Rating Alice Cooper
As Halloween approaches, Shaun Ponsonby takes us through the back catalogue of the master of horror, vaudeville and rock & roll – Alice Cooper.
Today, Alice Cooper is sort of the hard rock equivalent of Cher.
That may sound ridiculous – and it’s certainly not an insult. Other than the fact that they have occasionally looked alike, in 2019 they have a staggering amount in common; they’re both much loved cultural icons who possess a self-awareness about their public image, the over the top nature of the persona, a plethora of silly costumes and props, a certain campiness to their acts. Seeing both of their live shows within a few weeks of each other was genuinely fascinating.
Of course, that wasn’t the case when Alice Cooper first burst onto the scene in the late 60s, clutching a snake, chopping up babies (don’t worry, they were just dolls), killing chickens (that was an accident) and being beheaded on stage.
Back then Alice Cooper was band rather than an indvidual; Glen Buxton (guitar), Michael Bruce (guitar), Dennis Dunaway (bass), Neal Smith (drums) and Vincent Furnier, the lead singer who came to embody the band’s titular character. If there was a sixth member of Alice Cooper, it was producer Bob Ezrin, a then 21 year old producer who helped fine tune the wayward nature of their early work.
Even the name was shocking. At the height of the late 60s flower power in LA, people went to see Alice Cooper expecting to see a mellow, Joni Mitchell type singer-songwriter. Instead they got a surreal cross-dressing, parent-scaring, on the edge, theatrical, B-movie inspired, horror obsessed, darkly satirical gang of I-Don’t-Know-Whats. And it scared the shit out of them. They were punk before punk. They were glam before glam. They were goth before goth. They were metal before metal.
Cooper himself is now a thoroughly entertaining pantomime dame. He may not be as scary and disturbing as he once was, but he remains one of the great showmen in rock & roll – and that Cher-esque self-awareness is precisely why.
But back in the beginning, the emphasis was more on surrealism. Furnier and Dunaway became school friends over a mutual admiration of artists such as Salvador Dali and René Magritte rather than Little Richard and Elvis. Yet The Beatles proved an unintentional catalyst for the beginnings of what would later become Alice Cooper; they found themselves entering the school talent show parodying The Beatles as The Earwigs. The reaction was such that they decided to form a band for real. Along came The Spiders, then The Nazz and finally, as the surrealism became a bigger part of their act, they settled on Alice Cooper. Urban legend (as spread by the band themselves) has it that they got the name when they asked a Ouija Board “Who is Vincent Furnier?” But for that to be true, the occult would have to be real, sooo…probably not.
Alice Cooper (the man) has gone off in many different directions since the collapse of the original band in 1974. Fans who were there from the beginning hold the original five in a much higher regard than subsequent generations. For many, their favourite period of Alice Cooper alligns with the one they fell in love with first.
And there have been more than the average listener will be aware; new wave Alice, showbiz Alice, hair metal Alice, industrial Alice, post-modern Alice, psychedelic Alice, garage rock Alice.
So how does all of this material stack up for somebody who loves all of these different Alice‘s? In celebration of Halloween, we’ve gone through the entire Cooper ouevre and rated all of his releases from worst to best. Included are his solo albums, records he made with the original band (denoted in the list as Alice Cooper Group), and that ghastly Hollywood Vampires stuff, which may well be the scariest thing he’s ever done.
Welcome to his nightmare…
31. Hollywood Vampires [Hollywood Vampires, 2015]
A few strange things started aligning in Cooperstown in the early part of the decade. He made a cameo in the Johnny Depp film Dark Shadows (if you can even remember that), and the two hit it off to the point of Depp joining The Coop on stage at small promotional shows. Alice then started playing mini-sets of cover versions in his live shows. This went down well in America, where classic rock radio has a stranglehold on fans of a certain age. Not so much in Europe, where attention would wane dramatically. All of this led to a new project; Hollywood Vampires.
You see, back in Alice’s hazy days, he co-founded a celebrity drinking club of that name. Members included Keith Moon, John Lennon, John Belushi, Joe Walsh and a plethora of stoppers by. The plan with this project was to pay tribute to those who were no longer here by playing their tunes.
Or, more likely, Johnny Depp wanted to live out a self-indulgent rock & roll fantasy, Alice saw an opportunity for publicity and the other member – Aerosmith’s Joe Perry – just thought it would be fun or something.
And maybe it would be one thing to see in person. Nothing Earth shattering, but a fun night out at least. But on record? This is really quite pointless. There’s two pretty nondescript originals, the rest are bar band versions of songs we’ve all heard a million times; Whole Lotta Love, My Generation and Alice’s own School’s Out. None of the songs are dramatically reworked – so, really, why would you bother?
There is a fun tidbit though; apparently Alice’s people sorted all the touring out. Now well into his 70’s, Cooper maintains a breakneck touring pace. Apparently it was too much for Perry, who couldn’t handle it and allegedly ended up collapsing out of exhaustion.
30. Alice Does Alice 
A short EP featuring Alice’s current band re-recording a handful of classics. Again, this is entirely pointless to own, but the reasoning was sound, unlike the Hollywood Vampires. It seems they wanted to include certain songs on the Rock Band games, but the games companies didn’t have access to the original multitrack tapes so they couldn’t split up the instrumentation. They probably released it as download because…well, why not? But nothing to see here, folks.
29. Rise [Hollywood Vampires, 2019]
Following the abysmal Hollywood Vampires covers album, which depressingly got more attention than anything Alice had done in a long while, the trio decided to make a “proper” album. By which we mean further indulging Depp’s rock star fantasy.
He is responsible for most of the writing here, and he even takes some lead vocals. He manages to croon through David Bowie’s “Heroes” with all the conviction of that guy you know who is in that band that play in your local pub sometimes. Meanwhile, Joe Perry takes vocals on a ghastly cover of Johnny Thunders’ You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory – a song that already reached perfection in Ronnie Spector’s hands 20 years previously.
