Album Of The Week Club Review: Alice Cooper - Welcome To My Nightmare

A devilish combination of shock-rock and Broadway pizzazz spawns a theatrical classic

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Alice Cooper - Welcome To My Nightmare

1. Welcome to My Nightmare
2. Devil's Food
3. The Black Widow
4. Some Folks
5. Only Women Bleed
6. Department of Youth
7. Cold Ethyl
8. Years Ago
9. Steven
10. The Awakening
11. Escape

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As far as career landmarks go, Welcome To My Nightmare remains one of the best things Alice Cooper has ever done, the cunning combination of shock-rock and Broadway pizzazz spawning a classic with plenty of theatrical potential.

It's a story 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. 

It's 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.

Every week, Album of the Week Club listens to and discusses the album in question, votes on how good it is, and publishes our findings, with the aim of giving people reliable reviews and the wider rock community the chance to contribute. Join the group now.

Here’s what we learned about Welcome To My Nightmare!

Background

It’s worth noting that by the time Alice Cooper released Welcome To My Nightmare in February 1975, he was already one of the most famous rock celebrities on the planet. Between 1971 and 1974, the Alice Cooper Band, which consisted of Cooper himself (born Vincent Furnier), guitarists Glen Buxton and Michael Bruce, bassist Dennis Dunaway and drummer Neal Smith, had notched up an impressive run of some 10 major singles culled from five hit albums, four of which gained them platinum status.

“People would come and see us play and just assume that as I was the lead singer then I must be Alice Cooper,” he explains today. “But originally the band was simply called the Alice Cooper Band. But because everyone thought I was Alice I decided it would be easier and better for the band to simply start calling myself Alice. Of course, later, when I would go solo for Welcome To My Nightmare, I’d really become Alice Cooper.”

For Alice Cooper the man, the decision was to also record his own solo album, even if it, like the preceding seven studio albums from the band (not to mention 1974’s immensely successful Alice Cooper’s Greatest Hits, which also outperformed Muscle Of Love) also appeared under the Alice Cooper name. Once again, Alice chose to work with producer Bob Ezrin.

The whole album was worked into an elaborate stage show to realise Alice’s initial dream, which cost over half a million dollars and featured filmed sections, dancers, giant spiders, dancing skeletons and a nine-foot-tall furry cyclops! Prior to this, the aforementioned hour-long TV special, Alice Cooper: The Nightmare, aired on America’s ABC channel featuring Alice in the main role as Steven, unable to wake up from the nightmares torturing him, and with Vincent Price featuring as the Spirit of the Nightmare. The film won an Emmy and was later released on both VHS and DVD.

Other albums release in March 1975

Justin Hayward and John Lodge - Blue Jays
Kiss - Dressed to Kill
America - Hearts
Soft Machine - Bundles
Chicago - Chicago VIII
Lynyrd Skynyrd - Nuthin' Fancy
Jeff Beck - Blow by Blow
Peter Frampton - Frampton
The Dictators - Go Girl Crazy!
Leslie West - The Great Fatsby
Seals & Crofts - I'll Play for You
Steely Dan - Katy Lied
10cc - The Original Soundtrack
Rick Derringer - Spring Fever
Kevin Ayers - Sweet Deceiver
Golden Earring - Switch
Eric Clapton - There's One in Every Crowd
Various Artists - Tommy Soundtrack
Keith Moon - Two Sides of the Moon

What they said...

"It was probably not only necessary but inevitable that Cooper or someone like him would come along to remind us, at a time when rock was in danger of being taken too seriously, that it's only rock & roll and that rock & roll is only part of showbiz. But in dispensing with rock, Cooper has left us with only showbiz. I don't know if only showbiz is as marketable as only rock & roll. Perhaps it is. But it's not half as much fun." (Rolling Stone

"The solo debut actually ain't so bad--no worse than all the others. Department of Youth is his catchiest teen power song to date, Cold Ethyl his catchiest necrophilia song to date, and Only Women Bleed the most explicitly feminist song to hit top forty since I Am Woman. Alice's nose for what the kids want to hear is as discriminating as it is impervious to moral suasion, so perhaps this means that the more obvious feminist truisms have become conventional wisdom among at least half our adolescents. Encouraging." (Robert Christgau)

"While the music lost most of the gritty edge of the original AC lineup, Welcome to My Nightmare remains Alice's best solo effort -- while some tracks stray from his expected hard rock direction, there's plenty of fist-pumping rock to go around. The disco-flavored, album-opening title track would be reworked on the stage as more of a hard rock tune, while Some Folks dips into cabaret territory, and Only Women Bleed is a sensitive ballad that became a Top Ten hit." (AllMusic)

What you said...

Brian Carr: I go back to my childhood with this one - the hot pink 8-track, Alice on the Muppet Show, and I found out just a couple of years ago that the album cover was done by movie poster guru Drew Struzan. With forty plus years of hindsight, original band albums like Billion Dollar Babies (obviously) and Killer are probably better albums, but Welcome to My Nightmare is one of the first albums I ever loved, and a perfect 10/10 for me.

