Born Vincent Furnier, Detroit, Michigan in 1948 to mixed British, Huguenot and Sioux ancestry the young wannabe rock star began emulating the British Invasion acts in high-school band The Earwigs who would become The Spiders. Alongside Vincent were pals like Dennis Dunaway, Glen Buxton and drummer John Speer. Having relocated to Phoenix, Arizona, The Spiders built up a healthy local reputation thanks to their heady blend of garage rock and stage props and eventually switched from being Nazz (since Todd Rundgren already had a successful band of that name) and adopted the Alice Cooper moniker, borrowing it from a female character on the TV show Mayberry R.F.D.
Never one to shy away from controversy, Furnier grew into his role by wearing ripped and tattered women’s clothing and plenty of black eye make-up, basing his look on a crazy combination of Barbarella, Anita Pallenberg and British Avengers star Diana Rigg (Emma Peel).
Early recordings were darkly psychedelic with influences drawn from Pink Floyd and Jim Morrison, who Alice Cooper idolised. The initial disks Pretties For You and Easy Action strayed into MC5 and Stooges territory but the band found their own sound once producer Bob Ezrin arrived to flick the faders on Love It to Death, their last album for the Frank Zappa/Herb Cohen label Straight Records. A major deal and consistent touring throughout the urban outposts of America resulted in a solid fan base and their first big hit, “I’m Eighteen” set the ball rolling. By now the theatrics included the infamous electric chair and the horror struck Killer (1971) spawned epic cuts like “Halo of Flies” and “Under My Wheels”. The stage was set.
Albums School’s Out and Billion Dollar Babies made Alice and the band superstars by 1973 and they were as significant a fixture as any British glam rock stars such as David Bowie, Queen and Elton John, all of whom owed him and them a debt. Decapitated mannequins, guillotines and fake dollar bills added lustre to the drama and the band made what is arguably their greatest first phase album, Welcome to My Nightmare, with a new look metal line-up including the twin guitars of Steve Hunter and Dick Wagner, the monster bass player Prakash John and drummer Pentti “Whitey” Glan who Ezrin and Cooper loaned out to Lou Reed for his Rock’n'Roll Animal/Berlin period.
Heavy work schedules and the pressures of success took their toll with Cooper in particular being treated for well-documented substance and alcohol abuse in the 1980s. Suitably rehabilitated we pick him up and welcome him on board for Constrictor (1986), a comeback album that followed three years of seclusion. Working with Beau Hill and a new band including bass man Kip Winger and guitarist Kane Roberts, Alice returns to blistering form. “Teenage Frankenstein” and “He’s Back (The Man Behind the Mask)” contain all the ingredients one would hope for in a classic Coop’ disc.
The ensuing Raise Your Fist and Yell upped the ante with an accompanying stage show that was so graphic certain European countries tried to ban the band: publicity that couldn’t be bought!
His second arrival in our fold coincides with Brutal Planet (2000) one of those discs that may have passed you by but is actually thoroughly commended for re-discovery today. Notable for a different sonic slant – more industrial metal than straight rock – Cooper matched grand standing tunes to well wrought themes on domestic violence, sexual prejudice and social disorder. If anything Dragontown (2001) is even more darkly absorbing as it metes out a recorded battle between God and Satan. There is also an affectionate reminiscence directed at old pal John Lennon (a drinking buddy in 1975) called “It’s Much Too Late”. Intriguing.
Buoyed by his ever-loyal fans Alice now delivers the incredible The Eyes of Alice Cooper, packed with dense references to his earlier School’s Out era and his roots in “Detroit City” where everyone from the MC5 and Eminem to Bowie, Iggy and Insane Clown Posse (his bastard offspring) gets a hearty shout out.
Dirty Diamonds (2005) repositions our hero within the sharper echelon of the independent charts and even includes a sweetly vicious take on Michael Brown’s hit “Pretty Ballerina”, a nugget from The Left Banke. Lovely.
Also look out for the CD/DVD package Live at Montreux 2005 since it’s an immaculate hits and more document that should have you racing back towards the earlier discs and eager to catch up with a formidable later catalogue.