But, still, you gotta give them credit for at least trying this time around, even if the album basically becomes an over-long slog. There are some cool moments. John Waters popping up on Welcome To Bushwackers made us wonder why the King of Shock Rock and the Pope of Trash have never crossed paths before. And Mr Spider is by far the most Alice Cooper sounding track on the album.
But for the most part, it does feel like “Famous person thinks he’s a musician now”. At least Bradley Walsh wasn’t pining for credibility when he made an album.
28. Lace and Whiskey 
It’s frustrating that this album fares so poorly, because the concept is actually quite interesting.
After a decade of playing variations on the same character, Vincent decided to ostensibly leave Alice Cooper behind, instead taking the persona of Maurice Escargot – a heavy drinking private investigator, inspired by film noirs of the 40s and 50s.
Musically, we’re all over the place. (No More) Love at Your Convenience is a bit of a disco song. It’s not terrible, despite what Alice himself has said. But it really is bizarre hearing it come from Alice Cooper. As is the ballad You and Me (his last US top 10 hit until 1989). Though he had hit ballads before, there’s something about this one that feels a little less Cooper-esque. What is terrible, though, is the baffling cover of Ubangi Stomp.
There are things that save it, and the record kicks off pretty well. In fact, opener It’s Hot Tonight has to be one of his all-time greatest riffs. Pure filth. But as a whole it’s completely disjointed, and is so far away from the parent scaring image he had spent the last decade building up. There’s nothing shocking here – unless his intent was to scare his own audience (and I’m always down with that).
It is possible that the reason this comes up so short is down to the real life heavy drinking that Alice was doing at the time. This led to his stay in a mental institution halfway through the album’s tour, which was plagued by poor performances. It was a troubling period for Cooper, and things wouldn’t get much better for a while.
27. Easy Action [Alice Cooper Group, 1970]
The second and final album that the original band released on Frank Zappa’s Straight label, and got its title from a scene in West Side Story. The band are clearly evolving, but most of the songs feel unfinished. As if they were hauled into the studio before they were ready to do so.
It didn’t help that, by all accounts, producer David Briggs, fresh from working with Neil Young, couldn’t stand the band. According to drummer Neal Smith, he openly referred to them as “Psychedelic shit” to their faces during sessions. So perhaps it’s no surprise that even beyond the halfway material, the album has no atmosphere.
Which is a shame, as given some work, it could have improved on the debut. There are some good moments, the seven-minute trip Lay Down and Die, Goodbye, opener Mr and Misdemeanor, and notably Refrigerator Heaven (later referenced on 1975’s Cold Ethyl) all show potential. But sadly it doesn’t feel quite as present as the debut.
The failure of this record found Alice Cooper leaving LA, where they were at odds with the hippy attitudes and were probably the most hated band in town. It turned out to be the best decision they could have made.
26. The Breadcrumbs EP 
An EP of covers, celebrating Alice’s hometown of Detroit. Unlike some of his previous records, this was recorded with his current live band, and while inessential, there is an urgency to it. The one brand new song, Go Man Go, is the most punk Alice has sounded in years. Besides that, there isn’t much to say about this release.
25. Zipper Catches Skin 
There is a run of four Alice Cooper albums between 1980 and 1983 that are known as the “blackout” period, meaning Alice has no recollection of writing, recording or promoting them. Not long after his stay in a mental institution for alcoholism, he apparently decided that if he couldn’t drink, he would just freebase cocaine instead, and sank so deeply into this new addiction that he has one massive “scene missing” title card in his mind for most of this period.
That wasn’t Alice’s only problem. By now, he was no longer the dangerous artist he once was. We were post-punk and, ironically, it deemed Alice Cooper obsolete despite being one of the prime influences of both punk and new wave.
Alice’s response was natural; try to incorporate new wave elements into his work. With acts like Adam & The Ants (who portrayed both Cooper and Alice’s own inspiration, Salvador Dali, in the iconic Prince Charming video) and even Talking Heads (who do you think inspired Psycho Killer?) openly acknowledging their debt to him, it was an obvious choice.
But, it didn’t quite work out as planned. This was the third album recorded in that style, and you can feel it wearing thin. It’s not that it’s terrible, in fact thematically it could have been an interesting record. Opener Zorro’s Ascent has the titular swordsman debating his own mortality, Tag, You’re It satirises the burgeoning slasher movie craze and you can guess what I’m Alive (That Was The Day My Dead Pet Returned To Save My Life) is about. Musically, too, lead single I Am The Future is pretty cool, despite the title being a little on the nose.
But it all ends up being pretty forgetful. It didn’t chart at all – not in the US or the UK – and has rarely been mentioned since.
24. Constrictor 
After three years of silence, it made sense that Alice would make his comeback around this time. Some stars were definitely aligning for him.
Firstly, this was during the heyday of hair metal. In many ways, Alice did pave the way for these bands (though none of them had any of the witty satire that Alice’s best work is peppered with), and they all openly acknowledged their debt to him.
Secondly, MTV was in full force, and Alice’s strong visuals were perfect for the video age. In fact, his comeback concert was broadcast live on MTV on Halloween 1986, and is one of the prime Alice Cooper live shows.
Lastly, this was also the apex of the slasher flick, meaning that there was also an audience hungry for grotesque violence and gore, so it is no surprise that Constrictor’s lead single was He’s Back (The Man Behind The Mask), which also featured in Friday The 13th Part VI: Jason Lives.
That song is one of two extremes on this record. The hair-tastic metallic riffing courtesy of guitarist Kane “Rambo” Roberts, and a sort of pop sound courtesy of the present Fairlight CMI drum machines. It means that although there are highlights – particularly opener Teenage Frankenstein – it all feels a bit disjointed, and primarily a tool to promote the hugely successful tour as opposed to the tour supporting the album.
Although it is what a lot of people probably expect from Alice Cooper, it is far from his most interesting work. Fun though.
