Alice Cooper invented everything cool in rock’n’roll, from wearing tight pants to shitting in a cup on stage. Alice started life as a preacher’s son from Detroit named Vincent Furnier, but a mythical meeting with ancient witch and a ouija board somewhere in the late 1960s changed things irrevocably. Alice Cooper became the band and the man, the two fused in an explosion of rock’n’roll outrage that has spanned four decades and lays claim to the accidental invention of glam and punk, and the intentional invention of shock rock – a free-form riot of excess that has, over the years, involved mind-scrambling acts of self-evisceration and infanticide (fake) and heart-stopping acts of chemical bravado and liquid insanity (real), all wrapped around razor-sharp slices of downtown glitter punk that spoke of cheerful subjects like sex with the dead and serial murder.
Alice was the first guy to daub his face in witchy make-up, his band the first to brazenly dress in women’s clothes. The Alice Cooper Band’s first fistful of albums laid the groundwork for every sleazy gang of gutterlevel guitar slingers to come along since, from The Sex Pistols to Guns N’ Roses and beyond (Hello, Turbonegro), and Alice himself has managed to successfully make the leap from underground rock’n’roll freak show to mainstream pop-culture hero, embracing everything from hard-core horror movies to hard-core Christianity along the way.
Of course, even visionaries lose their way now and again. Somewhere along the way, Alice Cooper also had occasional desperate stabs at relevance. These blind thrusts almost sunk his career in the early 1980s, when he released an increasingly bizarre quartet of new wave albums – his skinny, God-fearing ass saved only when he reinvented himself as the flash-metal Alice in 1986. And although the glory daze of the 1970s are well behind him, Alice continues to shed his skin like some leathery, leper messiah and return to the rock’n’roll arena every few years.
Throughout his long and storied career there have been lean times, mean times, times of oddball D-list celebrity status (remember The Muppet Show?), and times when a man just wants to play golf and talk about Jesus. And through it all Alice Cooper has remained one of the most consistently entertaining and iconic figures in rock’n’roll. And that’s why we love him. To death. Still.
Here’s the wild, weird, and often blood-soaked world of Alice Cooper albums, splayed out from worst to best. Or from tepid to terrifying. You know what I mean.
Alice Cooper Goes to Hell (1976)
Goes To Hell is the nadir of 70s AOR rock, a bloated mess of over-theatrical radio-goo, cheesy ballads and disco. That’s right, disco. The only thing Alice got right about this album was the title.
Pretties For You (1969)
While it officially counts as the first Alice Cooper band album, there are very few glimpses of the make-up smeared, gore-dripping heavy rock freakshow to come. it’s oddball psychedelia influenced by Syd-era Floyd and while it fit in well with its labelmates on the Frank Zappa’s Straight Records, but it’s just not very good. Pretties’ best and most cohesive track, eventually became enduring Alice hit Elected.
Brutal Planet (2000)
In which Alice shamelessly embraces both nu-metal and Christian sci-fi, offering up a clanging, banging, neo-industrial Bible parable that is honestly about what we deserved in 2000, a deplorable year for everything, including Alice.
Alice’s second-worst selling album (next to underrated weirdo gem Dada), Dragontown is a sequel to Brutal Planet and while he eases up on the nu-metal flourishes here, it’s still more dour comic book Jesus stuff. He does loosen up a little and offers up a few reprieves tho, most notably the metalbilly rave-up Disgraceland.
Easy Action (1970)
This was the first album where they looked like the skinny, drug-damaged, long-haired reptiles we would come to know and love/loathe, and there were a few glimpses, at least thematically, of the horrors to come (Return of the Spiders, Lay Down and Die Goodbye). But while it’s a heavier record than its predecessor, only sci-fried rocker Refrigerator Heaven really holds up.
Lace and Whiskey (1977)
A cry for help more than anything else, this odd digression into another character completely – inept, hard-drinking private eye Maurice Escargot – found Alice scoring a surprise easy listening hit with the affecting but schmaltzy You and Me. And while that may have helped line his pockets for a few months, it also found Alice drifting ever further away from his glory days as the king of shock rock. Road Rats is good, though. Alice checked into rehab right after this debauched tour for this album was over.
Zipper Catches Skin (1982)
One of Coop’s fabled early 80’s “blackout” albums, Zipper was created under a cloud of crack smoke, and it sounds it. I Am the Future – the theme song to outrageous punksploitation b-movie Class of 1984 – is the album’s sole highlight. The rest is blah power-pop and listless new wave baloney.
Raise Your Fist and Yell (1987)
The worst of Alice’s glam-metal comeback records, Fist is Coop at his most pandering and ponderous. That being said, it is exactly as ridiculous as anything else released in 1987. On the upside, it was made during the height of the slasher movie craze, so the live show on this tour was completely nuts. Just buckets of blood.
