Alice Cooper – Billion Dollar Babies
Here comes the part where the preacher’s son grows up to become a global phenomenon as a shock-rock singer and musician who dearly wants his rockstar character to be elected to public office. He dreams up and produces one of the first story-line promo videos on MTV. The project is deemed a success and the game of music promotion suddenly has a brand new playing field.
Imagine the memories and images that come to mind when people hear his name. In the early days, the band was ostracized by a parade of religious zealots claiming they practiced all sorts of devil worship, sang brainwashing lyrics, exhibited evil on-stage antics, and so on. Most parents were probably uncomfortable with Alice Cooper, some even fearful of the character and what they thought he represented. Teenagers, on the other hand, were intrigued with the stage persona and the music, for it was “music theater”, shock rock. Plus, somehow teens have a way of gravitating to people or trends that parents dislike.
The British Parliament considered prohibiting Alice Cooper concerts in the U.K. in 1973, the same year that the friendly folks of Binghamton, New York actually barred a scheduled appearance. Two years later the album cover art for Alice’s Killer was banned in Mexico. In 1988, authorities prevented minors from attending and censored Alice’s Munich show. The Greek Orthodox Church in 1990 insisted that Alice should be expelled from Athens.
Years later, in 2009, Harri Wiherkoski, managing director of a pavilion in Tampere, Finland, concluded that “performances including representation of false gods, demons, evilness and forces of darkness and all these kind of symbols, words or markings are highly prohibited. Artists who express suspicious values from Christianity’s point of view cannot be allowed to perform at the venue.” He told a Finnish reporter “We don’t arrange concerts where Satanism or non-god-worshipping occurs.”
The concert was relocated to a suburb of Helsinki, and the Cooper camp responded, “We hope fans from Tampere denied access to these ‘suspicious values’ can come to Helsinki and make their own judgment. What’s really ‘suspicious’ to us is the act of judging something that one has never seen, heard or, otherwise, experienced. There’s nothing like an open mind and, clearly, Mr. Wiherkoski has nothing like one.”
All sensationalism aside, the Backtracks choice for December 2016, Billion Dollar Babies, was album number six for the group, and it quickly became their best-selling release. Tracks for the project were laid down at the Galecie Estate in Greenwich, Connecticut, and at The Record Plant in New York and Morgan Studios in London.
The group lived in the mansion, and rehearsals, writing, and recording sessions went on at assorted times. To achieve the desired echoes and vocal sounds, microphones were run through different rooms of various sizes, and producer Bob Ezrin even utilized recordings made inside a greenhouse. A mobile studio truck was parked in the driveway, and cables and mikes were everywhere. Rumor has it that band members took care to “make sure the mikes were off” while using the bathrooms. On his blog, bassist Dennis Dunaway recounts: “The mansion was from a grand era, but we were usually away touring. And when we were home, we were always writing or recording or working on our next stage show, so kicking back and feeling like we were living the life of luxury didn’t happen as often as you’d think.”
The 1973 Warner Brothers release topped the charts in the U.S. and U.K. and peaked at the number nine spot on German album charts. Daniel Bukszpan, the author of The Encyclopedia of Heavy Metal, called Billion Dollar Babies a “classic” and “arguably the original band’s finest offering.” In 2005, the record was ranked number 283 in Rock Hard magazine’s The 500 Greatest Rock & Metal Albums of All Time and is found in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.
Their 1973 U.S. tour broke box-office records of the Rolling Stones and elevated rock theatrics to new heights; their stage show featured Billion Dollar Bills, mannequins, decapitated dolls, dancing teeth, and the much-hailed execution prop: the guillotine. Singles from the album did well, with “Elected”, “Hello Hooray”, “No More Mr. Nice Guy” and the title cut reaching top-twenty territory on U.S. charts during 1972 and 1973. The album achieved Gold Album status in Australia and Canada and garnered a Platinum Album award in the United States.
The Alice Cooper group had reached its peak during the mid-seventies and was among the most popular and successful acts in the industry. Behind the scenes, however, the constant recording and touring had begun to take its toll on the band, and Cooper, under the constant pressure of assuming the character for that night’s show, was usually seen nursing a can of Budweiser.
For a number of reasons, the members agreed to take what was described as a temporary hiatus. “Everyone decided they needed a rest from one another”, said manager Shep Gordon at the time. “A lot of pressure had built up, but it’s nothing that can’t be dealt with. Everybody still gets together and talks.”
In the fall of 1973, the group released what turned out to be their final record. Muscle of Love managed to climb into the Top Ten on the Billboard 200 and earned a respectable Gold Album certification, however, it was seen as a disappointment when compared to Billion Dollar Babies.
From the book above, Bob Greene reveals personal insights during the tour for Muscle of Love, describing a group of guys “in disharmony”. Alice himself returned to Los Angeles where he became a Hollywood Square, appearing on television game shows and promoting the latest album while awaiting the August 1974 issue of the band’s Greatest Hits compilation album.
The final shows by the Alice Cooper group were in Brazil in the spring of 1974. In late March the band drew a record indoor attendance estimated as high as 158,000 fans in São Paulo, at the Anhembi Exposition Hall during their opening of the first-ever South American rock tour.
Today, after decades of solo albums and tours, Alice Cooper is a busy man. In addition to hosting a nightly radio show, his band tours on a regular basis, and when new members join up, Alice tells them three things: “You’re gonna see the world; You’re gonna get paid, and you’re gonna get stitches!”
The latest info about the Alice Cooper group is available from his website, and in addition, a FaceBook page and a Twitter presence will have the up-to-date tour and music news. Regretfully guitarist Glen Buxton passed away in 1997 just one month before his 50th birthday, missing the group’s initiation into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Michael Bruce currently hangs around MTV, and his latest can be found on the MTV pages. Drummer Neil Smith still lays down righteous backbeats at NeilSmithRocks.com
We hope the innovative” Elected” video from 1972 is in the MTV Hall of Fame if there is one. It showcases the potential influence and powerful impact of music videos (and it frustrated our parents!).