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Friday, May 25, 2007

Friday Nite Retro

Good evening, and welcome once again to the little "rock opera" that I call Friday Nite Retro. That is truly a fitting descriptor this evening as I am featuring the work of the godfather of shock-rock, the role model for Marilyn Manson, the founder of the heavy metal genre: Vincent Damon Furnier!

Okay. . .you're probably more familiar with his stage name - Alice Cooper. With a stage show that featured guillotines, electric chairs, fake blood and boa constrictors, Cooper drew equally from heavy metal, garage rock, horror movies and vaudeville to create a theatrical brand of rock music that had never been seen before. A Detroit native, Cooper moved to Phoenix when still a teen. He and some friends took part in a local high school talent show there. Not knowing how to play any musical instruments at the time, they called themselves the Earwigs, dressed like the Beatles, and mimed their performance. After winning that contest and enjoying the on-stage performance, they immediately proceeded to learn to play instruments.

Furnier could sing and would learn the harmonica, Glen Buxton - lead guitar, John Tatum - rhythm guitar, Dennis Dunaway - bass guitar, and John Speer - drums. Musically, the group were inspired by artists such as The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Janis Joplin, The Who, The Kinks, Pink Floyd, and The Yardbirds. In 1966, with Cortez High footballer Michael Bruce replacing John Tatum on guitar, the members of the Earwigs graduated from Cortez High School and renamed themselves "The Spiders". The band scored a local #1 radio hit with "Why Don't You Love Me", an original composition from their first single release.

In 1967 the band renamed themselves "The Nazz" and drummer Jim Speers was replaced by Neal Smith. However, upon learning that Todd Rundgren also had a band called The Nazz, the band was again in need of another stage name. Furnier recognized that the group needed a gimmick to succeed, and that other bands were not exploiting the showmanship potential of the stage. He subsequently chose the band's name to be "Alice Cooper" and adopted this stage name as his own. Early press releases claimed that the name was agreed upon after one of Cooper's Ouija sessions, and learning that he was a reincarnation of a 17th century witch of the same name. However, Cooper in later interviews has said the name actually came out of thin air conjuring an image of "a cute, sweet, little girl with a hatchet behind her back." It was once said to be an inside joke associated with a Mayberry RFD character. Alice Cooper is also the name of Betty Cooper's mother in the Archie comic strips. Nonetheless, at the time Cooper and the band figured that the concept of a male playing the role of an androgynous witch, wearing tattered womens' clothing and make-up would definitely have the potential to cause quite a social controversy.

After moving to Los Angeles, California in 1968, the band enlisted Shep Gordon as their manager, who managed to strike an audition for the band with composer and renowned record producer Frank Zappa, who was looking to sign up bizarre music acts for his new record label, Straight Records. For the audition Zappa told them to come to his house "at 7 o'clock", and the band mistakenly assumed he meant 7:00 AM. Waking Zappa up from his slumber, a band that was willing to play that particular brand of psychedelic rock at 7 in the morning, a time unbeknownst to most in the rock music world, impressed him enough to sign the band to a three-album deal. Alice Cooper's first album Pretties for You was released in 1969 and, though it touched the US charts for one week at #193, was ultimately met with critical and commercial failure.

Even though the band incorporated theatrics into their stage act from the outset, a chance case of the press misreporting an unrehearsed stage routine involving Cooper and a live chicken led to the band changing, tack—capitalizing on tabloid sensationalism, and creating a new sub genre, shock rock. Cooper claims that the "Chicken Incident", which took place at the Toronto Rock 'n Roll Revival concert in September 1969, was an accident. A chicken somehow made its way on stage during Alice Cooper's performance, and not having any experience around livestock, Cooper thought "Chickens have wings, so they must be able to fly" so Cooper picked it up and threw it out over the crowd, with the intention of having the chicken fly away. But chickens cannot fly particularly well, and the bird plummeted into the crowd and was reportedly ripped to shreds by the rowdy audience. The next day the incident made the front page of many national newspapers. Zappa phoned him shortly afterwards to ask if the story, which reported that Cooper had bit the head off the live chicken and drank its blood on stage, was true. Cooper denied the rumor, whereupon Zappa told him, "Well, whatever you do, don't tell anyone you didn't do it". Zappa considered that kind of publicity priceless for the band.