We come screeching up to date with Welcome to My Nightmare, the long-awaited sequel if you will, and a reunion with Bob Ezrin that gives our Alice his biggest seller in over two decades. It’s a fantastic effort, made even better by the return of key personnel: Neal Smith, Hunter and Wagner, Bruce and Dunaway – most of the old gang. There are also some fine guests: Vince Gill, Rob Zombie, John 5, Ke$ha and Desmond Child, plus many others.
Better still, since an all-star cast doesn’t always guarantee good results the actual album is great anyway. We’re loving his version of “We Gotta Get Out of This Place” on the generous bonus tracks edition and are full of admiration for the effortless way old school classics are blended in with contemporary Alice Cooper at his very best – totally recommended. The significance of this vintage period coincides with the original Alice Cooper Band being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (or maybe that should be Hall of Infamy) – a long overdue recognition of a maverick talent. Finally, he’s been elected. The President of Paranoia awaits your arrival at the Black House.
Words Max Bell
At a time when many of the forgotten bands of the '70s began to resurface, Alice Cooper released Constrictor in 1986, his first album in three years. The album attempts a fresh start, which made sense, since Cooper suffered physically, creatively, and commercially over the past decade due to changing trends and alcoholism, which left his latest releases void of the energy that had made Killer and Welcome to My Nightmare so popular. For the most part, Cooper succeeded in re-establishing himself -- this is arguably some of the best work he put forth in years. Nothing comes close to the songs he recorded in his '70s heyday, but what's here is surprisingly lively and sharp-witted: "Simple Disobedience" is a catchy anthem of rebellion, and "Teenage Frankenstein" is a straightforward, amusingly melodramatic rocker. Like most of Cooper's '80s work, Constrictor's large amount of filler makes the album unmemorable on the whole, but it serves an importance in proving that Cooper was still entirely capable of rocking out, and was ready for a return to the mainstream without completely selling himself short.
Words: Barry Weber
Alice Cooper never considered his first live album, 1977's The Alice Cooper Show, to be an adequate representation of his capabilities as an entertainer, which is one of the reasons he invested so much energy in the 1997 live album Fistful of Alice. Cooper envisioned the record as a blowout, not only showcasing his stage show, but also featuring cameos from such superstars as Slash, Sammy Hagar, and Rob Zombie. While his abilities as a performer and vocalist had declined somewhat by 1997, Fistful of Alice is remarkably potent, capturing Cooper in good form. It didn't matter that his notoriously bloody stage show had faded away in the 20 years between the two live records, since the album relies on the music, not the visuals. And this time out, the music is much better -- it's tighter and harder, and Cooper's vocals are better than those on Show, where he suffered from too much substance abuse. Fans of Cooper's classic period will miss the Billion Dollar Babies band, but hardcore fans will find the album to be an unexpected delight.
Words: Stephen Thomas Erlewine
With the 1974 disintegration of the original Alice Cooper group, Alice was free to launch a solo career. He wisely decided to re-enlist the services of Bob Ezrin for his solo debut, Welcome to My Nightmare, which was a concept album tied into the story line of the highly theatrical concert tour he launched soon after the album's release. While the music lost most of the gritty edge of the original AC lineup, Welcome to My Nightmare remains Alice's best solo effort -- while some tracks stray from his expected hard rock direction, there's plenty of fist-pumping rock to go around. The disco-flavored, album-opening title track would be reworked on the stage as more of a hard rock tune, while "Some Folks" dips into cabaret territory, and "Only Women Bleed" is a sensitive ballad that became a Top Ten hit. But the rockers serve as the album's foundation -- "Devil's Food," "The Black Widow," "Department of Youth," and "Cold Ethyl" are all standouts, as is the more tranquil yet eerie epic "Steven." Despite this promising start to Cooper's solo career, the majority of his subsequent releases were often not as focused and were of varying quality.
Words: Greg Prato
Recorded at the conclusion of his 2009 world tour, Alice Cooper’s live album Theatre of Death finds the shock rock veteran bringing his legendary live show to London's Hammersmith Apollo. The concert features a selection of Alice’s most well known songs with a heavy emphasis on his 1975 effort Welcome to My Nightmare.
