Tag Archives: Alice Cooper

Rocks In The Attic #749: Alice Cooper – ‘Live At The Whiskey A-Go-Go 1969’ (1969)

RITA#749This live set, recorded in 1969 at Los Angeles’ famed Whiskey-A-Go-Go, represents one of Alice Cooper’s earliest live recordings. Compared to the classic rock of 1970s Alice Cooper, it sounds terrible, but still makes for an interesting listen.

At this point, the band were very much protégés of Frank Zappa, who co-produced their first album Pretties For You (1969). As a result, the style of music on this live album sits somewhere in the middle of Zappa-esque avant-gard rock and roll and Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd. Side one closer Levity Ball even includes a descending passage, with howling vocals, lifted directly from Interstellar Overdrive.

RITA#749aThere isn’t a great deal of promise on this record. I expect every acid-influenced band on the Sunset Strip sounded this bad.

Hit: No Longer Umpire

Hidden Gem: Levity Ball

Rocks In The Attic #746: John Carpenter & Alan Howarth – ‘Prince Of Darkness (O.S.T.)’ (1987)

RITA#746It’s a sad state of affairs when a horror film provokes not terror, but boredom. The first hour of this film easily qualifies as the worst of John Carpenter’s work up to that point. The audience is just as confused as the students in the film, as they try to understand who the central protagonist is (answer: there isn’t one), and why they’re setting up equipment in a creepy old church (answer: nobody knows, not even Carpenter).

Sandwiched between the director’s mainstream hit (Big Trouble In Little China) and his – in retrospect – return to form (They Live), Prince Of Darkness is an odd film. It’s clear that Carpenter is trying to revisit themes that have worked for him before – a band of individuals in a locked-off location (Assault On Precinct 13) slowly get picked off one by one (The Thing) – but this time, it just doesn’t work.

I admit that things do start to pick up in the second half of the film with some rip-roaring special effects, as the students are finally confronted by their possessed classmates (essentially zombies without the makeup), but by that point any emotional investment in the characters has dried out. Even a cameo appearance by the Godfather of Shock Rock, Alice Cooper, can’t make it right.

As always, the score by Carpenter himself, working alongside his now-regular collaborator Alan Howarth, is the film’s saving grace. A slow-burning synth workout.

Hit: Opening Titles

Hidden Gem: Hell Breaks Loose

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Rocks In The Attic #717: Desmond Child & Rouge – ‘Desmond Child & Rouge’ (1979)

RITA#717My quest to purchase every Aerosmith-related record continues with this, the 1979 debut album by Desmond Child and his vocal group, Rouge.

In 1987, Desmond Child was one of the first ‘song doctors’ employed by Aerosmith to co-write radio-friendly hits to re-energise their career. He co-wrote the Permanent Vacation singles Dude (Looks Like A Lady) and Angel – which hit #14 and #3 on the Billboard chart respectively – and the album opener Heart’s Done Time.

His success with Bon Jovi dwarfs his first run with Aerosmith – a year before Permanent Vacation he co-wrote You Give Love A Bad Name and Living On A Prayer, both hitting #1 for the New Jersey band. Aerosmith manager Tim Collins and Geffen A&R man John Kalodner knew what they were doing in seeking Child’s services.

Child Services?!?!?

Desmond Child would continue to work with Aerosmith throughout their tenure at Geffen. He contributed to What It Takes and F.I.N.E. from 1989’s Pump, Crazy and Flesh from 1993’s Get A Grip and finally Hole In My Soul from 1997’s Nine Lives.

He’s an integral figure in that late-‘80s hard rock scene, writing and producing the entirety of Alice Cooper’s 1989 album Trash, and working with the likes of Kiss, Joan Jett & The Blackhearts, Ratt, Steve Vai.

So what does this 1979 ‘solo’ record sound like? Well, you can definitely hear the genesis of a hit-making song-writer in there. It’s perhaps closest to Bon Jovi than any of his other associates. ‘Hit single’ (according to the hype sticker, but only if reaching #51 is your definition of a hit) Our Love Is Insane definitely has a killer bass line, and the playing (by studio musicians) is without fault throughout the record.

Child shares vocal duties with the three singers in Rouge – Myriam Valle, Maria Vidal, and Diana Grasselli – and they give the album a soulful, Chic / Sister Sledge feeling. This turns out to be the record’s downfall. It tries to be everything – soul, rock, pop, funk – and doesn’t pull strongly enough in either direction. Jack of all trades, master of none.