Despite the infamy the band received from the Chicken Incident, their second album, Easy Action released in 1970, met with the same fate as its predecessor. Warner Bros. Records then purchased Straight Records from Frank Zappa and the Alice Cooper group was set to receive a higher level of promotion with this major label. It was around this time that the band, fed up with the Californians' indifference and general dislike to their act, relocated to Cooper's birthplace, Detroit, where their bizarre stage act was much better received. Detroit would remain the act's steady home base until 1972. "LA just didn’t get it. They were all on the wrong drug for us. They were on acid and we were basically drinking beer. We fit much more in Detroit than we did anywhere else..."

In 1970, after their first two albums on Straight Records, the band was teamed up, by the insistence of their new label master Warner Bros. Records, with fledging producer Bob Ezrin for their third album, the final of three in their original Straight Records contract, to be entitled Love It to Death. This album would be the first of 8 Alice Cooper group and solo albums done with Ezrin who is credited with having helped create and develop the band's definitive sound. Their first hit single soon followed, 1971's "I'm Eighteen":


The follow-up album Killer, released in late-1971, continued the commercial success of "Love It To Death" and included further singles success with "Under My Wheels", "Be My Lover" in 1972, and "Halo Of Flies" which was a Top 10 hit in the Netherlands. Thematically, "Killer" expanded on the villainous side of Cooper's androgynous stage role with its music more becoming the soundtrack to the group's morality-based stage show, which by then featured a Boa Constrictor hugging him onstage, the murderous ax chopping of bloodied "dead babies", and the choice of execution had developed into death by hanging - The Gallows. By mid-1972 the Alice Cooper show had become infamous, what they really needed then was a smash hit. That summer saw the release of the appropriately-titled single School's Out. It went Top 10 in the US, was a #1 single in the UK, and remains a staple on classic rock radio to this day. Their smash hit had arrived. School's Out the album reached #2 on the US charts and sold over a million copies.

School's Out

Billion Dollar Babies, released in February 1973, was the band's most commercially successful album, reaching #1 in both the US and UK. "Elected", a 1972 Top 10 UK hit included on the album which inspired one of the first MTV-style story-line promo videos ever made for a song (three years before Queen's promo video to "Bohemian Rhapsody"), was followed by two more UK Top 10 singles, "Hello Hooray" and "No More Mr Nice Guy", the latter of which was the last UK single from the album; it reached #25 in the US.

No More Mister Nice guy

With a string of successful concept albums and several hit singles, the band continued their grueling schedule and toured the US once again. Attempts by politicians and pressure groups to ban their shocking act only served to fuel the myth of Alice Cooper and generate more audience interest. Their 1973 US tour broke box office records previously set by The Rolling Stones and raised rock theatrics to a new level. The multi-level stage show by then featured numerous special effects including Billion Dollar Bills, decapitated baby dolls and mannequins, a Dental psychosis scene complete with dancing teeth, and the ultimate execution prop and highlight of the show - The Guillotine. The guillotine and other stage effects were designed for the band by magician James Randi, and during some of the shows, Randi appeared on stage as the executioner. By this stage, the Alice Cooper group had reached its peak in every way and were the biggest band in the industry. Cooper's stage antics would influence later bands like Kiss, Blue Öyster Cult, and W.A.S.P.

Muscle of Love, released at the end of 1973, was to be the last studio album from the classic line-up. As some of the band members had proceeded in recording solo albums, Cooper decided to do the same. Collaborating with producer Bob Ezrin and Lou Reed's guitarist Dick Wagner, and supported by Lou Reed's backing band, the project eventually resulted with Welcome To My Nightmare. Spearheaded by the US Top 20 hit "Only Women Bleed", a ballad, the solo album was released by Atlantic Records in March 1975 and became a Top 10 hit for Cooper. It was a concept album, based on the nightmare of a child named Steven, featuring narration by classic horror movie film star Vincent Price (several years before he guested on Michael Jackson's "Thriller"), and served as the soundtrack to Cooper's new stage show, which included more theatrics than ever (including an 8-feet tall furry Cyclops whom Cooper decapitates and kills). Accompanying the album and stage show was the TV special "The Nightmare", starring Cooper and Vincent Price in person, which aired on US prime-time TV in April 1975 and was regarded as another groundbreaking point in rock history as the first rock music video album ever made.

Only Women Bleed

Adding to all that, a concert film, also called Welcome to My Nightmare and filmed live at London's Wembley Arena in September 1975, was released to theaters in 1976. Though it failed at the box office, it later became a midnight movie favorite and a cult classic. Such was the immense success of this solo project that Cooper decided to continue as a solo artist and the original band was defunct. It is during this time that he co-founded the drinking club The Hollywood Vampires, contributing to his ample appetite for alcohol.

