Autopsy of a Legend: Greetings, heh-heh friends. It's wonderful to have you join us tonight at the Cutting Edge Medical Centre for this autopsy of a legend. I know how excited most of you were to hear that we would be digging into this groundbreaking FIGURE known as Alice Cooper. It's not often we have a live audience for this type of thing so we have prepared a very special evening for you. Please enjoy the hors d'oeuvres that are being passed around. What's that? What are they? Well let's just say a little of this and a little of that (chuckles).
Before we begin, we apologize in advance for any obtrusive screams…I should say…sounds…that you may hear from time to time creeping out of the next room. Our….research facility is working overtime tonight and these fellows are really enthusiastic about their work.
Please take your seats and we'll get started. As you all know, tonight we have been asked to examine the premier body of work from one of rock music's most iconic bands, Alice Cooper. Cooper was alive from the late '60s to the mid '70s and the work in question is known as Billion Dollar Babies. A typical autopsy strives to find the cause of death of a subject. In this case, we hope to uncover what it was that gave this monstrosity life.
We are hoping to have a bit more insight into this work due to the release of a new edition of the record by Audio Fidelity with a Hybrid SACD (super audio CD) version, complete with the original artwork and containing the Billion Dollar Bill that was with the album. This kind of recording sort of gives your ears some glasses with which to read the fine print. The sound seems sharper in certain areas on regular CD players and will no doubt be more alive when played on the proper equipment.
Let us begin. The initial incision is now being made and…. (gasp from audience) Oh, I'm sorry about that young lady. Of course, I DID advise you not to sit in the front row unless you really wanted to experience things. Hopefully that will wash out…heh-heh.
But…uh…yes the first incision has been made in the cranial cavity. Upon folding the initial chords back, the intro song is exposed. "Hello Hooray" was a perfect way to kick off this album.
Written by Rolph Kempf, it was given an impressive makeover by producer Bob Ezrin and the Cooper crew. Check out the cover by Judy Collins sometime for a great example of contrasts. Dramatic and just vague enough that you wondered if there were more subversive forces at play than mere music. A celebration of a malevolent spirit perhaps? At any rate, the song is tremendously compelling, drawing you in like a junkie at a methadone clinic.
The closing verse almost seeks to reflect a might beast that is alive and free to walk among us. What sort of powers are being exposed here? Creepy isn't it kids?
As we move a little deeper, the tone changes gears instantly. Never one to shy away from dark humor, "Raped and Freezin'" lightens the mood with a little ditty about tables being turned in the sexual conquest department. Particularly amusing is the instrumental break adorned with Mexican trappings.
Turning our attention to the thoracic cavity, there is a surprisingly large and almost still rippling muscle known as "Elected". This is a song that was re-written from the tune "Reflected" which first appeared on their debut Pretties For You.
One of only two songs written by the entire band on this record, "Elected", was also the first single, and it's like a shot of Red Bull, flexing its considerable potential with full knowledge of the power it wields.
Moving to the ventral cavity, we are now looking at perhaps the heart of the record, the phenomenal title track. The power of this song comes off in many shapes. You are summoned to the celebration courtesy of Neal Smith's opening drum pattern, one of the most recognizable in rock history.
The Jack the Ripper chords of Glen Buxton and Michael Bruce rip through like the Psycho shower scene before Dennis Dunaway's rabid bass takes a large chunk out of your ear with an impressive run that's akin to an explosive bowel movement.
And this folks, is where we may step inside the world of Alice Cooper and realize that things are perhaps a bit more unhinged than we even imagined. Consider some of the lyrics: "We go dancing nightly in the attic, while the moon is rising in the sky. If I'm too rough, tell me. I'm so scared that your little head will come off in my hands." My god, the madness!
If we dare, let's take a look into the vertebral cavity. Examining "Unfinished Sweet", only Alice Cooper could turn a trip to the dentist into a sinister event. Most impressive is the long instrumental middle of the song that demonstrates an untapped potential which "Halo of Flies" introduced.
