Sunday, May 31, 2009

May 31: Alice Cooper, "Love It To Death"

Artist: Alice Cooper
Album: Love It To Death
Year: 1971
Label: Straight Records/Warner Bros.

Though they may be best known as one of the most spooky and dark bands in history, Alice Cooper (the band as a whole, not just the singer) began their career as a psychedelic rock band. Much of their early work as a band can be heard in the overall mood and extended jam sections of their later music. After a pair of luke-warm albums, the Alice Cooper took to the studio to attempt to create a more clear and concise sound for their band. With the help of some new personnel, and a fresh approach to their music, the results were the beginning of a string of fantastic rock records. The album that helped Alice Cooper to breakthrough and forever change the musical landscape is their stellar 1971 release, Love It To Death.

One of the reasons why Love It To Death was so superior to its predecessors is undoubtedly the addition of producer Bob Ezrin. Though Ezrin was still early in his career, he would go on to work with the likes of Aerosmith, KISS, Lou Reed...and oh yeah, he was the producer on some little album called "The Wall." It is likely Ezrin who helped the band to focus their sound and transition from their pseudo-psychedelic sound to the somewhat scary rock mood that defined the bands' career. Another aspect of note with Love It To Death concerns the fact that there are four different versions of the albums' cover. The albums' initial release on Straight Records (a label co-owned by Frank Zappa and Herb Cohen) featured the band on the cover...with Alice Cooper's thumb sticking out of his pants zipper. Upon gaining the rights to the record, Warner Bros. had it airbrushed out, and with later re-issues, other covers were released as well (the above cover is the most common).

Much like a majority of their Motor City peers, Alice Cooper was all about roaring rock and roll with an overload of energy and attitude. Guitarist Glen Buxton leads the charge and his solo work remains some of the finest guitar playing ever recorded. The music he pumps out during pieces like "Long Way To Go" is nothing short of stunning. Michael Bruce adds great rhythm guitar, yet it is hit keyboard and piano work that gives Live It To Death greater depth. The sinister solo that he plays to bridge the songs "Second Coming" and "Ballad Of Dwight Fry" is absolutely sensational. The rhythm section of bassist Dennis Dunaway and Akron, Ohio's own drummer, Neil Smith, create the perfect backing for the brilliant music of the rest of the band. However, much of Alice Cooper's earlier influence is still present, yet more focused on Love It To Death. The song "Black Juju" is a darker, more haunting take on the sound perfected by The Doors, and the song remains nothing short of extraordinary.

When it comes down to it, without their legendary frontman, there really would be no group called Alice Cooper. Alice (real name Vincent Damon Furnier), has one of the most unique vocal deliveries in history...and then there's his stage antics. Cooper's growling, borderline screaming vocal style separates him in the fact that, when it comes down to it, he is still, in fact, singing. His voice has a consistently menacing mood to it, and it helps to reinforce the overall vibe of the music. All of Cooper's styles are presented in top form on the strange, and eerie, "Ballad Of Dwight Fry." Cooper has earned the title of "King Of Shock Rock" thanks to his prop-laden, horror themed live performances. Known for using things like electric chairs, guillotines, and a healthy number of live snakes on stage, the way in which Alice Cooper presents their music is nothing short of legendary. These stage antics became the foundation for the live presentations of bands like KISS, Marilyn Manson, and GWAR among others.

Whether it is his music, his stage show, or the way in which he presents himself outside of his musical persona, there are few musicians who demand the respect and reverence equal to that of Alice Cooper. From his notorious stage shows, to his legendary appearance in Wayne's World, Alice Cooper is truly one of the most talented, eclectic icons in music history. With the ability to play all out rockers as well as compose beautiful, slow melodies, there is no doubt that there is far more to Alice Cooper than a spooky, over the top stage show. Taking the sounds of the psychedelic era and blending them with the angst-driven rock of the Detroit scene, the music of Alice Cooper still serves as a major influence to this day. Superb guitar and rhythm work, along with the overall dark and haunting mood makes the music of Alice Cooper sound like nothing else ever recorded. Though the band would achieve greater commercial success a few years later, it is Alice Cooper's 1971 release, the utterly fantastic Love It To Death, that defined the bands' sound and served as the blueprint for the rest of their career.

Standout tracks: "I'm Eighteen," "Is It My Body," and "The Ballad Of Dwight Fry."

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