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.

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