In Phoenix, Arizona, in the late sixties there was a rough
little garage band known as ‘The Earwigs’, playing whatever gigs they could
get with a certain Vincent Furnier on lead vocals. By 1969 and countless name
changes the quintet had settled on the name ‘The Alice Cooper Band’’. As
expected, the lead singer started to get called Alice. The band’s fame
started to spread with the release of their first album ‘Pretties For You’.
There was certainly no overnight stardom, more a slow, but inevitable rise to
the very top of the tree.
By 1972 Vincent Furnier changed his name by deed poll to
Alice Cooper and the Alice Cooper Band had their first global number one hit
with ‘School’s Out’; brilliantly timed to be released when all the
schools broke up for their long summer holidays. With its lyrics of unbounded
joy and anti-teacher rants ‘School’s Out’ captured the imagination of a
generation of school kids. Everybody loved the Alice Cooper Band, unless you
happened to be a parent.
By the time of the release of this, their sixth album
‘Billion Dollar Babies’, the Alice Cooper Band was one of the biggest bands
in the world and had 25 Gold Records, album sales of over 50 million, plus
sold-out stadium tours to prove it.
The band was every teenager’s dream. The band members
themselves were disastrously young, too brutally good looking, too clever by
half, way out of control, preened around the country in their own customized
jet (booze and cards in the front, girls in the back), willing to take any
chance they were given, and most importantly enough street savvy to fill every
young head on our little planet. The songs weren’t bad either.
Opening with the frothy-mouthed Broadway burlesque of
‘Hello Hooray’, the band announces their arrival and greets their audience,
a celebration from the musicians to thank their fans for where they now are;
together with their fans one mighty gang. Not one to ever dodge issues, the
next song ‘Raped and Freezin’ is a Stonesy rave-up involving a guy who gets
picked up and raped by some ‘old broad down from Sante Fe’ and winds up
naked in Chihuahua, Mexico. You can imagine how much this would have been
appreciated by the older generation. But it’s all very tongue in cheek with
the singer at his sassy best, and the south-of-the-border Spanish guitar mantra
at the song’s end is pure class.
The next song was the first single to be released from this
collection, ‘Elected’, which was put out the previous year to tie in with
the American Presidential Elections. Not a trick did our boys miss out on.
Naturally the song was a huge hit.
The title track remains an all time classic, including its
surprising vocal duet with flower power idol Donavan and Alice, although it’s
Alice who gets to sing the gleeful:
‘’If I’m too rough, tell me,
I’m so scared your tiny little head is going to come off
in my hands”.
‘Billion Dollar Babies’ has wonderful guitar riffs from
Michael Bruce and Glen Buxton, although Steve Hunter and Dick Wagner, two of
rock ‘n’ roll’s top session guitarists, were brought in to give some
experience to the studio guitar sound. This was also partly due to the failing
health of Glen Buxton, who is tragically no longer with us. The rhythm section
of Dennis Dunaway and Neal Smith really come into their own on these songs.
On this thirtieth anniversary release of ‘Billion Dollar
Babies’ you get two discs, one with the original recording cleaned up by
original producer Bob Ezrin from the master tapes, and a second one with
selected live tracks from the ‘Billion Dollar Babies’ tour that followed
this release, where the band leaves you in no doubt they certainly can cut it
live. There are also several studio outtakes on the second disc, showing that
at the time the band had plenty of material still left in the bank.
‘Generation Landslide’, ‘No More Mr. Nice Guy’, plus
the title track were three more hit singles for the band, while ‘I Love The
Dead’ and ‘Sick Things’ would become stage favorites. ‘Unfinished
Sweet’ gives the band room to breathe, while giving the stage show a vehicle
for the band’s theatrics during their spectacular act, especially with its
snippets of West Side Story themes.
‘Mary Ann’ is perhaps the album’s only not instantly
memorable song. It’s a pithy ballad that pumps sexual irony to the point of
persona self-immolation. On the surface the song is a ballad of pure ear candy
for girls, but the last line pitches a curve ball by revealing the
protagonist’s true love interest. Mary Ann is as much a man, if not more so,
than Alice himself. For sheer cheek alone, Mary Ann scores a point.
A great album beautifully repackaged with loads of sleeve
notes and photos all tucked away in a snake skin wallet. Unfortunately though
you cannot remove the Billion Dollar note tucked inside as you could in the
original vinyl release.
Sadly the next year’s ‘Muscle of Love’ album was the
band’s last as egos got in the way. The newly named Alice crawled away to
form yet another band, while the others carried on as “The Billion Dollar
Babies’’, but none of them ever came close to these heights again.