First off, we are talking about the Alice Cooper Band, the five young men from the Phoenix, AZ area who took their obsession with The Yardbirds, Kinks and Who to L.A. in the late 60s to make it big in the rock and roll business. High school friends who trekked to Frank Zappa’s doorstep at 7:00 am to make their dreams come alive. A lot of their story is about dreams and having them fulfilled. But there’s bad stuff, too.
So Mr. Zappa did indeed release some Alice Cooper Band music, and while their debut, Pretties For You, is likely adored by your closet Dungen fan, it’s Easy Action that displays much of the promise and ambition. Alongside the sort of fare you’d expect (“Refrigerator Heaven”, “Lay Down and Die, Goodbye”) is a show of love for the medium, that chance to join your heroes in some small way by fleshing out the sound of a full-length LP with piano, hooks and melody (“Shoe Salesmen”, “Beautiful Flyaway”). There are some incredible moments for such a young, upstart band. But they were amateurs who likely would have remained the province of Black Pearl and Sir Lord Baltimore champions. Thankfully, they wanted more. So they split L.A. for the most unlikely of places: Detroit.
Despite the fact that singer Alice (or Vince back then) was born in Michigan, we rarely consider Alice Cooper Band in the same breath as The Stooges or MC5. But the Motor City was kind to Alice Cooper – they were free to develop what L.A. clearly did not want (they literally emptied west coast clubs when they played) but the whole world would soon embrace. Alice Cooper did not invent cross-dressing, androgyny, outrage or shock. But knowing that Bowie and Bolan witnessed the Alice Cooper Show in 1971, it’s clear the band had a healthy hand in creating glam. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
'Bob Ezrin wrote: (I was 19-years old) when I went to New York City to see Alice Cooper play. First of all, I found myself in a room filled with people in black spandex and face makeup, with black fingernails and spider eyes and black lipstick. And then when the band hit the stage, they came on like a group of theatrical ghouls, who sort of walked out with their instruments and props and amazing lights and proceeded to do a show that was as much theater as it was rock music. The show took us through all kinds of strange little twilight zone-like short stories involving a variety of twisted characters and weird tales. By the end of it, they had given us basically an hour and a half of theatrical and musical experience. And I thought, this is the future of rock music. We’re going to graduate from T-shirts and jeans, and graduate to big productions and songs about large ideas.
When we think of Alice Cooper, we usually focus on our singer Vince and the character he created. It’s impossible to discount the image he projected or the undertow of horror and macabre that serves as their calling card. But these were guys were smart – they wrote concise songs that rocked hard enough to keep your drug-addled teen enthralled and with musicians proficient enough not to chase away your Zeppelin muso. Their songs were original and hook-laden enough to cover the fact that Alice (like Jagger) couldn’t sing worth a damn. They were also smart enough to work with Bob Ezrin. He’s every bit as much of the story as any member of the band, for it was Ezrin who not only rehearsed the band into the ground, but helped give the monster shape.
'Alice Cooper wrote: And he (Ezrin) comes back into (producer) Jack Richardson and he says, ‘Jack, you’re not going to believe this. It’s not just a band, it’s a whole movement. It’s something nobody’s ever seen before.’ It’s this and this, y’know. And Jack says, ‘I’m not going to fire you, I’m going to make you produce them.” So all of a sudden he comes in and says, ‘Okay, all of our butts are on the line here.’ And we took about six months and stayed in a barn in Detroit, way out in Pontiac, Michigan, didn’t do any gigs, all we did was worked on our sound. We worked on our material and re-learned how to play. Re-learned how to do everything. And he was our George Martin. We listened to him and he helped shape what Alice Cooper is today.’
We’ve had the impossible argument before – which is best? Love It To Death and Killer run neck-and-neck. School’s Out is a sentimental fave for many as it’s partly autobiographical and takes in everything from jazz and Badfinger-worthy melodies to a prevalent obsession with West Side Story. Billion Dollar Babies is the blockbuster, whereas the comedown came way too soon (Muscle of Love). This was the first great American band of the 1970s and almost entirely unprecedented in what they achieved as a singles artist (their greatest hits are, indeed, great), a long-player act (someone will argue soon enough that much of Love It...and Killer is prog) and a cultural tank that left little pockets of teen dementia and hysterical parents wherever they went. And like The Stooges and Dolls, the Alice Cooper Band burned out on drugs and alcohol, far too soon.
The little band that could. And did.
Did they ever.