"When I heard that on the radio, I went, Dammit, I should have written that song": Alice Cooper names the emo and grunge anthems he wishes he had written

For the busiest man in rock, the past year has been a testing time. Forced to stay at home away from the touring cycles he’s spent 50 years in, Alice Cooper has used COVID quarantine to craft his new album, Detroit Stories, a love letter to his hometown and its musical history. While the world waits for the next chapter in his catalogue, we challenged you to ask the Godfather Of Shock Rock the best questions you could conjure up. You didn’t disappoint, and naturally, neither did he. Do you remember the first time an artist shocked you, and did it have any impact on the route you took? Rich Hobson (Facebook) “I was seven when I first saw Elvis Presley on The Ed Sullivan Show and we were so used to doo-wop music when I was a kid, all of a sudden we didn’t know if Elvis was the hero or the villain, but I knew my parents liked him. The second time was when we saw the Beatles – we all went, ‘Wow look at that hair, look at the boots, look at the suits! These songs are the best songs I’ve ever heard!’ Then the Rolling Stones came and I got the reaction from my parents that these guys were scruffy, they could be drug addicts – that appealed to me. I looked at them and thought, ‘If I ever get a band together, I’m gonna make these guys look like choirboys!’” Nobody Likes Me and Science Fiction – where the hell do those songs come from and what happened to them? What’s the story? Petromax Skavholm (Facebook) “Those songs were so vaudeville, we did Nobody Likes Me with a door with Alice sitting behind it and the band singing back to me. The first time Bob Ezrin saw that, we were playing that at Max’s Kansas City in New York City and he was sent to get rid of us, he was not supposed to sign us at all. He saw that song and all the theatrics we were doing, even though we didn’t have the money to do any big theatrics, but that’s when he signed us. He said, ‘I’ve visited the future, you guys are the future.’ As for Science Fiction, back in the early days we were really good friends with Pink Floyd, we lived together in Los Angeles for a while when they ran out of money. Syd Barrett and Glen Buxton used to sit in a room with two echoplex pedals and play things back and forth to each other. So our kind of jams around that time were really psychedelic; we would just take off on a theme, and Science Fiction was a psychedelic jam.” Did you feel you were walking a tightrope in the 70s as the ‘Shock Rock King’ while having massive Top 40 radio success with tender ballads like I Never Cry, Only Women Bleed and You And Me? Jo Fleischer (Facebook) “The funny thing was that we wrote those songs because somebody said in an article that we were a one-trick pony, that we could do what we do but that’s as far as it went. [Producer/keyboardist] Bob Ezrin, [guitarist] Dick Wagner and I sat down and wrote Only Women Bleed, they took it to the record company and the company thought it was [US singer-songwriter] James Taylor! So I wrote one of those heartbreaking ballads on every album… It was so opposite of Alice that it worked.” Why was it important to you to pay homage to the city of Detroit for your new album? Freddie Baker (email) “I was born there and Detroit is the home of hard rock. Los Angeles had the Doors, San Francisco had the Grateful Dead, New York had the Young Rascals, Detroit had the Stooges, the MC5, Alice Cooper, Bob Seger, the list goes on. All the bands that came out of Detroit were guitar-driven hard rock bands, more Chuck Berry’s rock’n’roll. I’m proud to be from Detroit because that’s the kind of music I’ve played all my life, so even though Detroit is the butt of the joke sometimes, when people say where you’re from, I say I’m from Detroit and I’m proud of that! We used to play a line-up every weekend of Iggy and the Stooges, the MC5, Alice Cooper and The Who – how cool is that? That was a normal weekend to us!” What three songs define the Alice Cooper experience? Joel Anthony (Facebook) “You have to put School’s Out in there, then I think The Ballad Of Dwight Fry is what I would call the calling card for theatrics in a song. If you ask Johnny Depp, Marilyn Manson, Tim Burton or the Foo Fighters, every single one of them say their favourite song is Dwight Fry. For a commercial audience, Poison is one of the most important songs because it proved we could do all three of those kinds of music.” You seem to have been mentoring a few younger metal musicians. Your help and advice especially around substance abuse was mentioned a few times in books published in recent years. Did you see this role of ‘Godfather Of Metal’ coming? Marco LG (Facebook) “It was just one of those things I went through myself. I went through alcohol and cocaine and when I came out the other end, the Lord brought me through it because he knew I had a lot more things to do. I look back at that time and wonder how I got anything done, we were on a schedule but at the same time we were almost living in a false world. I can’t say the songs weren’t good but I don’t remember writing or touring them, but I somehow came out the other side without dying. At that point I thought, ‘I probably would’ve had more hits if I hadn’t been drinking or taking drugs.’ For young bands that think this is all going to be fun and games when you’re 19-21 because you’re indestructible, if you want to stick around you’ve gotta stay away from what destroys you. Look at the 27 club: those were all my friends, my big brothers and sisters, and I watched them all burn out.” Got any good make-up tips? Sabrina Thomas (email) “The spray for base make-up works a lot better than just slapping it on. I’ve always found greasepaint is good because every night I put it on and I have to take it off, greasepaint comes off really easily. When you’re using my kind of make-up, it’s a chore getting it on and off but greasepaint comes right off. Sometimes when we’re playing really hot gigs outside, the paint starts dripping and melting and it creates a whole different look. By the end of the show, you don’t look anything like you did at the beginning and sometimes it turns out pretty cool!” Do you think rock music has the capacity to ‘shock’ any more? If not, why not? James Fox (email) “I think audiences are shockproof now. I came out at the perfect time to shock the audience because they weren’t ready for a band of guys with hair down to their waists, wearing make-up and not minding a little bit of real blood on stage. We would do the West Side Story thing and we had real switchblades, we’d get cut. The audiences were just not ready for that, but we weren’t Satanic at all; we just made ourselves so surrealistic that nobody could categorise us. Musically we were a good hard rock band but visually we confused and shocked everybody, so the more that would shock people, the more we did.” You said that you don’t remember the making of albums like DaDa and Special Forces. Ever thought to play them again live? Matteo Gilardelli (Facebook) “Oh yeah, I’m not against the songs but those were not songs that Ezrin had anything to do with. If Ezrin had done those, they would’ve been little masterpieces. DaDa is the creepiest, weirdest little album and Ezrin plugged right into how creepy we were at that point. Flush The Fashion was with Roy Thomas Baker, that was a weird little album too, like Zipper Catches Skin. In fact I still might go back and produce those songs with Bob because they’re good but they weren’t produced well; songs like Zorro’s Ascent need to be blown up into better songs.” Did you ever cross paths with your theatrical comrade, David Bowie? Debbie Long (email) “David used to come to the show when he was a mime artist, he was Davy Jones back then. I remember at one of our Welcome To My Nightmare shows, he brought his band the Spiders From Mars and he was saying, ‘This is what we should be doing.’ But he never did it the way we did it. When we started doing theatrics and still had hit records, that opened up a huge door for Bowie, Lou Reed and Velvet Underground because you could be theatrical and commercial at the same time. I wanted there to be an artistic movement, I created Alice as a villain and Bowie created all of his characters to fit who he wanted to be, so I never really saw him as competition, I encouraged him. Bowie and I talked all the time, we’d compliment each other. There was a whole thing about Bowie and Lou Reed talking about my androgynous thing being fake and they were right, of course, it’s fake. It’s a dark vaudeville show and I play a character. Lou and David knew me and knew I couldn’t be more down-the-middle American but I just happened to tap into this character and the image – I knew how to make that character scary, sexy, revolting and funny at the same time!” DETROIT STORIES IS OUT FEBRUARY 26 VIA EARMUSIC
(Image credit: Jenny Risher)

