Stay Tuned By Stan Cornyn: Meeting Alice Cooper
Every Tuesday and Thursday, former Warner Bros. Records executive and industry insider Stan Cornyn ruminates on the past, present, and future of the music business.
He Or She?
An act like Alice Cooper – a shock rock guy known for the weird – you’d think that by five albums out, people wouldn’t call him “her” or “she.” But when WEA’s head of distribution throughout America said to the new head of Artist Relations at the Warner label: “Alice Cooper. Her record is really doing well” – ‘twas time for introducing Alice to that turned off world.
The new head of Artist Relations at Warner Bros Records was a tall, Hollywood chap named Bob Regehr. He heard Joel Friedman, and figured “Alice” could use a coming out party, unlike many debutantes enjoyed when they “came out.”
By now, Alice Cooper (the group’s name, too) had gone through three albums for Frank Zappa’s label, Straight (distributed by Warner), and Zappa decided to drop Alice. Alice had done somewhat better with his latest album, Love It to Death, and that album’s single, “I’m Eighteen.”
Lines form on my face and hands
Lines form from the ups and downs
I'm in the middle without any plans
I'm a boy and I'm a man
I'm eighteen and I don't know what I want
Eighteen I just don't know what I want
Eighteen I gotta get away
I gotta get out of this place
I'll go runnin' in outer space oh yeah
Love It to Death’s cover showed Alice with a dangling, exposed thumb (or penis; the cover got changed, again and again).
Warner decided it was too soon to drop this band, and offered to buy Alice Cooper’s contract from Straight. Done.
Love It to Death did well (#35 on Billboard’s Top 200 chart). It had been produced by Bob Ezrin, who had figured out a clear, new sound for the group, and would produce for Alice thereafter.
What Kind of Rock Is This?
Alice Cooper had become a stage act, though. They (the name applies to both the whole act and to its front man) had been busy touring their stage show, filled with fights and torture for Cooper. He’d get executed on stage.
On stage, Alice portrayed the villain, a threat to us all. Like when a boa constrictor would drop down and hug Cooper to near death. A murderous axe would chop to pieces bloodied baby dolls. Cooper would get hung at the gallows. But the gore wasn’t the part that got the most gossip in the audience. That was why this guy singer was named “Alice”?
Glam Party Time!
To make sure Alice Cooper’s gender became known, within WEA and without, Regehr set up a “coming out” party at Los Angeles’ (then) Ambassador Hotel’s Venitian ballroom. Regehr and his staff went for it, hiring “entertainment” like –
• A huge black lady who, for a price, would show up anywhere and anything. “You want me to sing naked?” she asked Regehr. Her name was T.V. Mama.
“I’m 300 pounds and some, and I sing either topless or dressed. I get $150 with the clothes, $200 without.”
Regehr answered, “Well, how about both?”
• Out in the hotel’s lobby, elegant hotel guests mingled, the women in their chiffon gowns, the men in their suits with lapels wider than grown ducks. On cue (“Pomp and Circumstance”), the hotel’s orchestra struck it up while a strange brood of people paraded through to the Venetian Room. They were Cockettes, a trans-everything troupe from San Francisco, hired for the evening (and night, it turned out). Most Cockettes had beards. Cockettes threw roses at everyone. A dog came in, pushing a baby buggy.
One Cockette, dressed as a cigarette girl, with a cigarette tray hanging ‘round his/her neck, offered “Cigars …. Cigarettes …. Vaseline ..?”
• Later in the evening, after Mo Ostin’s “having her birthday this evening” wife Evelyn arrived to their front row table, a Cockette in a gorilla suit offered Evelyn roses. T.V. Mama sang “Happy Birthday,” then dropped her top and shook her size-100 yayas in Evelyn’s face.
• Remember Girls Together Outrageously, from Laurel Canyon? One GTO groupie had been paid to stay crouched inside a huge birthday cake until ... But the GTO lass hated her confinement in that cake. Pissed off, she eventually just burst out naked and started throwing cake icing. “What the fuck am I doing here?” she yelled. Icing fire got returned.
* At the end of the evening, the Cigarette Girl stood at the exit doors, this time offering free dildos.
Alice Comes Out
The Ambassador Hotel’s manager brooded in the corner while Alice Cooper (the band) came out and played like hell. Alice’s boa constricted. The press wrote gobs of good copy about the event through the next week. They used the word “he” a lot.
The next morning, WBR got a call from Alice’s manager, Shep Gordon, who’d gotten a call from Western Costume Company. Their gorilla suit was gone. One of the Cockettes was last seen wearing it at 6 a.m., running along the Sunset Strip.
Alice had come out.
Albums came out, too, on Warner Bros. Records:
…the album with the LP wrapped in paper under-panties. It’s title single went Top 10 in America and #1 in England; the album sold over a million.
Well we got no choice
All the girls and boys
Makin’ all that noise
'Cause they found new toys
Well we can't salute ya
Can't find a flag
If that don't suit ya
That's a drag
School's out for summer
School's out forever
School's been blown to pieces
Check out a 1972 live on BBC performance of “School’s Out”:
And, while we’re at it, in February, 1973, the next album was...
Billion Dollar Babies
...which became Alice Cooper’s best-selling album ever. #1 in both the UK and the US charts. In it was the single “Elected,” (That single became one of MTV’s first “story videos” made just for this song.)
Experience the video for “Elected”:
Alice on Stage, Bigger
Now on-stage, more effects: a multi-level stage set that produced a rain of “billion dollar” bills, those decapitated baby dolls, a dental bad dream with dancing teeth, and the finale: the guillotine. All this designed by the famous pro magician and paranormal, The Amazing Randi.
Watch Alice Cooper and James Randi discussing “Billion Dollar Babies”:
Billion Dollar Babies produced two more singles of note: “Hello Hooray” and “No More Mr. Nice Guy.” By now, even the head of WEA, when someone would bring up “Alice Cooper,” distribution head Joel Friedman would nod and say, affirmatively, “he sells tons.”
Alice Cooper had become one of the most “visible” (and successful) acts in the business.
Alice became known for his off-stage performance. It became rumored that Alice could consume up to two cases of Budweiser and a bottle of whiskey a day. He founded the Hollywood all-star drinking club, The Hollywood Vampires, whose goal was to party and drink as heavily as possible. The Vampires included Harry Nilsson, Ringo Starr, Keith Moon, John Lennon, and Mickey Dolenz. They’d meet in the attic of the Rainbow Bar & Grill in Hollywood. The winner each night was the last one standing.
So … Stay Tuned