Words: David Jeffries
Give him points for persistence: Alice Cooper just won't quit. He's seen it all from the bottom to the top -- and done the trip more than once -- but still continues on his merry-morbid way, punching out albums like a spry young'un. The first thing one has to say about The Eyes of Alice Cooper is thank Jehovah and all his witnesses that the Mascara'd One has grown out of his metal/industrial phase. That look just never took. Discs like Brutal Planet (2000) and the somewhat better Dragontown (2001) offered little to his legacy or his legion of fans -- aside from nascent headbangers discovering the Coop for the first time. Eyes harks back to Alice's overly maligned early-'80s discs Special Forces and Flush the Fashion -- albums that suffered by comparison with his landmark '70s releases but remain far more musically appealing than the aforementioned new-millennium fare. It takes a couple of listens to "get it," but there is some very good material here: largely derivative, yes, but energetic and entertaining nonetheless. And the old sneer-and-wink is back and comes through in lyrics that, unlike the sonics, are distinctive. The punkish "Man of the Year" is a tragicomedy rip on button-down-collar types who climb life's ladder only to end up putting a gun in their mouths. "Novocaine" (the very word brings back memories of Billion Dollar Babies and "Unfinished Sweet") has, believe it, a Bruce Springsteen guitar sound. The best rocker of the pack is "Detroit City," a quasi-anthemic, mid-tempo grunter fuelled by a slapping, tom-tom beat and a fist-pumping chorus. (MC5's Wayne Kramer adds an extra axe on this one.) The classically Cooper-esque ballad "Be With You a While" is another scene-stealer ("I wish I could tell you/Something you didn't know/I wish I could give you/Something you didn't own") and shows that the ol' snake-twirler still has a sensitive side. The most autobiographical moment comes with the second track, "Between High School and Old School." To wit: "I'm stuck somewhere between high school and old school." Ah, but was it not always thus? For more than three decades Alice has been everyone's favorite grown-up in teens' clothing. And that's why he's loved. Alice being Alice. It's tried and true and it works again here. Not exceptionally, but more than acceptably. In the sweeping context of his legendary career, one could say that The Eyes of Alice Cooper is far from his best album and just as far from his worst.
Words: Adrian Zupp
A treasure trove for serious Alice Cooper fans, Old School: 1964-1974 outdoes itself in content and presentation. The attention paid to the latter is immediately apparent: designed as a miniature replica of an old school desk, the box contains a hardcover yearbook covering these early years of the band, a bunch of memorabilia including replicas of tour programs and ticket stubs, an LP of the St. Louis show from the Killer tour, a 7" single from the pre-Alice Cooper band the Nazz (not to be confused with the Todd Rundgren group of the same name), a DVD, and then the four CDs that are at the heart of the set. Every note here is rare or unreleased, including that live show, a disc of interviews, then demos, rarities, and radio ads from this definitive era of Alice. Some of this stuff is pretty rough, either in fidelity or performance, yet it’s often quite compelling too, particularly the nascent versions of such classics as “Be My Lover,” “Under My Wheels,” “Killer,” “School’s Out,” and “I’m Eighteen.” Whether such minor revelations and considerable musical muscle is worth such a hefty price tag is a matter of debate, but any Alice Cooper fan with the inclination and pocketbook to shell out for this set will not be disappointed.
Words: Stephen Thomas Erlewine
In the mid-'80s, Alice Cooper was able to crawl out of obscurity and rebuild his cult following. Though 1986's Constrictor and the supporting Nightmare Returns tour hardly commanded mainstream attention, the album and tour were his most successful in years, proving Cooper still had enough life to launch a full-fledged comeback. Not even a year after the release of Constrictor, Cooper released Raise Your Fist and Yell, which is more of a return to his dark thematic role than its predecessor. The album is obviously rushed and suffers similar flaws to Constrictor, most notably its large amount of filler. Nonetheless, Cooper manages to sound energetic and charismatic throughout the record as he sings about his three favorite topics: sex, rebellion, and death. "Lock Me Up," "Step on You," and "Not That Kind of Love" are dripping with traditional Cooper sleaze, while "Chop, Chop, Chop" and "Roses on White Lace" seem reminiscent of Cooper's Welcome to My Nightmare days. With Raise Your Fist and Yell, Cooper embraced his past while still managing to sound fun and exciting. All things considered, it still seems surprising that 1989's Trash completely deserted Cooper's menacing, villainous role. After all, Raise Your Fist and Yell, though far from a highlight, showed Cooper was still able to provide both rock anthems and theatrical experiments -- and do it rather well, for that matter.
