Alice Cooper

#496: The Horror

 THE HORROR

GETTING MORE TALE #496: The Horror

It was a rite of passage:  When the youth began renting restricted horror movies!

In the mid-80’s, my best friend Bob was obsessed with horror movies.  He found them funny.  He liked pausing and going slow-mo any time a rubber prosthetic was being hacked off a victim by the killer.  We enjoyed laughing at the ridiculous situations.  Don’t go into the woods at night, for god’s sake, and don’t trip over every twig and branch when you’re running away from the bad guy!

Of course, there were always rock and roll connections.  Via the soundtracks, you’d get exposed to a few cool rock tracks.  The first horror movie Bob and I watched together was a perfect example of this:  John Carpenter’s adaptation of Stephen King’s classic Christine.  We’ll circle back to the music.  But the language!  Oh my.  We had never heard swearing woven into such intricate dialogue before!  King truly is the master of the art of profanity.  We learned new ways to swear from that movie.  Some favourites:

Yeah try it you little bald fuck, and I’ll knock you through the wall! FUCK!”  – Buddy Repperton

“OK, that’s the last time you run that mechanical asshole in here without an exhaust hose!” – Will Darnell

“I knew a guy had a car like that once. Fuckin’ bastard killed himself in it. Son of a bitch was so mean, you could’ve poured boiling water down his throat and he would’ve pissed ice cubes.” – Will Darnell

We watched Christine, rewound the tape, and watched it again, twice in a row.  I still love that movie today.  It’s not my favourite horror of all time (that would be The Shining, also based on Stephen King) but it does come in second.  My dad and uncle didn’t mind me watching it, because the car involved in the film was a 1958 Plymouth Fury.  Such things seemed to matter to adults.

I always preferred comedy to horror, but Bob and I were a team, so we compromised and usually rented two or three movies at a time.  Strangely enough, it’s really only the horror films I remember today.  I couldn’t tell you what comedies we rented, but I remember Friday the 13th, do I ever!

We would ride our bikes up to Steve’s TV on Frederick Street.  It’s still there, too, in the same spot but stocked with the latest and greatest tech.  In the 80’s, it was a growing business and had the largest collection of videos for sale and rent that I’d ever seen.  Bob and I would discuss and pick out a couple horror films and a comedy.  We’d bring them back by bike and rent more.  The first time we did this, Steve’s TV asked for a note from our parents to rent an R rated movie.  Minor delay!  We’d just have to make another trip on our bikes.

We rented the first Friday the 13th, and the second.  I somehow missed the third and fourth (I am pretty sure I was at the cottage on vacation those weekends) and jumped right onto the poor fifth movie (A New Beginning), which didn’t even have Jason in it.  As I started highschool, Jason finally returned in Part VI (Jason Lives) and our movie renting continued.  When the Friday the 13th movies were done, we did the Freddie movies, and the Halloween films.  We even did the third Halloween, the one that had nothing to do with the rest of the series.

We rented so many that eventually Steve’s TV had nothing left we hadn’t seen.  We started checking out a new store, Jumbo Video.  They had a cool horror section that looked like a haunted castle.  We rented everything there, too.  Jeff Goldblum’s remake of The Fly was one.  I remember a really terrible movie called Madman Marz, but there were many more that I can’t remember at all.  As highschool went on, we ran out of horror movies to rent at Jumbo.   We temporarily began renting ninja movies (Bob was taking Karate at the time) but it was horror that we really liked.

An automated video rental place opened up.  It was a small room full of vending machines that dispensed videos!  They had a small selection of horror, so Bob and I began to eat those up too.  The Fly II was one of the first we rented from that automated store, and it was just awful.  Clearly, we were exhausting the horror movie stock in Kitchener Ontario.  There was nothing left for us to rent.

The rock and roll connections with a lot of these films were really interesting to us, since we were both exploring hard rock at the same time.  Christine, our first horror experience, had an incredible soundtrack of oldies:  Little Richard’s “Keep-A-Knockin’”,  “Not Fade Away” by Buddy Holly, and of course the newbie “Bad to the Bone” by George Thorogood.  As much as we were obsessed with the movie, we obsessed over that song.  Playing it over, and over, and over again.  A bit later on, Alice Cooper appeared in a couple films, also providing music for Prince of Darkness and Friday the 13th Part VI.  Horror went hand in hand with our rock obsession, but in the long run, “there could be only one”.  For me, rock won out.  Horror films still bring a chuckle, but the days of obsessively trying to watch them all are long gone.  Do they even make good horror movies anymore?  I don’t even know.  They do still make great rock and roll, that’s for sure.

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REVIEW: Wes Craven’s Shocker – The Music (1989)

 

MOVIE SOUNDTRACK WEEK

Scan_20160607Wes Craven’s SHOCKER – No More Mr. Nice Guy – The Music (1989 SBK)

1989’s slasher film Shocker was Wes Craven’s attempt to introduce a new character to the pantheon of horror.  Unfortunately, Horace Pinker and the movie he rode in on were quickly forgotten.  Also forgotten was the heavy metal soundtrack, so let’s have a gander and see what you may have missed.

Ever heard of The Dudes of Wrath?  This temporary “supergroup” consisted of various members from track to track, but the best song they did was “Shocker” itself.  With lead vocals by Paul Stanley and Desmond Child, it’s a must-have for Kiss maniacs.  If that’s not enough, Vivian Campbell, Tommy Lee and Rudy Sarzo also play on it.  It’s like a collision of some of those bands — Kiss, Dio, Motley.  The anthemic outro will slay you.

