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Alice Cooper, Godfather Of Shock Rock: Welcome To His Nightmare

Music | September 12, 2018

Alice Cooper circa 1975 in New York City. (Photo by PL Gould/IMAGES/Getty Images)

Alice Cooper has had hits -- like "School's Out," "I'm Eighteen" and "No More Mr. Nice Guy" -- but he's not known for hits. It's the outrageous stage act, known as shock rock, that has given the hard rocker his career longevity. Coming out of the psychedelic '60s, Cooper found success with a combination of horror-inspired theatrics, gross-out gore and a brand of hard rock that has influenced not just bands but whole genres.

A Slow Slog To Success

Photo of Alice Cooper UNSPECIFIED - CIRCA 1970: Photo of Alice Cooper Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

The story of Alice Cooper, the man, begins with a band called Alice Cooper, which is a little confusing. The man who would later take the stage name of Alice Cooper was born Vincent Furnier, and began his rock career in the mid-'60s in a group called the Earwigs. They changed their name to the Spiders, then Nazz -- only to learn that Todd Rundgren had a band called Nazz. So in 1968 they changed their name again, this time to Alice Cooper. The group managed to charm Frank Zappa, who signed them to his Straight Records label.

Alice Cooper released two albums on Straight, and neither was a critical or commercial success. In fact, when the band finally did hit it big, they essentially disowned their first two LPs, declining to play any material off them in concert.

A Chicken Dies In Toronto, And Shock Rock Is Born

We consider Alice Cooper to be the inventor of shock rock, but the actual moment of inception was an accident. The band was playing  the Toronto Rock and Roll Revival, where they shared a bill with far more established acts including John Lennon and The Doors. A fan had thrown a live chicken on stage during the concert, and let's just say Furnier wasn't a farm boy. He grabbed the chicken and threw it into the air over the crowd, expecting to to fly. The poor chicken plummeted to a bloody death. It doesn't sound like much of a story, but the incident took on a life of its own thanks to bad word-of-mouth. 

By the time it reached Zappa, the story was that Cooper had killed a live chicken on stage, ripped off its head and proceeded to drink its blood. Zappa asked Cooper if the story was true. Cooper informed him it had been wildly distorted. Zappa advised Cooper to let people believe it -- and shock rock was born.

A Harder Sound Goes Better With The Gruesome Show

Alice Cooper's outrageous stage show gained the group a following, but the two psychedelic albums they released on Zappa's label failed to wow critics or listeners. That changed with the hit single "I'm Eighteen" and the 1971 LP Love It To Death, on which Alice Cooper embraced a hard-rock sound that meshed much better with their over-the-top performances. Warner Bros. saw the act's promise, bought them out of their Straight Records contract, and re-released Love It To Death with much wider distribution. Suddenly, Alice Cooper had found its identity and its audience.

Over the next few years, Alice Cooper released albums that would all be acclaimed as classics: Killer (1971), School's Out (1972), Billion Dollar Babies (1973), and Muscle Of Love (1974). The records sold well, and the band packed crowds into bigger and bigger venues. By the mid-'70s, Alice Cooper was one of the biggest acts on the planet.

The stage shows upset parents and social conservatives, who tried to stop the spread of Alice Cooper mania. You know how this story goes -- the more you tell the kids they can't listen to a record or go to a concert, the more resolved they will become to listen to that record and go to that concert.

Alice Cooper Goes Solo

After releasing a Greatest Hits compilation, Alice Cooper, the band, went on hiatus. Vincent Furnier, meanwhile had become more than a rock frontman -- he was a celebrity, hobnobbing with other famous folks and even going on Hollywood Squares, as Alice Cooper. To avoid confusion (and legal issues), Furnier officially adopted the name Alice Cooper. In 1975, he released his first solo album as Alice Cooper, Welcome To My Nightmare, without the classic Alice Cooper band lineup.

Welcome To My Nightmare is arguably the peak of Cooper's recording career, although his popularity has continued steadily. The persona and stage act are such an institution that he'll always sell tickets, regardless of whether critics liked his most recent album.

Welcome To His Nightmare

Cooper’s gruesome and disturbing live performances include snakes, deadly weapons, and copious amounts of fake blood. Cooper tends to die on stage -- audience members might see him appear to meet his maker via the electric chair, guillotine, or hangman's noose. He's never really dead, of course, but the crowd gasps and screams along, loving every bloody second of it.

50 Years Of Rocking And Shocking

The original Alice Cooper Band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2011.

Although Cooper has been notable for being a driving force in the genre of shock rock and for his epic career spanning over 55 years, he is just as notable for his starkly contrasting offstage personality. Below you will find some fun facts that you may not have known about the Superstar, Alice Cooper.

  • Alice Cooper has an impressive 25 Gold Albums.
  • Alice Cooper is known for his witty personality and is considered to be very sociable, in stark contrast to his stage presence.
  • Alice Cooper is an avid golfer. He picked up the sport to help him battle his alcohol addiction.
  • Alice Cooper is a restauranteur having owned a restaurant called, "Cooper’stown." Not surprisingly, one of the menu offerings was, nightmare nachos!
  • Alice Cooper is a “PK.” That’s right… a preacher’s kid.
  • Alice Cooper made an appearance on “The Muppet Show.”
  • Alice Cooper’s name at birth was Vincent Damon Furnier. He had it legally changed to Alice Cooper in 1975.
  • Alice Cooper collects cars and antique watches.

From the early 60’s until the present day, Alice Cooper has put himself on the proverbial music map. He has been one of those music icons that has contributed immensely to pop culture over many generations.

Tags: Alice Cooper | What Did He Do?...

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Rebeka Knott

Writer

Rebeka grew up in the 1960’s & 1970’s and has always subscribed to the theory that a positive attitude will take you far! She is a wife and mother of 3 with a fun-loving spirit, believing that family and relationships are invaluable.