My Alice Cooper Top 40

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You know, it’s been two years since my mother passed away, but I have only gotten serious about cleaning out her stuff out of the house in which I grew up. Mom and my stepfather are pack rats, or probably more appropriately, hoarders. Now, I have been taking my time as I separate the “treasures” versus the crap, which has caused me to discover some interesting things that were buried in closets and dresser drawers. The crazy thing is that I found some artwork that I made back when I was 9 or 10. As I quickly flipped through this drawing pad, I came across a quick sketch of Alice Cooper, the man, from his School’s Out or Billion Dollar Babies era. I am not sure if I have stated this in the blog or not, but the first rock artist that I was a big fan of was Alice Cooper.

Back in 1972, I was totally into “School’s Out,” the song. I bought the single because I never had enough money to purchase the album. Still, throughout the year, I kept reminding my parents that I wanted that album of the same title. Finally, when Christmas 1972 rolled around, I was given a portable 8-Track tape player by my parents. Then, a couple of days later, my aunt and uncle on my mom’s side of the family give me a present that have THREE 8-track tapes in it. 

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First, I pulled out a tape by none other than Elton John. Immediately, I was pumped. Then, I pulled out Goat’s Head Soup by The Rolling Stones. According to my beloved Uncle Dick, he asked his high school students which tapes to give to me, and these were their top three. At the time, to be perfectly honest, I had little idea who The Stones were, but that would soon change. Finally, the last tape I pulled out was specially wrapped. Quickly, I tore through the paper, shredding it to pieces. As soon as I broke through the paper of vintage ’70s Christmas wrapping paper, I discovered that I had another tape. I flipped the tape over to see the cover, and it was the tape I had been coveting for nearly 10 months – School’s Out  by Alice Cooper. Yes!

As soon as the extended family gift exchange commenced, I picked up my tapes, a book I had gotten from my grandparents and my tape player to the room I slept in at my grandparents, the little upstairs guest room above the garage. That was the very same room that Uncle Dick lived in before he got married. This room was the coolest place on God’s green Earth. First, I was at the furthest point away from the rest of the family. And, because of that, I was free to listen to music as loud as I wanted. Of course, loud was the perfect way to experience Alice Cooper’s music.

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While listening to this exciting music, I dreamt of what it be like to see this band perform live in concert. Over the course of 1972, I had listened to the high school kids paint a vivid picture of the band’s onstage antics, specifically those of the lead singer who went by the same name as the band, Alice Cooper. While much of their stage performance seemed to provoke parents, my mom recognized much of their antics being similar to “carnival folks” performances at the country fairgrounds in the town in which she grew up. So many of those acts were out to shock their audiences, so she had no problem allowing me to follow this band. So, for an educator, my mom’s acceptance of my rock artists showed her progressiveness when compared to some of my friends’ parents.

Through my Alice Cooper fandom, I was able to quickly discover Kiss, which led to Rush then to AC/DC, Boston, Foreigner, Styx, etc. And, if there was an album that helped me deal with the dissolution of my parents’ marriage, ironically, it was Alice Cooper’s second solo album, Alice Cooper Goes to Hell, that helped me out lyrically. Actually, that album chronicles Cooper’s trip through drug and alcohol rehab and the psychological toll the whole journey took on the man who took on the character known as Alice Cooper. While the lyrics dealt with mental illness and addiction, I could relate to the mental illness aspect as I was dealing with depression throughout my life, but the lyrics resonated in my head and heart through 1976. And, because of that, I will always have a special place in my heart of that album. I would love to meet the man to thank him for that album, even though I recognize that the album is not really a classic piece of art. Simply, it was the right album being released at the right time in a young person’s life to help that person through a very difficult period.

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So, Alice Cooper, thank you for, first, getting me interested in rock; second, to develop me into a fanatic about it; and, finally, to help me survive the initial year of my parents’ divorce. I definitely would not be the person I am today without Alice Cooper’s three albums, School’s Out, Billion Dollar Babies and Alice Cooper Goes to Hell, although I loved Killer, Love It to Death AND Welcome to My Nightmare as well. And, I would love to apologize to all my teachers, classmates and relatives who I bugged with my Alice Cooper obsession.

Now, to celebrate this rediscovery of the music of my past, let’s take a look at my 40 favorite Alice Cooper songs. So, on with the countdown!

