ALICE COOPER – The Life and Crimes of Alice Cooper (1999 Rhino 4 CD set)
With the benefit of hindsight, 1999 was way too early for Alice Cooper to be looking back with a comprehensive box set. His new album Paranormal will be out this month. He’s been consistently touring and recording. The picture was different in 1999 though, since Alice had been quietly under the radar for much of the decade and there was no sign of new music coming.
This Rhino box set is pretty comprehensive. Though there are plenty more rarities out there to get on singles and elsewhere, Rhino served up a very generous selection of them. Starting in 1966 with singles by The Spiders and The Nazz, Alice’s sound begins to evolve. Those early bands were 4/5 of the original Alice Cooper group: only drummer Neal Smith had yet to join. The early singles are unfocused compared to what Alice was going to do in a couple years. “Don’t Blow Your Mind” and “Lay Down and Die, Goodbye” (sometimes known as “I’ve Written Home to Mother”) are sloppy psychedelia. “Hitch Hike” is like rockabilly. “Why Don’t You Love Me” is late 60s style rock and roll with a nice harmonica part. It sounds influenced by the Beatles.
A demo version of “Nobody Likes Me” is the first “official” Alice Cooper Group track and it sees the sound veer closer to where they were headed. It has a sing-song melody that recalls “School’s Out” later on. A few tracks from Alice’s first two albums (Pretties For You and Easy Action) demonstrate a work in progress. “Reflected” is an early version of something that would be re-written as “Elected”. The band was still very psychedelic and not as tight as they would become.
There is a sudden shift, and Alice Cooper emerges as the classic artist we know and love when he hooked up with producer extraordinaire Bob Ezrin. “Caught in a Dream” (a single edit) and a number of essential tracks from Love It to Death kick the box set right in the ass and it suddenly becomes a very engaging listen, when before it was just…interesting. A quintet of songs from the next album Killer are just as special, though including “Halo of Flies” would have been appropriate too.
Before heading into the School’s Out material there is a rare demo entitled “Call it Evil”. A small portion of the music would make it into the the classic West Side Story tribute “Gutter Cat vs. the Jets” (also included), but this is its own song and otherwise unreleased. The single version of “School’s Out” is an obvious inclusion, but these two are the only tracks from School’s Out, a baffling set of omissions. Granted, “School’s Out” plays like a concept album and is tricky to split up for a box set, but it is under-represented here, period.
Billion Dollar Babies is considered a peak of this period, and gets five tracks of its own, all brilliant. “Elected” is the single version. “No More Mr. Nice Guy” is a highlight of Alice’s entire career and it still sounds fresh. Another rarity ensues which is “Slick Black Limousine”, a UK exclusive flexi-disc release. It sounds more like early Alice Cooper group material, with Alice doing his best Elvis. The end of the original group was nigh, unfortunately, and Alice’s next album Muscle of Love was noticeably lacking something. Maybe it’s because Bob Ezrin didn’t produce it, but the band was also on the verge of splitting. Addictions were hurting them. They were still making great rock and roll, just not…as great. “Respect for the Sleepers” is a demo version of “Muscle of Love”, an unreleased track with lyrics inspired by Alice’s “dead drunk friends” (Jimi, Janis, Jim). There are more songs from Muscle of Love included than there were for School’s Out, which is odd but alright.
At this point, Alice split from the original band. Then there are a pair of rarities featuring Alice from an obscure rock opera called Flash Fearless Vs. the Zorg Women, Pts. 5 & 6. Before Queen, there was this Flash Gordon album and Alice’s tracks feature players like John Entwistle, Kenney Jones, Nicky Hopkins, Bill Bruford and Keith Moon as “Long John Silver”. “I’m Flash” and “Space Pirates” are mere curiosities, but it’s stuff like this that makes buying a box set so much more worth it. Where else would you hear these tracks? Both feature Alice’s delicious trademark sneer.
Alice’s solo career really began with 1975’s Welcome to My Nightmare. He and Bob Ezrin went all-in with an elaborate horror rock concept album featuring a number of classics. “Welcome to My Nightmare” and “Only Women Bleed” are single versions, and it’s fantastic that the blazing “Escape” was included. Another concept album, Alice Cooper Goes to Hell, was not as strong. Only two tracks are included, but both were singles. “Go to Hell” is a must-have.
The third CD in this box set commences a murky period. Alice was making albums frequently, but they weren’t as well received and many dwell in obscurity. Lace and Whiskey was pretty good, and “It’s Hot Tonight” is a great track to start the disc. Meanwhile, original band members Michael Bruce, Neal Smith and Dennis Dunaway formed the Billion Dollar Babies. They made one album called Battle Axe, and their cool rock track “I Miss You” is included. That’s a nice touch, because for the first seven albums those guys were as important as Vincent Furnier (aka Alice Cooper). Michael Bruce sings, but lead guitarist Glen Buxton was more or less incapacitated by addiction and wasn’t invited. “Battle Axe” sounds like a natural continuation of the Muscle of Love sound. A bunch more rarities are incoming: a torch ballad called “No Time for Tears” (unreleased) and “Because”, the Beatles cover featuring the Bee Gees. This was from that pretty mediocre Sgt. Peppers tribute album from 1978, so it’s great to be able to get it in a box set. Alice’s interpretation is creepy, and the Bee Gees are immaculate.