Desmond’s writing is all over this album, and he co-wrote a track with Alice Cooper that ended up being recorded by Iggy Pop called “Love Transfusion”.  Sub out the saxophone for guitars and you could easily imagine this being a Trash B-side.   In fact I wouldn’t be surprised at all if the backing track is from the Cooper sessions, because this sounds exactly like an Alice Cooper song with Iggy Pop overdubbed.  All the musicians are guys from the Trash album.  Do the math.

It’s hard to imagine a weirder team up than Desmond Child and Megadeth.  Dave Mustaine was deep into the powders at the time, and he recorded “No More Mr. Nice Guy” with a three piece Megadeth.  The late Nick Menza had joined the band already, but Marty Friedman was yet to be hired.   Most Megadeth fans are familiar with this track, since it was re-released on their Hidden Treasures EP.  Certainly not the band’s finest moment.

Paul Stanley reappears in a writing capacity on “Sword and Stone”, performed by Bonfire.   Paul wrote it for Kiss’ Crazy Nights LP with Desmond Child and Bruce Kulick.  If it had been on Crazy Nights, it might well have been the best tune on there.  Paul’s demo has yet to be released in an official capacity, but it’s been heavily bootlegged.  Bonfire’s version is fantastic, but it only makes me hungry for a fully recorded and mixed Kiss version.  One day….

Another version of The Dudes of Wrath appear on side two, this time with Alice Cooper on vocals.  “Shockdance” sounds like little more than a slowed down variation of the “Shocker” riff, with Alice and actor Mitch Pileggi rapping over it. Just terrible stuff, actually. Thankfully Desmond redeemed it a little bit with the song he wrong with Dangerous Toys, “Demon Bell”. Like Guns N’ Roses galvanized and electroplated, “Demon Bell” slays.

Voodoo X were the band of Jean Beauvoir, who Kiss fans know from his many co-writes and guest appearances on their records. He only made one record as Voodoo X, and his song “The Awakening” is damn fine indeed. At first you’re thinking, “Oh it’s just another crap ballad”. Then a riff kicks in, and it blasts right off. It’s a bit like 80’s Kiss meets Top Gun. The last band up is Dead On, pretty pedestrian thrash metal, and one of the few songs without any involvement of Desmond Child. The angry elf vocals are hilarious, but the song is almost a parody of bad metal. The album ends with a reprise of the title track “Shocker” from the first side. Basically what this means is that you get to hear Paul Stanley singing for another two or three minutes, when he was really able to hit some seriously high notes. Cool!

The worst track is probably the ballad “Timeless Love” by Sandi Saraya.  Guess who wrote this putrid sappy swath of heartbreak?  Desmond Fucking Child!

Shocker isn’t the greatest soundtrack, but it’s a hell of a lot better than the movie that spawned it!

2.5/5 stars

The helpful back cover doesn't even tell you who's on it.

The helpful back cover doesn’t even tell you who’s on it.

REVIEW: Wayne’s World – Music from the Motion Picture (1992)

MOVIE SOUNDTRACK WEEK

By a weird coincidence, I wrote up this review on the exact same night that Aaron wrote up his for the KMA. Weeeeeeird.

Scan_20160605WAYNE’S WORLD – Music from the Motion Picture (1992 Warner)

Today we’ll take an extreme close up look at Wayne Campbell, Garth Algar, and the movie soundtrack that returned Queen to the top of the charts.

Wayne’s World was a phenomenon.  Not only did it put Queen back on their throne, but it also kickstarted a whole wave of Saturday Night Live movie spinoffs, including the Coneheads and Pat.  The soundtrack was one that “everybody” had to have.   While I had started my Queen collection well before the movie came out, this soundtrack was the first place that I acquired “Bohemian Rhapsody”.  In many regards, you can almost regard “Bohemian” as a brand new song in 1992.  It charted as if it was brand new, and it became a cultural cornerstone only after the movie.  I know I can’t be the only one who head-banged to it in the car on weekend nights during the summer of ’92.  As one of the most campy yet brilliant tracks ever recorded in the history of rock, “Bohemian” deserved everything that came its way.

The soundtrack CD was made up of new and old material like “Bohemian”.  Also dusted off:  “Dream Weaver” by Gary Wright.  Though not to the same degree as Queen, Gary Wright experienced a bit of a renaissance thanks to the prominent usage of the song in the film.  The 1975 soft rock ballad is still cheesey fun today.  Then, Jimi Hendrix’s “Foxy Lady” was given a fresh release in one of the most memorable Garth scenes.  Admit it:  If you are over a certain age, you make the little “fox ears” on your head just like Garth Did when Jimi sings “Foxy”!  I know you do — don’t try to lie.  Although I can’t recall the song being in the movie at all, a mediocre Eric Clapton outtake from 1985 is included on the CD, in “Loving Your Lovin'”.  It’s about as memorable as you would expect a mid-80’s Clapton outtake to be; its just “OK”.  Of course, everyone knows that Alice Cooper’s “Feed My Frankenstein” was used during the Cooper cameo in the movie.  It introduced Alice to a whole new generation who still remember and love that song.