Alice Cooper has no shortage of evergreen, classic rock anthems to his name - School's Out, Elected, I'm Eighteen and Under My Wheels to name but a handful - but every now and then he'll hear a song on the radio and wonder why he didn't think of it himself.

In a new interview with Vulture, the 75-year-old singer singles out an emo anthem and a grunge classic as songs that he wishes he had written. 

In the interview, Vulture writer Brady Gerber pays tribute to the impact Cooper had had, stating, 'You opened the doors for a lot of genres: hard rock, heavy metal, punk, pretty much anything with a guitar and a sense of dramatics. Even in emo, like My Chemical Romance’s The Black Parade', which leads the singer to nominate a My Chemical Romance song that could have been an Alice original.

"Teenagers is a great song," Cooper responds. "I listened to that and said, How did I not write that? That and Smells Like Teen Spirit. When I heard that on the radio, I went, Dammit, I should have written that song."

Asked if there is anything about Kurt Cobain's Nirvana classic that he would have changed, Cooper replies, "No."

"That was perfect because he was speaking for his generation, which I didn’t quite understand, the attitude and the language of it," he adds. "But I heard it and went, I get it. Very hard to find bands that write good songs. It’s easy to write good parts. But it’s hard to find good songs. The last band I heard that I really flipped out over was the StrypesSnapshot, that album. There’s not one clunker on it." 

Elsewhere in the interview, Cooper says that his original band were aiming to be "America’s Yardbirds."

"We wanted to be that band that could play with Led Zeppelin," he sayss. "If you don’t have those songs, you’re a puppet show up there — and we would have been gone a long time ago."

Paul Brannigan
Contributing Editor, Louder

A music writer since 1993, formerly Editor of Kerrang! and Planet Rock magazine (RIP), Paul Brannigan is a Contributing Editor to Louder. Having previously written books on Lemmy, Dave Grohl (the Sunday Times best-seller This Is A Call) and Metallica (Birth School Metallica Death, co-authored with Ian Winwood), his Eddie Van Halen biography (Eruption in the UK, Unchained in the US) emerged in 2021. He has written for Rolling Stone, Mojo and Q, hung out with Fugazi at Dischord House, flown on Ozzy Osbourne's private jet, played Angus Young's Gibson SG, and interviewed everyone from Aerosmith and Beastie Boys to Young Gods and ZZ Top. Brannigan lives in North London and supports The Arsenal.