23. Dragontown 
As much as it made sense for Alice to engage with hair metal, it was a given that he would take on the industrial metal of Nine Inch Nails and, most obviously, his bastard child Marilyn Manson. He made two albums of this ilk; 2000’s Brutal Planet and Dragontown the following year.
Described by Alice as “The worst place on Brutal Planet”, it is hard to know if this is a genuinely crafted sequel or an album of leftovers. There is nothing that truly stands out like on the previous album – which may explain why nothing on this record has been resurrected in subsequent tours – but stylistically the album is a little more daring than the chug of Brutal Planet. It’s Not Too Late, for example, is probably the closest Alice had come in a long time to updating the sound of the original band for just about any modern era.
By now, people had become acutely aware that Alice had become a born again Christian, and there seems to be some of his worldview creeping in lyrically. Indeed, it isn’t hard to view Dragontown as a thinly veiled metaphor for hell. There’s even I Just Wanna Be God, which appears to be from the devil’s point of view.
It is a pretty full-on record, with not much room to breathe, save for the ballad Every Woman Has a Name. It’s heavy, both musically and lyrically. But that doesn’t leave much room for his trademark wit. Alice is at his best when he’s scary with a smirk. This is deadly.
22. Along Came a Spider 
This is a bit of an odd one. It’s his first true concept album since 1994’s The Last Temptation, and probably his most ambitious since 1978’s From The Inside, but there is a much better album in there somewhere. Musically, we’re somewhere between the industrial metal of Brutal Planet and Dragontown, and the garage rock of his previous two releases. But something doesn’t jell quite as well as one would hope.
The album’s actual story is full-on Alice; a serial killer named Spider cocoons his victims in a silk web, and each missing a leg. Spider’s task is to collect eight legs in order to complete the construction of his own spider. However, he falls in love with his eighth victim. There is a twist at the end – Spider turns out to be Steven, the alter ego he developed for 1975’s Welcome To My Nightmare with whom Alice occasionally checks in on. But, that feels more like something tacked on at the end in a cheap attempt to get fans excited. It didn’t really work.
The worst thing about the record is the production. Even as someone who doesn’t obsess over how perfect things sound sonically, this is hard to sit through. And while there are some good ideas, they are often marred by being over-repetitive or sounding too similar to other material. Take Wake The Dead, which has a bassline seemingly nicked from The Chemical Brothers’ Let Forever Be and a chorus reminiscent of Hell Hole by Spinal Tap.
There are highlights, most obviously the heavy Vengeance Is Mine and the wry (In Touch With)Your Feminine Side, while Killed By Love proved Alice’s pedigree as a ballad writer has not diminished. Perhaps a full, theatrical Along Came a Spider tour could have brought the story to life and aided appreciation of the record. It was promised, but never materialised.
Like Lace and Whiskey, a real wasted opportunity, but a marginally more satisfying one.
21. Pretties For You [Alice Cooper Group, 1969]
The original band’s debut was on Frank Zappa’s Straight label and produced by Zappa himself. Even for Zappa’s audience this was too out there at the time, and it tanked considerably.
The band were located in Los Angeles at the time, and were palling around with the GTO’s – an all-female band signed to Zappa’s label. Having pestered them to meet him, they finally got their wish and were invited to an audition at Zappa’s home at seven o’ clock.
Famously, there was some miscommunication and Alice Cooper rocked up at seven in the morning rather than seven in the evening, and started playing as a weary eyed Zappa stumbled into his garage in his bathrobe.
Later on, he saw the band play to an audience – and they cleared the room. A regular thing to do in LA at the time; go to see Alice Cooper and walk out on them. This only made Zappa want to sign them more. Have you ever witnessed a band receive such an extreme reaction?
The album they eventually made was mainly recorded in what the band assumed were rehearsals. Zappa abruptly said the sessions were done and a week later the album was mixed and ready to go. Sometimes there are three or four potential songs within one short, minute and a half burst.
The worst part is that the best song on the record, the Syd Barrett influenced Levity Ball, is a live version. And not even a well recorded live version. It’s basically a bootleg. This seems bizarre when, as per The Life and Crimes of Alice Cooper box set, we know a much superior studio take exists.
This is all before the group met producer Bob Ezrin, and as such it doesn’t feel like an Alice Cooper record. Alice himself hasn’t yet developed the snarl, and musically this is more of a psych than the eccentric hard rock that the band would later make.
Reaction to the record was harsh at the time, with one critic referring to it as “a tragic waste of plastic,” and nothing has been played live since the release of Love It To Death two years later. Which is a shame, because it would be cool to see Alice resurrect something like the spaced out Levity Ball now. Lead single Reflected was later remade into the superior political satire Elected.
You won’t feel like you’re listening to Alice Cooper, but it is worth checking out as a piece of history, especially if you’re a psych fan.
20. Hey Stoopid 
There aren’t many great moments on this one, but despite being almost twice as long as it needs to be, it works OK on the whole – almost a spiritual sequel to the multiplatinum comeback album Trash. Except where on that album it felt more like Desmond Child was in charge, here Alice is very much front and centre.
There are more collaborations here though, which does distract slightly. Due to its appearance in Wayne’s World, Feed My Frankenstein is probably the album’s best known song, and aside from the co-write with Zodiac Mindwarp, it also features Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, Nikki Sixx from Motley Crue and Elvira. Slash and Ozzy Osbourne show up on the title track, and there’s more from Motley Crue with Mick Mars.
All this in mind, it feels very much of its time. But there are a few moments were everything clicks, not least on the epic Might As Well Be On Mars, which reunites Alice with Nightmare-era guitarist Dick Wagner. The title track – a slightly outdated warning against teen suicide which was rife in the news at the time – was a minor hit and still occasionally shows up in the live set.
But the real highlight is the closing Wind-Up Toy, which returns us to Alice’s Steven character around 15 years after he appeared on Welcome To My Nightmare. Aside from the lyrical aspect, the song is slightly off-kilter in the classic Alice way, whilst retaining the anthemic qualities associated with this period of his career. It’s worth it for this track alone, even if there are parts that are a bit…well, stoopid.
