar sound of the Alice Cooper band. The third was meeting producer Bob Ezrin.
Ezrin worked with Alice Cooper on the band’s third album, “Love It To Death”. He also helped the group tighten up its sound. This was demonstrated by their first hit single, “Eighteen”. The guitar-driven song, which was written by the entire band, addresses the awkwardness and loneliness of teenagers during the period when they are changing from kids into adults. Ezrin’s production of the song helped make “Eighteen” a Top 40 single, and the hit album “Love It To Death” established Alice Cooper as a major concert attraction. As their record and ticket sales increased, more of the band’s money was spent on their elaborate stage shows.
The group and Ezrin then recorded their 2nd consecutive hit album, “Killer”, near the end of 1971. The album contained two singles, “Under My Wheels” and “Be My Lover” that were big hits in Michigan and also charted nationally.
By the time Alice Cooper released their next album, “School’s Out”, in the summer of 1972, the band was a national sensation. The title track became Alice Cooper’s biggest single reaching # 7 on the Billboard charts. The “School’s Out” album cover was cleverly designed to look like an old wooden school desk with the album’s title and each band member’s name carved into the top of it. In addition, the record inside was wrapped in a pair of paper panties.
The # 1 album, “Billion Dollar Babies”, followed in 1973. Designed to look like a snakeskin wallet, the album contained four charting singles; “Elected”, “Hello Hooray”, “No More Mr. Nice Guy”, and the title cut. The subsequent controversial tour became one of biggest moneymakers in rock history with its gruesome stage acts that included Alice being beheaded by a guillotine and tortured by a demented dentist with an enormous drill.
Alice had understandably become the main focus of attention rather than the band, and when the “Muscle Of Love” album was a somewhat disappointing follow-up to “Billion Dollar Babies”, he disbanded the original group to go solo.
In 1974, Alice formed a new band that included Michigan guitar legends Dick Wagner and Steve Hunter. Cooper and Wagner surprised both Alice’s fans and critics by writing “Only Women Bleed” in 1975. It became Alice’s first ballad to become a hit single. Cooper’s next album, “Welcome To My Nightmare”, and its subsequent tour featured his most elaborate stage production ever.
Gradually Alice’s performances were seen as being more humorous than threatening, and he became more accepted by the entertainment industry as a whole. He continued to write with Wagner, but by the latter half of the decade his biggest hits were ballads like “I Never Cry” and “You And Me”; while rockers such as “Welcome To My Nightmare” and “Department Of Youth” failed to reach the Top 40. Alice further embraced traditional show business with his own prime-time television special, Alice Cooper – The Nightmare, and several appearances on Hollywood Squares.
In 1977, former Alice Cooper group members Michael Bruce, Dennis Dunaway, and Neal Smith formed a band called Billion Dollar Babies. The group failed to recapture the magic they had with Alice, however, and they released only one unsuccessful album before disbanding.
Despite all of his success, Alice Cooper’s life was in disarray. In 1978, he committed himself to a psychiatric hospital for treatment of alcoholism. He then turned the experience into an album titled “From The Inside” that included the hit single “How You Gonna See Me Now”.
During the early 1980’s, Alice also saw his record sales decline. He appeared, playing himself, in the unsuccessful comedy film Roadie, and he only managed to chart one single, “Clones”, during those years.
Cooper took a hiatus from recording after releasing the album “DaDa” in 1983.
Alice made a strong comeback in 1986 with the heavy metal album “Constrictor”. He followed it with “Raise Your Fist And Yell” that mined the same musical vein. Cooper had found an ally in MTV that helped to expose his mock violent stage act to a new generation of fans.
In 1989, he released his biggest selling album in years, “Trash”, and scored his first Top Ten single in over twelve years with “Poison”. He also used his renewed stardom to appear in several films including Prince Of Darkness, Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare, and Wayne’s World.
Cooper is currently a recovering alcoholic and has continued his career as a hard rock performer on stage, recordings, television, films, and as the host of his own radio show. Although he has been unable to consistently match his successes of the 1970’s, Alice Cooper is recognized as a major inspiration for Kiss, Ozzy Osbourne, Nine Inch Nails, and Marilyn Manson. Even though he and the original band have yet to be inducted, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has enshrined “Eighteen” as one of the fifty most important songs in the history of rock and roll.
Alice Cooper was voted into Michigan Rock and Roll Legends Hall of Fame in 2005. In 2008, Alice Cooper's "Eighteen" was voted in as one of Michigan's Legendary Songs. In 2009, the band's biggest hit, "School's Out", was also voted in.
MRRL Hall of Fame: https://www.michiganrockandrolllegends.com/mrrl-hall-of-fame
The original Alice Cooper band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2011.
Video: Watch Alice perform "No More Mr. Nice Guy" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3B300-2Kt8Y
Dr. J. Recommends:
The Best Of Alice Cooper: Mascara & Monsters”. Warner Archives/Rhino CD. The Twenty-two tracks cover the highlights of both the group’s best songs and Alice’s solo recordings.
“Love It To Death” and “Killer”, Warner Bros. CDs. These two early albums hold up very well and demonstrate the style that started the band on the road to stardom.
From The Bookshelf:
Billion Dollar Baby by Bob Greene. Ahtheneum 1974. A great look behind the scenes of the original Alice Cooper band. Greene performed onstage in a skit as Santa Claus with the group on their infamous “Billion Dollar Babies” tour.