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40. “Brutal Planet” (Brutal, 2000)

39. “From the Inside” (From the Inside, 1978)

38. “Keepin’ Halloween Alive” (Non-album single, 2009)

37. “Love’s a Loaded Gun” (Hey Stoopid, 1991)

36. “Detroit City” (The Eyes of Alice Cooper, 2003)

35. “Desperado” (Killer, 1971)

34. “Rock and Roll” (Detroit Stories, 2021)

33. “You’re My Temptation” (The Last Temptation, 1994)

32. “Might as Well Be on Mars” (Hey Stoopid, 1991)

31. “Dead Babies” (Killer, 1971)

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30. “Wicked Young Man” (Brutal, 2000)

29. “Muscle of Love” (Muscle of Love, 1973)

28. “Hurricane Years” (Hey Stoopid, 1991)

27. “Hello Hurray” (Billion Dollar Babies, 1973)

26. “Teenage Lament ’74” (Muscle of Love, 1973)

25. “Teenage Frankenstein” (Constrictor, 1986)

24. “Dangerous Tonight” (Hey Stoopid, 1991)

23. “Social Debris” (Detroit Stories, 2021)

22. “Department of Youth” (Welcome to My Nightmare, 1975)

21. “Clones (We All Are)” (Flush the Fashion, 1980)

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20. “Be My Lover” (Killer, 1971)

19. “Is It My Body” (Love It to Death, 1971)

18. “Billion Dollar Babies” (Billion Dollar Babies, 1973)

17. “Welcome to My Nightmare” (Welcome to My Nightmare, 1975)

16. “You and Me” (Whiskey and Lace, 1977)

15. “Poison” (Trash, 1989)

14. “The Black Widow” (Welcome to My Nightmare, 1975)

13. “I Love the Dead” (Billion Dollar Babies, 1973)

12. “Cold Machines” (Brutal, 2000)

11. “Sick Things” (Billion Dollar Babies, 1973)

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10. “How You Gonna See Me Now” (From the Inside, 1978)

9. “Generation Landslide” (Billion Dollar Babies, 1973)

8. “Elected” (Billion Dollar Babies, 1973)

7. “Under My Wheels” (Killer, 1971)

6. “Feed My Frankenstein” (Hey Stoopid, 1991)

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5. “I Never Cry” (Alice Cooper Goes to Hell, 1976)

4. “I’m Eighteen” (Love It to Death, 1971)

3. “Only Women Bleed” (Welcome to My Nightmare, 1975)

2. “No More Mr. Nice Guy” (Billion Dollar Babies, 1973)

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1. “School’s Out” (School’s Out, 1972)

And that’s a wrap! Thank you must go to Alice Cooper and his former band for 50 years of some terrific music. This is my tribute to the heir to Screamin’ Jay Hawkins shock rock throne. Peace!


What Is Rock & Roll?

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Every year, when the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame announces its list of nominees, a few of my friends always want to know why a pop artist such as Madonna or ABBA or hip hop artists like N.W.A or Tupac are nominated. They say, “Janet Jackson is R&B and pop, so she should be inducted into those Halls not the Rock & Roll one.” In the past, I have attempted to answer these questions with a historical view, or go on a self-serving treatise about how the term “rock & roll” was a term for the music of the Fifties that is basically useless today. And, all it does is leave all parties unsatisfied why those artists matter as much as Pink Floyd, the Stones and Aerosmith.

So, for the better part of the past six weeks, I have researched this topic in an attempt to assimilate this whole concept into a coherent essay. Unfortunately, each time I attempted this feat, something along the lines of a writer’s block crept in. Only, it’s not a writer’s block but more of a thinker’s block. For weeks on end, I have been turning to my music collection, be it vinyl, CD or mp3, and streaming in an effort to put this thing altogether into words. Along the way, I have absorbed disparate music from the likes of David Bowie, Lady Gaga, Motown, Cheap Trick, Queen, Parliament/Funkadelic, Dr. Dre, Jay-Z and so many others. Then, this morning, I streamed Eddie Kendricks’ greatest hits, some Chaka Khan and Fugees, then watched a concert film of The Who and started to watch a Bowie film on Hulu when I decided enough was enough. I HAD to write.

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Back in the early-Eighties, some important players in the music industry decided they wanted to create a Hall of Fame to honor many of the artists from the beginning so they would never be forgotten. It was a noble thought and idea, but I remember immediately upon learning this that the Hall could end up being controversial in who gets into it after the Fifties giants are inducted. Look, unlike jazz, the blues and country, the basics of rock & roll have evolved, mutated and changed into something completely unrecognizable by my parents standards for whom much of the early rock & roll sounds were geared.