19. Paranormal 
After a massive six year wait between studio albums, Alice Cooper finally announced a new record in 2017. And he’d brought the whole gang back together – the original band contributed some songs and Bob Ezrin was back in the producer’s chair.
Sadly it’s probably the most mediocre of all the albums this dream team have been involved in. There’s nothing bad about it per se but, like Hey Stoopid, there’s something missing in the final product. There isn’t really an Alice Cooper album with no redeeming qualities, so tracks like the Billy Gibbons-featuring Fallen In Love and The Sound of A, based on a demo from 1968, feels like classic Coop.
The two of the best songs – both featuring the original band – were relegated to bonus tracks. Genuine American Girl appears to comment without judgement on the current discussions surrounding gender, and You and All of Your Friends, with its refrain of “This is how it all ends/For you and all of your friends” would be a decent, full circle way to close out the Alice Cooper discography.
It feels like this should have been a better record than it turned out to be. As it stands, it’s not particularly cohesive and generally speaking the songs aren’t strong enough on their own to withstand that.
18. Raise Your Fist and Yell 
This was the second record of Alice’s post-comeback hair metal years, and things are much tighter than they were on the preceding Constrictor.
And, to be honest, it feels like an odd record to rank so highly, but it does so due to the last couple of tracks, which almost recall Welcome To My Nightmare for the 80s hair metal years. The trilogy of songs that end the record – Chop Chop Chop, Gail and Roses on White Lace – are as terrifying as anything The Coop had put out in the past, and by far the high point of Alice’s collaboration with guitarist Kane “Rambo” Roberts, who left the band after the resulting Live In The Flesh tour (which was apparently Alice’s most gruesome, with UK politicians attempting to ban him once again, though sadly little to no professional footage exists).
In fact, the whole second side of the record, beginning with Prince of Darkness, is pretty essential for any Cooper buff. It’s a shame that the first half of the album is so lousy, taking issue with Tipper Gore’s Parents Music Resource Centre and their call for censorship, which sadly Alice vocalises with horribly clichéd lines like “Freedom to rock, freedom to talk”.
Awful cover too.
17. Special Forces 
Another one of the “blackout,” New Wave-ish records. Alice takes a military feel to both the music and the imagery of the album.
This is where The Coop was really going off the rails in his personal life. Take a look at the Alice in Paris TV special from this period and you can see exactly how bad it was. It’s a strange thing to see as a fan, because on the one hand, Alice looks terrifying, which is absolutely what you want from him. Until you realise that it isn’t the make-up. He genuinely looks like he is going to die – and out of everything he has done in his career, this is the one thing that hasn’t diminished with time, and is still shocking to see.
So, you would expect that to be a bad sign for the record, right? Well, yes and no. The highlights here are really good; The Prettiest Cop on the Block, Who Do You Think We Are? and You Look Good In Rags, which is a little reminiscent of Blondie’s Atomic. You’re a Movie shows that, even in his current state, Cooper could still write some of the wittiest of his lyrics.
But, boy are the low points low. There’s a really pointless version of Love’s Seven and Seven Is and an even more pointless remake of the original band’s Generation Landslide.
There is an outtake from the album that was released in 1999’s The Life and Crimes of Alice Cooper box set, the jazzy Look At You Over There, Ripping The Sawdust From My Teddy Bear that is better than anything released on the album, though it’s easy to see why it was exorcised – it doesn’t fit with the rest of the record at all.
16. Muscle of Love [Alice Cooper Group, 1973]
The original Alice Cooper band were so huge in 1973 that they figured they could release any old shit and it would sell, and that’s almost what happened.
Made without Bob Ezrin behind the desk (it shows), and with guitarist Glen Buxton’s health having taken a battering, the band sound tired and in much need of a break. Unlike their previous records, there’s nothing to tie the album together. Coming just nine months after the mega success of Billion Dollar Babies, they clearly rushed into it to milk the success of that record.
Still, Teenage Lament ’74 is an often overlooked gem and the title track still works a treat. The Man With The Golden Gun was written for the Bond film of the same name but was never used, and interestingly features gay icons such as Ronnie Spector, Liza Minelli and The Pointer Sisters on background vocals. Lulu ended up singing the official theme. More fool them.
Working Up a Sweat has a real bluesy feel to it, with Alice on harmonica for good measure, and Hard Hearted Alice is probably their first (and for the original band, only) great ballad. Interestingly, Crazy Little Child predates some of the genre experimentation that Alice would do on his own further down the line.
Unfortunately, this was the original band’s final album – although they did briefly reunite without Alice as Billion Dollar Babies a few years later. In the Super Duper Alice Cooper documentary, this is attributed to Alice Cooper the man, and Alice Cooper the band, wanting to go in opposite directions. The band wanted to strip away the theatrics and prove themselves as musicians. Alice wanted to do a full, multi-media assault. This has been disputed, but that is exactly what he did on his first solo project.
15. Flush The Fashion 
This was a drastic change of course for Alice. Here we find our anti-hero produced by Roy Thomas Baker, who is most famous for his work with Queen and The Cars. Stylistically, it sounds a little like the latter, with very few of the riff rockers fans had become accustomed to, which suffice to say is not what people expected from Alice Cooper at the time. But then, there was a time when nobody expected Only Women Bleed from Alice Cooper either.
It is Alice’s shortest album, and often gets unfairly slated. The minor hit Clones (We’re All) still occasionally gets a live airing in a more metallic form and was once covered by Smashing Pumpkins. Put Pain is something of a lost classic, with lyrics from the point of view of the living embodiment of the pain you have inside you.
There is an obvious effort to tap into a younger audience, and it doesn’t always work. But clocking in at less than half an hour, it’s a short, sharp ride that is fun while it lasts, even if there are only a handful of songs you’re likely to remember when it’s over.