New tracks included the zippy Red Hot Chili Peppers funk blitzkrieg “Sikamikanico”.  Bass pulsing in time with the racing beats, this is the kind of Chili Peppers I love.   Meanwhile, Black Sabbath unveiled their first new material with Dio since 1981, on “Time Machine”.  This Wayne’s World version of the song is completely different from the one that was recorded for Dehumanizer, although both are included on the Sabbath remaster.  The Wayne’s World version feels faster and more frantic.  It was quite a thrill for fans to hear a brand new Black Sabbath song in a mainstream comedy movie.  (Cool scene too, with Robert Patrick of Terminator 2 fame.)  Although the soundtrack couldn’t resurrect their careers, both Cinderella and Bulletboys had new tunes on the CD.  Bulletboys tackled a cover of Montrose’s “Rock Candy”, perfect for their Van Halen worshipping vibe.  Cinderella had a new rocker to show off, a soul-infused vintage song called “Hot and Bothered”, which was a fine return to form but had no impact.  Finally, Rhino Bucket who were considered heirs to the throne of AC/DC included a new song called “Ride With Yourself” from their 1992 album Get Used to It.  It’s cleaner sounding than AC/DC but it’s in that ballpark.

Finally there are the throw away tracks.  At the time, Tia Carrere was being hyped up for a music career.  They hooked her up with Ted Templeman and recorded a cover of “Ballroom Blitz” (you know the scene in the movie) and a ballad called “Why You Wanna Break My Heart”.  Both are fine in the movie, but not really necessary for rock fans in general to own on CD.  Still, here they are!  (Tia’s version of Hendrix’s “Fire”, also in the movie, was included on the B-side of the “Ballroom Blitz” single.)  Then there is a throw-away version of the Wayne’s World theme song with Wayne and Garth singing.  I’ll take the Aerosmith version any day!

Not on the soundtrack CD, but prominently featured in the film, was Ugly Kid Joe’s hit “Everything About You”.  No big loss; you should be able to find their Ugly As They Wanna Be EP for under $5.  Party on!

3/5 stars

#482: Modified Listening Experiences

AUD 1

GETTING MORE TALE #482: Modified Listening Experiences

With modern music technology and software, it has never been easier to not only take your music anywhere, but now you can even modify the albums you buy.  Using some simple tricks you can change aspects of the tracklist to make the album suit you.   You have probably done this yourself.  Many do regularly, by shuffling the track order.  Let’s go a little deeper than that.

The first time I experienced the concept of modifying an album’s tracklist, I was just a kid.  It was 1985, and I was recording the first W.A.S.P. cassette off my next door neighbour George (R.I.P.), from tape to tape.

“If you don’t like the song ‘Sleeping in the Fire’,” he said, “You can just push pause on this tape recorder.  Then un-pause it when the song is over.  Your copy won’t have ‘Sleeping in the Fire’ if that’s how you like it.”

Even then, I couldn’t imagine a reason to copy an entire album sans one song.  I kept the tape running and never hit pause, but George’s advice kept tumbling around in my brain, for years.   Over time I began experimenting with tracklist modification.  Never to remove songs, mind you, always to add or improve.

Here are some examples of modified track lists in my library.

1. Adding bonus tracks

COOPSingle B-sides just kind of float around in most collections.  Due to their short running time, I don’t often spin CD singles.  On a PC hard drive they tend to get lost while full albums get more play.  To give some of these B-sides a little more air time, in many cases I have chosen to add the songs as “bonus tracks”, at the end of the associated album.  This works best when it’s just one or two tracks.  More than that can extend an album listening experience too long.

Sometimes, different versions of albums will have unique bonus tracks.  Perhaps there’s one on the vinyl version that is on nothing else.  Japanese editions, deluxe versions, European editions, iTunes editions…there are usually lots of bonus tracks out there, but always on different versions of the disc.  Why not take them all, and make your own “super deluxe edition” with all the bonus tracks in one spot?  Listening to an album modified in this way can be a bit longer than the usual, but ultimately it’s rewarding to hear the entire body of work in one smooth sitting.  My MP3 player is loaded with my complete version of Alice Cooper’s Welcome 2 My Nightmare, and it’s just 10 minutes shy of two hours long!

In extreme cases, there are so many bonus tracks out there that you may need to consider creating an entire “bonus disc” folder to house them all.

2. Removing gaps

The 1990’s were such a quaint time.  Remember “hidden bonus tracks”?  At the end of the album, instead of stopping, the CD would continue to play several minutes of silence.  Then you would be surprised by a hidden unlisted song!  A notable example is “Look at Your Game, Girl”, the infamous Charles Manson cover that Axl hid away at the end of The Spaghetti Incident.  There was only a 10 second gap on that CD; still annoying but other albums had much longer pauses before the hidden track.

I use Audacity to remove the long gaps, or to isolate the hidden song to a track all its own.  As much as I enjoy a “pure” listening experience the way the artist intended, these long gaps are pretty easy to sacrifice.

3. Restoring an intended song order

AUD 4

Rock and roll is full of stories about bands who couldn’t get their way when an album was released.  W.A.S.P. for example wanted their song “Animal (Fuck Like a Beast)” to open their self titled album.  Now you can add it there yourself!  (W.A.S.P. also added the song to the start of the remastered version of the album.)  You can even use Audacity to adjust the volume levels, so that everything matches.

A better example is Extreme’s III Sides to Every Story.  The piano ballad “Don’t Leave Me Alone” was only on the cassette version of the album.  The CD couldn’t contain all the songs without making it a double, so that one had to be left off.  Now you can re-add it yourself, right where it belongs at the end of “side two” and before the big side three suite.  Now you can hear the whole album as Extreme intended, seamlessly.

Pardon the pun, but I took an even more “extreme” approach to their second album, Pornograffitti.  The instrumental track “Fight of the Wounded Bumblebee” was written as a longer piece with a slow bluesy coda.  This second half was recorded solo by Nuno Bettencourt as “Bumble Bee (Crash Landing)” for a guitar compilation.  Using Audacity, I combined both tracks to restore the song to its original full structure.  This is about as close as we will ever get to hearing the tracks as written.  I dropped the new longer track into the album tracklisting and voila!  Still seamless, but now with a new darker mood before “He-Man Woman Hater”.

