Alice Cooper: 10 best songs from the shock-rock king

The godfather of shock rock, Alice Cooper (nee Vincent Furnier) has been making music and outraging sensitive souls for almost 50 years now – and shows no signs of mothballing his notorious alter-ego any time soon.

In 2017, Alice released his 27th studio album and he seems to be perpetually on the road. As both the frontman of the original Alice Cooper band and as a solo artist, Cooper has recorded some of the great anthemic singles of our time, anticipated and popularised glam rock, influenced punk and is now regarded as a heavy rock and metal icon. And then of course there is the grand guignol stage shows, which in a world now full of horrors may have lost their shock value, but represented something innovative and dangerous in the faraway 1970s.

Cooper first made waves in his homeland at the dawn of the 1970s with the original Alice Cooper band which, apart from preacher’s son Furnier, consisted of guitarists Glen Buxton and Michael Bruce, drummer Neal Smith and Dennis Dunaway on bass, all of whom contributed greatly as musicians and songwriters to the group’s worldwide success in the first half of the Seventies. 

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The story that they took the name Alice Cooper from a 17th-century witch after a ouija board session is an urban myth. They chose Alice Cooper at random as it was so innocuous and reassuring in stark contrast to their music and live performances.

Taking inspiration from seminal Detroit rockers the Stooges and the MC5 and totally at odds with the whole hippy generation ethos, the group pioneered a brand of theatrical rock which found its apogee with an outrageous smoke and mirrors stage act. It was designed to shock and awe and featured mock executions, snakes, dismembered dolls and fake blood by the bucket load, all co-ordinated by Furnier (the son of a preacher, ironically), who eventually evolved into his androgynous alter ego, Alice. All of which was guaranteed to make the band every parent’s nightmare, and influenced a range of like-minded artists from David Bowie to Marilyn Manson to John Lydon.

And beneath the schlock, there was some terrific music going on, thanks in a large part to classically trained whizz-kid producer Bob Ezrin, who Cooper often refers to as the George Martin of the band. However, it wasn’t until the summer of 1972 at the height of glam rock that the persona of Alice Cooper really entered the UK’s public consciousness (and how) when the anthemic “School’s Out” single spent three week at the top of the UK charts. At this stage, of course, Alice Cooper was the name of the five piece band but to the casual viewer and listener, front man Furnier was the titular Alice and they paid little attention to the rest of the group.

For a brief spell following “School’s Out” the Alice Cooper band were the biggest group in the world, but it couldn’t last. The band splintered in 1974 and Alice went solo, officially adopting the Alice Cooper moniker. Initial success was followed by a fallow period as Cooper increasingly became part of the mainstream, taking up golf and appearing on The Muppet Show and Celebrity Squares. He also fought his own demons, becoming addicted to alcohol and cocaine before his re-emergence in the late 1980s and 1990s. And so, Alice Cooper carries on, still churning out the albums and peddling a persona and an act now more camp classic than house of horrors. Alice is almost a beloved family entertainer now, about as threatening as Tom Hanks, but there was a time when things were very different. 

So let’s celebrate with this playlist of Alice Cooper’s top 10 songs: 

10. Dead Babies from Killer (1971) Just one of several classic tracks from the Killer album, the original Alice Cooper band’s and indeed Cooper’s own finest work. “Dead Babies” is the perfect example of how misinterpreted many of the group’s songs were. It didn’t help that when they performed the song live, Alice was busy decapitating baby dolls, but behind the shock tactics lies a timely and prescient dose of social commentary warning of the dangers and repercussions of child neglect. To hear lines like “Little Betty ate a pound of aspirin / She got them from the shelf up on the wall/ Betty’s Mommy wasn’t there to save her / She didn’t even hear her baby call” to a background of Beatlesque psychedelia is a surreal experience indeed, and one not easily forgotten. 

9. Poison from Trash (1989) After a lean decade when he lurched into showbizzy self-parody, Alice hitched a ride on the power ballad bandwagon. “Poison” that made it all the way to number two in the UK singles charts, his biggest hit since his early Seventies heyday. The song paved the way for his 1990s comeback when he was embraced by a new generation of listeners who considered him a heavy metal icon thanks to albums such as Trash and Hey Stoopid

8. Under My Wheels from Killer (1971) Drawing on the murky, proto-punk Detroit sound of the Stooges and the MC5, this powerhouse track from Killer has one of Cooper’s toughest vocals and a twisted sense of humour, (a bloke runs over his girlfriend while showing off his new car). It bursts with Motor City grit and mayhem, and sparkling Stax-like horns round the whole thing off too.