Hit: Our Love Is Insane

Hidden Gem: City In Heat

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Rocks In The Attic #641: Blondie – ‘The Hunter’ (1982)

RITA#641I really dig these late-era Blondie albums, particularly this one and its predecessor, Autoamerican. They don’t sound too much like classic-era Blondie – well, Debbie Harry’s vocals do – but in terms of instrumentation and songwriting, they’re much closer to the emerging trend of New Wave bands than their pop-punk past.

The highlight of this record – aside from the cover photo, where Debbie Harry is wearing the craziest wig this side of Tina Turner’s appearance in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome – is the inclusion of the ‘lost’ Bond theme, For Your Eyes Only, originally recorded for the 1981 film of the same name. As far as Blondie songs go, it isn’t the worst thing they’ve recorded, but like Alice Cooper’s version of The Man With The Golden Gun, it’s definitely not Bond-worthy. You can understand why they were turned down by the Bond producers. Blondie were then asked to record the Bill Conti composition that was ultimately recorded by Sheena Easton, but declined the offer. That, to me, sounds like a much more exciting prospect, but unfortunately I can only imagine what it would sound like.

This was the final Blondie record until 1999’s No Exit. You can hear the band coming to the end of their natural life-cycle on The Hunter. A Debbie Harry solo career was dawning, with her first record, KooKoo, appearing a year prior in 1981. But more than anything, the split of the group was caused by Chris Stein’s illness with the rare auto-immune disease, pemphigus – which he would ultimately overcome before their late-‘90s comeback.

Hit: Island of Lost Souls

Hidden Gem: The Hunter

Rocks In The Attic #512: Aerosmith – ‘Anthology’ (1988)

RITA#512Last night I finally watched Penelope Spheeris’ documentary The Decline Of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years. It’s something I’ve been looking for ever since I saw the first instalment on the 1979 L.A. punk rock scene. I’d heard about Part II ever since I’ve been an Aerosmith fan, and it didn’t disappoint.

Spheeris’ second film in the trilogy charts the comings and goings of L.A.’s glam metal bands from 1986 to 1988, all vying for stardom and attempting to out-do each other in the process. At first glance it’s not immediately clear who’s male and who’s female; the make-up and hairspray is so thick. And speaking of thick, there doesn’t seem to be a smart person among them. They’re the embodiment of Spinal Tap, without a trace of irony or self-awareness.

Intercut with these interviews and live performances are context-providing talking heads with the elder statesmen of the genre: Kiss’ Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons, Alice Cooper, Ozzy Osbourne, Lemmy from Motörhead, Dave Mustaine from Megadeth, and Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler and Joe Perry.

Aside from the absurdity of  the sections featuring Paul Stanley (lying in a bed with four lace-wearing groupies) and Gene Simmons (standing in a ladies’ clothes store, ogling at women), these interviews are reasonably candid and they come across much better than the young upstarts who are trying to make a name for themselves in the dingy Sunset Strip bars.

Alice Cooper particularly is as lucid as ever, and it’s refreshing to see Ozzy talk openly about the metal scene without the mumble he’s now commonly associated with. Tyler and Perry come across well, with the pair being able to talk with an air of stateliness, having recently hit the big time for a second time with 1987’s Permanent Vacation album.

Their sections are not too different from the content of the interviews in 1989’s The Making Of Pump documentary, with Tyler reeling off soundbites about his drug addictions, and Perry sounding as lugubrious as usual. It must be hard to summon the effort to talk about anything with enthusiasm when your adrenaline reserves have been destroyed through years of drug abuse.

One short shot in the film doesn’t ring quite true. After we’ve seen a domesticated Ozzy cook a fried breakfast with no issues, he goes to pour a bottle of orange juice into some glasses on the kitchen table, and Spheeris cynically inserts a shot of him spilling the orange juice as though he has the shakes. It’s obvious that it’s fake, and exists solely to make Ozzy look like he can’t handle sobriety. The end result is that you lose respect for Spheeris as a filmmaker. She might point her cameras at subjects she believes to be ridiculous, but at least they’re being honest.

Anthology is a rare West German compilation of Aerosmith’s early Columbia output, released on the UK label Castle Communications in 1988. It includes a heap of tracks that don’t feature on any other compilation, so you get, for example, the likes of Push Comes To Shove and the title track from 1982’s Rock In A Hard Place, the mis-titled Bite The Hand That Feeds and Sight For Sore Eyes from 1977’s Draw The Line, and several tracks from 1978’s Live! Bootleg – stadium performances of Walk This Way and Back In The Saddle, and the awesome 1973 Paul’s Mall performance of James Brown’s Mother Popcorn.