Indeed, the possibilities are limitless.  Steve Harris often complained that the Iron Maiden album No Prayer for the Dying should have had live crowd noise mixed in, like a live album.  Now you can do that yourself.  With a deft touch, you can even edit songs down yourself or extend them by looping sections.

With the advent of the computer as a listening device, the sky is now the limit.  How would you modify your listening experiences?

 

#480: Where Are We Now?

GETTING MORE TALE #480: Where Are We Now?

It’s been over 10 years since leaving the old Record Store.  Feeling nostalgic, my thoughts go back to the folks I once worked with.  The early days there were such an incredible time.  I called it the dream job, and for a music-mad guy in his 20’s, it was!  It was an experience I will always cherish forever, and that’s one of many reasons that Record Store Tales exist.  Even so, I don’t think I have really captured the joy of those early years, especially 1994-1996.  It truly is joy when you voluntarily came in early every day just to check out new inventory, which I used to do regularly.  Since that time, quite a few of my old compatriots have moved on.  Where are we now?

LeBrain:  Here I am!  I’ve been working a desk job in the manufacturing industry for the last seven years.  The lovely thing about my job is that I get to listen to the radio all day, every day.  I have found 107.5 DaveRocks to be very conducive to getting work done, and being rocked while doing it.  The encouragement from various folks at the station inspired me to get my Record Store Tales finished and published, and that’s why you’re reading this now!

T-Rev:  Now living in Sarnia Ontario with his beautiful wife and three kids.  Still rocking and rolling, still addicted to that rush and still collecting tunes.  Still texting me with rare finds (last was a rare Judas Priest 12” picture disc) and on the hunt for rarities.  Trips across the border into the US have yielded him many finds over the years.  Just a few weeks ago, T-Rev texted me for help.  “Can you help Colin go through five or six boxes of records and let him know if there’s anything good in there?”  Colin lives in Kitchener so it was far easier for him to show the LPs to me than T-Rev.  In all, I found about 50 that he should hang on to…and my mother in law bought a half-dozen for herself!  I also snagged an insert from Alice Cooper’s Muscle of Love LP, which my copy was missing.  Thanks for hooking that up, T-Rev!

Iron Tom Sharpe:  Tom, co-founder of the legendary Sausagefest, sold his Record Store location and became a teacher.  He has brought the rock to a whole new generation of fans.  They have now formed rock groups and even their own Jr. Sausagefest parties.  Of everyone involved with the Record Store back then, it is Tom who today does the most to bring good music to the kids.  What a legend!  He has managed to do what I strive to do myself, which is pass on the glorious rock and roll to the next generation.

Joe Big Nose:  Recently left the Record Store chain for a better opportunity.  No longer stinking up its washrooms with giant aromatic shits.  Big Nose had a long stay there – surely one of the longest.  There are probably stains with his name on them.

Uncle Meat:  Wandering the universe, playing baseball and Space Truckin’.  (Seriously, I know he is hard at work tabulating the votes for Sausagefest 2016’s official countdown.)

EDIT/update:  Uncle Meat has finished the 2016 countdown!  It is, in his words, “truly a kaleidoscope of finesse, filth and fury.”  Looking forward to it.

Wiseman:  Location and status unknown.  Last seen very very wasted at Sausagefest XII.

And finally, the Owner:  Still there, 25 years this August!  Talk about givin’ ‘er!  Never give up, never surrender!  You have to admire the tenacity and sacrifices made.  I would like to celebrate and say cheers with him.  Rock on!

REVIEW: Alice Cooper – Freedom for Frankenstein – Hits & Pieces 1984-91

Scan_20160306ALICE COOPER – Freedom for Frankenstein – Hits & Pieces 1984-91 (1998 Raven, Australian import)

After a productive spurt of activity in the late 80’s and early 90’s, Alice Cooper laid low for a while.  A fun live album called A Fistful of Alice in 1997 was his first such release in 20 years.  There was then a long wait for the next Cooper studio album (Brutal Planet, 2000).  In the meantime, fans got to snack on interim treats such as the Australian release, Freedom for Frankenstein.

There are already a number of compilations that cover similar periods to Freedom for Frankenstein.  Prince of Darkness (1989) tackled the two MCA albums Constrictor (1986) and Raise Your First and Yell (1987) plus one single B-side. 1995’s Classicks summed up the Epic albums Trash (1989), Hey Stoopid (1991) and The Last Temptation (1994), with the bonus of rare live tracks from the 1989 live home video Alice Cooper Trashes the World, plus the Hendrix cover B-side “Fire”!  With those releases already on the market, does Freedom for Frankenstein offer anything unique?

Hell yeah!

1. “I Got a Line on You”.  Spirit wrote this one in 1968 and Alice Cooper covered it in 1988 for the Iron Eagle II soundtrack.  Alice’s version was released as a cool music video and stands as one of his best tracks from the era.  (You can also get this on the Life and Crimes of Alice Cooper box set.)  Here is an easy way to get the song, a must-own for fans of 80’s Alice.  This was our first look at Alice’s new musical direction: commercial hard rock!  He dropped the splatter horror direction and went full-on for radio and video hits.

2. Four-count-’em-four rare live single B-sides.  These are “Go to Hell”, “Ballad of Dwight Fry”, “Sick Things” and “Only Women Bleed/Wind Up Toy”.  None overlap with the other two compilations.  “Wind Up Toy” was only played on the Hey Stoopid tour.

