The sound and intent of Alice Cooper seem to have little in common with the Monkees, but both artists started out as musical neophytes—and both followed very calculated ways of forming their image and material. Cooper was no Boy Scout, but his persona was less complicated than his public face. Sort of a Howard Stern meets the Monkees.
There’s something very James Dean about the imageof Alice Cooper. Off stage, he came to enjoy the more mundane pleasures of golf and born-again religion. Still, his projected image of alienation was every bit that of Rebel Without a Cause.
At an age where other bands were still doing covers of “Louie Louie,” 16-year-old Vincent Damon Furnier, known to the world as Alice Cooper, had much higher ambitions. He formed a band with only one member who could play an instrument and incorporated showmanship into his act—outlandish costumes, a weird band name he took for his own, and a shock-rock persona. But despite his ghoulish stage persona and Howard Stern-like appearance, Alice Cooper is as much an entrepreneur as a rock star. His music greatly differs than that of his Detroit contemporary Iggy Pop, who also favored a slightly ghoulish stage look.
Raised in Michigan, Cooper’s family moved to Phoenix before he started high school. He made his way west to Los Angeles to begin his career. Yet West Coast audiences did not get his music—extremely dissimilar from the San Francisco sound of the late 1960s as well as Southern California surf rock. So, in 1970, he returned to Michigan for a couple years, where working-class ways were attuned to the less new-age ways of fellow Michigan rockers MC5 and Pop. Cooper’s brand of sex, drugs, and rock and rock, like that of Led Zeppelin, took off in the 1970s. Maybe he wasn’t the first male rock star to use makeup and shock tactics, but no one ever did it better.
With album names like Killer, Muscle of Love, Alice Cooper Goes to Hell, Zipper Catches Skin, and Welcome to My Nightmare, Cooper left subtlety to others and indulged in titles any sixth grader could appreciate. But the music was so solid, it appealed to the cerebral as well as the dilettante. His hits, especially “I’m Eighteen” and “School’s Out,” became rock anthems and seemingly dominated the airways for ages.
Differing from most greatest-hits albums, which often feel sacrilegious in the manner in which they rip songs out of context, Alice Cooper’s Greatest Hits works well. For one, the singer’s choicest material remains couched in the 1971-1974 span covered by this collection. And to sweeten the pot, the Cooper albums stemming from this period are recorded very, very well. While not uniform-sounding, the tracks here all share great dynamic range and good instrumental balance and tone.
Warner Bros.’ 1974 original pressing features guitars with ample texture and dimension. The other instruments and vocals sound nearly as sharp. Friday Music’s reissue sucks much of the life out of the presentation, with instruments sounding bleached and two-dimensional. The liner notes supply no information about how the reissue was mastered. And the cover-art reproduction echoes the sonics by looking like a third-generation digital scan where someone got carried away with the sharpness filter. The cover of the original LP sports a matte finish; Friday Music’s choice of gloss only emphasizes the inferiority of the image. Original pressings (with the Warner Bros. palm-tree label) are plentiful and inexpensive. Get one of those.
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