Alice Cooper's another one who was a universal influence on the '80s rock brigade, with his pop-tinged hard rock and massive theatrical stage shows (remind you of anyone?). In from the mid eighties to 1991, Alice's sound was actually quite reminiscent of the hair bands. For Trash he worked with Desmond Child (songwriter with credits including Bon Jovi and Aerosmith) to produce an album that any of the spandex 'n' mullet brigade would've been proud of. Like Aerosmith, though, the guy's a rock legend.
One of my various impressive claims to fame is that I know Alice's touring guitarist, Pete "Freezin" Friesen. Remember Wayne's World? OK, when Alice is playing "Feed My Frankenstein", Pete's the guy with the BC Rich Mockingbird guitar playing the solo. He also says the line "In fact, isn't Milwaukee an Indian name?" Pete was in The Almighty for a few albums and has also been on tour with Bruce Dickinson (Iron Maiden). When he's not off hob-nobbing with the rich and famous, he teaches at the music college I went to, and that's how I met him. I don't own the Alice Cooper Trashes the World live video but Pete was in the band for that tour so I guess he must be on it. He also plays on the live tracks from the Classicks compilation, and is the bassist in the video for "Poison". From all that touring, Pete knows some pretty cool people like Reb Beach from Winger, who also was in Alice's band after Winger broke up until he joined Dokken. Unfortunately, I didn't get any cool dirt on any rock stars from Pete. Alice is a born again Christian now (you'll notice his beliefs have been incorporated into his music without being preachy since The Last Temptation), so I guess he doesn't get up to much wild stuff. I know the band plays poker together on the tour bus, and they have massive tournaments and settle at the end of the tour. You heard it at The Rock Hole first.
I showed Pete Freezin' the Rock Hole website and here's what he had to say: "Your website is great; admirable; and even inspired, but for god sakes get yourself a girlfriend already!!!! Failing that, just try and get out of the house at least once a month!!!" What… you don't think it's cool to be a Warrant expert, Pete?!
I find it pretty hilarious that the moral majority in America were ever even slightly offended by Alice, let alone as scared as they were. He is cool, but his stage shows are more comical than shocking. He appeared on The Muppet Show, for pity's sake; it's not like he's a baby eater. "No More Mr. Nice Guy" is a cool song and everything, but not the kind of thing you hide your daughter from. Compared to Eminem or Marilyn Manson (both of whom I quite like by the way), Welcome to my Nightmare is a pleasant daydream. Ah well… the Yanks do tend to get a little uptight about that stuff.
Anyway, America's social taboos and moral majority meant that it took Alice a while to be accepted in the USA, but he captured the British imagination right from the start. His combination of glam, theatre, humour, and rock just struck a chord with the British I suppose. It was the same story with The Muppets you know; the stations in America wouldn't carry them so Jim Henson came to the UK and the BBC carried The Muppet Show; it was only aired in America after it took off in Britain. As I mentioned before, Alice was a guest in the early days of the Muppets. So now you know what Alice Cooper and the Muppets have in common. Every shock rock and theatrical band since owes a ton to Alice, and most bands on this web site do too.
Something has always bothered me about Alice though: the song "Poison", his biggest hit since the '70s. It's great and everything, but the arrangement on the CD doesn't quite work for me. Perhaps Desmond Child should stick to writing songs and let Beau Hill, Bob Rock, Mutt Lange, and co sit behind the glass. The melodies are great, but the song always feels to me like it's dragging; there isn't enough momentum or energy in it. It could just be played faster but actually other rock anthems like "Livin' on a Prayer" aren't as fast as they sound. That's because there's usually something in the mix with a lot of movement to make the song feel faster than it is… Trust me on this. Listen closely and you'll have to agree. In "Livin' on a Prayer" chorus it's that bassline… it's moving quite fast and really helps keep the song moving. In "You Give Love a Bad Name", the song isn't that fast but the chords are changing often, keeping the energy up. "Born to Be My Baby" has those rapid keyboard chords in the top end -- you might not even notice them but they keep it flowing. "Poison" just has these huge guitar chords with a lot of space and to me it would be improved with something moving in the mix. The pre-chorus suffers most. When the main chorus kicks in, that lead guitar riff comes in too giving the song an immediate lift and it feels faster. To me, Bon Jovi's "It's My Life" has the same problem. Ah well… I ain't dissing them. They're both great songs.
Alice has always moved with the times. His 1970s records are obviously classic Alice, but his 80s records sound like 80s records and his recent records are down-tuned and nu-metal influenced. It's a shame his album sales don't reflect his legendary status anymore, but at least people recognise him for the rock icon he is and his live shows sell well.
Alice last album was in 2003, The Eyes of Alice Cooper, an excellent, raw, stripped down affair of Alice's meanest garage rock. Buy it if you like Brides of Destruction, early Alice, or just good old fashioned rock & roll. Production wise, the sound is kind of like all these retro punk bands that are big right now -- the Hive, the White Stripes, et al. Those bands in turn sound like early Alice. Cosmic.
Best album: In spite of my criticisms of "Poison", Trash is an excellent record with not a bad song to be found on it. Well, the title track comes close but it was included on the Super Hits compilation and I know Pete had to play it for his audition into the Alice Cooper band, so maybe I'm alone in this view. If you want pure, classic Alice, though, you need something from the '70s… School's Out or Billion Dollar Babies.
Official website: www.alicecoopershow.com
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