14. The Last Temptation 
The Last Temptation was made at an interesting time for Alice. It was his first post-grunge album, and unlike the other bands engaging with hair metal, he fit in with the grunge kids too because, hey, was he not as much a hero to Kurt Cobain as he was to Motley Crue? As if the point needs labouring, Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell makes appearances on Stolen Prayer and Unholy War.
He didn’t go full-on grunge; it is doubtful that people would have bought that as easily as hair metal Alice. But the excesses of his previous stretch of albums were toned down, and there is a return to the more conceptual work that he thrives in.
Opener Sideshow sets the scene perfectly, and introduces the album’s villain, the devilish Showman – introducing a concept that I’ve always assumed was inspired by the 1932 exploitation horror, Freaks. It sounds theatrical, with bells, whistles, horns and rollercoasters. But it quickly gives way to darker fare on Nothing’s Free. Though, admittedly, this is quickly followed up with Lost In America, a wry satire on the trappings of the American Dream set to a Ramones-ish backing.
All of that said, I want to like this album more than I actually do, and I’ve never been able to put my finger on why I’m not a massive fan of it, because objectively there is a case for some of this being amongst his best work.
13. Dirty Diamonds 
Alice just seemed to what some fun after the darkness of his industrial period. It was just as the likes of The White Stripes were coming forward with a new form of garage rock. Presumably The Coop decided to show them who is boss and made a couple of balls to the wall albums with his current band.
Both of them are hugely enjoyable listens, and this was the second of those albums. It is far more polished than its predecessor, and like Dragontown, suffers a little from sequel syndrome.
That’s not to say it’s much less worthy. Despite a false start with the eye-rollingly-titled Woman of Mass Distraction there are a lot of major highlights peppered throughout, not least the title track which has been a mainstay of the setlist ever since and packs a much heavier punch on stage. Perfect, too, is as great as post-60s garage rock can get in the 21st century.
Most peculiar of all is The Saga of Jesse Jane, a country ballad about a presumed cross dressing trucker who is jailed following an altercation with a redneck that we can safely from the lyric was a result of homophobic abuse.
12. School’s Out [Alice Cooper Group, 1972]
Despite the iconic title track, this album on the whole didn’t quite match up to the ones immediately before and after it. In fairness, it’s hard to follow up a ubiquitous anthem that everybody knows and loves. Despite their efforts, frontloading the album with the rock era equivalent of We Wish You a Merry Christmas or Happy Birthday was probably a mistake.
The title track is easy to take for granted, but there is genius in there. How had rock & roll – the art form of youth rebellion – been around for 20 years without coming up with an anthem for the end of the school year? As Alice himself puts it; “The two moments that are the most exciting when you’re a kid are; Christmas morning, and the moment the bell rings on the last day of school. I said if we can capture that feeling, we’ll have a sure fire hit.”
You can’t really deny that they succeeded in all of their goals on that front. And of course the conservative parents hated it – even more so when the album itself came with a pair of pink knickers.
But there are no moments that match it on the rest of the record. There are some that come close. Gutter Cat Vs The Jets is an obvious homage to West Side Story (which you would not have found any other major rock band paying tribute to in 1972),and Public Enemy #9 has been resurrected in Cooper’s recent live shows, as has the bizarre My Stars.
The other real highlight on this album is the strange jazz of Blue Turk. Grande Finale ends the album, but despite the fun and inventive influence of movie scores, it does feel more like filler.
Although it seems to have a theme focussing on school, aside from the title song, penultimate track Alma Mater and the album cover, nothing else fits the theme that has been set up. But, really, School’s Out was just warming up for the Alice Cooper Group’s next record, which would turn out to be their ultimate statement.
11. Trash 
The one with Poison on it. This really put Alice back on the map in a big way, especially in Europe. It doesn’t have that classic Coop snarl, possessing way more sheen than most Alice albums. But it is one of his most enjoyable for his total embrace of the cheesier side of his persona.
Desmond Child does the honours in the production seat. Alice picked him because the hits he was hearing on the radio at the time all seemed to be produced by him, and having warmed up the public with Constrictor and Raise Your Fist and Yell, he was ready to reach further.
With that in mind, he happily stepped away from the slasher inspired imagery of his most recent career, and as a result Trash often sounds more like a late-80s Desmond Child album than it does an Alice Cooper album. In fact, only two titles – This Maniac’s In Love With You, and Bed of Nails – even tries to conjure up the menace that Alice was known for.
Any of the sleazy pop-metal stars of the late 80s could probably have come up with these songs; Bon Jovi, Motley Crue, Cinderella, Dokken, Poison. Even Aerosmith at the time, which explains Steven Tyler’s appearance on the ballad Only My Heart Talkin’.
But separated from that, and you can’t deny that the hooks are infectious. Not just on Poison, but on House of Fire, Spark In The Dark – pretty much the whole damn thing.
I guess it is like KFC; I know its crap, no good for me and probably isn’t even made with real chicken, but it feels too good to indulge in it occasionally. If I wished I liked The Last Temptation more, I wish I liked Trash less.
10. Alice Cooper Goes To Hell 
Alice’s Broadway influences were ramped up on his first solo album, Welcome To My Nightmare. This was the immediate follow-up, at the time sold as a sequel, a fact conveniently forgotten when Alice created an official sequel 35 years later.
Alice Cooper Goes To Hell is a bit more vaudeville. Not only in the likes of the tongue-in-cheek Give The Kid a Break, but he even covers the old vaudeville standard I’m Always Chasing Rainbows towards the end of the record.
Like …Nightmare it is a very eclectic album; disco, rockers like Guilty and the tender ballad I Never Cry. Personally speaking, this has always been a favourite of Coop’s ballads, and it is – for that time at least – surprisingly personal. It deals with his alcoholism in stark frankness; “Sometimes I drink more than I need, until the TV’s dead and gone/I may be lonely, but I’m never alone/And the night may pass me by, but I never cry”. It is songs like this that led to Bob Dylan calling Alice “an overlooked songwriter”.