The now familiar dark humor of Alice Cooper comes to the fore with "No More Mr. Nice Guy". Amusing and tremendously ear-friendly, the song is a lament of an anti-hero, reviled at every turn. Unsurprisingly, sympathy was not forthcoming. (heh-heh)
Ladies and Gentlemen, it's a personal pleasure to be dissecting this case this evening as this next gem we'll dig into is perhaps my favorite Alice Cooper song. "Generation Landslide" sidesteps the frivolities of the other tracks and perhaps drops the curtain on the puppeteer pulling the strings.
The innocent opening guitar chords are quickly muddied up by some more dramatic ones and Cooper's (the vocalist) bratty "la da da da da da" sets the stage for a different kind of AC song. Introduced by a quicksand Dunaway bass pattern and then powered by a rambunctious Neal Smith rhythm, the lyrics are a curious lot, seemingly interpreted in a number of ways. Eschewing the horror-bent direction of the rest of the material, the band takes a swipe at some societal woes. A spiffy harmonic solo really adds an unexpectedly splendid trapping and a tasty Buxton (or not) solo ends the song nicely.
Ladies and Gentlemen, you can't have the sweet without the sour so this examination has to delve into the least savory of locations. Some audience members may choose to retire from the proceedings because I assure you the following will not be pretty, as we ascend into the abdominopelvic cavity. Two of the next three pieces of Billion Dollar Babies serve, topic-wise, as the most despicable, most revolting of the group's work.
As we open up "Sick Things", the measured, coagulating gait is quite unnerving and as far as the subject matter….(shivers). This song can be heart-stopping while your imagination yields all manner of scenarios. Exactly what they're referring to is the stuff of nightmares. The snake used in the live shows is the least offensive of possibilities.
In the most schizophrenic way possible, the song segues into "Mary-Ann", a real head-scratcher of a piece. Anchored by a rollicking piano, Cooper (the vocalist) delivers a song and dance number that is truly unexpected. Veering violently back into the sunlight momentarily, one can only imagine that this is one of the last moments of normalcy that this album will experience before once again slipping into lunacy. To observe the song within the landscape of the entire record is understandably chilling.
Finally in the bowels of our examination comes the real horror. If you weren't already aware you were dealing with some kind of wicked force by now, "I Love the Dead" peels off the scab and reveals the terror underneath.
With a Shakespearian flourish, Alice Cooper declare they love the dead. And while you are taking in that statement, they follow it up with mentions of bluing flesh, cadaver eyes, rotting faces and ambiguous intentions or purposes for these poor souls who have become mere playthings.
The song builds to a fever pitch of blood frenzy before culminating in the last powerful verse. Turning down the voltage for the final dramatic reading, the moment leaves you scrambling to turn on all the lights. Morbidly beautiful, "I Love the Dead" is also Alice Cooper at their most macabre.
As we draw to a close on this inspection of such an important part of rock history, there are more questions than answers. With such a formidable piece of work such as this, why did the band implode after one more record? Why was an album about Sick Things and necrophilia the most popular of the original Alice Cooper group records? Why do I love the sweet fragrance of formaldehyde? Sorry ladies and gents. I'm over-sharing.
Perhaps, in terms of the last two questions, it says as much about the makeup of the audience at large as it does of the orchestrators of said material. Perhaps listeners of the early '70s were simply ready and willing for songs that fell well below the shiny, happy ditties of the '60s. People were ready for something different. Something dark. Something menacing. And they embraced it with gusto.
The record topped the charts in the US and the UK while going #1 on all three charts of the major music trades, Billboard, Cashbox and Record World. The following tour broke all existing US records at the time, records previously held by the Rolling Stones. Obviously the audience were communal spirits, lapping up whatever the band spewed out. Pot meet kettle. It seems that this was a mere matter of synchronicity. Whatever the exact reason for acceptance, the fact remains that this album was a success because of the amazing songs. Inventive, provocative and entirely cohesively conceived and delivered. It's as simple as that.
So in closing, thank you for being on hand for this event, ladies and gentlemen. Please pick up a souvenir copy of Billion Dollar Babies on the way out and give it a spin, preferably by candlelight for true ambience. And we're always looking for volunteers here so if anybody is interested….you, sir? (sinister laugh) Thank you. First sign this waiver. Goodnight everybody. Sweet dreams.
Get your copy here.