3. “It Rained All Night”.  It is absolutely inexplicable how this song wasn’t included on the Life and Crimes box set.  An original Alice Cooper/Desmond Child composition, “It Rained All Night” was also too good to be just another B-side.  It backed the single for “Hey Stoopid” but stood as a better track than some on the album.  Perhaps it was nixed for being too ballady on an album that didn’t need any more.  You can get it most easily now by buying the Hey Stoopid 2013 reissue…but if you get Freedom for Frankenstein instead, you won’t need that reissue at all.

By getting this, you will also acquire “Fire”, and a good number of the best songs from this period.  “He’s Back”, “Teenage Frankenstein”, “Freedom”, “Poison”, “House of Fire”, “Hey Stoopid”, and “Feed My Frankenstein” were the big singles, all on one CD.  Then there’s “Side Show”, the incredible opener from Alice’s 1994 concept album The Last Temptation.  In fact, the only weakness with this CD is that there is only one song from The Last Temptation.  Classicks has three — but none of them are “Side Show”.

Freedom for Frankenstein was compiled with the help of Andrew Carpenter, “Australia’s biggest Alice Cooper fan” and archivist.  Full points are awarded for the interesting booklet and rarities in the tracklist.  I think the running order could be slightly tweaked for a smoother ride, but at over 78 minutes long, these hits and pieces provide value for your bucks.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Alice Cooper – Prince of Darkness (1989)

ALICE COOPER – Prince of Darkness (1989 MCA)

Even though Alice hadn’t produced anything as timeless as “School’s Out” during his 1980’s comeback, his profile rose greatly.  Clean, sober and focused, Alice Cooper was very active in the last part of the decade.  The same year as his final MCA album Raise Your Fist and Yell, he had memorable appearance at Wrestlemania III.  In the corner of “good guy” Jake the Snake Roberts, Cooper had the honour of draping Roberts’ snake named Damien all over the Honky Tonk Man.  After that, even my dad knew who Alice Cooper was.

Cooper only had a two record deal with MCA:  Constrictor was the first in ’86; also the first album in the comeback period.  Having re-established himself with MCA, Alice then signed with Epic and had a genuine smash success with 1989’s Trash.  With a dream team of writers and collaborators (including hitsmiths Desmond Child, Jon Bon Jovi, Richie Sambora, Steven Tyler, Joe Perry and many more), Alice scored a platinum album.

While Trash was still charting and producing singles, MCA put out a competing record:  Prince of Darkness, a 10 track compilation of Cooper’s material for that label.  Normally these kinds of releases are throw-aways, but Prince of Darkness is not and this review will tell you all about it.

It is not unfair to state that Constrictor and Raise Your First were mixed affairs.  You had to wade through a significant amount of filler to reach a disproportionate amount of modern classics.  Prince of Darkness does a great service by collecting some of the best material together on one CD.  It is well sequenced and even includes one rare track, an exclusive on compact disc.

A grand opening is the dark and metallic “Prince of Darkness”, a theme song from a movie of the same name.  This ominous and menacing track is one of the more memorable from this era, a heavy monument.  It works amazingly well as an opening track, and “Roses on White Lace” follows by going faster and heavier.  It was surprising to hear Alice creep this close to thrash metal, but what a track!  A distorted vocal adds to the creep factor, making this one of the better samples of Cooper’s music during his “splatter horror” period.  The 1986 single “Teenage Frankenstein” would be a must-own for any fan, and there it is in the #3 position.  The big single from this era was “He’s Back (The Man Behind the Mask)”, a synthpop classic quite unlike the prior metal material.  Right here is an easy and simple way to get this classic track, without having to buy Constrictor.  Same with “Teenage Frankenstein”.

A nice little track here is a 1976 live recording of “Billion Dollar Babies”!  This was a B-side from the “He’s Back (The Man Behind the Mask)” single, but Prince of Darkness is the only CD with it.  The track itself sounds heavily remixed (remixing is credited to Garth Richardson) but it is indeed a B-side that is easy to acquire by getting this disc.  Ignore the annoying, screaming overdubbed crowd and just dig the vintage performance of one of Alice Cooper’s most timeless numbers.

There are a few filler tracks on side two.  “Lock Me Up” was fun, but not particularly memorable.  Feel free to skip “Simple Disobedience” and “Thrill My Gorilla”, and go straight to “Life and Death of the Party”.  Alice steps back into the shadows for a chilling horror number, mid-tempo and overcast.  We are over and out with “Freedom”, another great single and dangerously close to thrash metal again.  Prince of Darkness serves as the most effective way to get this one.

That’s why I recommend Prince of Darkness to any fan who wants to get a slice of Alice in the late 80’s — but just a slice.  The whole cake is for diehards.

4/5 stars
COOPER

REVIEW: Alice Cooper – Raise Your Fist and Yell (1987)

Scan_20160303ALICE COOPER – Raise Your Fist and Yell (1987 MCA)

And lo!  The beast named Alice reincarnated with a slab of wax, and they called it Constrictor.  Slithering into the spotlight again was a triumph of will:  Alice battled his demons (including the bottle), found some new young band members and started fresh on a new label.    Though the music was merely OK, at least the man himself was doing just fine.  As fans, I believe we genuinely wish our rock star heroes to be healthy and happy, so even if the music wasn’t the greatest, we could be glad that Alice was back.