Along Came a Spider (2008)
A concept record about serial killer? Aren’t they all concept records about serial killers? Spider’s got a couple all-star cameos (Slash, Ozzy) and while his band is tight, Spider just sorta hovers there, going through the motions, not nearly as outrageous or as weird or as rocking as it should be.
Probably the greatest passive-aggressive-contractual-obligation-filler of all time, good ol’ Alice has no recollection of making this album, which makes it even spookier and weirder and darker than it already is. Thematically it’s about a man’s descent into madness, it is also musically and literally the same thing. A new-wave/art rock apocalypse, and Alice’s last gasp on the sauce.
Muscle of Love (1974)
The last and least of the original band’s incredible 70’s run, this is still a pretty solid album, albeit one that trades in a lot of the spit, fire, and venom of their last few albums for a stab at 70’s AOR radio accessibility. The glammy Teenage Lament ’74 is really the only enduring hit, and if anything, the record is mostly remembered for its bulky cardboard box packaging. Still, if you like FM rock and cheeky odes to masturbation, there’s plenty to like about this one.
On the one hand, Alice’s 80’s glam-metal makeover was one of his least-artistic eras. He essentially just glommed onto the hair-bear bunch and claimed to have invented he whole thing himself. But on the other, he really did fit in pretty perfectly with the tidal wave horror n’ metal that engulfed us all for most of that decade. He’s Back (The Man Behind the Mask) was a clever re-introduction that not only told Alice’s story, but served as the theme song for Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives. Alice and Jason were basically the reigning kings of Halloween for the next ten years.
Welcome 2 My Nightmare (2011)
A sequel to Alice’s first solo outing, 2 is modern-era Alice’s most ambitious outing. Produced by Nightmare 1’s Bob Ezrin and featuring members of the original Alice Cooper band as well as a laundry-list of guest stars (Kesha, Rob Zombie, Vince Gill, etc). As you might expect, it is musically all over the map, careening from hard rock to Broadway schmaltz to synth-punk. And while it still pales in comparison to the groundbreaking original, it’s still one of Alice’s finest moments of the past decade.
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The third entry in Alice’s heavy metal comeback quadrilogy, Trash is the goofiest and cheesiest of a pretty overripe bunch. But while it earns zero points for subtlety or nuance, it makes up for it in big, dumb fun. Lead-off hit Poison is awful, but it’s also great. And that’s exactly the kinda thing Alice does best, smooshing authentic Detroit rock’n’roll with whatever’s happening at the time and spinning it into radio gold.
The Last Temptation (1994)
Like a lot of 70’s/80’s era rockers, Alice Cooper laid low through most of the 1990s, letting alt-rock and grunge burn themselves out on their own. But he did take this one fearless stab at relevance, a crackling hard rocker wrapped inside a concept record/comic book that ingratiated Alice with the then- burgeoning Comic-Con crowd. It holds up well and Lost in America is his sole 90s classic.
Dirty Diamonds (2005)
Following the surprising and satisfying garage rock revival bandwagon jumper Eyes of Alice Cooper, Diamonds retains that album’s raw guitar and penchant for Pebbles-era fuzz, but settles back into gooey radio hooks Alice loves so much. A fun record, anchored by the gleefully ridiculous Woman of Mass Distraction.
Flush the Fashion (1980)
Alice loves reinventing himself, and in 1980, he underwent perhaps his most startling make-over when he became a new-wave hitmaker in a garbage bag jumpsuit. Flush the Fashion is very much of its time, but its one of Coop’s most fun albums, a rollicking collection of herky-jerky skinny-tie robot rock, led by one of the era’s greatest weirdo hits, Clones (We’re all).
Hey Stoopid (1991)
This fourth album into Alice’s resurrection as elder god of glam metal finds him finally fitting into the leather pants and pointy boots without looking like somebody’s dad crashing the prom. Aided by the sleaze metal of Feed My Frankenstein (written by Zodiac Mindwarp), and the pyrotechnics of flashy guitar wizard Joe Satriani on five tracks, Hey Stoopid is gloriously loud, dumb and relentless, full of fist-pumping arena rock anthems that neatly suture Alice’s glitter rock leanings with the over-the-top screech metal of the day. A near classic, marred slightly by the expected puff-ball power ballads and the preaching antidrug stance of the title song.
Eyes of Alice Cooper (2003)
Following years in the artistic wilderness desperately striving for a niche, sometimes successfully (the post-GN’R anthems of Trash), sometimes not so (the bludgeoning nu metal of Brutal Planet), Alice enjoyed a stunning returning to form by playing to his strengths by going back to his roots. Inspired by The White Stripes and Strokes-led vogue for garage band simplicity, Alice stripped back to the raw intensity of his halcyon days. Stand-outs include the swaggering angst of What Do You Want From Me? and the rocket-fuelled fire-fight of Detroit City (featuring fellow Motor City veteran, incendiary MC5 guitarist Wayne Kramer).
