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‘John Lydon, aka Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols, frequently cites Alice Cooper as a major musical influence,’ declared the latter in his memoir Golf Monster. ‘In fact, when he auditioned to become the lead singer of the Sex Pistols, he did so by miming and gyrating (not singing!) to I’m Eighteen playing on the jukebox. He used to sit at home in London’s Finsbury Park and listen to Alice Cooper records with his mother. John and Sid Vicious used to busk in the London tube stations, singing I Love the Dead.’
Having drawn inspiration from the rock icon early in his career, it would be somewhat appropriate when Lydon agreed to write the introduction to the career-spanning box set The Life and Crimes of Alice Cooper in 1999. ‘I’ve referred to the Sex Pistols as ‘musical vaudeville’ and ‘evil burlesque’ and there was definitely Alice Cooper there,’ he recalled. ‘Killer is the best rock album ever made which, of course, followed the masterpiece Love it to Death. These two albums, put together, were just too much for an angst-ridden teenager such as myself to handle.’
Much like Alice Cooper in the early 1970s, Lydon’s public persona was one of controversy and theatrics, with the Sex Pistols encountering the same kind of controversy and notoriety that Cooper’s eponymous group had endured several years earlier. And while Lydon’s group would self-destruct after only one studio album, he repeatedly cited Cooper as the prototype punk rocker.
‘I guess I’m the only person in the world that he doesn’t hate,’ Cooper told Vancouver’s Georgia Straight shortly after Lyndon had contributed his introduction to the set. ‘But I’ve always found that he really understood the punk movement, because he had the sense of humour to go with it. I mean, he’s very funny. And if you remember that he’s playing a character, too -John Lydon was playing Johnny Rotten, whereas I play a character named Alice Cooper – they’re very funny, scary, theatrical characters.’
Even after almost forty years in the industry Lydon continues to reference Cooper as an early influence and one of the first groups that he would come to admire. In a new interview published by Pitchfork Lyndon, whose role as punk poster-boy was followed in the 1980s with his work as the frontman of Public Image Ltd, recalls several key albums that had come to define him as both an individual and an artist, two of which would come from Alice Cooper.
The first would be Pretties for You, the band’s psychedelic debut that, released in the Summer of 1969, owed something of a debt to the Beatles. Distributed by Frank Zappa’s Straight Records, the album would lack the hard rock theatrics that would come to define Cooper following his association with producer Bob Ezrin and in retrospect may seem a little unfocused and lacking in both melody and the macabre, but for Lydon, who was thirteen-years-old at the time of its release, it proved to be something of a revelation.‘I was going to two record stores,’ he explains, ‘one in Finsbury Park, run by a sweet little white-haired old lady, that used to have nothing but Jimi Hendrix and big, deep, dense, dark dub—it was always full of Jamaicans. The other one was run by two long-haired chubby fellows who had great taste. That’s where I picked up Alice Cooper’s Pretties for You. It was a long time before he became popular. The idea of buying singles wasn’t good enough for me, albums were like wow, eight more songs, and the covers would absolutely fascinate me. A lot of times I would just buy things because of the artwork—but that’s not to say it was all good. Pretties for You is a really good example of bad artwork.’
Later turning his attention to 1971’s Killer, an album he had already described as the best rock album ever made, he said, ‘This was the mid-’80s, around the time PiL made Album. On that record, I was referring to the heavy metal scene, which had crawled up its own backside. It was endless bands imitating each other, the same nonsense that punk turned into…At this stage I would have been buying everything that was being made, but Alice Cooper’s Killer never left me. That easy way of growling he had was always impressive.’