Words: Barry Weber
By the late '80s, Alice Cooper was in the midst of an identity crisis. While his return back to the limelight after an exile of several years proved that he was still a major concert draw with the heavy metal masses, his "comeback" albums for MCA, 1986's Constrictor and 1987's Raise Your Fist and Yell, lacked the firepower of his earlier classics, and were commercial bombs. With several veteran rock acts of the '70s rising back from the dead a decade later with a more modern, radio-friendly sound (Heart, Aerosmith, Kiss, etc.), Cooper tried his hand at a makeover, fleeing MCA for the land of Epic Records. The 24-track double-disc set Poison focuses solely on Cooper's Epic years. While the era did include some of Cooper's most commercially successful outings in quite some time (such as the Bon Jovi-like MTV favorite "Poison" and the Cooper/Steven Tyler duet ballad "Only My Heart Talkin'"), many of the tracks residing here do not hold up well at all (such as the anti-drug rant "Hey Stoopid"). But there are a few goodies located on Poison, such as the underrated Chris Cornell composition "Stolen Prayer" (which Cornell guests on), which is undoubtedly Cooper's finest track of the '90s, as well as a few latter-day in-concert versions of such early-'70s classics as "School's Out," "Billion Dollar Babies," and "No More Mr. Nice Guy." If you're looking for a true "best-of" set, look elsewhere (namely 2001's Best of Alice Cooper). But if you're curious to sample what Mr. Cooper was up to in the '90s, Poison includes all the tracks (probably too many) that you'll need.
Words: Greg Prato
With Billion Dollar Babies, Alice Cooper refined the raw grit of their earlier work in favor of a slightly more polished sound (courtesy of super-producer Bob Ezrin), resulting in a mega-hit album that reached the top of the U.S. album charts. Song for song, Billion Dollar Babies is probably the original Alice Cooper group's finest and strongest. Such tracks as "Hello Hooray," the lethal stomp of the title track, the defiant "Elected" (a rewrite of an earlier song, "Reflected"), and the poison-laced pop candy of "No More Mr. Nice Guy" remain among Cooper's greatest achievements. Also included are a pair of perennial concert standards -- the disturbing necrophilia ditty "I Love the Dead" and the chilling macabre of "Sick Things" -- as well as such strong, lesser-known selections as "Raped and Freezin'," "Unfinished Sweet," and perhaps Cooper's most overlooked gem, "Generation Landslide." Nothing seemed like it could stop this great hard rock band from overtaking the universe, but tensions between the members behind the scenes would force the stellar original AC band to split up after just one more album. Not only is Billion Dollar Babies one of Cooper's very best; it remains one of rock's all-time, quintessential classics.
Words: Greg Prato
School's Out catapulted Alice Cooper into the hard rock stratosphere, largely due to its timeless, all-time classic title track. But while the song became Alice's highest-charting single ever (reaching number seven on the U.S. charts) and recalled the brash, three-and-a-half-minute garage rock of yore, the majority of the album signaled a more complex compositional directional for the band. Unlike Cooper's previous releases (Love It to Death, Killer), which contained several instantly identifiable hard rock classics, School's Out appears to be a concept album, and aside from the aforementioned title track anthem, few of the other tracks have ever popped up in concert. That's not to say they weren't still strong and memorable; while such cuts as "Gutter Cat vs. the Jets," "Street Fight," "My Stars," and "Grande Finale" came off like mini-epics with a slightly progressive edge, Alice Cooper still managed to maintain their raw, unrefined punk edges, regardless. Other highlights included the rowdy "Public Animal #9," the mid-paced "Luney Tune," and the sinister, cabaret-esque "Blue Turk."
Words: Greg Prato