Maxwell Martello: 9/10. Alice’s first solo outing retains Bob Ezrin at the helm, turns up the cinematic drama and turns down the jams (a bit).

The first time I heard it, I was actually put off by the somewhat “lounge” opening number/title track.

I quickly learned to love every bit of it. 

As a kid, I gravitated towards the more riff-heavy tracks, such as Black Widow, Devil’s Food and Cold Ethyl. These days, the numbers I value most are the insanely well orchestrated Only Women Bleed and Steven/The Awakening.

The latter is Alice’s second best mini horror suite. The Ballad Of Dwight Fry remains my all time favorite, but this comes close.

Guitar extraordinares Wagner and Hunter, lifted from Lou Reed’s ace solo band, are an incredible tag team on this one.

Kudos to Ezrin too. He fitted some very nice instrumental melodies here and there, albeit some might have been lifted from elsewhere (Moby Grape anyone?).

I love Alice.

Neil Pettitt: I'm a huge Alice fan and this is a huge Alice album. To be the first one without the rest of the band was a big gamble for him but it paid of in spades. Any number of bona-fide classics in here. Cold Ethyl has to be up there with his macabre best. Great from beginning to end.

Ron Ostrander: Remember riding my bike eight miles to Kmart the day this came out to buy it. I was pretty skeptical because this was his first album without the Cooper Band. One listen and I was hooked. Still play this quite often to this day. I give this 10 out of 10. Brilliant!

Andre Luiz Oliveira: I still remember the first time I heard this record: I had a small blog for which I wrote just for fun - as a hobby. I was still getting into Alice's music at the time, so I thought that writing about one of his albums would be a great opportunity to get to know him better. As you can imagine, I chose Welcome To My Nightmare, mainly because it was a concept album. My exact thoughts were, "A horror-themed concept album? How cool is This?".

Today, I'm still very grateful for that choice, because that was the album that made me become a huge Alice Cooper fan. As a teenager, I was astonished by the whole atmosphere of the album. In fact, the last few tracks actually scared me on the first time I heard them. Of course, I wanted more of that, so I started digging and researching about everything that Alice Cooper had ever done and recorded. To make a long story short: Alice Cooper is today one of my all time favorite artists.

About the album: It really sounds like Alice's performances and theatrics translated into songs and lyrics. Tracks like Cold Ethyl, Years Ago and Steven showcase his dark and macabre side, while songs like Department Of Youth and Escape have that arena-friendly kind of feel. Put together this two styles and you have the one and only Alice Cooper. A masterpiece, I would say. 10/10.

Jeff Tweeter: I got turned on to this when i was 10 years old (1978). At that time, there were only a handful of albums that I was into from beginning to end (I was still into singles, the jukebox, Bay City Rollers etc). This was one of them, along with Styx - Pieces Of Eight, Kanas - Masque, Bonnie Raitt - Streetlights and the white Fleetwood Mac album. Huge influence on me!

John Waters: I am partial to From the Inside but this album of course, is a masterpiece of rock theater. The music world owes a great debt to Alice, his ideas were used over and over and voila, we have the big rock shows of today. Remember the Coop!

John Edgar: My interest in music began around '72/'73, but this came out at the beginning of that time when I actually had my own money to spend. This was the first Alice Cooper release that I purchased, and consequently, it was the first Alice Cooper album that I had at my disposal to listen to repeatedly. 

I loved it from the first spin. I also bought it on the pink 8-track tape. Soon, most of my friends had bought it, so it was listened to thoroughly. It's without a doubt my favorite Alice Cooper release. I was a 1960's Monster Kid (look that up), and this was like a perfect mash-up of two of my favorite things; rock music and horror movies.

Mike Knoop: For a long time, I felt obligated to dislike this album because it put paid to Alice Cooper as a band but it's mojo is just too strong! Pledge allegiance to the black widow.

Francesca Kay: I first heard this album when I was eight years old. I remember thinking ‘this changes everything’ I became an Alice devotee. This is the album I return too throughout my adulthood to enjoy the raw theatrics and let loose. It became my absolute therapy. I think so many people miss out on the depths of the lyrics with songs like Only Women Bleed and Black Widow. I always return to it and develop a new relationship with it at different stages of my life. Amazing art and my all time favourite. 

Andrew Bramah: One of my favourite albums. Full of humour and diverse musical styles. Saw him on this tour and it was brilliant. Nightmare is Cooper playing for himself rather than to the audience. Probably his last "classic" album and very much a solo rather than band album. Every artist makes an album for themselves and this is Cooper's.

It polarises listeners but isn't that what great music should do?

Don Holmes: It isn’t a Killer or a Love It To Death, Schools Out, or Billion Dollar Babies because it’s not the Alice Cooper Band... but it retained the magic ingredient which is of course Alice Cooper. It’s his first solo album and is slick and polished compared to his earlier catalogue.

Still play it today... great album from start to finish.

Gary Claydon: Seems I'm in a minority here but I think WTMN is... OK. Nothing more. Think this is the album where Mr. Furnier moved more towards the theatrical and slightly away from the music. It never really takes off for me. I don't think the title track sets the tone particularly well. Whether done in tribute to Alice's late friend or merely in imitation I find the faux-Jim Morrison vocals at the start detract from the song. 