It is the opening title track that is most fondly remembered, the last song until Poison to remain a regular in his live sets throughout his career. Despite this, the album has a dubious reputation among some fans, especially those of the original band. It is hardly the sick and twisted Alice Cooper that they fell in love with. You Gotta Dance in particular seems to have been a sore point – though perhaps they missed the point of the song, which was somewhat anti-disco (a sentiment that hasn’t exactly aged well), with hell represented as a disco.
But, if you like theatrical Alice, this is the one for you.
9. Brutal Planet 
The first of Cooper’s industrial albums is also one of the few times you’ll see him outwardly political (with a small “P”), tackling subjects ranging from prejudice (Blow Me a Kiss), school shootings (Wicked Young Man), war (Pick Up The Bones) and he returns to the subject of domestic violence (Take It Like a Woman).
But more importantly, Alice sounds the most sinister he had ever sounded, and he hasn’t regained this sheer level of menace since. Even the slasher years didn’t inspire this. Just listen to the pure evil in his voice in Wicked Young Man, when he snarls “”I’ve got every kind of chemical pumping through my head/I read Mein Kempf daily just to keep my hatred fed/I never ever sleep, I just lay in my bed/Dreaming of the day when everyone is dead.”
Though not a commercial success, it is a major favourite among fans and, along with Dragontown, by far the heaviest of his career – both musically and in subject matter. In a way, Alice’s act is a bit of a morality play. He is always punished for his sins on stage, and Brutal Planet is probably one of the most obvious examples of this morality play on record.
Simpsons fans will also have fondness for the Kinks-ish outtake Can’t Sleep, Clowns Will Eat Me, which was obviously inspired by one of the more famous lines on the show.
The then 52 year old Alice Cooper indulging in industrial metal easily could have been a total embarrassment, but it works better than it ever should. And that is down to the sheer strength of the songs.
8. The Eyes of Alice Cooper 
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why Alice decided to par down his industrial indulgences at the start of the century. It could have been hearing Fountains of Wayne and Good Charlotte on the radio and thinking “Pfft. I can do better than that.” Maybe it was a cost-cutting exercise; The Eyes of Alice Cooper was recorded live in the studio with his current band over a two week period.
This latter fact is probably what gives the album its urgency, which is what edges it so much higher than the following Dirty Diamonds. It is accessible and full of hooks that, if he were a younger man, could easily have fitted on rock radio at the time next to The White Stripes and The Strokes, except there is a little more grit (see: Novocaine, Between High School and Old School) and lyrics that border on the hilarious (The Song That Didn’t Rhyme berates the listener that they have given him $12.99 for the lousy song they are currently listening to), whilst Detroit City pays tribute to the musical heroes from Alice’s hometown.
Like a lot of albums from the CD era, it maybe could have lost a song or two to make it a more overall satisfying release, but thankfully there are enough curveballs to keep you interested, from the horn laden Bye Bye Baby and the creepy clarinet on This House Is Haunted.
It was never going to be a huge seller in 2003, but it is definitely one that deserves to be rediscovered.
7. Welcome 2 My Nightmare 
The fact that a record from Alice’s last decade can be in the Top 10 shows just how overlooked some of his more recent records have been. After the almost sequel of Alice Cooper Goes To Hell, this is the official sequel to his solo debut, 1975’s Welcome To My Nightmare (notice the numerical “2” in the title of this one).
For long-time fans, it features mini-reunions with several key players from his past, such as producer Bob Ezrin and, most notably, the original band on three of the album’s strongest tracks; A Runaway Train, When Hell Comes Home and lead single, the brilliantly ridiculous – and a song guaranteed to have you singing/shouting along to by the second chorus – I’ll Bite Your Face Off.
There is also former guitarists Dick Wagner and Steve Hunter, and former bassist Kip Winger showing up, and there are cameos from Rob Zombie and John 5. The real shocker – and I wouldn’t be surprised if he did it just to piss off his own audience – was Ke$ha playing the part of the devil on What Baby Wants.
What is most striking is that the album often sounds thoroughly contemporary despite the nods to the past. Aside from the aforementioned What Baby Wants, opener I Am Made of You is the most potent example of this. It deliberately recalls the original album, opening with the piano riff from Steven, before Alice’s autotuned vocals creep in accompanied by drum programming, presumably produced in such a way as to highlight the lyric of what sounds like a broken man. The song builds to epic proportions, and reaches its apex during Hunter’s blistering guitar solo. It is something of a mini-masterpiece, and it is shocking that an artist who has been around as long as Alice could still craft a song this incredible.
There are many other highlights, not to mention twists and turns – special shout-out to the Tom Waits-ish Last Man On Earth.
I Gotta Get Outta Here recalls the much earlier Ballad of Dwight Fry. He recounts the events of his nightmare, desperate to wake up, before being asked “What part of dead don’t you get?” Thus leaving the saga on an uncertain note.
6. DaDa 
Even for Alice Cooper, DaDa is dark. And weird. Very, very weird.
This is by far the best of the “blackout” albums, and it gives a fairly decent snapshot of Cooper’s mental state at the time. Whatever is going on with the opening, mainly instrumental title track, we can safely assume it is fucked up.
But by far the most compelling song on the LP is Former Lee Warmer. Although the title was a wry joke regarding the fact that this was to be Alice’s final album for longtime label Warner Bros (formerly Warner, geddit?), the song itself is a brilliantly creepy tale of a man who keeps his brother – either deceased or deformed – locked in a room. Lyrically, he paints a vivid picture; “Former Lee Warmer, an old smoking jacket, holes in his satin sleeves/Candle-lit puddles, arthritic fingers, yellow stained ivory keys”.
There are lighter moments. I Love America is the kind of satire that you would really expect from someone a little more lucid. Alice takes on the persona of what people over here think Americans are; an inability to think for himself and obnoxiously patriotic to the point of nationalism; “I love that mountain with those four big heads/I love Velveeta slapped on Wonder bread/I love a commie if he’s good and dead/I love America.”