In the 70’s and early 80’s, Alice Cooper maintained a breakneck release schedule.  This slowed down a bit in the second phase of Cooper’s career, but he still managed to follow Constrictor a mere 12 months later with Raise Your Fist and Yell.  I probably don’t need to tell you this, but look at the cover:  certainly one of the worst to ever envelope a major label release.  The guilty party is a fella named Jim Warren who must hate this cover as much as I do, because just look at it.

It continued with the same shock-rock horror-splatter-movie theme, but turned up louder.  Indeed, the lead single “Freedom” was the fastest most thrash-like track that Alice had yet performed.  Censorship was a big target in Alice’s sights.  “Freedom” was his ode to the PMRC:  “You want to rule us with an iron hand, you change the lyrics and become big brother.  This ain’t Russia!  You ain’t my dad or mother.”  Lemme tell you, when “Freedom” came out, the PMRC seemed a genuine threat.  Dee Snider and Frank Zappa were testifying in front of the senate and stores were refusing to stock records.  “Freedom” was an anthem we could all get behind.  I don’t think anybody expected him to go so heavy!

The video was interesting. Kane Roberts looks like he’s not sure if he’s at a bodybuilding competition or a music video shoot. There were some new guys in the band; that’s not Kip Winger on bass. On drums is Ken Mary, later of House of Lords. Most interesting is the guy dressed as a priest. You can see him up close during the lyric “Back off preacher I don’t care if it’s Sunday.” They looked like the biggest bunch of misfits assembled. Perhaps this is what Alice was going for?

During this period, Alice was writing a few goofy rock songs.  “Lock Me Up” is silly, but fun.  It has a beat and you can headbang to it.  “Take the Radio Back” sounds like a predecessor to “Hey Stoopid”, but not quite.  “Give the radio back to the maniac!” sings Alice.  Is he begging for airplay?  It’s OK, but “Step on You” isn’t really.  There are moments here and there, but these are mediocre songs.  “Step on You” has an interesting atonal instrumental section but it doesn’t fit the song at all.  “Not That Kind of Love” continues the heavy rock, but without hooks.

Back to quality, “Prince of Darkness” is a heavy metal horror movie theme, from the film of the same name in which Alice had a cameo.  Menacing and intense, this tune scores high marks on both the Cooper Scale of Rock Thrills and Chills, and the Cooper Scale of Heavy.  Kane Roberts’ lead solo is pure pointless 80’s excess, but the song is what counts and it’s a good’un.  The acoustic outro is perfection.

“Time to Kill” keeps things above the bar.  “Chop, Chop, Chop” does not.  I know — you’re surprised, right?  A song called “Chop, Chop, Chop” isn’t a diamond of the highest carat weight?  Nor is it a turd, but certainly well below the watermark.  It does serve as a lead-in to “Gail”, a high quality also-ran that recalls Alice in the year 1975.  It is the only Kip Winger co-write on the album, and he’s responsible for its eerie keyboard vibe.  Finally it’s “Roses on White Lace”, another borderline thrash metal track that absolutely rips every head in the room off.  This track, firmly in the splatter film world, is an excellent example of Alice at his heaviest.  For its entire duration, it’s breakneck speed.  Bold song to end an album with.

Post album, Kip Winger and keyboardist Paul Taylor bailed, and formed another band you might have heard of.  Michael Wagener produced this record, and while heavy, the album is definitely lacking sonically in comparison to its contemporaries.  All told there are four songs worth buying the album for:  “Freedom”, “Prince of Darkness”, “Roses on White Lace”, and Gail.  Three of those four songs can be found on the MCA compilation Prince of Darkness.  So…your move.

2.5/5 stars

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REVIEW: Alice Cooper – Constrictor (1986)

EPIC REVIEW TIME.

Scan_20160207 (2)ALICE COOPER – Constrictor (1986 MCA)

Alice Cooper’s bizarre DaDa album was the end of an era.  It marked the last album Alice recorded for his Warner Brothers contract, now complete.  It was also the end of his experimental period that ran from 1980’s Flush the Fashion through to DaDa.  It was the the last album Alice would make that he couldn’t remember making.

Alice mostly disappeared for the next three years.  His activities were so low key that most people didn’t even notice them.  He was hospitalized for cirrhosis of the liver caused by his blackout drinking.  He got sober, for good.  He also dealt with a divorce.  Musically there was very little going on.  In 1984, Alice starred in a very low budget horror movie called Monster Dog.  He recorded two songs for the soundtrack:  “Identity Crisises” and “See Me in the Mirror”.  These two tracks are very much the conclusion to Alice’s early 80’s art-rock persona.  “Identity Crisises” has a lo-fi, garage-y Iggy Pop sound.  “See Me in the Mirror” is in the synthpop direction of DaDa:  creepy, atmospheric and mostly electronic.  These two songs were finally released for purchase on the legendary Life and Crimes of Alice Cooper boxed set in 1999.

Alice next emerged with one of the bands he inspired:  Twisted Sister.  Along with Brian Setzer, Clarence Clemens and Billy Joey, Cooper accompanied Twisted Sister on their single “Be Chrool to Your Scuel”. A very clever zombie-filled big budget horror-inspired music video was made for the song, which Alice co-starred in, as did Bobcat Golthwait (who was also in Sister’s “Leader of the Pack” clip).  It should have been a big deal, with Alice getting equal screen time with Dee Snider.  Unfortunately hardly anyone saw the video. MTV barely touched it. As a result it did nothing to aid Alice in terms of a comeback.  It was good to note that Alice looked healthier than he had in years.

