When we talk about Alice Cooper we should differentiate two things, on the one hand the magnificent band that was born in 1965 and broke up ten years later, and, on the other, the singer of that band, Vincent Furnier, who would end up being known as Alice Cooper himself during his successful solo career. Here we are going to talk about that fabulous band (composed by Furnier himself, Michael Bruce and Glen Buxton on guitars, Dennis Dunaway on bass and Neal Smith on drums), which in the early 70's became the beacon for many later bands such as Kiss, the Sex Pistols and Marilyn Manson. Their 'shock rock' and theatrical performances made them one of the great live attractions of the 70s but behind the makeup, straitjackets, guillotines and boa constrictors there was a bunch of great songs, and here are our 10 favourites:
No More Mr. Nice Guy
It could be that School's Out is their best known song but if I had to settle on the definitive Alice Cooper song, I'd choose No More Mr. Nice Guy. Included on their best work, Billion Dollar Babies, the song opens with a gorgeous riff from lead songwriter Michael Bruce on his SG. This is soon joined by the band's other SG, lead guitarist Glen Buxton's, who employed a white SG with three humbuckers and a Bigsby B-5, (in one of his rare appearances on that album), achieving that ‘double SG sound’ of the early albums. They then make way for the great Vince Furnier, who would end up also being known as Alice Cooper, which tell us someting about how tired and embarrassed his family and friends must have been by his outrageous role on stage. No more holding the door for his mother's friends at church… And all this with the most perfect chorus of his entire career.
Under My Wheels
The most glam song of their discography, Under My Wheels is an unstoppable hit that made the band similar to what Slade were doing in the UK, by dusting down rock & roll, ridding it of any excess or condescension, and making it sound as fun and liberating as ever. Alice Cooper looks to Chuck Berry, Little Richard and other '50s giants and also shows Bowie the way for his Suffragette City. Producer Bob Ezrin's hand starts to make itself felt on this track where he gets songwriting credit, along with Michael Bruce and Dennis Dunaway, and gives sesión ace guitarist, Rick Derringer, the outstanding solo on it.
School’s Out is the biggest hit of his career - either with the original group or in his long solo career. The song climbed to number seven on the Billboard charts and was number one in the UK, and established the group as one of the most important bands of their time, as well as making them the most hated group by parents halfway around the world - something that, unsurprisingly, made them one of their children's favourites. Glen Buxton is the author of the well-known riff, which is also the best of his career, but the rest of the band must also receive a part of the credit in its composition. The funny thing is that the band's lead guitarist had been fooling around with the riff since the first two albums, Pretties for You and Easy Action, where variations of it can be heard. But it was here that it found its definitive form, giving the edge to this song whose lyrics came about when the singer was asked "what have been the three best minutes of your life?" and Cooper responded by going back to his childhood and early adolescence recalling that there were always two moments throughout the year that were the best - the three minutes before opening presents on Christmas morning and the last three minutes before school ended and summer vacation began. Cooper realized that if he could encapsulate those three minutes into a song it would be huge.... and he wasn't wrong.
One of Alice Cooper's self-confessed followers is Johnny Rotten. The Sex Pistols’ singer won his place in the Pistols by singing I'm Eighteen during the audition (although his favorite album by the band was not Love It To Death where it appeared, but Killer). This was the band's first hit and the moment when they found their perfect formula. It is dark but highly infectious rock, with lyrics about teenage rage and two SG's playing perfectly with each other; it offers Bruce's great riff and Buxton shining on lead guitar.
Caught In A Dream
Love It To Death was the album with which Alice Cooper found themselves. One could speak of their first classic album, the one that opens the best period of their career, from here to Billion Dollar Babies. It was also the first in which they were produced by Bob Ezrin, the man who would end up producing some of the most famous albums of the 70s, such as Pink Floyd's The Wall, Kiss' Destroyer, Lou Reed's Berlin and Aerosmith's Get Your Wings thanks to his work with them. Michael Bruce, the band's main composer, was alone responsible for it, and it is one of the band's most direct and infectious songs.
Be My Lover
When Be My Lover begins it sounds like Alice Cooper is about to start singing Sweet Jane. It has a chord progression that sounds instantly familiar, but the band develops it giving it a very 50's feel that suits it very well, with those almost doo wop choruses, and a Cooper in excellent vocal form, proving that he is a much better singer than he might seem. Bruce is once again the main composer for this great track from Killer, the band's fan’s favourite album.
Billion Dollar Babies
This is the title track of the best-selling album of their career, and their only number one album in the US charts. It is one of the hardest and rockiest songs of his career, with a powerful riff, close to nascent heavy, and some excellent solos by the session guitarists Steve Hunter and Dick Wagner, who would end up being chosen to accompany the singer in his solo adventure in 1975. The former takes the first solo and is then answered by a Wagner who would go on to write many of the songs on Cooper's first solo album, Welcome To My Nightmare, including another of his biggest hits (and another of his best songs) Only Women Bleed.
Public Animal #9
This song from School's Out seems like a tribute to the Rolling Stones swagger, a nod to the likes of Jagger and Richards in the same year they released their Exile On Main Street. The beginning is pure Motown, with that piano and those "Hey, hey, hey", which develops into that dirty and shameless rock & roll so typical of their Satanic Majesties. Buxton delivers one of his best solos in the band on this song composed by Bruce and Cooper.
Ballad Of Dwight Fry
Although their ballads are not as well known as their more direct songs, they were one of the specialties of the band. The most outstanding of them may be this Ballad Of Dwight Fry, within Love It To Death. Of course, instead of talking about love or broken hearts, Furnier and his band would go for an epic story of a man who, after a nervous breakdown, ended up increasingly unhinged in a mental institution. The song gave them the opportunity to bring out their most theatrical side live, with Cooper performing it in a straitjacket. For his part Buxton delivers a solo that had to sound like he was having a mental breakdown, and the singer belts it out as if he's never going to see the light of day again.
Teenage Lament '74
Released in November 1973, Muscle Of Love, was the seventh and final album from the original Alice Cooper lineup. It may be a step below the four albums that preceded it, but it still has its share of good songs, the best of all this Teenage Lament '74, composed by the singer and by drummer Neal Smith. It is a new ode to teenage rebellion, like I'm Eighteen and School's Out before it, which benefits from its infectious call-and-response refrain, with a magnificent women's chorus featuring Ronnie Spector, Liza Minnelli and the Pointer Sisters.