HORROR ICON OF THE MONTH: ALICE COOPER

“I use to be such a sweet, sweet thing til they got a hold of me….”  Oh sorry, I was caught up in the moment.  Rhiannon Irons, a.k.a Ahlephia, here with the latest inductee into the Horror Icon Hall Of Fame.  And this guy knows how to rock!

This month’s Horror Icon is something completely from left field.  And odd choice, but never the less, he is being inducted into our Horror Icon Hall Of Fame.  He is a legend when it comes to shocking audiences worldwide.  And he continues to do despite being 65 years old.  This Horror Icon is none other than Alice Cooper.

AC1Born as Vincent Damon Furnier on February 4, 1948, in Detroit, Michigan, he is the son of Ella Mae and Ether Moroni Furnier.  His father was a lay preacher in the Church of Jesus Christ, also known as the Bickertonite Church.

While growing up in Detroit, Furnier attended Washington Elementary School, Nakin Mills Jr. High and Lutheran High School Westland.  Furnier moved with his family to Phoenix, Arizona after a stint of childhood illnesses where he finished out his schooling years at Cortez High School in north Phoenix.  (Fun Fact: Furnier had gained admission into the University of Arizona, University of Colorado and University of California-Davis – he declined all of these offers)

In 1964 at the age of 16, Furnier was eager to participate in the local annual talent show.  He formed a band from fellow cross-country teammates and became The Earwigs.  The dressed like The Beatles and mimed their performance to Beatles songs.  They won, and became enthralled by the stage.  They learned how to play instruments which they acquired from the local pawn shop.  They changed their name from The Earwigs to The Spiders which saw Furnier on vocals, Glen Buxton on lead guitar, John Tatum on rhythm guitar, Dennis Dunaway on bass and John Speer on drums.  They covered a lot of music from The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who, The Kinks, The Doors and The Yardbirds.

It took almost three years before they began to make regular road trips to Los Angeles to play shows.  They also changed their name again, this time becoming The Nazz.  It was also around this time that John Speer was replaced by Neal Smith.

The following year the band learned that Todd Rundgren also had a band called Nazz so they were in need of another stage name.  Furnier believed they needed a gimmick to succeed, and that other bands weren’t exploiting the showmanship of the stage.  He changed his name to Alice Cooper, citing later that it sounded like a little old lady who had a few bodies buried in the backyard.  (Fun Fact: The legend behind the name Alice Cooper is that it came from a session with a oujia board and that it sounded very wholesome and innocent, in humorous contrast to the band’s image)

The classic Alice Cooper line-up consisted of Furnier, lead guitarist Glen Buxton, rhythm guitarist Michael Bruce, bassist Dennis Dunaway and drummer Neal Smith. With the exception of Smith, who graduated from Camelback High School, all of the band members were on the Cortez High School Cross Country team and many of Cooper’s stage effects were inspired by their cross-country coach, Emmett Smith.  (Fun Fact: In one of Smith’s classes the project was to build a working guillotine for slicing watermelons)

After an unsuccessful night at the Cheetah club in Venice, California, they were approached and enlisted by music manager Shep Gordon, who ironically saw the band’s negative impactAliceCooper that night as a force that could be turned into a more productive direction.  Shep organized a meeting with Frank Zappa, who was looking to sign bizarre music acts to his new record label, Straight Records.

Cooper’s first album Pretties For You was released in 1969 and had a slight psychedelic feel.  Although it touched the US charts for one week at No. 193, it was ultimately a failure.

Alice Cooper’s “shock rock” reputation apparently developed almost by accident at first.  An unrehearsed stage routine involving Cooper, a feather pillow and a live chicken garnered attention from the press; the band decided to capitalize on the tabloid sensationalism, creating in the process a new subgenre, shock rock.  Alice claims that the infamous “Chicken Incident” at the Toronto Rock and Roll Revival concert in September 1969 was an accident.  A chicken somehow made its way onto the stage into the feathers of a feather pillow they would open during Cooper’s performance, and not having any experience around farm animals, Cooper presumed that, because the chicken had wings, it would be able to fly.  He picked it up and threw it out over the crowd, expecting it to fly away. The chicken instead plummeted into the first few rows occupied by disabled people in wheelchairs, who reportedly proceeded to tear the bird to pieces.  The next day the incident made the front page of national newspapers, and Zappa phoned Cooper and asked if the story, which reported that he had bitten off the chicken’s head and drunk its blood on stage, was true. Cooper denied the rumor, whereupon Zappa told him, “Well, whatever you do, don’t tell anyone you didn’t do it,” obviously recognizing that such publicity would be priceless for the band.

In 1970 the Alice Cooper group teamed up with producer Bob Ezrin for the recording of their third album Love It To Death.  This was the final album in their Straight Records contract and the band’s last chance to create a hit.  That first success came with the single “I’m Eighteen”, released in November 1970, which reached number 21 on the Billboard Hot 100 in early 1971.  Not long after the album’s release in 1971 Warner Bros. Records purchased Alice Cooper’s contract from Straight Records and re-issued the album, giving the group a higher level of promotion.

Their follow up album, Killer, released in late 1971, and continued their commercial success of Love It To Death.  “Halo Of Flies” became a Top 10 hit in the Netherlands in 1972.  Thematically, Killer expanded on the villainous side of Cooper’s androgynous stage role, with its music becoming the soundtrack to the group’s morality-based stage show, which by then featured a boa constrictor hugging Cooper on-stage, the murderous axe chopping of bloodied baby dolls, and execution by hanging at the gallows.