7. Desperado from Killer (1971) Cooper has variously claimed that this is about the Doors’ Jim Morrison or Robert Vaughan’s character from The Magnificent Seven, and the western metaphor and the black leather imagery work well in this track from Killer. However, with lines like I’m a killer… and I’m a clown,” Cooper tapped just as much into his own persona for this moody, atmospheric and brilliantly orchestrated grower.

6. Only Women Bleed from Welcome to My Nightmare​ (1975) Even when he wasn’t trying to shock, Cooper still provoked controversy with this affecting ballad, a sympathetic view of domestic abuse which was widely misinterpreted as a song about menstruation. A track from his first solo album Welcome to My Nightmare, “Only Women Bleed” was a big hit in the USA. It’s now viewed as a feminist anthem and remains one of Cooper’s most enduring and frequently covered songs.

5. No More Mr Nice Guy from Billion Dollar Babies (1973) A brilliant hit single, boasting a terrific opening riff and catchy, singalong lyrics, on the face of it, “No More Mr Nice Guy” was a playful, tongue-in-cheek riposte to Cooper’s critics including family and friends who baulked at his music and outlandish stage theatrics. But behind the feel-good chorus was the message, This is what I do and I ain’t apologising. 

4. Elected from Billion Dollar Babies (1972) The follow up to “School’s Out” was another anthemic piledriver that tapped into the election fever generated by Richard Nixon’s quest for a second term as US president in 1972. Elected hit number 4 in the UK charts in the autumn of 1972 but surprisingly barely breached the top 30 in the US giving some indication into how big Alice Cooper were in the UK at that time. Big, loud, and dripping with satire, (”I’m your Yankee Doodle Dandy in a gold Rolls-Royce”), “Elected” was backed with a pioneering video that featured Alice as a monstrous presidential hopeful. Watching it now, it’s impossible not to view it as an eerie premonition of what was to come in US politics.

3. Halo of Flies from Killer (1971) Killer‘s epic centrepiece is undoubtedly prog rock but prog rock with tantalising hints of the original five piece’s garage band origins and with just enough Kinks and The Who flourishes to illustrate the band’s influences. “Halo of Flies” fuses together a clutch of mini-suites in a bold cinematic sweep while somehow finding room for the melody of “My Favourite Things” from The Sound of Music.The result is a quantum leap in style, conception and performance from a band at the peak of their considerable powers.

2. I’m Eighteen from Love it to Death (1970) “I’m Eighteen” was the band’s breakthrough single in the USA and remains one of the all-time classic anthems of teenage angst. “I’m Eighteen” and its parent album Love it to Death was Bob Ezrin’s first involvement as producer and it put Alice Cooper on the map. Cooper’s trademark rasp barks out his frustrations as he lists a litany of reasons why being eighteen is such a bummer (”I got a baby’s brain and an old man’s heart.”) before concluding that actually, it’s not too bad, this whole being on the cusp of adulthood thing, as he triumphantly roars at the song’s conclusion, “I’m Eighteen and I like it!”

1. School’s Out from School’s Out (1972) No apologies for picking this timeless classic as Alice Cooper’s greatest song. Full of punky attitude and tailor made for radio and school holidays, “School’s Out” is the ultimate parent-baiting anthem, a conscious effort by the Alice Cooper band to write a classic hit single. It replaced Donny Osmond’s “Puppy Love”  at the top of the UK charts and for three weeks in August 1972 it felt like something was in the air.

A sabre-wielding appearance on Top of the Pops upset moral guardian Mary Whitehouse and she called for the group to be banned. Depending on your age and viewpoint, Cooper’s performance was either the most disturbing and scandalous exhibition of degenerate behaviour ever seen on British TV or the most exhilarating and liberating thing seen on the box since… well, the week before, actually, when David Bowie had cavorted with Mick Ronson on the self-same programme. For the nation’s moral guardians, songs like “School’s Out” and a bloke calling himself Alice was incontrovertible proof that we were all going to hell in a handcart. They needn’t have worried. By the end of the year Little Jimmy Osmond’s Long Haired Lover from Liverpool reached number one. The natural order had resumed. 

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