When did rock & roll begin? Honestly, no one really knows. The term “rock & roll” was a common euphemism for sex in the black community of the early half of the twentieth century. Seriously, music historians have discovered recordings from as far back as the first decade of the twentieth century in which rock & roll was used in the titles of the songs. But, the phrase was never attached to a type of music until the Fifties. DJ Alan Freed, one of the first white DJs to embrace, promote AND play this music, is the man that is credited with attaching “roll & roll” to the music he was playing.

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Now, for a little history, Fifties-era America was NOT a shining beacon of gracious racial integration, not that it’s much better today, so this new music, which was initially coming from the black communities across the nation, was labeled as “Rhythm & Blues” or by the more troubling label “Race Records.” And, labels would slap the “Rock & Roll” anointment upon cover versions of these “race records” by cleanly-scrubbed white artists like Pat Boone. God bless her, but my mom, for whatever reason, had left me copies of “Tutti Frutti” by both Little Richard and Pat Boone. Of course, I immediately knew that Little Richard would have scared the white folks of my mom’s hometown, and that Pat Boone would sound more acceptable. Those two records taught me more about America than anything I learned in history classes. At the dawn of rock & roll, the public was being trained that white musicians were playing rock & roll and black artists were doing R&B. Yet, for all the differences I heard in those two records, the one that stuck out the most to me was that the Boone version lacked the whole “roll,” or rhythm, that the original Little Richard version contained. Immediately, at the age of 16, my mom’s record collection taught me an important lesson: you cannot have rock & roll without the “roll.”

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This thing called rock & roll was more than simply the rock side of things, which predominantly white musicians focused and developed beginning in the mid-Sixties, while mainly black artists continued to keep that roll going in their contributions to modern music. Now, that’s not to say that the two never met or interacted with each other. No, those was continual cross-pollination happening all the time. Additionally, artists would spring up attempting to bridge the two sides in the form of Sly & the Family Stone or Prince & the Revolution or the Red Hot Chili Peppers. While others purposefully developed sounds that belied their skin color. For example, the hard rock Eighties band Living Colour were an all-black band and the Beastie Boys were all-white hip hop crew. The Average White Band were doing funk, while KC & the Sunshine Band was creating disco. And on the flip side, The Chambers Brothers and Love were rocking every bit as hard as white bands during those eras. You see, this is not a race thing, it’s a music thing.

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Personally, when I was a teenager, I too that that only the rock portion of rock & roll was worth listening to. But, Mom’s records taught me a little, as did reading books about music. Recently, I mentioned that I bought The Book of Rock Lists, which I attribute me influencing my current definition of rock & roll. Still, I will leave it to the words of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame itself:

“The more immediate roots of rock and roll lay in the so-called “race” music, or rhythm and blues, and “hillbilly” music, or country & western, of the Forties and Fifties. Other significant influences include blues, jazz, gospel, boogie-woogie, folk and bluegrass…

Over the past five decades, rock and roll has evolved in many directions. Numerous styles of music — from soul to hip-hop, from heavy metal to punk, from progressive rock to electronic — have fallen under the rock and roll umbrella.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame recognizes these different types of music and looks forward to seeing how rock and roll will continue to reinvent itself in the future.”

So, this is why I have no problem with artists like Whitney Houston getting in the Hall. Actually, I wish the Hall would loosen their stupid induction requirements, or at least set it up to be similar to the Baseball Hall of Fame, so more artists would be inducted, all of which might alleviate this whole feeling of metal artists or prog rockers feeling ripped off because the Hall might induct Dionne Warwick or Kate Bush or Devo instead of them. And, actually, I think it’s more of a fan issue than it is a musician’s, though there are musicians with this attitude (Gene Simmons, I’m looking at you!).

But, that’s what is so cool about music. All of this stuff speaks to each of us individually. For me, there are days when Tom Petty knows exactly what I am battling. Then, there are others when it’s Earth, Wind & Fire to do the trick, or it could be The Flying Burrito Brothers. Or Fishbone. Or ABBA. Or Pat Benatar.

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Whoever your favorite musical artist is, they will always maintain their rightful place in the most important Hall of Fame, your heart. Personally, I follow the words of the prophet Billy Joel in his great classic “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me”: “Hot funk, cool punk, even if it’s old junk/It’s still rock and roll to me.”