AC3The summer of 1972 saw the release of the single School’s Out.  It went Top 10 in the USA and number 1 in the UK, remaining a staple on classic rock radio to this day.  The album School’s Out reached No. 2 on the US charts and sold over a million copies.

In February 1973, Billion Dollar Babies was released worldwide and became the band’s most commercially successful album, reaching No. 1 in both the US and UK.

In 1974 the band’s feature film Good To See You Again, Alice Cooper (consisting of mainly 1973 concert footage with ‘comedic’ sketches woven throughout to a faint storyline) release on a minor theatrical run, mostly to drive in theaters.

In 1975, Alice Cooper returned with a solo project entitled Welcome To My Nightmare.  To avoid legal complications over the band’s name, Furnier had legally changed his name to Alice Cooper.  The success of the album was spearheaded by the ballad “Only Women Bleed” and the album was released by Atlantic Records in March of that year.  It became a Top 10 hit for Cooper.  It was a concept album that was based on the nightmare of a child named Steven, featuring narration from everyone’s favorite Horror Icon, Vincent Price, and served as the soundtrack to Cooper’s new stage show which was now more theatrical.

Accompanying the album and stage show was the television special The Nightmare, starring Alice and Vincent Price, which aired on US prime-time TV in April 1975.  The Nightmare, which was later released on home video in 1983 and gained a Grammy Awards nomination for Best Long Form Music Video, was regarded as another groundbreaking moment in rock history.  (Fun Fact: Alice lost the Grammy to Duran Duran)

Fast forwarding to 1986 Alice returned to the music industry with Constrictor and featured the hit “He’s Back (The Man Behind The Mask)” which was the theme song for the movie Friday The 13th Park VI: Jason Lives.  In the music video of the song, Alice was given a cameo role as a deranged psychiatrist.  The album also featured fan favorite “Teenage Frankenstein”.  The following year he released Raise Your Fist And Yell which was heavily inspired by the slasher horror movies of the time such as the Friday The 13th and Nightmare On Elm Street series.

That same year Alice teamed up with Donald Pleasence and director John Carpenter for the movie Prince Of Darkness.  A vastly underrated movie, Prince Of Darkness saw Alice play Street Schizo.  He had no lines, however he did manage to impale someone with a bicycle frame.

In 1988 Alice signed with Epic Records.  In 1989 his career finally experienced a legitimate revival with the Desmond Child produced and Grammy nominated album Trash, which spawned a hit single “Poison”.

In 1991, Alice found himself back on the big screen, going toe to toe with another one of the horror genre’s greatest villains, Freddy Krueger, in Freddy’s Dead: The Final AC2Nightmare in which he played Freddy’s abusive step-father.

That same year he released his 19th studio album entitled Hey Stoopid which features the smash hit “Feed My Frankenstein”.

In 1992 Cooper made his infamous cameo in Wayne’s World.  In deed “We are not worthy!”

During his absence from the recording studio, Cooper toured extensively every year throughout the latter part of the 90’s.  He also made an appearance in an episode of That 70s Show.

In 2003 Alice received a star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame and in 2007 was honored with a Rock Immortal award at the Scream Awards.

In 2006 the original Alice Cooper band reunited to perform six classic Alice Cooper songs at Cooper’s annual charity event in Phoenix entitled “Christmas Pudding”.

In 2007 Alice teamed up with fellow shock rocker Marilyn Manson at the B’Estival even in Bucharest, Romania.

In 2009 Alice teamed up with fellow Rock icon Iggy Pop and Moby to star in the movie called Suck.  Aptly named, this movie tanked however did provide a lot of entertainment.  Alice as the ‘bartender’ was an intriguing combination as we know whenever Alice is concerned, nothing is as it seems.

In January of 2010 it was announced that Alice would be touring with Rob Zombie on the “Gruesome Twosome” tour.  During that time Alice got to work on a new studio album entitled Welcome 2 My Nightmare, a sequel to the original Welcome To My Nightmare.

On December 15, 2010 it was announced that Alice Cooper and his former band would be inducted into Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.  The official Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony took place March 14, 2011 where Cooper was inducted by fellow horror-rocker Rob Zombie.  Original members Bruce, Cooper, Dunaway, and Smith all made brief acceptance speeches and performed “I’m Eighteen” and “School’s Out” live together, with Steve Hunter filling in for the late Glen Buxton. Alice showed up for the event wearing a (presumably fake) blood-splattered shirt and had a live giant albino boa snake wrapped around his neck.

In 2012 Alice starred as himself alongside Johnny Depp in the Tim Burton Dark Shadows adaptation.

His career has spanned more than five decades.  His music and presence is renowned.  At 65 years of age, Alice doesn’t look like he’s slowing down any time soon.  He kicked his well documented alcohol addiction and replaced it with a golf club, his performances are still electrifying and his music, like a fine bottle of wine, are getting better with each passing year.  He commands the stage like no one before, putting on a show that every generation must know.  And when he does take time out to appear in films, he treats it the same way; all or nothing.  That is why Alice Cooper is this month’s Horror Icon.  “We are not worthy!”

Ahlephia’s Top 5 Alice Cooper Songs

1) Poison (1989) – “I want to hurt you just to hear you screaming my name.”

2) I’ll Bite Your Face Off (2011) – “She licked her lips, they were bloody red. She had the heart of the living dead.”

3) He’s Back (The Man Behind The Mask) (1986) – “ki-ki-ki ma-ma-ma.”

4) School’s Out (1972) – “Schooooool’s out for summer!”

5) No More Mr. Nice Guy (1973) – “I use to be such a sweet, sweet thing til they got a hold of me.”

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