Long before there was an Iron Maiden or a Marilyn Manson, rebellious kids around the world thrilled to the macabre antics of Alice Cooper.
Simply put, this pioneering rocker wrote the book on shock-rock by combining the creepy imagery of classic horror movies with a thunderous, energetic hard rock sound.
He also brought this sonic spectacle to life in visual form with a theatrical stage show that threw every kind of visceral horror imaginable at the audience. In the process, he created a new set of rules for how to scare people with rock and roll music.
Alice Cooper was born Vincent Damon (after Damon Runyon) Furnier (pictured at right) in February 1948. The son of a lay-preacher in the fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ, he dreamed of being as famous as The Beatles and formed a band called The Earwigs (and then The Spiders) with some fellow students in the mid-1960’s.
The friends (all members of the same high school track team in Phoenix, Arizona) grew from a garage band into a full-on psychedelic outfit known as Alice Cooper (a name that they reportedly got while playing with an Ouija board) and moved from Arizona to Los Angeles – with exactly $40 and a ’58 Dodge station wagon between them – where they swiftly conceived a controversial image.
The 1969 debut album (Pretties For You) remains defiantly crackpot today – A grandiose fuzz-psych montage that suggests The Beatles‘ White Album ground into paste and reconstituted as an off-Broadway operetta about mental illness.
In 1971, the group produced Love It To Death, the album that would define the Alice Cooper style.
This album played up their hard-rock edge and also sharpened the satirical bite of their lyrics as the group tackled subject matter like teenage confusion (I’m Eighteen) and mental illness (The Ballad of Dwight Frye). The album was a success and gave the group its first hit single with I’m Eighteen.
The band toured exhaustively behind the album, developing an elaborate theatrical stage show that incorporated snakes, a guillotine, gallows and a fake electric chair used to execute Alice at the end of the show.
Alice also developed a habit of wearing thick, harlequin-like eye makeup that soon became his trademark. Alice Cooper continued to knock ’em dead with their next album, Killer. This opus developed their sound as they divided their time between good-time rockers like Be My Lover and theatrical epics like Halo Of Flies.
They also began to tackle social issues like child abuse (Dead Babies) and the death penalty (Killer).
In 1972, Alice Cooper scored their big breakthrough with the album School’s Out. The title song, a raucous rock tune with tongue-in-cheek anti-school lyrics, became a #1 hit and an anthem of youthful rebellion.
The album also paid tribute to West Side Story, an element worked into the stage show by a mock knife-fight during Gutter Cat Vs. The Jets.
Alice Cooper reached its peak as a group in 1973 with Billion Dollar Babies, a glam-rock classic that was their biggest hit. It featured two big hit singles in Elected, a stadium-friendly rocking send-up of politics, and No More Mr Nice Guy.
It also featured a pair of elaborate horror-rock epics in Sick Things and I Love The Dead. The group followed this hit album with an equally successful world tour, which was to prove one of the biggest money-spinners in rock history. Fake blood, gallows (replaced by a guillotine for this tour), and electric chairs had been the props of Cooper’s performances for a while, and now the songs followed suit.
During the tour, they paused briefly to record the final Alice Cooper group album, Muscle of Love. This LP produced a big hit in Teenage Lament 74, a power ballad about the hassles of teenage life, featuring Liza Minnelli on backing vocals.
By 1975, the original Alice Cooper group had split up. Furnier decided to continue on as a solo artist using the Alice Cooper name and released the album Welcome To My Nightmare. This horror-rock opus was built around Alice working his way through a nightmare.
Though it boasted plenty of full-throttle rockers like Cold Ethyl and Department Of Youth, it earned its biggest hit with Only Woman Bleed, a surprisingly poignant ballad that dealt with the subject of spousal abuse.
Welcome To My Nightmare was also transformed into a successful television special that featured horror icon Vincent Price (who had narrated Black Widow on the album). The TV spectacle brought the album to life in music-video form, thus anticipating the rise of MTV.
Alice Cooper continued in his theatrical-rock style with albums like Alice Cooper Goes To Hell, which had Alice battling Satan for his soul, and Lace and Whiskey, in which Alice reinvented himself as a tough-guy detective. He also continued to score hits with ballads like I Never Cry and You And Me.
After Lace and Whiskey, Alice Cooper went into rehab to deal with alcoholism. When he got out, he used the experience to create what many critics consider to be one of his finest albums, From The Inside.
The title track was a scorching rocker that vividly painted his decline into alcoholism, while songs like Jackknife Johnny told the tragic tales of the other patients. It also featured a hit in the confessional ballad How You Gonna See Me Now.
As the 1980s began, Alice Cooper embraced New Wave on albums like Flush The Fashion and Special Forces. He retired from the music scene for a while in the mid-1980s to deal with an alcohol problem but soon bounced back with Constrictor in 1986.
This album was a return to the old-fashioned shock-rock tactics and even included a tribute to the Friday the 13th film series in The Man Behind The Mask.
As the 1990s began, Alice Cooper rocked out on albums like Hey Stoopid and The Last Temptation, the latter of which inspired a comic book penned by famous fantasy author Neil Gaiman. In between music projects, Cooper also took a little time out to open a sports-themed restaurant in Phoenix, Arizona called Cooperstown.
“Offstage I’m Ozzie Nelson. I’m gentle. I walk around eating cookies and milk . . . Well, cookies and beer”
Alice Cooper. 1972
Guitar, keyboards, vocals