Sunday, February 24, 2013

Take the Country By Storm: Alice Cooper's Billion Dollar Babies is 40

 Alice Cooper - Billion Dollar Babies
Alice Cooper
Billion Dollar Babies
Rating: **** 1/2

            By 1973, Alice Cooper were one of the biggest rock bands in the world. The band’s sixth studio album, Billion Dollar Babies, would do something their five previous albums didn’t do: it would chart at #1, proving that the man and the band were a force to be reckoned with.

            Alice Cooper were formed in 1968. The band consisted of singer Alice Cooper (born Vincent Furnier), guitarists Michael Bruce and Glenn Buxton, bassist Dennis Dunaway, and drummer Neal Smith. Frank Zappa signed the band to his label, Straight Records. The band’s first two albums, Pretties For You and Easy Action, were albums that didn’t really showcase the Alice Cooper that would become a leading force in shock rock and the theatrics in rock n roll. The band’s third album, Love It To Death, was a hit in the charts when released in 1971 thanks to the success of the single “I’m Eighteen”. The band followed this with Killer and School’s Out. The band’s albums were all produced by Bob Ezrin, who Cooper today calls the band’s George Martin. Recording for Billion Dollar Babies began August 1972 and ended January 1973.

            The album fittingly opens with “Hello Hooray”. It almost serves as a greeting to the listener who just started up the album. Although Cooper has never thought of himself as a great singer, his vocals are pretty good on this track. “Raped and Freezin’” is a hilarious Stonesy-rocker about a hitchhiker’s encounter with a “broad down from Santa Fe”. There’s some great guitar work from both Bruce and Buxton and it’s just a great song in general. The thing most people don’t realize about Cooper is that the guy has a wicked sense of humor and at times, he will use it in his songs. “Raped and Freezin’” is a perfect example of this.

            While “Elected” is one of the hit singles from this album, it actually started life as an earlier song from the band’s career. On the band’s debut album, Pretties for You, there is a track called “Reflected”. For Billion Dollar Babies, the band reworked the track and changed it to “Elected”. The song benefits from Ezrin’s usual use of horn and string sections and the the lyrics are clever: “I’ve never lied to you/I’ve always been cool/I wanna be elected/I gotta get the vote/And I’ve told you about school/I wanna be elected”. The song was released as a single in 1972, fittingly during the election season. The self titled track is another highlight off the album as it features Donovan on vocals with Alice during the chorus while “Unfinished Sweet” is a humorous tale about the fear of going to see the dentist.

            “No More Mr. Nice Guy” starts off the second side of the album. The song is the big hit single off the album and it has since then become a staple for classic rock radio stations. According to Cooper, the song was based off the reactions Cooper was getting from his mother’s church group. Cooper came from a Christian family and his parents had to defend their son for his choice in career. “Generation Landslide” is lyrically the best song off the album. It’s quite impressive that song like this could come from the guys in Alice Cooper. “Sick Things” is creepy while “Mary Ann” is a departure from everything else on the album as it is a ballad. The album ends with the truly chilling “I Love the Dead”.

            When release in February 1973, Billion Dollar Babies was both a critical and commercial success. The album reached #1 thanks to the hit singles “Elected” and “No More Mr. Nice Guy”. The band went on tour to support the album, which at that point the band were at the peak of their career. Towards the end of 1973, the band released the follow up Muscle of Love. Compared to Billion Dollar Babies, Muscle of Love was a disappointment to both fans and critics. By 1974, there were tensions within the band. By this time, Cooper had legally changed his name to Alice Cooper.

The band broke up in 1974. Cooper continued to use the Alice Cooper name and started his career as a solo artist, with the release of 1975’s Welcome to My Nightmare. Cooper’s solo career was successful for the most part but Cooper had battles with his alcoholism to the point where he was out of the limelight for most of the 1980’s. Cooper made a huge comeback with the release of 1989’s Trash, thanks to the hit single “Poison”. Since then, Cooper has been constantly touring and releasing new music. Cooper is now a born-again Christian, an avid golfer, and has been the host of his own syndicated radio show since 2004. Cooper has reunited with his former band mates in the original Alice Cooper band from time-to-time (sans Glenn Buxton, who died in 1997).

40 years later, Billion Dollar Babies can be seen as a classic album from a great band. All of the songs are great and it still sounds great to this very day.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

The World's Forgotten Boy: The Stooges' Raw Power at 40

 The Stooges - Raw Power
The Stooges
Raw Power
Rating: **** 1/2

It was 1973. Glam rock was at its peak and punk rock was just starting. On February 7, the Stooges released their third studio album Raw Power. The album, produced by David Bowie, was a flop in the charts and the band split soon after. Now four decades after its release, Raw Power is seen as one of the greatest punk rock albums of all time as well as one of the most influential album of all time. Thanks to its underground following, Raw Power has stood the test of time and remains a classic album.
            The Stooges were formed in Detroit, Michigan in 1969. The original line-up consisted of singer Iggy Pop, bassist Dave Alexander, guitarist Ron Asheton, and his brother drummer Scott Asheton. The band were signed to Elektra Records and released their self-titled debut album, produced by John Cale, in 1969. Their sophomore effort, Fun House, was released the following year. By the early 1970’s, the Stooges were at the end of their rope. After being rejected by Elektra for their excessive drug use, the band had hit rock bottom. The band also suffered from changes in their line-up. Alexander was fired after being too drunk to perform at one gig (he would later die in 1975). After the band was dropped from Elektra, their future was in question.

