As regular readers of this blog know, I’m a total nut for Alice Cooper. But Alice Cooper, the band. The solo Alice? Eh, not so much.
The “classic” Alice Cooper albums I can play over and over and over again. I played them obsessively when I was a child and I still play them a lot today (especially Billion Dollar Babies). There was one year—1986 to be exact—where I pretty much only listened to four things: James Brown, Sly & The Family Stone and Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass (don’t laugh, they’re fucking awesome) and Alice Cooper. To the exclusion of all else.
From Pretties for You through Easy Action, Love It to Death, Killer, School’s Out and Billion Dollar Babies, Alice Cooper could do no wrong in my eyes. Those albums are perfect (well maybe not the first two, but they do have their perfect moments.)
Muscle of Love is basically a shit album. There’s a reason why it was in the cut-out bins so soon after it came out. It’s a weak record and the band split after it.
Then comes solo Alice. Welcome to My Nightmare, Alice Cooper Goes to Hell, Lace and Whiskey... and the singles for fuck’s sake, Alice Cooper was singing ballads! Sensitive ballads. Even if I do have soft spots for “Only Woman Bleed,” “I Never Cry” and “You and Me,” this was AM radio lovey-dovey stuff that could have been written by David fucking Gates coming from the coal-eyed ghoul with the snake ‘round his neck who’d given the world “Black JuJu,” “Dead Babies” and “The Ballad of Dwight Fry”!!! What gives?
Although I thought it was great when I was a kid, Welcome to My Nightmare is a really mediocre album. I listened to it recently and the only things I liked were the title song, the aforementioned sappy ballad and the one number that really rips on that album “Cold Ethyl,” which is absolutely fucking amazing. It’s tame, slick and uninteresting. Even backed by Lou Reed’s stellar Rock & Roll Animal band, these albums are a pale, pale version of what preceded them.
Now having said all that, I can forgive the lapse in musical quality and still enjoy “The Nightmare,” a late-night 1975 TV special that aired on ABC’s Wide World in Concert on its own terms (or at least on the terms that I first saw it on, as a wide-eyed nine-year-old Alice Cooper fanatic up well past his bedtime). It’s basically an extremely campy “rock opera” type treatment of Welcome to My Nightmare (itself a bit of a concept album to begin with, with a guy trapped in a bad dream he can’t escape from) with Cooper, Vincent Price (who is featured on the album prominently) and a variety of dancers, including Alice’s future wife, Cheryl. The former “No More Mr. Nice Guy,” the more mainstream-friendly, Muppet Show-appearing Alice was still a lot of fun at this point—for at least for a little while longer—so enjoy!