“When we came out, people had a hard time defining us," says Alice Cooper, referring to his original band, although he could just as easily be talking about the glam-ghoul comic-book villain that the former Vincent Furnier assumed in the late '60s. "At that time, everything was peace and love, everything was beautiful, and along comes Alice Cooper to drive a stake through the love generation."
Cooper arrived in Los Angeles from Phoenix in 1967, along with his mates Glen Buxton (guitar), Michael Bruce (guitar), Dennis Dunaway (bass) and Neal Smith (drums). At first they were The Spiders and then The Nazz before they realized that Todd Rundgren already owned that name. Assuming the titular role of Alice Cooper proved to be a canny move, one that flew in the face of everything the singer saw when he looked around at the Los Angeles music scene of the time.
"Everybody had this whole attitude of ‘We’re not really in it for the money. We’re in it for the art,'" he remembers. "And we were going, ‘Really? Why?’ We were all about glamour – Ferraris, big houses. We acted like rock stars. We were rock stars before we were rock stars. The only other guy who did that was Bowie."
The term "shock rock" was coined in response to Cooper's groundbreaking, elaborate gothic-horror/vaudeville stage show, one which included everything from guillotines to electric chairs to beheaded baby dolls. Merging elements of horror movies with rock came naturally to Cooper, who drew on sensibilities both terrifying and comedic. "I looked around, and I saw a lot of Peter Pans but no Captain Hook," he says. "There were a lot of rock bands that were my heroes, but not one had my favorite villain. I saw an opening. I decided to create Alice as this villain – sleek, dark and clever."
Musically, the band rocked with the same kind of raw, proto-punk force that was coming from groups like The Stooges and the MC5, but Cooper admits that their biggest influences were British. "We idolized The Beatles and The Rolling Stones," he says. "As for our sound, we wanted to be as close to the Yardbirds as we could. We loved Jeff Beck’s guitar style and the Having A Rave Up album the band did. We looked at that and said, ‘That’s really good. Now, what if we did that with our lyrics and better melody lines?’ If we could have that musical flavor with our attitude, I thought it could be unique."
The band's first two releases, 1969's Pretties For You and 1970's Easy Action, failed to catch on with the public, but starting in 1971, Cooper began a collaboration with a newbie producer, Bob Ezrin, that would deliver hit after hit over the years. "Everything changed when we started working with Bob," Cooper says. "He wouldn’t let us put any filler on an album. He wanted every song to be either really unique or really cool. Even the songs that weren’t radio hits were still done in a way to break new ground. We never sacrificed a track. Every spot on a record was special to us, and that came from Bob.”
In 2011, Cooper reunited with Ezrin for his strongest set in years, Welcome 2 My Nightmare, and the two have another one in the bag for next year, a covers collection in which the singer pays tribute to the likes of The Who, The Doors, John Lennon, Harry Nilsson and Jimi Hendrix, among others. MusicRadar recently sat down with Cooper to talk about a dozen albums that we deemed "career-defining." While the Godfather of Shock Rock didn't take issue with any our choices, he did note that "my records are like my children – I love them all."