Best track for me is the excellent Cold Ethyl and I've always liked The Black Widow even if it does always make me think of The Rocky Horror Picture Show whenever I hear it. Alice Cooper's excellent sense of humour is present though and that's one of the things I've always liked about him. All in all I think I preferred Alice Cooper the band to Alice Cooper the solo artist. Welcome To My Nightmare is... OK.

Lucien Wilkinson: Great album, the Vincent Price cameo was obviously a precursor to his similar role on Thriller. Musically I hear the influence of Abbey Road in the bombastic almost symphonic sound with its recurring musical motifs however a more coherent overarching album concept/narrative in the lyrics here.

Geoff Bennett: I was lucky enough to be around when Schools Out and Billion Dollar Babies first came out, I snapped them both up. Delicious new vinyl, peeling off the cellophane wrapper. Kids just don’t know the joy!

Welcome To My Nightmare was a deliberate standalone album, there was no string of singles, Cooper released the much covered Only Women Bleed as a solo artist. 

It didn’t have the same “pop” appeal, but I would argue it was his best, musically, up to then. I loved it then, and still have it in my collection. 

My spare room is given over to vinyl, cassettes, eight tracks and CDs. My wife looks upon it covetously, and has asked, pointedly, “do you ever listen to any of these anymore?”

Yes, yes I do. On a 1980s Sansui music centre that I really do need to dust.

Jim Linning: Sorry, not for me. A couple of gems but I never liked Vincent's 'solo' stuff. Only really liked the 'classic' band's greatest hits to be honest, as well, so I guess we just never connected.

Carl Black: These songs are master pieces, on a master class of an album, performed by the master. This album tell you everything you need to know about Alice, from a balls out rocker to a twisted storyteller. I've been lucky enough to have seen Alice on countless occasions since the late 80's and I have witnessed pretty much this whole album live on one time or another, which pays Testament to both Alice's touring commitments and the strength of the material on this record. Alice Cooper is rock royalty, and although this is not the biggest jewel in his crown, it sparkles just as bright. Full House of marks from me.

Paul McMeekin: First time listening to this record. Up until now, Alice Cooper for me was Poison, Bed of Nails etc. I've heard Schools Out too of course, but I must say I'm loving this. Musicianship is fantastic and the whole concept really appeals to me. I suspect I'll be immersing myself in this album for a while, and also checking out other albums that people have mentioned on here. Top drawer.

Lewis Griffiths: Considering I own a number of albums by Alice Cooper, and have seen him live a couple of times, it was a real shock to realise that I’d never listened to Welcome To My Nightmare before!

By coincidence, I’d just found a good quality second hand vinyl copy for a tenner. So, I span that up and listened to the whole album in one go, absolutely rapt.

My first impression was that the opener was surprisingly funky, not quite what I was expecting. As the lyrical themes developed, there was the expected tongue-in-cheek Hammer House of Horror vibe. Sort of “Meat Loaf meets Rocky Horror”. What I hadn’t expected was that Nightmare was a lot darker, more grown up and more subversive that either of those.

By the time side two had finished, Nightmare had become easily my favourite Alice Cooper album. I was kicking myself for overlooking it all these years. It’s a bit like an AC/DC fan suddenly admitting he’s never listened to Back in Black! Well, I shall be making up for lost time, Welcome To My Nightmare will definitely be getting an outing on the turntable on a regular basis from now on.

Ed Brown: This is my least favorite Alice Cooper album in my collection. (My collection ends at From The Inside) The only song that I like on this album is Cold Ethyl, however Cold Ethyl just might be my favorite Cooper song ever. Then again, there is Black Juju, so it's a close call. 

The rest of the album just doesn't do it for me, sappy ballads and big show tunes just don't do it for me. Even Schools Out had three or four amazing jams on it... and that is a fairly lacklustre album as well. Don't get me wrong, I love Alice Cooper, but this is the point in his career where I begin to not care anymore. Love It To Death through Muscle Of Love are all super tight, hell even the first couple are alright (Pretties For You and Easy Action) Wish I loved this album.

Roland Bearne: I think this is an album that I've dipped in an out of for years. In the "old days" on old kit it was obviously good but never really opened up for me. Listening through now with fresh ears a high quality download and B&W headphones... what a set! It's beautifully paced, lavishly produced and incredibly satisfying. Late to the party but I'm getting the vinyl!

Daniel Jago Edmonds: I was born the year this album was released, so my introduction to Alice was the Desmond Child/Trash era (which I loved). I picked up a copy of Welcome.. on vinyl in about 1990, so this album was my first taste of his 70s stuff. I fell head over heels in love with the record and it's still one of my favourites today. The title track, Black Widow, Only Women Bleed, Department Of Youth and Cold Ethyl are all fully fledged belters, but it's Years Ago and Steven that lift this into classic territory. Steven is one of Alice's best songs in my opinion. Billion Dollar Babies is a better album, but this one will always have a place in my heart for introducing me to classic Coop. Brilliant album.

Final Score: 8.44 ⁄10 (207 votes cast, with a total score of 1748)

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