Alice Cooper

Alice CooperFrom: Detroit, MI, USA

Alice Cooper is considered to be one of the most important musicians in what is known as shock rock. Born Vincent Damon Furnier in February 1948, Cooper’s career spans six decades. Cooper’s stage show is known for featuring guillotines, electric chairs, fake blood, boa constrictors, and baby dolls, earning him the name “The Godfather of Shock Rock.” Alice Cooper formed in the late 1960s, consisting of Cooper (vocals, harmonica), Glen Buxton (guitar), Michael Bruce (guitar), Dennis Dunaway (bass), and Neal Smith (drums).

Born in Detroit, Michigan, Fournier was the son of Ella Mae and Ether Moroni Furnier. Cooper’s father was a lay preacher in the Church of Jesus Christ, an offshoot of the Latter Day Saint movement. At ages 11 and 12, Cooper (Furnier) was active in his church. He attended Washington Elementary School, then Nankin Mills Jr. High (now Lutheran High School Westland). Cooper suffered from a series of childhood illnesses, so the family moved to Phoenix, where he gained admission into the University of Arizona, University of Colorado, and University of California-Davis.

In 1964, Cooper desperately wanted to participate in the local annual letterman’s talent show. He gathered fellow cross-country teammates to form a group for the show, and named themselves the Earwigs. The band didn’t know how to play their instruments, however, so they all dressed up like the Beatles and mimed their performance to Beatles songs. Surprisingly, the band won the talent show. The group loved the experience, and as a result of winning, they immediately started to learn how to play their instruments that they bought at a local pawn shop.

The band changed their name to the Spiders, featuring Cooper (Furnier), Buxton, John Tatum (guitar), Dunaway, and John Speer (drums). The Spiders’ inspirations included the likes of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Who, the Kinks, the Doors, and the Yardbirds. The band played regularly around the Phoenix area. They recorded their first single, “Why Don’t You Love Me,” in 1965. The single was recorded on Mascot Records, a local label owned by Jack Curtis. Curtis was a concert promoter who also owned the Stage  7 teen club, later the VIP Club. The Spiders would become the house band for the club.

Upon their graduation from high school in 1966, Tatum was replaced by Michael Bruce. The band had a local #1 radio hit with the original “Don’t Blow Your Mind.” The Spiders continued to develop, and by 1967 they were making regular trips to Los Angeles to play shows. They renamed themselves the Nazz and released the single “Wonder Who’s Lovin’ Her Now.” Speer was replaced by Neal Smith near the end of ’67, and the band moved to LA.

It soon came to the band’s attention that Todd Rundgren was also in a band called Nazz, so a new name was needed. Furnier believed that the band needed a gimmick to set them apart from other bands who were not exploiting the showmanship potential of the stage. The band then became Alice Cooper, which came from a session with a ouija board. The name was chosen in large part because it sounded innocuous and wholesome. Furnier would eventually adopt the stage name for himself, stating that the name change was one of the biggest factors in the band’s success.

The most famous line-up for the Alice Cooper group consisted of Cooper, Buxton, Bruce, Dunaway, and Smith. With the exception of Smith, all of the band members were a part of the Cortez High School cross-country team. A lot of Cooper’s stage effects were inspired by their coach, Emmett Smith. It is said that one of Smith’s class assignments was to build a working guillotine for slicing watermelon. During a gig at the Cheetah club in Venice, California, the band managed to empty the entire room after just ten minutes. After this unsuccessful performance, the band was approached by music manager Shep Gordon who saw the crowd’s negative response as a force that could be turned into a more productive direction. Shep arranged for the band to audition for composer and producer Frank Zappa, who was looking to sign bizarre music acts to his new label Straight Records. Zappa told the band to come to his house “at 7 o’clock.” The band made the mistake of assuming Zappa meant 7 o’clock in the morning. However, Zappa was impressed that he was woken up by a band so willing to play this brand of psychedelic rock that he signed them to a three-album deal. Zappa had also signed the all-female band GTOs. They liked to “dress the Cooper boys up like full size Barbie dolls,” which was also major in developing Alice Cooper’s early look.

