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Alice Cooper and His Return From Hell

In February 1975, Alice Cooper released his first solo album, appropriately-titled Welcome to My Nightmare. The record had followed the collapse of his eponymous group due to artistic differences, although his relationship with producer Bob Ezrin had remained intact. The album, which featured an appearance from horror legend Vincent Price, had received acclaim from fans and critics upon its release, not only for the quality of the music but also the narrative, which was based around a young child called Steven. Due to its unexpected success, Cooper went out onto the road to promote his latest triumph, but the demands of life on the road and the perils of rock ‘n’ roll excess soon began to take their toll on the twenty-eight year old performer.

Over the years Cooper had become a notorious drinker, an image that was at first perpetrated to the media as an aspect of the character of Alice, but soon the real-life Cooper had begun to suffer the negative effects of alcoholism. ‘That was the tour that never ended, and the drinking just progressed to the point where I was actually getting nervous before I’d go on – I was afraid I was going to throw up onstage,’ confessed Cooper to Spin in 1989, while promoting the release of his latest record, Trash. ‘I was a physical wreck. Every time I looked at the costume I would equate that with drinking. I’d look at the costume, look at the make-up and I’d get nauseous. It was a conditioned response to being Alice.’

By the time that he returned to the studio to record his sophomore album, Alice Cooper Goes to Hell, he literally felt like that is exactly where he was heading. Once again reuniting with Ezrin and guitarists Dick Wagner and Steve Hunter, the album failed to achieve the same level or success as its predecessor, yet it would produce a modest hit single, the power ballad I Never Cry. But it would be during the subsequent tour that he would be forced to face just how self-destructive his lifestyle had become. Following the mediocre response to the Alice Cooper band’s first two albums, Pretties for You and Easy Action, Cooper was thrust into the media spotlight as a sort of rock ‘n’ roll antihero, with stageshows often centred around a series of Grand Guignol-style mock executions, involving Cooper as both the violator and victim.

But the pressures of embracing this new character caused Cooper to overindulge in alcohol, and by the time he had launched his own solo career he was struggling with his inner demons. Yet while Goes to Hell and his next effort, the film noir-inspired Lace and Whiskey, had lacked the genius of his earlier work, they marked the beginning of a slow artistic decline that would last almost a decade. But even as struggled to tour around America in support of his latest album, those close to him would attempt to stage an intervention. Shortly before Halloween 1977, Cooper’s wife, Sheryl, along with his manager, Shep Gordon, had arranged for him to be admitted to Cornell Medical Center in White Plains, New York.

After several weeks of recovery, as Cooper struggled with both his alcohol addiction and his dominating alter ego. His time at the hospital and the stories that his fellow patients would tell helped to inspire his next album, From the Inside, which focused on mental illness and the difficulties that Cooper himself had faced during his difficult rehabilitation. Marking his first studio album to be produced without the influence of Ezrin, Cooper teamed up with Wagner and Elton John’s frequent collaborator Bernie Taupin, while musical contributions would also come from Toto’s Steve Lukather.For a short time, Cooper’s visit to Cornell had proved for the most part effective.

Prior to the release of From the Inside, he was invited to make a celebrity appearance on the popular children’s TV show The Muppets, in which he treated viewers to renditions of his tracks Welcome to My Nightmare, You and Me (released as a single from Lace and Whiskey) and his signature tune School’s Out. Yet despite the acclaim he received for his performance on the show, and while From the Inside should have marked his comeback after two less-than-spectacular albums, Cooper soon relapsed and was back to his old ways, despite his regular drinking friend (and member of Cooper’s drinking group dubbed the Hollywood Vampires), Keith Moon, passing away in late 1978.

By the release of Flush the Fashion in April 1980, Cooper had attempted to adopt a new sound and image, taking his cue from the likes of Gary Numan by embracing New Wave. Among the highlights was the single Clones (We’re All), which was later covered by the Smashing Pumpkins and recently resurrected by Cooper for his live performances. By the release of Flush the Fashion in April 1980, Cooper had attempted to adopt a new sound and image, taking his cue from the likes of Gary Numan by embracing New Wave.

While Flush the Fashion had been enjoyable-yet-somewhat disjointed, 1981′s Special Forces proved that Cooper was struggling with his own identity as the music industry was changing around him. Aside from a cover of Love’s 1966 track 7 and 7 Is, Cooper had also decided to revamp one of his own songs, with Generation Landslide (originally released on his 1973 classic Billion Dollar Babies) appearing in live form, while the remainder of the tracks have been mostly overlooked by fans over the years. Reviews for the album were mostly negative, although Billboard did comment that, ‘Special Forces is an appropriate follow-up to Flush the Fashion, in that Cooper continues his exploration of sparser sounding audio techniques.’