Following the 1976 US Top 20 hit "I Never Cry", another ballad, two albums, Alice Cooper Goes to Hell and Lace and Whiskey, and another ballad hit, the US Top 10 "You and Me", it became clear from regularly shambled performances on his US tour of 1977 that the musician was in dire need of specialized help with his alcoholism. Following the tour, Cooper had himself hospitalized into a New York sanitarium for treatment, during which time the live album The Alice Cooper Show was released. At his alcoholic peak some fans rumored that he was up to two cases of Budweiser and a bottle of whiskey a day.

I Never Cry

You and Me

His experience in the sanitarium was the inspiration for his 1978 semi-autobiographical album From The Inside, which Cooper co-wrote with Bernie Taupin. The release spawned another US Top 20 hit "How You Gonna See Me Now", yet another ballad, based on his fear of how his wife would warm to him after hospitalization. The subsequent tour's stage show was based inside an asylum, and was filmed for Cooper's first home video release, "The Strange Case of Alice Cooper", in 1979:

How You Gonna See Me Now?

Cooper's albums from the beginning of the 1980s, Flush the Fashion, Special Forces, Zipper Catches Skin, and DaDa, were not as commercially successful as his past releases. Flush the Fashion, produced by Queen producer Roy Thomas Baker, has a sparse, edgy musical sound that was so unexpected as to have been truly baffling to long-time fans, but yielded the US Top 40 hit "Clones (We're All)":

Clones (We're All)

In 1983, after the recording of DaDa, Cooper was re-hospitalized for alcoholism. In a deathly state of health Cooper relocated back to Phoenix, Arizona, to the support of family and old friends and to save his marriage from falling apart. Alice was finally clean and sober by the time "DaDa" and "The Nightmare" home video (of his 1975 TV Special) were released in the fall of that year, however both releases performed under expectation. Even with "The Nightmare" scoring a nomination for 1984's Grammy Award for Best Long Form Music Video (he lost to Duran Duran), it wasn't enough for Warner Bros. to keep Cooper on their books. In 1984 Alice Cooper was, for the first time in his career, a free agent.

After a year on hiatus, and starring in the Spanish B-grade horror movie production Monster Dog, Cooper sought to pick up the pieces of his musical career and, in 1985, met and began songwriting with guitarist Kane Roberts. Cooper was subsequently signed to MCA Records, and appeared as guest vocalist on Twisted Sister's song "Be Chrool To Your Scuel". A video was made for the song, featuring Cooper donning his black snake-eyes make-up for the first time since 1979 and for the first time sober, however any publicity it would have given to Cooper's return to the music scene was cut short as the video was promptly banned due to its graphically gory make-up, by Tom Savini, of the innumerable zombies which starred in it and their appetite for human flesh.

In 1986, Megadeth was asked to open for Alice Cooper during current US tours. After noticing the hardcore drug and alcohol abuse in the band, Cooper personally approached them to try and help them control their "demons", and stayed close to front man Dave Mustaine ever since. Mustaine considers him his "Godfather".

In 1987, Cooper made a brief appearance as a vagrant in the horror movie Prince of Darkness, directed by John Carpenter. His role had no lines and consisted of menacing the protagonists and impaling one of them with a bicycle frame. Cooper also appeared at WrestleMania III, escorting wrestler Jake "The Snake" Roberts to the ring. After the match was over, Cooper got involved and threw Jake's snake Damien at The Honky Tonk Man's manager Jimmy Hart. Jake considered the involvement of Cooper to be an honor, as he idolized Cooper in his youth and has remained a fan of Cooper.

In 1988 Cooper's contract with MCA Records expired and he signed with Epic Records. Then, in 1989, his career finally experienced a real revival with the Desmond Child-produced album Trash, which spawned a hit single "Poison", which reached # 2 in the UK and #7 in the US, and a worldwide arena tour.


Alice Cooper Trivia:

* Melody Maker magazine once published a satirical concert review of Cooper in the form of a mock obituary, causing confused readers to think he had died. Once he had been tracked down, Alice Cooper reassured them: "I'm alive, and drunk as usual".

* Alice Cooper performs "Welcome To My Nightmare", "You and Me", and "School's Out" in The Muppet Show (episode # 3.7) 28 March 1978. He brings what many believed to be his own monster puppets (Cooper later stated in a radio interview that these were created by the Muppeteers for the show, not brought by him) and plays one of the devil's henchmen trying to dupe Kermit the Frog and Gonzo into selling their souls.