The band released their debut album, Pretties For You, in 1969. The album had slight hints of psychedelic tones to it and cracked the US charts for one week at #193. However, the album is considered to be a critical and commercial failure, despite some good material. Songs like “The Levity Ball” and “Apple Bush” are solid, but not enough to save the album.

Alice Cooper began to receive a lot of publicity, most notably for the allegade chicken incident where it was said that Cooper bit the head off of the bird (Cooper denies this ever happened). In June 1970, the band released their second album, Easy Action. The album again did poorly, and the band began to get upset with Californians’ indifference to their act. The group relocated to Detroit where they were much better received. In August 1970, Alice Cooper appeared at the Woodstock-esque Strawberry Fields Festival near Toronto, Ontario. The mix of glam and violence in Alice Cooper’s show stood out as a major contrast to the bearded, denim-clad hippie bands of the time.

Later in 1970, Alice Cooper joined forces with producer Bob Ezrin for their third album, Love It To Death. This was their final album in their contract with Straight Records, and was their last chance at a hit. The single “I’m Eighteen” was released in November ’70, and reached #21 on the Billboard Hot 100 in early 1971. Shortly after Love It To Death was released, Warner Bros. Records purchased the band’s contract from Straight Records and re-issued the album, helping promote the band. The album reached #35 on the Billboard 200 album charts and was the first of eleven Alice Cooper group and solo albums produced by Ezrin. The success of the single and album, as well as their 1971 tour, was enough for Warner Bros. to offer the band a new multi-album contract.

In late 1971, Alice Cooper released their follow-up album, Killer. Killer was another commercial success, including single success with “Under My Wheels,” “Be My Lover,” and “Halo Of Flies,” the later of which became a Top 10 hit in the Netherlands. This album continued to expand on Cooper’s villainous, androgynous stage role. Shows now featured a boa constrictor hugging Cooper, the chopping of bloodied dolls, and execution by hanging at the gallows.

When Alice Cooper released the single “School’s Out” in the summer of 1972, it marked the first Top 10 hit in the US and UK for the band. The song has remained a staple on classic rock radio to this day. The album School’s Out reached #2 in America and sold over a million copies. In the UK, Mary Whitehouse, a christian morality campaigner, persuaded BBC to ban the “School’s Out” video. Regardless of the ban, the song still went to #1 in the UK. Cooper sent Whitehouse a bunch of flowers as thanks for the increased publicity. All the while, British Labour Member of Parliament Leo Abse petitioned Home Secretary Reginald Maudling to have Alice Cooper banned from performing in the country altogether.

The most commercially successful album Alice Cooper ever released as a band came in February 1973 with the worldwide release of Billion Dollar Babies. The album went to #1 in both the US and the UK, and featured a number of successful singles. “Elected” was a late-1972 Top 10 UK hit, and inspired one of the first MTV-style story-line promo videos ever made for a song. This was followed by two more UK Top 10 singles in “Hello Hooray” and “No More Mr. Nice Guy.” “No More Mr. Nice Guy” was the last single from the album released in the UK, and also reached #25 in the US. The title track, “Billion Dollar Babies,” was also a hit single in the US, and featured guest vocals by Donovan. After the release of the album, Buxton briefly left the band due to his waning health.

Alice Cooper continued recording and touring extensively. 1973’s Muscle of Love marked the last studio album from the classic line-up, as well as Alice Cooper’s last UK Top 20 single of the ’70s with “Teenage Lament ’74.” The band played their last shows together in March and April 1974, before Alice Cooper went on as a solo artist. Such albums as Welcome To My Nightmare (1975), Alice Cooper Goes To Hell (1976) and Lace and Whiskey (1976) showed some promise, but lacked the elements that made the Alice Cooper group’s music so powerful. Still, Alice Cooper has had one of the most prolific careers in music, and is still active today. The band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2011.

Artist information sources include: Wikipedia

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Tracks played on Psychedelicized…

From the 1969 album Pretties For You
Pretties For You

  • Apple Bush

From the 1971 album Love It To Death

  • Ballad Of Dwight Fry

From the 1999 Box Set The Life And Crimes Of Alice Cooper
The Life And Crimes of Alice Cooper

  • Levity Ball [Studio Version]