Alice Cooper 1981

Alice Cooper 1981

In recent years Cooper has claimed that he has little memory of the writing and recording of the songs that he produced during the early 1980s, an era he jokingly refers to as his ‘blackout albums.’ In an interview last year with The Quietus he explained that with Special Forces, as well its two successors, Zipper Catches Skin and DaDa, he cannot recall working on them; ‘I wrote them, recorded them and toured them and I don’t remember much of any of that. I would actually like to go back and re-record those three albums because I never really gave them their due. I love the songs – I just don’t remember writing them. My subconscious was writing some pretty good tracks!’

Despite the earlier intervention, during the recording of the aforementioned albums Cooper was still struggling with alcoholism, something that was threatening to not only ruin his career but also kill him. Zipper Catches Skin would prove to be the lowest point from this era, at least artistically, with little to recomment it other than the single I Am the Future, which was released to promote the cult punk movie Class of 1984. It would also be Cooper’s first album since Easy Action twelve years earlier to not make the charts in either North America or Europe, although it would prove a little more popular in Canada.

DaDa, meanwhile, saw Cooper reuniting with Ezrin in the hope of recapturing some of his former glory and, while lacking the sophistication of their earlier work, included several standout moments, such as the tongue-in-cheek I Love America. But by the time of its release, Cooper was beginning to look physically ill, while his music over the last few years had paled in comparison to his earlier work. Determined to save both his career and his life, Cooper opted not to tour in support of DaDa and instead turned his attention to his own health. For the first time since the release of Pretties for You, there were no albums in the works, no tours to prepare for and no constant media attention.

With the exception of a low budget horror movie called Monster Dog, directed by Italian schlock filmmaker Claudio Fragasso (whose dubious résumé included Zombi 3 with Lucio Fulci), Cooper had very few professional obligations and instead devoted the next two years to his personal life. During his absence, the music scene shifted once again and so-called hair metal began to dominate the rock industry, with the likes of Mötley Crüe and Ratt proving favourites among young metal fans. MTV had also become a prominent force, with music videos developing into complex and stylish performance pieces or short films. By the time of Cooper’s return in 1986, the teenagers whom the market catered for were not even aware of his existence. Thus, in some ways his comeback could allow him a clean slate.

Even as he was working on his own album, Cooper was invited by glam metallers Twisted Sister to provide backing vocals for a track called Be Chrool to Your Scuel, taken from their fourth record Come Out and Play. Cooper also made an appearance in its accompanying video, working with acclaimed music video director Marty Callner (who had been previously responsible for the group’s popular clips I Wanna Rock and We’re Not Gonna Take It) and special effects artist Tom Savini (Dawn of the Dead, Friday the 13th). While the video proved popular with fans, MTV took issue with its violent content and removed it from their playlist, much to the disapproval of Callner, who voice his opinion against the decision in an article with Billboard, which the channel responded by stating, ‘It was a wonderful idea, but it didn’t meet our programming standards.’

This was not Twisted Sister’s first brush with controversy, however, as they had recently become targets of the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC) and were forced to justify their work. Aside from his involvement with Twisted Sister, Cooper’s official comeback came in the late summer of 1986 with the release of He’s Back (The Man Behind the Mask), his first single in three years and his introduction to the new generation of metal kids. Recorded as a promotion for Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives, the sixth instalment in Paramount’s popular-yet-critically reviled slasher franchise that was also attempting to reinvent itself. The promotional video, which featured Friday the 13th’s antagonist Jason Voorhees bursting out of a cinema screen and ripping his infamous hockey mask off, only to reveal Alice, was shot by Jeffrey Abelson and included footage from the movie playing on the large screen.

Despite featuring prominent synthesisers, the song proved to be a modest hit and received regular airplay on MTV and other music stations. ‘In a way, the character of Alice Cooper and the character of Jason come from the same sort of weird place,’ Cooper explained to Fangoria the following year. ‘Jason is a real heavy metal kind of character, and Alice is more than a bit influenced by horror. Doing the music and the video for Part VI is like a dream come true.’ The song was also featured on Cooper’s new album, Constrictor, which saw a new backing band that included guitarist and co-writer Kane Roberts and bassist Kip Winger, who would later enjoy minor success with his eponymous group.

Alice Cooper; 1986

Alice Cooper; 1986

In an effort to make Cooper relevant once again, Constrictor featured prominent guitar solos from Roberts, as well as a typical heavy metal production from Beau Hill, who had previously worked with Ratt. The album provided Cooper with the comeback he had been working hard towards for many years, and immediately he commenced work on a follow-up with the same band of musicians. The result would be Raise Your Fist and Yell, which would fail to enjoy the same kind of success as its predecessor but would still feature several memorable tracks. After providing a cameo in Prince of Darkness, a religious slasher movie from horror filmmaker John Carpenter, Cooper teamed up with successful songwriter Desmond Child, whose claim to fame was in revamping the careers of Kiss, Aerosmith and Bon Jovi. In 1989, Cooper returned with Trash, which proved to be his most successful album in over a decade and would boast his new signature tune, the top ten hit Poison.


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