Moving on to his next solo album, Alice changed direction on From the Inside. He had just gotten out of rehab (an actual mental hospital) and made a concept album with David Foster and Bernie Taupin about the experience. The title track is included as a single version, and you also get the beautifully campy ballad “How You Gonna See Me Now”. It was a single too, and its B-side “No Tricks” is also included. It is a duet with soul singer Betty Wright. Disc three is generous in rarities. Another one called “Road Rats” (produced by Todd Rundgren) is a decent rocker from a movie called Roadies.
Alice moved into the 1980s on Flush the Fashion which employed some new wave and punk influences. Its two best songs, “Clones (We’re All)” and “Pain” are included. 1981 brought Special Forces and more rarities. “Who Do You Think We Are” is a single version, and “Look at You Over There, Ripping the Sawdust from My Teddy Bear” is a synthy unreleased song pulled last minute from the album. Then there is “For Britain Only”, the stripped-back rocker from the EP of the same name. “I Am the Future” is a single version originally from 1982’s Zipper Catches Skin. Completing this era (sometimes called Alice’s “blackout period”) are a pair of tracks from DaDa (1983). Alice had moved as far as he would go into the high-tech synthesizer direction, and he soon cleaned up for good. A couple odds and ends tidy up the tracks from this era. “Identity Crisises” and “See Me in the Mirror” are previously unreleased songs from the Monster Dog movie (1984) which starred Alice. These are very low-fi tracks, but “Identity Crisises” is actually pretty cool.
The final track on the third disc is the first one from Alice’s big comeback period. “Hard Rock Summer” is a fun heavy metal rocker from the Jason Lives soundtrack. It’s cheesy but also previously unavailable. The fourth and final CD picks up there, with two more rarities from the same movie. “He’s Back (The Man Behind the Mask)” is included in demo and movie mix versions. Onto 1986’s Constrictor LP, you get the enjoyable “Teenage Frankenstein”. By 1987 Alice was telling us to Raise Your Fist and Yell on “Freedom”. The excellent “Prince of Darkness” is also from that album, but then there are two more rarities. Alice cut a re-recording of “Under My Wheels” with Axl Rose, Slash and Izzy Stradlin for the movie The Decline of Western Civilization Part 2: The Metal Years. Unlike many re-recordings, this one is well worth it because hey, it’s Guns N’ fuckin’ Roses.
Alice’s sound got slicker moving into the late 80s. “I Got a Line on You” is a Spirit cover from the movie Iron Eagle II. There is a notable shift towards mainstream hard rock, and this spilled over onto the next album Trash (1989). This box set has three songs from Trash, but one is the irritatingly bad title track featuring Jon Bon Jovi. His sound got a little tougher on Hey Stoopid (1991) from which you get a single version of the title track, and “Feed My Frankenstein” (also from Wayne’s World). The Hendrix cover “Fire” is the last song from this period, which was a B-side. Unfortunately another B-side called “It Rained All Night” is a superior song, but not included.
Alice took another short break between albums before emerging in 1994 with another critically acclaimed concept album, The Last Temptation. Alice shed the trappings of the 80s and the album is held in high esteem today as a diverse combination of the 70s and 90s. Three tracks represent it, but it’s hard not to wish “Side Show” was also included.
The Last Temptation was Alice’s last studio album when this box was released in 1999. In the meantime, Alice made friends with Rob Zombie who was obviously influenced by the Coop. They collaborated on a song called “Hands of Death (Burn Baby Burn)” for an X-Files CD. This box set has the unreleased “Spookshow 2000 Mix”. The track points in the direction of Alice’s next album Brutal Planet.
This box set is quite an epic journey, with many facets and side roads. A trip like this needs an appropriate closing, and Rhino did something interesting to do that. They broke the chronological format they used for the majority of the set, and slid in the acoustic rocker “Is Anyone Home?”. This was a studio track included on Alice’s 1997 live album A Fistful of Alice. This serves as the climax, and “Stolen Prayer” from The Last Temptation is the finale. “Stolen Prayer” is a powerful duet with the late Chris Cornell. It was always a perfect closer, but now it’s…also sad.
It should be obvious now that The Life and Crimes of Alice Cooper is a worthwhile box set even for fans who own every album. The wealth of rarities are just a taste, but they certainly scratch a lot of track off of collector’s lists. Many remain exclusive to this box set. On top of that, it is simply a good listen, bumpy start aside.