Yesterday, I received a flurry of e-mails and tweets about the announcement of the 2011 inductees into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame in Cleveland. Of course, as the author of A Wizard A True Star: Todd Rundgren In The Studio my new book about one of the RRHOF’s most egregiously overlooked artist/producers, many of these messages conveyed either condolences or outrage that Todd Rundgren’s 40 years of rock innovation had been once again given the Ohio snub. I don’t know what Todd did to piss off Jann Wenner, although I can imagine more than a few noses have been bent out of joint by Todd’s irascible ways over the years in all corners of this business we call music. But work is work, and on work alone, Todd should be in the Hall. End of story.
So for another year Todd continues to be like the “Charlie The Tuna” of rock, as in “Sorry Charlie, only the best tasting tuna gets to be Starkist.”
But it wasn’t all bad news from Ohio.
Nice to see the throaty poet Tom Waits get his due, as do the illustrious song craft of Neil Diamond, the voodoo-fied tinklin’s of Mac “Dr. John” Rebennack, the silver-haired walking encyclopedia of rock that is Leon Russell, Specialty Records supremo Art Rupe and Elektra founder Jac Holzman, plus the original wall of sound belter Darlene Love getting ushered past the velvet rope. And also, speaking of rope, it’s great to hear that they – finally -remembered The Coop!
Yes, some 45 years into his career, Alice Cooper, notably in the form of the Alice Cooper Band, is finally legitimate (If the hall is actually a marker of legitimacy, that is).
I grew up listening to Alice. He was one of the first “rock stars” to fascinate me, as a teenage boy in the wilds of suburbia back when rock and rock stars really had the power to fascinate. His blend of proto-garage rock, Wagnerian bombast and frankly bloody theatrical staging impacted me as much as punk rock would later on. And if you factor in that Alice’s rope tricks, beheading and snake charming exploded in my brain at a much younger and impressionable age, maybe his impact was even deeper.
The first single I recall hearing was “I’m Eighteen”, which was play-listed on 1050 CHUM, the Toronto top 40 station to whom I was chained via transistor hookup.
Like so many of my early icons, Alice Cooper’s music was first brought into my home by my older brother Peter. He hadn’t bought the album from which “I’m Eighteen” sprang, Love it To Death. And of course, we kids had no idea that Alice had already been signed and dropped by Frank Zappa and done Pretties For You and Easy Action, neither of which had registered with us in Willowdale, Ontario (at that time). The first album we had in the house was Killer, the one with the snake on the cover! And I shall never forget the feeling of hearing “Under My Wheels“, I mean apparently this guy has either run over his girlfriend on the way to her house, or he was using a metaphor…but damn the thing was exciting.
Bob Ezrin, the producer on the best Alice Cooper albums, is known for framing rock in larger context. But what can’t be denied is that no matter what Bob wanted to put “around” the band, he never got in the way of a great band track. This point was never made more clearly than on his next two albums that, for me, sum up the Alice Cooper Band experience. First was School’s Out with it’s iconic title track,
And I also loved “Gutter Cat vs. The Jets”, with Dennis Dunaway’s prescient bass line, (New Order’s Peter Hook must have noted) and it’s flagrant quotation of Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story! So much fun!
Then came, Billion Dollar Babies. It’s almost impossible for me to explain to the younguns what an effect this slimy looking green monster had on me and my musically inclined pals. There are too many highlights but besides the title track, which you’ve heard to death I’m sure, a great introduction can be found in “No More Mr. Nice Guy”
Two other great examples, the Dylanesque lyrical ramblings, by musical way of The Who, in “Generation Landslide”
and “Hello Hooray” (written by Toronto songwriter Rolf Kempf).
Of course the band went on to do more good work on Muscle of Love, and Alice’s first solo album Welcome To My Nightmare, was great. He even dabbled in New Wave with Flush The Fashion‘s The Cars-inspired single “Clones (We’re All)”.
I really like that song, but for me, it’s that early to mid-seventies sound – Love It To Death to Billion Dollar Babies – for which I will always Remember The Coop. For a man who dies on stage four times a night, in ritual staged executions that is, I’m glad they “Elected” him while he’s still alive.