Hit: Sweet Emotion

Hidden Gem: Mother Popcorn (Live)

Rocks In The Attic #450: Motörhead – ‘Bomber’ (1979)

RITA#450.jpgYesterday, while out shopping with my parents and my eldest daughter, I heard the news that I never expected – Lemmy was no more, the King was dead. Only a couple of weeks after the death of drummer “Philthy Animal” Taylor too. As indestructible as that other survivor Keith Richards, nobody expected Lemmy to die. He’s made of stronger stuff than us mere mortals surely?

I used to listen to a lot more Motörhead than I do today. I would listen to the Ace Of Spades album – their masterpiece – pretty much on repeat in my early teens, with No Sleep ‘Til Hammersmith filling in the blanks. Tastes change though, and melody became more important than heaviness. That’s probably why Ace Of Spades was such a breakthrough – the songs are there, to the extent that it’s almost a pop album. You can hear that aspect of the band throughout their career – even on earlier albums such as Bomber. They could always play, and could write great songs, it’s just that they were in the right place at the right time with Ace Of Spades. It helped that America noticed too.

What now? Ozzy is still with us, tweeting “Lost one of my best friends, Lemmy, today. He will be sadly missed. He was a warrior and a legend. I will see you on the other side.” And of course Keith is still upright. Alice Cooper is still scaring people on stage. Lemmy was different though. As much as I love the likes of Ozzy, Keith and Alice, at night they go home to their plush mansions, and travel everywhere by private jet. Lemmy seemed to be the real deal – perhaps because Ace Of Spades was their only crossover success – and it was such a long time ago (thirty five years ago!), he’s never had the kind of acceptance those other rock n’ rollers have. No private jet for Lemmy – you’d be more likely to bump into him on the local bus.

One thing I saw Lemmy do creeped into my own guitar playing on stage. In 1994, Motörhead released a single to promote the movie Airheads. The song – Born To Raise Hell – was a retread of an older song that Lemmy had written for the German band Skew Siskin. The music video for the song, accompanied by clips of the film, featured footage of Motörhead playing the song live on stage – and just as it kicked off, one thing that Lemmy did always stayed with me. Following his mantra that everything should be played LOUD, he walked over to his bass amp and ran his hand over the top of his volume and gain controls from left to right, essentially turning everything up to maximum. I used to do this from time to time, much to the chagrin of sound engineers. God bless Lemmy.

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Sean Murphy, one of the members of my vinyl group on Facebook said it best: “Woke up to the news, another of our finest gone. R.I.P. It’s only 7:15am but the neighbours shall feel my grief.”

Hit: Bomber

Hidden Gem: Lawman

Rocks In The Attic #420: Alice Cooper – ‘Alice Cooper’s Greatest Hits’ (1974)

RITA#420I stole this one out of my Dad’s small collection of vinyl when I was about fourteen. At that point, I only knew School’s Out and nothing else, but this whole record quickly became a firm favourite of mine. In fact, I’d say it’s one of my favourite rock compilations.

There’s something about the quality of the Alice Cooper band at this stage – when the band was called Alice Cooper, not the man – that Alice has never managed to recapture during his solo years. I saw him play live in Auckland a few years ago, and just like Ozzy he seems to take the approach that the heavier the band the better. So we got a lot of the songs from this album, but performed by a group of young guys in a band that was closer to metal than rock.

It’s such a shame because you lose a lot of the appeal of classic rock songs when you amp them up to metal. Imagine if Metallica did an album of Doobie Brothers covers – all the subtleties and nuances would fly out the door as soon as they plugged in. You can hear this in Metallica’s cover of Whiskey In The Jar, which just sounds like a metal-by-numbers imitation of the Thin Lizzy version.

I was stoked when Richard Linklater included two songs from Alice Cooper’s Greatest Hits on the soundtrack to Dazed And Confused. Both songs used – School’s Out and No More Mr Nice Guy are used in the scenes with Wiley Wiggins’s character Mitch Kramer. School’s Out, not surprisingly, soundtracks the moment that school finishes; and No More Mr Nice Guy plays over the scene where Mitch gets captured – and paddled – by the seniors.

Years later, while watching Julien Temple’s fantastic Sex Pistols documentary The Filth And The Fury, I found out that John Lydon auditioned for the Pistols by singing Alice Cooper’s I’m Eighteen next to a jukebox.

Hit: School’s Out

Hidden Gem: Hello, Hurray