Elected is one of Alice Cooper’s most famous and most brilliant songs, a typically grandstanding anthem from rock’s master showman, and a work of mischievous political satire. It was also a major hit, reaching the US top 30 and the UK top five in 1972. And best of all for its Beatles-worshipping creator, Elected was declared “a great record” by John Lennon. Not bad for a song which, in its original incarnation, had bombed as Cooper’s debut single, and had been, by the singer’s own admission, “mostly crap”, with lyrics that were “gibberish”.
The story of Elected dates back to 1969 and the very first album recorded by the man and band known as Alice Cooper. As an album, Pretties For You was, Alice says, “experimental rock’n’roll. But we had one song called Reflected that had a riff and a hook in it, so that became our first single.”
Written by all five members of the group, Reflected was quintessential far-out, late-60s psychedelic rock. “The lyrics were stupid,” Alice says. “It was that fake, quasi-spiritual 60s thing. We didn’t know what we were talking about.” As a single, Reflected sank without trace, and as Alice concedes, “We never really expected anything to happen with it.” But three years later, this forgotten song would take on a new form, a new title, and a new life.
By 1972, Alice Cooper was a major star. The single School’s Out, a gleeful incitement to classroom rebellion, had gone to No.1 in Britain, prompting Labour backbencher Leo Abse and morality campaigner Mary Whitehouse to call for a ban on Alice performing to British audiences. “Leo Abse and Mary Whitehouse did so much for our career,” Alice says. “We couldn’t have bought that PR.”
What’s more, the political furore over School’s Out inspired the satirist in Alice. “I decided to write a song as a general poke at politicians,” he explains. “And in America at that time, we had Richard Nixon, who was the ultimate target. Your President is always a focal point for satire, but Nixon – you couldn’t satirise him enough. Plus the 1972 presidential elections were coming up and I thought, ‘Who’s the most unlikely person you would ever want as President?’. And Alice Cooper was that person!”
It was producer Bob Ezrin who suggested that Reflected should be used as the basic framework for Alice’s political comedy. Having worked on School’s Out and its predecessor Love It To Death, Ezrin was viewed by Alice as the group’s unofficial sixth member. “Bob was our guru,” Alice says. “And he loved Reflected.”
Ezrin told Alice: “We can’t just let that song go away. It should be redone – and it should be 100 times bigger.”
Both the riff and part of the melody of Reflected were recycled for Elected. And as that riff had been, in Alice’s words, “a tip of the hat to The Who and those big Pete Townshend chords”, it was fitting that The Who drummer Keith Moon was present when Elected was recorded at Morgan Studios in London in the summer of 72. Also present during those sessions were Marc Bolan and two of Alice’s hellraising drinking buddies, Harry Nilsson and Ringo Starr. Alice says that all of these guests played on the album Billion Dollar Babies, but, he adds with a rueful chuckle: “None of us could remember exactly what they played on.”
What Alice is certain of, however, is the importance of Bob Ezrin’s role in the creation of Elected. “Bob knew how to get your records played on radio,” he says. “And when he added on the orchestration at the end of Elected, it really did sound like a big brass band playing at somebody’s election rally. The song became so theatrical, and that was what Alice Cooper was all about.”
Alice describes Elected as “a great satire of what it takes to become the President of the United States”, parodying a presidential candidate’s bravado and hollow promises: ‘I’m your Yankee doodle dandy in a gold Rolls Royce, I wanna be elected.’
And the joke was compounded when, in early 1973, Alice’s primary target Richard Nixon became embroiled in Watergate, the most infamous political scandal of the 20th century, subsequently becoming the only American President ever to resign from office. But by then, Nixon was so mistrusted by the American public that Alice says: “When Watergate happened, I don’t think anybody was even shocked.”
Alice has never aligned himself to any political party, and in 2004 he slammed fellow rock stars such as Bruce Springsteen and John Mellencamp for publicly backing Democrat John Kerry’s bid to oust George W. Bush from the White House. “That’s treason against rock’n’roll,” he stated. “Because rock is the antithesis of politics.” But he does maintain that Elected, as an indictment of the dirty business of politics, is still as relevant today as it was 40 years ago. “Every night when we do Elected in the show, and I get to the punchline at the end of the song – when I talk about all the problems in the world and I say, ‘Personally, I don’t care’ – everybody cheers.”
And above all, Elected represents a personal victory for Alice Cooper. A song that started out as a failed single on an album rubbished by one critic as “a tragic waste of plastic” was reinvented as a worldwide smash hit. And the greatest compliment came from a man he worshipped as a hero. Alice proudly recalls: “Right after we cut Elected, I was at our record company office in New York, and John Lennon walked past me. He said, ‘Great record, Alice’. I said, ‘Thank you’. And then he took about three more steps and turned around and said, ‘Paul would have done it better’. And I looked at him and went, ‘Well of course he would – he’s Paul McCartney!’. But I was so thrilled. I mean, come on – John Lennon loved my song. It doesn’t get any better than that.”
This was published in Classic Rock issue 179.