ALICE COOPER – Welcome To My Nightmare (1975)
My sister used to have a tradition. Because I’ve always been a collector, she would have an easy time buying gifts for me as a young rock fan. When I was 17 years old, I only had a few albums by certain artists. She’d sneak into my room and go over my collection. She saw that I only owned a few of Alice Cooper’s: Trash, Prince of Darkness, Billion Dollar Babies, and Greatest Hits. For Easter of 1990, she got me Alice’s Welcome to My Nightmare. Not knowing what to except from the Coop, it was pretty much instant love.
I played that cassette a lot and grew to know its track sequence, which was completely different from CD. Later on I purchased the original CD release, but what Welcome To My Nightmare needed (and the rest of the Cooper catalogue needs) is a proper remaster with bonus tracks. Rhino took care of that in 2002.
Now the album itself sounds so much better than the original CD. This sounds more like vinyl, the way it should, rich and deep. The liner notes, unfortunately, are somewhat crappy. They basically just explain to the youth of today why Alice Cooper is cooler than the bands they like. There’s not much about the genesis of the album, which is disappointing. This is, after all, the very first solo album by Vincent Furnier aka Alice Cooper. By 1975, the Alice Cooper band (Furnier, Michael Bruce, Dennis Dunaway, Neil Smith, and the late Glen Buxton) was no more. Never again would they share a stage or a recording studio, at least the original five. The four survivors did finally re-team for a couple songs on 2011’s sequel, Welcome 2 My Nightmare.
Welcome To My Nightmare was a revelation to me when I received it, and it is still mind-blowing today. I think that is due to the production talents of Bob Ezrin. The man who later produced Destroyer and The Wall really came into his own on this album. His production is, for lack of any better words, jaw dropping. You can totally tell it’s him, if you know his style well enough: that creepy horror movie piano, all the orchestrations, sound effects, the kids singing. Those are trademarks. My favourite moment for the kids was in the song “Department of Youth”. Cooper and the kids sing in the fade-out:
Together – “We’re the Department of Youth, ahh ahh, we got the power!”
Alice – “Who got the power?”
Kids – “We do!”
Alice – “And who gave it to you?”
Kids – “Donny Osmond!”
Alice – “WHAT?”
Loosely, this is a concept album about the kind of nightmares Alice would have. The result was a collection of remarkably timeless and classic songs: “Only Women Bleed”, “Black Widow”, and “Escape” for example. “Escape” is the most straightforward rocker on the album, and a joy it is. The rest is often more complex, arrangement-wise and lyrically.
The title track is a fun rollercoaster ride with epic horns. Same with “Devil’s Food” and “The Black Widow” which work together as a creepy classic featuring Vincent Price. I would not want to live my life without these songs. Alice is nothing if not diverse, and then “Some Folks” sounds showtune-y. “Only Women Bleed” is the famous ballad, often misunderstood, but respected enough to be covered by artists such as Lita Ford, Tina Turner, and Etta James.
“Department Of Youth” and “Cold Ethel” are more rock and roll, and why not? What better genre to sing about rebellion and necrophilia? It’s worth pointing out the guitar charms of Steve Hunter and the late Dick Wagner. These two incredible players, under the guidance of Ezrin, lent Welcome To My Nightmare the rock edge that it needed, lest it be swallowed up by the dramatic tendencies.
Of course, Welcome To My Nightmare features the first-ever appearance of the character of Steven. “Years Ago” has Alice singing in this incredibly creepy little-kid voice, as Steven. Then the song “Steven” kicks in, and it’s even creepier, but very epic in scale. Alice is at his most effective here. Steven would pop up many times, such as on the next album Alice Cooper Goes To Hell, 1991’s Hey Stoopid, 1994’s Last Temptation, and the more recent Along Came A Spider. Whether it’s supposed to be the same guy, or just a character who shares the same name, I do not know.
The bonus tracks are alternate versions of “Devil’s Food” (much extended), “Cold Ethyl”, and “The Awakening” with alternate lyrics and more Vincent Price! Not available on the Life and Crimes of Alice Cooper box set! These three tracks alone, to the Cooper collector, necessitate a re-buy. The improved sound probably would have hooked them in anyway.
I could never say, “If you only buy one Alice Cooper album, buy this one.” The reason I can’t is that almost every album by the original Alice Cooper band was monumental, particularly School’s Out and Billion Dollar Babies. However, if you buy two or three Coops, please make one of them Welcome To My Nightmare, remastered!
* There is also a DVD Audio of this album mixed in 5.1 by Bob Ezrin himself!