            In 1971, David Bowie came to the rescue. Bowie, an avid fan of the Stooges, wanted to help Iggy form a new band. Bowie flew out both Iggy and guitarist James Williamson, who had joined the Stooges in 1970. The two auditioned several musicians for a new band but Pop eventually decided to have the Asheton brothers join, the only difference being that Ron was now demoted to bassist. With the band set and a record deal with Columbia Records, the Stooges were back and began work on what would become Raw Power.

            “Search and Destroy” is not only a great way to open the album but it’s just a great punk rock song in general. It’s a simple little punk rocker with some great guitar work by Williamson. The lyrics could be best described as punk poetry. I mean, how can you not love lyrics like this: “I’m a street walking cheetah with a heart full of napalm/I’m the runaway son of the nuclear A-bomb.” It’s just a great track with great lyrics. “Gimme Danger” and “I Need Somebody” were supposedly both written as the “ballads” for the album. The band’s manager kept bugging the band about it and this is how close they got to making a ballad. “Gimme Danger” is a dark chilling track while “I Need Somebody” is a good-ole’ rock n roller.

If there is any hint of glam rock on this album, it can be heard in “Your Pretty Face Is Going to Hell” though it is a bit heavy to be considered glam rock. Williamson plays some aggressive riffs while Iggy’s rough voice suites the song just fine. “Penetration” is a psychedelic punk track of sorts with a hypnotizing riff from Williamson while the self-titled track is just a great rocker. “Can you feel it?” asks Iggy towards the end of the track. “Shake Appeal” sounds something like you would hear on the early Beatles albums (in fact if you listen to the Iggy remix, there is an added count of “1-2-3-4”). The album closes with the brutal “Death Trip”, which has more furious guitar work from Williamson.

When Raw Power was released in 1973, the album was a commercial flop. Much like the Stooges’ first two albums, it barley charted and Columbia soon dropped the band. The band managed to go on until 1974 when the band split (their last performance can be heard on the live album Metallic K.O., along with the sounds of beer bottles being pelted at the band). Pop would go on to have a successful solo career with the release of albums such as The Idiot and Lust for Life. Towards the early 1980s, Pop’s career had hit rock bottom to the point when he couldn’t afford to make anymore albums. This changed after Bowie covered “China Girl”, a song Bowie and Pop wrote for The Idiot. Bowie’s version became a hit and the money started coming in. With this, Pop was able to make more albums.

In 2003, the Stooges reunited with Pop and the Asheton brothers at the helm. Also joining the band was bassist Mike Watt and Fun House saxophonist Steve McKay. This reunited version of the band released The Weirdness in 2007. In 2009, Ron Asheton died from a heart attack. He was replaced by Williamson, who had been out of the music business for years.  

At the time of its release, Pop was not happy with the way the album was mixed. Bowie produced the final product, which Pop found to be very tame. Despite Pop’s dislike for the mix, the album achieved cult status amongst musicians such as Kurt Cobain and various others. When Raw Power was released on CD for the first time towards the end of the 1980s, the results weren’t all that great (much like other albums that were released on CD for the first time).

In 1997, Columbia Records told Pop that they would be re-releasing and remixing Raw Power whether he decided to be involved or not. Pop decided to be involved with the remixing of the album, as he was unhappy with Bowie’s original mix. The result: Pop’s remix of Raw Power was (and still is) one of the loudest albums ever released. The remix was met with mixed reviews. The negative reviews complained that the remix was too loud and lacked the heart of the original mix. Positive reviews praised the remix for being more aggressive compared to Bowie’s tame approach. Pop’s remix of Raw Power now falls into the category of what is known as the so-called “loudness war”, in which albums are mixed too loud and suffer from massive clipping.  

Soon enough, Bowie’s mix of the album went out of print. People such as Ron Asheton and James Williamson spoke out for their dislike of the remix, saying the original mix is much better. David Bowie himself prefers his mix and credits it to what would later become punk rock. In 2010, Bowie’s mix of the album was finally reissued and remastered.

Raw Power is seen by many as one of the greatest albums of all time. It was an album that heavily influenced countless bands and serves as a blueprint for what was to become punk rock. 40 years later, Raw Power still holds up. 

Monday, February 4, 2013

Former Wings guitarist Henry McCullough- suffering from brain damage, benefit concert set

Back in November 2012, former Wings and Joe Cocker guitarist Henry McCullough was rushed to the hospital after having a heart attack. An update on McCullough's condition was announced earlier last week by former Wings drummer Denny Seiwell, who said McCullough will not be making a full recovery. According to Seiwell, McCullough now has severe brain damage and it's unlikely he'll be making a full recovery.

McCullough is now being moved back home to Ballywonderland, where he will continue to receive treatment. A benefit concert has been set for March. The concert, "Salute to Henry", will be held in Dublin at Victor Street. Proceeds will go toward McCullough's care.

It's very sad to see Henry go through all of this. Henry is a very talented guitar player and I feel really bad for his family for having to go through this. My prayers go out to Henry and his family. Perhaps something good can come out of this show.