Alice regrouped and re-invented himself in a new persona. Taking inspiration from his Welcome to My Nightmare period, Alice went into “slasher film” mode. He recruited a massive muscle-bound heavy metal guitarist and songwriter, Kane Roberts, to be his co-pilot for this adventure. Also along for the ride was a hot new bassist and singer named Kip Winger, whose large mane hid the fact that the man was a classically trained musician. With producer Beau Hill, they made an album in tune with what was happening in 1986, and that meant heavy metal. Alice had always been a diverse, experimental artist, but this time the mission was pretty simple and the lines were clear.

Another horror film served to launch the next official Alice Cooper music: Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives. Alice appeared in a brief cameo, but more importantly contributed two new songs to the movie soundtrack. They were the anthem “Hard Rock Summer”, and “He’s Back (The Man Behind the Mask)”, which served as the movie’s theme song. “Hard Rock Summer” was a bit of a throwaway, and was not used on the next Alice album. You can really hear the backing vocals of Kip Winger and Kane Roberts on it, but a classic it is not. “He’s Back”, and its very cool music video became synonymous with this new period of Alice Cooper’s life.

The new album, Constrictor, was finally released in September of ’86. With a snake in his mouth on the cover (not really; you can see it’s cheaply cut and pasted) it was pretty clear that Cooper was going for the scares. Opening track “Teenage Frankenstein” continues the horror theme, but combines it with Alice’s teen anthem style from the early 1970’s. “Teenage Frankenstein” is essentially an “I’m 18” for 1986. It’s not as memorable, inventive, or as good, but it gets the job done. It’s an Alice Cooper heavy metal anthem for pounding your fist to in concert. In lieu of a proper music video, a clip from his live show The Nightmare Returns was used, featuring Alice building a living robot monster on stage, which then turns against him!  Alice was still one of the best live acts in the world.

It’s funny that DaDa is remembered as Alice’s “drum machine” album when it’s clear on “Give it Up” that a lot of the beats are programs and samples.  “Give it Up” is a radio friendly hard rocker, nondescript but at its core not that different from the music Alice made in the 70’s.  It’s even has some rock and roll piano.   It’s just dressed up for the 80’s.   There’s not much going on with “Thrill My Gorilla”, just a forgettable song with the shrill production that was so popular in the 80’s.  Much better is the somewhat epic “Life and Death of the Party”.  Slower, creepier and much more effective, “Life and Death of the Party” is the kind of song I like to point to as proof there was some mighty good material during this period.  Unfortunately “Simple Disobedience” isn’t among that material.  Like “Thrill My Gorilla”, there is little here to attract listeners today.  The electronics and samples really are a drag.  It is like there is a layer of distraction over the song that you have to penetrate through.

Flipping the record over (or pretending to since I own this on CD), “The World Needs Guts” isn’t a bad start to the second side.  It could have been much heavier.  It verges on the speedy power metal tendencies of bands like Accept, but the production keeps it from going all the way.  As such it kind of sounds like a thin Judas Priest Turbo outtake with the synths stripped off.  “Trick Bag” may sound familiar.   It actually started life as “He’s Back (The Man Behind the Mask)”.  There’s a demo version of “He’s Back” on the aforementioned Alice Cooper box set musically identical to “Trick Bag”.  “He’s Back” was re-written, but the original music ended up as “Trick Bag”.  It’s a decent album track but like much of Constrictor not particularly classic.  “Crawlin'” is pretty close.  With all the melody and hooks of an old 70’s Alice Cooper track circa Goes to Hell, “Crawlin'” is pretty good stuff.

“The Great American Success Story” is fantastic for two reasons.  One is that it was originally written for the Rodney Dangerfield classic Back to School.   Second, it’s like an updated “School’s Out” for the 80’s.  Instead of celebrating the end of school, this time we are celebrating going to school.  “He’s gonna take that plunge, gonna jump back in there.”  Which, if you’ve seen the movie, you know is also a reference to Dangerfield’s character joining the diving team.  “He thinks about the teacher in his literary class,” and I don’t blame him; it was Sally Kellerman!  “Always been a brat, don’t get no respect” is another obvious reference to Dangerfield.  But it’s a good song! It really should have been a single, and it probably would have been if it were in the movie.

Closing the album, we go full circle back to Friday the 13th and “He’s Back”.  There’s little question that “He’s Back” is the best song on Constrictor.  It actually bears more similarity to the synth-pop of DaDa than it does to the rest of the album.   It’s brilliant because they stripped the song down to a very basic frame, which is a creepy digital pulse.  There’s a little guitar but it’s mostly just horror pop of the finest quality.  Ch-ch-ch-ha-ha-ha…don’t turn out the lights.

Part of the problem with Constrictor is that Alice had a faceless, fairly bland group backing him.  Kane Roberts can play guitar, and Kip Winger can play the bass, but did they have their own identities?  No.  Dennis Dunaway played bass on those early Alice Cooper albums like no other bassist in the world.  Michael Bruce, Steve Hunter, Dick Wagner, and the other great players Alice worked with all had their own sound.  There is none of that on Constrictor.

I want to give Alice and company an A for effort: for finally getting sober, for finally getting back there on tour, and also for going heavy this time.  Unfortunately Constrictor was a comeback album that needed a bit more comeback in it.  The good news is that Alice did eventually get back to full quality, but Constrictor is only about half an album.  Therefore:

2.5/5 stars

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REVIEW: Alice Cooper – DaDa (1983)

ALICE COOPER – DaDa (1983 Warner)

DaDa is one of the most fascinating albums in the Alice Cooper catalogue.  So interesting in fact that this is the second time I’ve tackled a review of it.  The first, posted on Amazon years ago shortly after buying the album, was not flattering.  The entire thing is below:

 

This is what happens when you drink too much and can’t remember years of your life anymore.

