Alice Cooper

© Bob Gruen
2011
Category:
Performers
Members:
  • Alice Cooper
  • Glen Buxton
  • Michael Bruce
  • Dennis Dunaway
  • Neal Smith

Alice Cooper specialized in psychedelic-tinted music that presaged (and inspired) glam, hard rock, metal and even punk.

The mighty quintet paired this music with theatrical and, at times, terrifying stage shows featuring things such as electric chair simulations and guillotine beheadings. Despite the horror shtick, Alice Cooper never skimped on songwriting, which explains why "School's Out" and "No More Mr. Nice Guy" remain fist-pumping favorites.

Biography

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It's difficult for rock stars to shock people these days, but that wasn't the case when Alice Cooper first crept onto the rock scene in the late '60s. The quintet—fronted by a vocalist also named Alice Cooper, a.k.a. Detroit native Vincent Furnier—relished scaring (and bewildering) audiences with well-choreographed stage shows featuring electric chair simulations, guillotine beheadings, fake blood and sexually charged innuendo.

Alice Cooper exacerbated these suspenseful scenes by pairing them with theatrical, psychedelic-tinted music that presaged (and inspired) glam, hard rock, metal and even punk. In their hands, the hit "I'm Eighteen"—a 1971 song about being on the precipice of adulthood—felt like Frankenstein's monster coming of age, not a joyous celebration of leaving childhood behind.

Three members of Alice Cooper—Cooper, lead guitarist Glen Buxton and bassist Dennis Dunaway—formed a garage-rock band called the Spiders while still attending high school in Phoenix. A local hit, "Don't Blow Your Mind," followed, as did lineup changes which brought rhythm guitarist Michael Bruce and drummer Neal Smith into the fold. With stardom in mind, the Spiders relocated to Los Angeles and, after a few name changes, settled on Alice Cooper.

The group attracted the attention of Frank Zappa, who inked the band to his label for 1969's Pretties For You and 1970's underrated Easy Action. The latter album's cracked-out garage showed signs of the macabre surrealism that would soon become hallmarks of Alice Cooper's sound. In fact, these characteristics came into even sharper relief on 1971's dark Love It To Death, the band's Warner Bros. debut and first album recorded with producer Bob Ezrin.

A more streamlined, focused take on their stinging hard rock—save for the nine-minute "Black Juju," a song heavily indebted to the Doors' murky sprawls—the LP nevertheless oozes menace and danger. Contemporary live performances of Love It To Death's "I'm Eighteen" found the band approaching the song like a glittery psychedelic rock dirge, replete with a theatrical sense of doom.

1971's Killer possessed a more pronounced glam edge—see the jaunty, sax-driven "Under My Wheels"—although it also took influence from the Velvet Underground's ragged garage and even prog-psych. Owing to its name and a deceptively flippant tone, the song "Dead Babies" caused some consternation, although its underlying message scolded irresponsible parents more than anything.

Alice Cooper excelled at making grandiose, inflammatory proclamations, however. 1972's top 10 Billboard hit "School's Out" remains a fist-pumping summer anthem despite (or perhaps because of) its apocalyptic undertones, while 1973's "No More Mr. Nice Guy" is a genius combination of hard rock sleaze and '50s blues and doo-wop.

The latter song is on the band's best LP, Billion Dollar Babies, which also features the snarling "Elected," vaudeville-inspired piano boogie "Mary Ann" and the creepy, proto-gothic sneer "Sick Things." After one more LP in 1973, Muscle Of Love, the group took a break that was to last decades.

Cooper went solo with 1975's Welcome To My Nightmare, whose "Only Women Bleed" and "Cold Ethyl" remain set staples. For the rest of the '70s and into the '80s, he continued to release albums that (increasingly) aimed to show he had more to offer than just shtick. The soft rock-leaning "You And Me" was a top 10 Billboard hit in 1977, while 1980's Flush With Fashion LP brought the Gary Numan-esque synthpop top 40 hit "Clones (We're All)."

As a solo artist, Cooper continued to deliver the same drama and straight-faced horror as his old band, although the menace grew campier over the years. This time, the audience is in on the joke.

Still, Cooper's evil-ringmaster vibe always went over best: After a long fallow period, he rocketed back into the upper reaches of the charts with 1989's heavy metal banger "Poison." A humorous appearance in 1992's Wayne's World—along with a performance of a new song, "Feed My Frankenstein"—further introduced him to a new (and younger) audience.

Cooper remains enormously respected in music and in Hollywood. He's toured with spiritual acolyte Rob Zombie and recently opened Mötley Crüe's farewell tour. In 2014, he was the subject of a documentary, Super Duper Alice Cooper, and also appeared as support in Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon, a Mike Myers-helmed documentary on his manager.

Although Buxton passed away in 1997, the original Alice Cooper band's surviving members—Cooper, Bruce, Dunaway and Smith —did a surprise reunion show at a Dallas record store in October 2015. Despite their time apart, the group sounded as vital and ferocious as ever, which perhaps explains why new music featuring this configuration is reportedly on the way.