Picture this: a kid, just turned 17. An older uncle named Don Don. Recording tapes off each other in the summertime. I didn’t know much of Alice Cooper. “Teenage Frankenstein”, “The Man Behind the Mask”, and “I Got A Line On You” were the songs I knew best. I heard a bit of a live version of “I’m Eighteen”, and a Krokus cover of “School’s Out”. That’s all I knew. But my uncle had Alice Cooper’s Greatest Hits in his tape collection, and I had a blank tape.
I recorded Greatest Hits on one side of a 90 minute cassette. (Eventually I taped Trash on the other side.) My impressions at that young age were mixed. The music sounded old fashioned. Not at all like his 80s stuff. While some songs (“Desperado”) flat out lost me, after a couple listens, other tunes started to jump out.
Some of the elements that appealed to me were the lyrics. “She asked me why the singer’s name was Alice, I said ‘listen baby, you really wouldn’t understand.'” (“Be My Lover”.) “The Reverend Smith he recognized me and punched me in the nose.” (“No More Mr. Nice Guy”.) Of course, “Elected” too — that goes without saying. Simple, comedic and effective lyrics.
The huge orchestration behind “Hello Hooray” hit me where it counts too. I grew up on soundtracks and orchestras, so anytime a band used a big bombastic arrangement like that in rock song, it immediately appealed to me. Even then I was aware of Bob Ezrin from his work with Kiss.
My favourite song on the whole thing was “Teenage Lament ’74”. What is it about that song? The old-fashioned jangly rock and roll? The unforgettable “What are you gonna do?” chorus? Although it’s fallen by the wayside since, “Teenage Lament” is still an Alice Cooper triumph of triumphs. On the cassette version, it had a place of honour — second song, side one, right after “I’m Eighteen”. I couldn’t figure out all the words but I got the jist. I still love what I perceive to be its old-fashioned sound. Alice Cooper didn’t need to be heavy to be awesome. I was learning this. None of Alice Cooper’s Greatest Hits would be considered “heavy” by the standards of the time when I first heard it (1989).
“Is It My Body”, “Under My Wheels”, and “Billion Dollar Babies” were the next songs to slowly reveal themselves to me. “Muscle of Love” and “Desperado” were the last ones to enter into this new Alice love affair. Before long, they were all memorized. Then it was time to start collecting the albums! Billion Dollar Babies seemed like a wise choice, since I liked so many of its songs on Greatest Hits. And that’s how a greatest hits album is supposed to work. It is meant to whet the appetite and make you want more.
Today Alice Cooper’s Greatest Hits has been supplanted by more recent, more complete greatest hits discs, remastered for the modern age. That’s fine and well, but Greatest Hits works better as a first Alice. The track order, the more concise running time (41 minutes), and of course the classic cover art made this something special. It’s historic as it was the very last product released by the original Alice Cooper group before Vincent Furnier went solo. Also worth noting: all tracks were remixed by Jack Richardson, but you probably won’t even notice. Completionists, pay attention.
Want an awesome first experience with Alice Cooper? Follow my lead and check out Greatest Hits.