By the time you get to the chilling closer Pass The Gun Around, you’re not quite sure what has happened, but you are intrigued and want to take it back to the beginning and try to figure the record out.
Like the previous Zipper Catches Skin, Alice didn’t tour in support of DaDa. He probably couldn’t. Thankfully, shortly after its release, he cleaned himself up for good. But it did mean that none of the songs were ever performed live. When Alice returned it was in the much more conventional hair metal phase. He has been talking about re-visiting this period over the last few years. We can only hope he finds the time.
Away from the Cher-like self-awareness of his current image, it is albums like this that prove Alice Cooper is a far more interesting artist than people give him credit for.
5. From The Inside 
This is another one of Alice’s grossly underappreciated records. A collaboration with Elton John’s lyricist Bernie Taupin (of all people), the sound is surprisingly AOR-ish and a stark contrast from DaDa.
Having being thrown into a sanatorium to cure his alcoholism, he based From The Inside on the real people he encountered during his stay. There aren’t really (m)any stone cold Cooper classics on this one, aside from the ballad How You Gonna See Me Now? – supposedly based on a letter he wrote to his wife during his stay, as he battled with the fact that she had never seen him sober – which ended up being his last Top 20 hit in the US until Poison over a decade later.
But despite the sound of the record, the rest of it is nowhere near as sappy as you would think given the collaborations. This is arguably the most engrossing and dramatic collection of characters in his entire career.
There’s the pervert priest lusting after Nurse Rozetta. The unnamed character in The Quiet Room is thrown into solitary confinement to prevent him from committing suicide, and when Alice screams “I can’t get these damn wrists to bleed”, it really packs a punch.
Musically, Millie and Billie may sound like a safe ballad. But this is brilliantly juxtaposed with the two murdering lovers in the duet. With a slick delivery, reminiscent of Debbie Boon MOR schlock, they smile as they remember killing Millie’s husband; “You with your pick axe and scissors”/ “You with your shovel and gun”.
A personal favourite is the LA socialite with the “burned out Gucci heart” who lost her mind in Cartier in Wish I Were Born In Beverly Hills. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given that it was the peak of the Paris Hilton years, he resurrected this tune on the 2005 Dirty Diamonds tour, complete with Hilton being mauled by her Chihuahua.
It is understandable why some of the hardcore wouldn’t have taken to From The Inside. But, approaching it with an open mind offers genuine riches. On top of this, it is probably the classiest sounding album of his career.
4. Love It To Death [Alice Cooper Group, 1971]
Love It To Death marked a massive change from the Zappa-era albums. After being chased out of LA (seriously – nobody wanted anything to do with them whilst Jackson Browne and David Crosby ruled the town), the band landed in Detroit and found they were right at home with The Stooges, MC5 and Funkadelic.
This is also the first album they made with Bob Ezrin in the producer’s chair, who managed to bring the band’s strengths out of them. A 10 minute song they used to warm up that Ezrin thought was called I’m Edgy was re-crafted with his help. When the resulting I’m Eighteen came out, it finally put Alice Cooper on the map.
I’m Eighteen is one of the more convincing representations of teen angst committed to record. The whole song sounds like a complaint, and the character’s anxiety is shown without much of a filter. “Don’t always know what I’m talking about/Feels like I’m living in the middle of doubt”. But then the twist comes with its celebratory ending; “I’m eighteen and I LIKE IT”. Of note, the song has gone down in history as the reason there’s a Sex Pistols; John Lydon got the gig by lip synching to the tune on a pub jukebox.
This is probably the most gothic album they made, especially with the likes of the epic, ten minute Black JuJu – which occasionally has shades of The Doors and a post-Syd, pre-Dark Side Floyd. But it’s the epic Ballad of Dwight Fry that owns the LP.
Dwight Frye was an actor best known for his roles in horror films, most notably Renfield in Dracula and Fritz in Frankenstein. Cooper claims he and the band had a fascination with Frye as they found his characters scarier than both Frankenstein’s monster and Count Dracula. The song itself is from the point of view of a psychopath who has been restrained in a straightjacket, and remains one of the most atmospheric in Alice’s entire back catalogue, and his claustrophobic screams of “I gotta get outta here” are haunting to this day.
It is still a standard in his sets, complete with straightjacket. The trope is that he is taunted by his nurse while singing the song, which leads him to break free from the confides of his “straight white vest” and strangle the nurse. For this, he is punished; usually by guillotine.
Love It To Death is goth, punk glam and metal – genres that really didn’t exist when it was recorded.
3. Killer [Alice Cooper Group, 1971]
One of the absolute essential Alice records. You could probably go as far as to say that if you want to know what the original Alice Cooper band was about, this is the one to check out.
You can tell they have been hanging out in Detroit for a while now. Even Iggy Pop has opined that it probably wasn’t a coincidence that they switched from the likes of Levity Ball to Under My Wheels – very much garage rock 101 – after they spent some time sharing bills and beers with The Stooges. The following Be My Lover even claims they “come from Detroit City”. The swagger that the Alice Cooper Group became synonymous with is finally there, in all its filthy glory.
Then things start getting weird with the 8-minute epic, King Crimson-inspired Halo of Flies, which is one of the most complex pieces the band ever played. According to Alice, they wrote the track to counter the critics who said they were all show and no substance. Meanwhile, Desperado was a tribute to Jim Morrison, an early champion of the band. Alice adopts a very Morrison-esque delivery. You could imagine Morrison singing it, without it ever sounding explicitly like The Doors.
The final two tracks on the album formed the basis of the Alice Cooper show for the ages; Dead Babies and Killer. Although arguably written with the stage show in mind, the theatricality definitely comes across on record.
Dead Babies is particularly disturbing on record, but on stage, Alice would take it a step further. He would chop up dolls of babies with an axe, which he was using as a commentary on child abuse. The point, of course, was totally lost on casual listeners (let’s call them Joanne and Cleetus), who caused uproar. He still occasionally does this, though without the dolls being loaded with packs of fake blood that would flood the stage.