This is what happens when your producer is nursing his own drug problems.

This is what happened to Alice Cooper in the early 80’s. Guitars, drums and bass have been jettisoned in favour of samples, keyboards, and programs. Songs? Non-existant. This album is worthless, filled with dreck that Cooper wouldn’t have even considered a decade earlier, or later. I defy anyone to explain the concept of the story to me. No songs ever played live, no tour.

One novelty track: “I Love America”, which is actually hilarious. It is also available on the Cooper boxed set. Pick that up, not this.

0/5 stars. The absolute nadir of the man’s storied career.

 

That’s what I said then, and I have to own it now.  I could delete it and pretend I never said it, but that would be dishonest.

Rich at Kamertunesblog did a fantastic Alice Cooper series a few years back.  When he got to DaDa, I said that “I still have not really penetrated [it]. I don’t know if I so much as appreciate it, rather than like it.”  When Rich said he found that surprising, I realized I must be missing something with DaDa.  So how does DaDa sit now, after a few years to let it absorb?

It’s different.  It’s creepy.  It’s funny.  It’s worth the time spent with it.

The story of DaDa itself is almost as interesting as the story of how one man can go from hating it to loving it.

Alice re-teamed with Bob Ezrin on this album, for the first time in years.  Dick Wagner came back for guitar, bass and songwriting duties.  Wagner claimed in his autobiography that Alice wasn’t that enthused about making this album, and confessed that contracts stipulated he had to.  Backing up Wagner’s claim is the fact that this was Alice’s last album for Warner, followed by a three year hiatus to finally get clean and sober for good.  There was no tour, in fact no band.

In lieu of a drummer, all beats are programmed.  This lends a stark early 80’s synthpop sound to DaDa.  It works exceptionally well on the title track, an Ezrin instrumental creation.  The echoey electronics sound as if from a frightening science fiction horror movie from the period.  Punctuating this is the mechanical repeating sample of a child saying “da da”…and heavenly new age keyboard melodies.  Talk about chills!  If that doesn’t get you, perhaps the spoken word conversation between a therapist and a patient will give you the shivers.  “I have a daughter too,” says the elderly patient.  “You don’t have a daughter,” responds the doctor.  “Yeah, I have a daughter,” insists the sick man.  “Sir, you have a son,” insists the doctor as the conversation gets creepier.  Alice Cooper is not even on this piece.  Perhaps that is one reason it failed to make an impression on me all those years ago.

Alice emerges on “Enough’s Enough”, changing to the perspective of the son.  “I just want to tell you, you’re a lousy dad, to hell with you!”  Dark but strangely upbeat, “Enough’s Enough” has some of those Bob Ezrin touches that you love, such as the perfectly arranged backing vocals.  The Dick Wagner guitars are the only real touch of rock and roll; the song otherwise lives in a punky new wave land.  The best song is much creepier:  “Former Lee Warmer”.  Alice alludes to the character of “Former Lee” on the previous song: “Why’d you hide your brother?”  “Former Lee Warmer” reveals that the body of the brother was locked in a chest in the attic.  “All the mops and brooms keep him company, misconceived of the family.”  Musically and thematically, this is just as good as Welcome to My Nightmare!  This is all done in Alice’s brilliant speak-sing style.

The concept becomes harder to follow on “No Man’s Land”, a good rock and roll song only weakened by the clanky electronic percussion.  Wagner is outstanding.  Similarly disconnected is “Dyslexia”, which sounds like Devo snuck into the studio.  Harmless fun; I wonder how many songs have been written about dyslexia in popular music?  It’s not clear who is on bass (probably Prakash John rather than Wagner), but the bass pulse is brilliantly subtle and perfect.  “Scarlet and Sheba” is an album highlight, electronically exotic and heavy too.  It’s perfectly dressed a with killer chorus and kinky lyrics, topped with a brilliant Ezrin arrangement.

“I Love America” is admittedly a novelty track, but I still like it today.  Taking on the persona of a redneck, Alice lampoons every cliche about his homeland.  “I love Velveeta slapped on Wonder Bread!  I love a Commie…if’un he’s good ‘n dead!”  The reason it works is because it’s Alice Cooper.  I don’t think anyone else could have pulled it off.  Ezrin provides suitably pompous backing music, turning it into a rock national anthem.  (My favourite lyric is the last one:  “I love my bar, and I love my truck.  I’d do most anything to make a buck!  I love a waitress who loves to ffff…flirt.  They’re the best kind!”)

Going into “Fresh Blood” you’ll notice the synth horns, not really a substitute for the real thing.  It’s actually a pretty good funky rock tune.  Alice sings melodically with layered vocals, and once again the bass sounds awesome if you pay attention to it.  The final track is another drama-laden burner called “Pass the Gun Around”.  The character (referred to as “Sonny”; perhaps the son from earlier in the album) wakes up in a hotel room after another blackout night.  It’s not a pretty scene but it ends the album on a suitably serious and musically complex note.  It’s actually one of the better Cooper tracks from any era, thanks in no small part to Bob Ezrin and Dick Wagner.

Interesting trivia:  Probably because Ezrin recorded the album in his native land (Canada), Lisa DalBello is credited on backing vocals.  Queensryche would later cover one of her singles, “Gonna Get Close to You”.  She was also a part of Alex Lifeson’s Victor project.

Today’s rating:  4/5 stars, but only after a long journey.  And the concept still seems to derail halfway through the album.