The Glory That Was Alice

Alice Cooper

The Glory That Was Alice

Maybe the world wants to forget now he’s playing golf with Chris Evans, now he’s dry, now he’s no longer a member of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Club, but once upon a time Vincent Damon Furnier was the weirdest thing ever to come out of Detroit, Michigan. Alice Cooper were tighter than the Stooges (damned by faint praise), wore more make-up and had longer hair than the Dolls, and took the theatricality implicit in the Doors stage-act to the level of ‘grand guignol’. If you can find space in your hearts for the Dolls, then find a chamber for Alice and the boys too.

My introduction to them came with their third album. The two previous ones were on Frank Zappa’s Straight label and not that good. An anecdote flying round at the time was that Frank had gone to see them support The Doors at a gig in LA where the audience walked out en masse when they realised Alice Cooper wasn’t a fey Valley girl with an acoustic guitar. Frank thought them so weird he believed he could harness that negative vibe into positive record sales. They turned up to record the first album drunk at 8 a.m., not the 8 p.m. Frank had intended.

“Love It To Death” came out in 1971. My late friend, Nick Payne, brought it into school to assist me in becoming the totally messed up teenager I aspired to. It had a gatefold sleeve (I think Nick got it on import as there are different covers) - which opened up to reveal a huge eye with the trade-mark spidery make-up. This was possibly less controversial than “Pretties for You”, their first LP - that sleeve had, amongst other things, a drawing of a woman playing with herself. Nick raved about “Love It To Death”, the quintessence of the Detroit sound, wired guitars in counterpoint to the laconic drawl of the lead vocals. The lyrics were dark and very troubled.

The opener, “Caught in a Dream”:

“Whoa-o-oh
When you see me with a smile on my face
Whoa-o-oh
Then you'll know I'm a mental case”

“The Ballad of Dwight Fry”:

“I think I lost some weight there
and I--- I'm sure I need some rest
Sleepin don't come very easy
in a straight white vest”

“Black JuJu”:

“Touched by the toil and plunged into his arm
Cursed through the night through eyes of alarm
A melody black flowed out of my breath
Searching for death, but bodies need rest”

I borrowed the album and played it hundreds of times. Learned every note of every track. This was perfect teenage music for boys – loud, raw and sleazy - and very obscure. The hint of gothic insanity added to its majestic appeal. Just how decadent it was could be judged by the fact they did a cover version of “Sun Arise”, the old Rolf Harris standby. They upped the spooky stakes on this one, turning it from a cod-Aboriginal chant into a Voodoo-hypnotic spine-freezer.

“I’m Eighteen”, the US hit from the album (& a catalytic inclusion on the Sex boutique jukebox on the Kings Rd – Ed), was already touching on themes of teenagerdom crystallised in “Schools Out”:

“I'm in the middle without any plans
I'm a boy and I'm a man”

Vince was brought up in a very religious family. His grandfather, Thurman Sylvester Furnier, was an ordained Apostle of the Church of Jesus Christ. His father was an ordained Elder. Conflict and rebellion ensued.

“Hallowed Be Thy Name”:

“Gather round right now
and hear me whisper
the words of the prison
the words of laughter
The lords and the ladies
were fixing their hair-dos
cursing their lovers
cursing the Bible”

“Second Coming”:

“Couldn't tell
if the bells were getting louder
The songs they ring I finally recognize
I only know
Hell is getting hotter
the Devil's getting smarter all the time

And it would be nice
to walk upon the water
to talk again to angels
on my side . . .
so have no gods before me
I'm the light”

The cover of the album had a B&W photo of the band slouching in the spotlight. It will remind you of Wings’ “Band On The Run” cover - which is another of life’s weird juxtapositions. I read an article about Alice Cooper in ZigZag shortly afterwards. There they were, surrounded by beer cans and groupies, thin as rakes (legacy, so they claimed, of their track athletic heritage, where running was one way of keeping a distance between themselves and the jocks), hair down to the waist. They were cracking jokes about two Jewish guys, ‘Dick Gozinya’ and ‘Buster Hymen’. How extremely cool, how very funny.

After this, came the inevitable success followed by the inevitable ruination. “Schools Out” (1972) on TOTP took them from UK obscurity and into mainstream success. This teenage boy rejected them, despite loving the record and the killer opening riff. They were in the frame with Slade, Mud and Suzie Quatro (another Detroiter and possibly an article for a future trakMARX – We just palled up with ‘her’ on myspace, so why not? - Ed). Street cred traded for prime-time schlock. An old story and one we shall hear again and again. In 74 – 75 the original line-up disbanded with Vince elaborating his stage act into the Hammer House of Horrors it always threatened to become: good, knock-about, gory fun for all the family.

Try getting hold of “Love It To Death” for an album to line up against “Back in the USA”, or “Metallic KO”. Listen to the authentic Detroit steel of Michael Bruce’s and Glen Buxton’s intertwining guitars, Denis Dunaway’s bass and Neal Smith’s drums. Listen to the gothic horrors of Vince’s vocals – another non-singer like Iggy. They arrived at the junction of heavy metal and punk, a foot in either camp. But really, it’s just all music.

Is there an Alice Cooper Tribute Band out there – maybe now is the time to get one together! Fore!

Brian Williams – tMx 26 – 09/06
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