But if that caused uproar, imagine what happened when Alice was sent to the gallows and hung on stage for doing so during Killer. A poster of this act was included with the album and caused bedlam. Acts like this is what made the group the most dangerous, controversial and feared in the history of rock & roll up to that point, and it even got them banned from the UK before they even stepped foot over here.
But the people demanded they come, so they did. Alice has often said that the British were the first ones to really get it – the theatre and dry humour of it. When they finally did come to the UK, none other than David Bowie attended the shows. Alice has long been thought of as an influence on Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust character, to the point where he was initially accused by critics of ripping Alice off.
2. Billion Dollar Babies [Alice Cooper Group, 1973]
With this album, the Alice Cooper Group became one of the biggest bands in the world, and rightly so. By now everything was honed to its grimy perfection, from the material to the image and the stage show. They had raked in millions after a string of hit albums and singles, and now they intended to throw every last cent back in their audience’s faces. So, without losing their grit, they allowed Ezrin to give them an extra layer of sheen, and boy did it pay off.
For this writer, the best Alice Cooper moments are nearly always the unexpected turns. Sometimes they seem to be there purely to fuck with audience expectations, and Billion Dollar Babies starts that way. Not only is opener Hello Hooray the most Broadway that the original band ever displayed on record, it was a Judy Collins cover. It is striking to hear the two versions side by side. They are completely different songs, with Collins’ original sounding like Joan Baez.
After that theatrical opening, which builds anticipation as a great opener should, the LP doesn’t let up. It’s just one great song after another, complete with all the wit and filth that one would hope for.
The hits come thick and fast. Elected is a brilliant political satire that John Lennon claimed as one of his favourite songs. No More Mr Nice Guy echoes 60s invasion bands with a Cooper twist, and a lyric inspired by the reaction Alice’s parents received when their church group found out who their son was. The title track – with its monster drum intro, courtesy of Neal Smith, one of the greatest of all time – parodies the band’s own success and features Donovan of all people.
Even the deeper cuts are gold. Raped and Freezin’, which turns the “traditional” (for want of a better word) gender roles in regards to sexual harassment on its head, with the man running to escape the woman, has an irresistible refrain of “Hey! I think I got a live one!” Mary Ann seems to be taunting Mary Whitehouse over her efforts to get the group banned (Alice has often claimed that he sent her a gift basket to thank her for giving them the notoriety they craved). Unfinished Sweet plays on our collective fear of the most sinister figure in the Western world; the dentist.
The balance is maintained perfectly throughout. The creepiness of earlier tracks such as Dead Babies and Ballad of Dwight Fry is alive and well, most notably with Sick Things, and especially closer I Love The Dead. The latter is one of the most chilling songs ever written. Alice almost talks it as he preaches the virtues of necrophilia; “I never knew your rotting face/While friends and lovers mourn your silly grave/I have other uses for you, Darling”. Though in later years, the song has been underused on stage as the theme for Alice’s execution. Perhaps a full rendition is overdue.
This is a genuine classic, not just for Alice Cooper, but in rock & roll. There is not one dud.
1. Welcome To My Nightmare 
It was a literal toss-up between this and Billion Dollar Babies for the top spot, and purists would balk at the very idea that this would go over anything the original band did, but the sheer ambition of Welcome To My Nightmare is what allows it to top the list.
It draws a line under the original band, and very little of it sounds like it could have been by the old Alice. There are exceptions, such as the necrophilia anthem Cold Ethyl or lightweight Department of Youth.
But a song like Only Women Bleed – which has become something of a feminist anthem having been covered by everyone from Tina Turner to Elkie Brooks via Tori Amos and Etta James – is a far cry from anything the original band would have done. According to Alice, they took the single around the offices at the label and asked the staff to identify the artist, and not one person said “Alice Cooper”.
Horror icon Vincent Price shows up on Devil’s Food a full seven years before Michael Jackson used him on Thriller, and even co-starred in an Emmy winning TV special with Alice that basically acts as the first long form music video – all of which makes this project one of the first genuinely multimedia musical events. It was a boundary pusher, and for whatever reason isn’t recognised as such.
Perhaps this is why the album feels more cinematic in scope, such as on the jazzy Some Folks and the disco-sounding horns at the end of the title track – definite departures from the original ethos of the original band. The supporting tour pushed boundaries too. It was a practically a full Broadway production, complete with dancers and set pieces. One particularly impressive stunt saw a screen cover the stage, with a film of Alice being buried alive, before jumping out of the screen and onto the stage to escape his tormentors. But of course, they just followed him out on stage, and for the rest of the song they would jump in and out of the screen, whilst the audience’s jaws dropped. It doesn’t sound like much for 2019, but for 1975 it was a technical marvel.
What is interesting is that we discover three quarters of the way through the album that we haven’t been following Alice’s story. Much like the fellow Detroit native Marshall Matthers/Eminem/Slim Shady triangle, here we have Vincent Furnier as Alice Cooper as somebody called Steven.
Who is Steven? That is kind of open to interpretation. In Years Ago, it sounds like Steven is schizophrenic. He sings like a scared little boy, but occasionally his inner voice responds in a deep, mature voice (“I’m a little boy/No, I’m a great big man/No, let’s be a little boy for a little while longer, maybe an hour?”). But, which one is the inner voice? This alter ego has cropped up on multiple albums since; Alice Cooper Goes To Hell (1976), Hey Stoopid (1991), The Last Temptation (1994), Along Came a Spider (2008), Welcome 2 My Nightmare (2011), often as an easter egg for the dedicated.
The oldest fans – the ones who were there when I’m Eighteen was released – may not respond to solo Alice the way they do to the original group. And this is to be expected. But subsequent generations haven’t placed the same importance on the original band as they have on Alice as an artist and pop culture icon.
So, with that in mind, if you want the pure essence of Alice; the experimentation, vaudeville indulgences, hard rock credentials, the horror, the camp, the fun, the chill – there really is no album that captures everything quite so well. In short, this is his masterpiece.