Alice Cooper – Love It To Death
Released March 9th, 1971 on Straight Records
Produced by Bob Ezrin
Peaked at #35 US, #28 UK
“I’m Eighteen” (#21)
“Caught In A Dream” (#94)
Before Alice Cooper, the man, there was Alice Cooper, the Detroit band with Vincent Furnier fronting. Originally signed to Frank Zappa’s record label for weirdos, Straight Records, the band put out a couple of albums of L.A. psychedelic freak-rock that didn’t really go anywhere. After, they decamped to Detroit where they tapped into the raw garage rock scene that was going strong at the time (the MC5 and The Stooges were big underground names at the time) as well as the high-flying psychedelic funk troupe of Parliament/Funkadelic, fronted by George Clinton. The Alice Cooper Group’s penchant for dark, macabre theatricality fit in really well in the Motor City and their sound changed to fit the hard rock styles that they were being surrounded by at the time.
Originally the band’s manager got into contact with Jack Richardson, best known for his production of the Guess Who’s best records and, locally, as a long-time instructor at Fanshawe College in London, Ontario. Richardson had no interest in working with them but sent nineteen year old Bob Ezrin to check it out. Ezrin, who would go on to produce a large pile of Alice Cooper records as well as co-producing The Wall, sequencing The Fragile, and producing the best KISS records, was absolutely freaked out by the band at first. Then he saw them play at Max’s Kansas City in NYC, saw how devoted the fanbase was and how Rocky Horror the live show was, and decided to give it a crack after all. He took the job seriously and hounded the band to rehearse up to 12 hours a day, and aimed to create an all-encompassing coherent sound; the band, amused, wrote “Second Coming” as a joke about him (and the Beatles).
It paid off, though. Love It To Death has much tighter, better-written songs than either of their first two forgettable albums. It also helped that Zappa sold Straight Records to Warner Bros. in 1970 for a cool 50 G. The major label indicated that they were willing to put real money behind the band if they could show that they could float a commercially viable single. That single was “I’m Eighteen,” that classic bit of rumble guitar and stoned adolescent self-mythologizing. The band zerg rushed radio stations with requests for the single, and the band’s manager reportedly paid out a $1 a request to other people to do the same. The single hit the Billboard Top 40 and the subsequent album went to #35. The group was in, and they were a regular presence on the radio and in the charts for the first half of the Seventies.
The first half of the album is solid rockers, with the prescient opener “Caught In A Dream” and Detroit-soaked rock ‘n’ roller “Long Way To Go” sandwiching the single, followed by nine minutes of proto-metal Pink Floyd-channeling freak-out courtesy of “Black Juju.” The second half contains “Is It My Body?”, which has since become an FM radio staple, as well as another creepy theatre track, “The Ballad Of Dwight Fry.” The original track presented here is harrowing, with Furnier/Cooper’s vocals steadily getting more frantic until you, too, want to get the hell out of here. The Melvins do a cover of it that is nearly unrecognizable but also just as harrowing.
Alice Cooper, 2021, is now an old dude who plays golf. A lot of golf. Also his radio show, Nights With Alice Cooper, is pretty good; unlike a lot of Boomer rock ‘n’ roll guys, he has no issues taking the piss out of himself and does so on a regular basis. He’s been going so long now that it’s honestly a little shocking that it’s only been fifty years since his career kicked off, but here we are.