* Cooper became part of Kyle MacDonald's one red paperclip project when he agreed to offer an afternoon with himself as a trade for one year of rent for an employee at his restaurant. [11]

* Alice Cooper has said that "I look at Mick Jagger and they're on an 18-month tour and he's six years older than me, so I figure, when he retires, I have six more years. I will not let him beat me when it comes to longevity." [12]

* In May 2004 Cooper received an honorary doctoral degree from Grand Canyon University.

* Is referred to in the song "Planet Earth" by Devo: I saw a man on a stage / scream, "Put me back in my cage!" / I saw him hanged by his tie / I saw enough to make me cry.

* For quite some time during his peak in the 70's, there was a rumor floating around that Cooper was Eddie Haskell from Leave It to Beaver.

* The Cortez High School track coach, Emmit Smith, who also was the journalism teacher, is made reference to as "The Reverend Smith" in No More Mister Nice Guy.

* Cooper's song 'I Am The Future' was the theme song of the cult film Class of 1984.

* On the UK rock channel, Kerrang!, Cooper presented the shows; "The Ten Commandments of Rock" and "The 20 Greatest Rock Deaths"

* "The Chicken Incident" ranked #12 in VH1's 100 Most Shocking Moments in Rock and Roll in 2001. The incident also was parodied in Ray Stevens' "The Moonlight Special" where the second verse features Agnes Stoopa (a takeoff on Cooper) and his pet chicken.

* Alice Cooper also made VH1's "40 Freakiest Concert Moments" in 2007 for having an audience member throw a cake at Cooper's face while performing his audience hypnotism routine.

* Alice Cooper appeared on the first episode of ABC In Concert in 1972.

* On the TV series Scrubs, Dr. Elliot Reed, upon seeing how her mascara had run down her face, said "I look like Alice Cooper!"

* A theme tune was recorded, and appears on Muscle of Love, for the James Bond film 'The Man With The Golden Gun'. However Alice was seen as being too outrageous for James Bond and the track by Lulu was chosen instead.

* Cooper was a suspect in a fictional murder on an episode of the NBC television show Monk.

* Aired on June 20, 2005 ahead of his June–July 2005 tour, Cooper had a wide-ranging interview with interviewer of celebrities Andrew Denton for Australian television's Enough Rope[13]. Cooper discussed: his cure and subsequent abstinence from alcohol for 24 years and subsequent obsession with golf; the shock value of his shows (saying that "all the rest were Peter Pan and I decided to be Captain Hook"); being a Christian; and the nature of his friendships with Groucho Marx, Mae West, (both saw his shows as a kind of vaudeville revue) and Salvador Dalí (who saw his shows as "surrealistic"),and his social and work relationship with his family.

* Cooper donated $27,700 to help redo the third "O" of the Hollywood Sign along with eight other donors. Cooper donated his letter to the memory of Groucho Marx.

And that, my friends, is a wrap on this week's FNR. Have a GREAT Memorial Day Weekend!!


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Blogger Stan Matuska said...

Holy shit John! That's a huge post! Have a great Memorial weekend as well!

title="comment permalink">May 25, 2007 11:49 PM  
Blogger Parson said...

Awsome FNR,
You can listen to Alice Cooper on
92.3 the Fort from 9pm till like 3am.
(I sound like a comercial for them)

It's kind of funny if you like listening to old guys ramble on, but you learn some good stuff about classic rock sometimes.

title="comment permalink">May 26, 2007 1:06 AM  
Blogger PTCruiser said...

What a comprehensive cover of Mr. Nice Guy. geat post, John and best Friday Nite Retro EVER !!!

title="comment permalink">May 26, 2007 5:00 AM  
Blogger Hill said...

Whoa, Good Man, this FNR rocks!!!
Alice Cooper was one bad-ass dude.
Oh, and I had forgotten about the Eddie Haskell rumor. Hilarious!
My fave is "18" - FAB song. 1971 was my first year of college, my first year of freedom, and yes, I was 18.
Great post.

title="comment permalink">May 26, 2007 9:37 AM  
Blogger Robert Rouse said...

I still like Cooper's early work, but I dislike his radio show - he's a little bland for a jock. Also, I try not to hold his ridiculous support for George W. Bush against him, but it's tough.

title="comment permalink">May 26, 2007 11:12 AM  
Blogger John Good said...

Stan - Thanks! You too!

Parson - Thanks for the linkage!

PT - Thanks, amigo! That means alot coming from the original FNR fan!

Hill - My faves were the ballads, You & Me, I Never Cry, How You Gonna See Me. . .

Robert - I know. He supported Nam as well. I still like the tunes tho. . .

title="comment permalink">May 26, 2007 9:41 PM  

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