Thursday, December 9, 2010

December 9: Alice Cooper, "Under My Wheels"

Artist: Alice Cooper
Song: "Under My Wheels"
Album: Killer
Year: 1971

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Though there are many elements that are difficult to properly add into music, there are few that are as tricky to balance as that of bringing a "theatrical" element to a song.  In nearly every case in music history, when an artist attempts to do this, they go too far, and the song ends up coming off as cliché or over-done.  This is usually because the artist in question does not normally perform in such a manner, and it is in these sorts of "miscues" that one realizes what a difficult task it is to properly convey this mood.  However, there are a few musicians who have made their name off of being able to deploy such moods in perfect style, and there has never been another performer than can compare to the great Alice Cooper.  Bringing a unique style of dark, if not macabre rock that often bordered on heavy metal, Cooper is responsible for for some of the most iconic songs of the 1970's, and no artist since has even come close to matching his sound or style.  Releasing a trio of extraordinary records in the early-1970's, few albums of the era can compare on any level to his 1971 masterpiece, Killer.  The album was his second in the same year, and it remains one of the most brilliant works of hard rock ever recorded.  Though nearly every song in the album is flawless, few songs from anywhere in the Alice Cooper catalog personify the band as perfectly as one finds in his 1971 song, "Under My Wheels."

While in modern times, the idea of "hard rock" and "heavy metal" come with a certain set of assumptions, in the early 1970's, it was still a relatively "open" style, and on "Under My Wheels," Cooper blends together blues, funk, and psychedelia, creating a sound like none other ever recorded.  The song opens with a ripping guitar riff, and it is this progression and tone that drives the mood for the entire song.  The riff, courtesy of the great Glen Buxton, is one of his finest in his career, and it is made even more impressive by the presence of none other than Rick Derringer on the track.  Capping off the guitar sound with rhythm guitar player Michael Bruce, "Under My Wheels" brings a menacing groove that is completely unique.  Later in the song, the guitars drop into a dual solo in which one guitar is heavily distorted while the other shreds over-top, and it is this dual sound that makes the song truly unforgettable.  The rhythm section of bassist Dennis Dunaway and drummer Neal Smith are also in top form, as they inject a groove that is rarely found elsewhere in the harder rock sound.  Serving as the perfect finishing touch, keyboard player Bob Ezrin almost duets with a set of horns, and this is yet another way in which "Under My Wheels" knows no peers, as it is almost impossible to find another song where a horn section fits in so perfectly alongside such an aggressive sound.

With his band performing at their peak, on "Under My Wheels," Alice Cooper himself (real name: Vincent Damon Furnier) is clearly up to the task, as he delivers one of his most impressive studio recordings.  Easily capable of working anywhere in the vocal spectrum, Cooper finds the ideal balance between singing and growling, and it is this grit and swagger that makes his vocals so unique and ultimately perfect.  It is almost impossible to describe just how seamlessly his vocals blend with the music and mood, and it is almost has if he has found a middle-ground between the traditional rock and roll scream and a strange, almost Vegas-like strut.  Due to how captivating his vocal performance is on "Under My Wheels," the true meaning behind the song is often lost, and it is the words to the song that serve as the perfect definition of the bands' overall intent.  Though it is slightly disguised under the music, "Under My Wheels" is one of the most unsubtle cries against a nagging spouse as has ever been recorded.  Cooper leaves little to the imagination when he sings, "...I'm driving right up to you, babe
I guess that you couldn't see...but you under my wheels, why don't you let me be..."  There is absolutely no relenting or apology in the mood and aim of the song, and it is the fact that such a dark, violent theme can come off as so upbeat and enjoyable that cements the unique brilliance that "is" Alice Cooper.

Though in its time, "Under My Wheels" did not gain a great deal of commercial success, in the decades that passed, it has become one of the most iconic songs in the entire history of hard rock.  The song has been covered a number of times, with Cooper himself re-recording it alongside Guns N' Roses in 1988.  Yet as is almost always the case, none of the later versions even remotely compare to the original, and even Cooper himself rarely created as perfect a song as one finds on "Under My Wheels."  As the opening track on Killer, the song set the bar quite high and gives the album a kick-start unlike any other album, and yet as the album continues, Cooper and his band keep the mood intact, turning Killer into a classic in its own right.  The way in which the band flawlessly blends together elements of blues, funk, and psychedelia into the hard rock style has never been matched, and this serves as a testament to the exceptional level of talent within each member of the band.  It was albums such as this, along with efforts from groups like The Stooges and Mitch Ryder And The Detroit Wheels that defined the distinctive style of hard rock that emerged from Detriot, Michigan, and it is Cooper's efforts on this record that cemented the band as one of the most impressive and often misunderstood groups in history.  Achieving true musical perfection, along with bringing a sense of drama and darkness without coming off as "too theatrical," there is simply no other song in history that can compare to Alice Cooper's classic 1971 song, "Under My Wheels."

1 comment:

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