From the Inside (1978)
After a dozen years of endless touring, whoring and liver abuse, an exhausted and hopelessly alcoholic Alice Cooper checked into a mental health rehabilitation centre. He emerged a month later with a new lease on life, and a batch of songs about the ordeal which he then crafted into this uniquely cinematic concept album. Co-written with Elton John’s brilliant lyricist Bernie Taupin, From The Inside is full of gleefully shlocky power ballads and overwrought pop metal zingers about evil nurses and thrill-killing inmates. It’s hardly as autobiographical as Alice claimed, but it’s still charming, and the songs are great.
Special Forces (1981)
The best of Alice Cooper’s early-80s oddball new wave records, Special Forces finds him reinventing himself as a paramilitary drag queen, singing cinematic odes to gay cops (Prettiest Cop On The Block) and gay dictators (You’re A Movie), and then macho-ing up with pneumatic, gritty power-pop gems like You Look Good In Rags and the hilariously cheesy Don’t Talk Old To Me. Also on tap is a live-without-a-net take on Generation Landslide and a creepy-cool rendition of Love’s fuzzrock classic Seven And Seven Is. Special Forces went under the radar, virtually unheard by most of the world, but it was huge in France. Don’t hold that against it, though.
Welcome to My Nightmare (1975)
In which Vince Furnier fires his entire band, dons a top hat and a tarantula, gives Vincent Price a call and puts on the grooviest, creepiest, most absurd song-and-dance show of his or anyone else’s career. This album is the dividing line between Alice’s hard-core shock rock phase and the playful theatricality and genre-hopping experimentation he toyed with for the next 10 years. And the gamble pays off brilliantly in this insane concept record about a broken-brained boy and the monsters in his head. Welcome To My Nightamare is far from Alice’s most rock album, but still a wonderfully loony piece of 70s excessive mock’n’roll musical theatre.
School’s Out (1972)
A sort of drug-addled, dirtbag reworking of West Side Story, School’s Out is a trippy teenage rampage that mood-swings wildly from the grubby hard rock of the timeless bratty title track, to the head-stomping Public Animal #9 (surely the genesis of every self-destructo punk-pose, from Sid Vicious to GG Allin) and the slinky Luney Tune, to the acid-head, highschool-production-gone-wrong Broadway schmaltz that rounds off the album. It’s completely schizophrenic and, frankly, half-baked, yet it retains a sense of timeless killer cool that transcends the gloppy jazz-hands bullshit between the rock’n’roll parts. After all, when you’re a Jet you’re a Jet all the way.
Billion Dollar Babies (1973)
Hit single No More Mister Nice Guy, a relatively straight (by Alice standards) FM rock nugget, propelled Billion Dollar Babies into the charts and turned these slimy Detroit cobras into the least likely rock superstars of 1973. They responded to the accolades and attention with an endless tour filled with drugs, booze, blood, snakes, backstage in-fighting, and enough money for a lifetime’s worth of trouble. Meanwhile, the album, while more polished than previous records, spewed up plenty of pop-infused crunchers like Elected and the classic Generation Landslide, as well as Sick Things, one of the most alarmingly weird rock’n’roll songs ever written.
For gut- level shock rock thrills, nothing before or since can match the raw death trip power of Killer. From the enclosed 1972 calendar of Alice twisting gorily from a rope, to the astonishingly bleak doom epic Halo Of Flies, to a mindscrambling stab at gallows-black humour called Dead Babies, Killers is arguably the first and most vital punk rock album; a still-menacing slice of primo American ugly at the dawn of the feel-bad decade. Killers also ends with the jarring, mean-spirited jab of a whining electric drill noise that can throw you into panic if you’re not prepared for it. So maybe Alice invented industrial music too. Somebody ask Throbbing Gristle.
Love It To Death (1971)
The Alice Cooper Band’s first post-garbage psychedelia album remains one of their most iconic, from the spider eyes gatefold and the slithery death-glam band pose on the cover, to the creepy voodoo zombie metal of Black Juju and the harrowing, timeless goth-glam dirge of The Ballad Of Dwight Frye (oh yeah, Alice invented goth, too). The album also put them on the rock’n’roll map with I’m Eighteen (which was a fib even in ’71) and established the snaky, perverse and surprisingly accomplished hard rock sound that would send the band into arenas around the world for the next half-decade. Inarguably classic downer rock, despite a couple of final stabs at hippy-trippy psyche.