The tale of the octopus and the snake.
Alice Cooper's Killer album turns 50.
One of the most important, if not crucial (ed.) of Alice Cooper albums; "Killer" was released fifty years ago this month.
ROX Network celebrates the classic album with an in-depth look at the album, the band that recorded it and a review of a brand new version of the album covered by some of the hottest new independent rock bands around.
Firstly, lets take a time machine back to November 1971....
Rock is riding high in the world and is constantly evolving in a multitude of directions from pro-punk to progressive rock.
Glam rock was on Top of The Pops as fans adored the likes of Marc Bolan and David Bowie. This, safe (er well apart from Gary Glitter! ed.) poppy rock was great but for a band like Alice Cooper this was all too safe; too nice and not at all what they wanted to play.
Already a band with a reputation for extremes and off the wall musical excursions and stage shows, Alice Cooper were forming during the early 70's into a band with incredible potential and a edgy sound that people were finding both shocking AND cool! On their early days, the band couldn't
make any real head way in the music world. Their shows and early music was just too left-field, dark and aggressive for an America still recovering from the 60s' drug haze. By 1970, however, Alice Cooper's brand of "shock rock" was getting lots of favourable attention from fans and the music
press. With the success of the 1970 album "Easy Action" the band were keen to forge ahead and their record label Warner were more than happy to give them the creative freedom they needed to create "Love it to Death", released in March of 1971. The single from the album "I'm Eighteen" skyrocketed
the charts, reaching number 21 in the US. Their music was evolving and becoming better constructed and recorded. This was matched by stunning live shows.
Flushed with the success of "Love it to Death"; the band rushed back into the studio to put out another album that same year. "Killer" would be released
only eight months after its predecessor.
Alice Cooper band:
Alice Cooper – vocals, harmonica
Glen Buxton – lead guitar
Michael Bruce – rhythm guitar, keyboards, backing vocals
Dennis Dunaway – bass guitar, backing vocals
Neal Smith – drums, backing vocals
With elements taken from "Love it to Death" and a raft of new musician and lyrical ideas, "Killer" would become a new milestone for Alice Cooper. Reaching number 21 in the Billboard album charts and spawning two hit singles "Under My Wheels" (reached 59 in US) and "Be My Lover" (reached 49) which though not as higher reaching as "I'm Eighteen" proved to be very popular amongst fans and were getting airplay despite their rather suspect lyrical content. As was the norm back then due to the limitations of vinyl, the album was short at only 37.08 minutes long and with only eight songs on offer, each one had to count. No fillers here! The band were a tight group of musicians who shared a common vision and a sense of great musicality. Nothing they did or released was by accident. Everything was managed to create am image of a dark, dangerous band. "Killer" took this to new heights with songs like "Halo of Flies" and
"Dead Babies". The album was so heavy for its time. So heavy and raw in fact that John Lydon (aka Johnny Rotten of The Sex Pistols) once called the album the greatest punk album of all time!
Bob Ezrin's production was spot on. Dark, raw and yet at times loose and emotive. The album was recorded at RCA Studios in Chicago and was released on vinyl LP and 8-track.
The octopus from the title refers to the drummer. Neall Smith (interviewed as part of this feature!) who's mesmerizing drumming powers the album forming an outstandingly tight rhythm section with Dennis Dunnaway. Seeing him live was a treat for the ears and eyes! Two guitarists were unusual back then to and the band were blessed with two greats - Glen Buxton (who died in 1997) and Michael Bruce. Of course the man at the front and main lyricist Alice Cooper (aka Vincent Furnier) is amazing on "Killer". Only he could pull of such songs with an edgy realism and snarl. "Killer" is also distinct in that every song from the album has been
performed live at least once. And the snake? The one on the sleeve! This was Neil's pet snake!
The album has been re-released several times of course on CD and cassette. The CD's compression and sterile nature does, however, slightly lesson the raw aggression and power of the original vinyl release. The stereo sound field is also less noticeable as the vinyl changes from wide and loose to at times claustrophobic and intense. If you can, hear this album on vinyl with headphones!
The five piece were now stars. The album gave them even more freedom to go on to release albums like "School's Out" (a much maligned album by some), the awesome "Billion Dollar Babies" and "Muscle of Love" which would, sadly be the last album by The Alice Cooper Band. Alice Cooper, the solo artist would then take his own musical journey as a solo artist. His bandmates went to other things too with great success including "Battleaxe" by Billion Dollar Babies and many other projects. That is, perhaps, something for another story....
Jump to 2021 and "Killer" is 50 years old! Having been around for so many years it has remained a firm favourite amongst rock fans. The music has inspired many bands to create their own music and Alice Cooper still plunders the album for songs to play live to this day. To celebrate the album and its influence on rock bands today a new covers album has been recorded.
UK Independent record label Pale Wizard Records have released "Killer 50 Years Later" on CD (with bonus tracks) and digital and vinyl. Funded initially as a Kickstarter, the album is a celebration; an homage; to the classic album.
All of the original eight songs are performed by eight different bands:
Green Lung - Under My Wheels
The Grand Mal - Be My Lover
Sergeant Thunderhoof - Halo of Flies
Ritual King - Desperado
1968 - You Drive Me Nervous
Trippy Wicked & the Cosmic Children of the Knight - Yeah, Yeah, Yeah
Mos Generator - Dead Babies
Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell - Killer
CD bonus tracks:
Alunah - I'm Eighteen - Bonus Track 03:15
Suns of Thunder - Billion Dollar Babies - Bonus Track
Possessor - Muscle of Love - Bonus Track
Sound of Origin - Sick Things - Bonus Track
With a wide range of talent on offer, each with their own take on the songs; the album is fascinating and a good tribute to the original. The songs aren't butchered but treated with respect which is great. The bands have added their own sound and "feel" to the songs but not messed around with the original song too much. This could so easily have been a disaster. Happy to say, however, that it isn't. Each song is well done with only Ritual Kings' version of "Desperado" letting things down. It loses the feel and emotion of the original sadly. We're not keen on Alunah's cover of "I'm Eighteen" but its only a bonus track so this is forgiven. The album is well presented to in a gatefold cardboard sleeve with a nice booklet. The vinyl version is also available in neon pink (limited run). The printed CD and vinyl looking like the original Warner one is a nice touch too.
A good, varied and fitting tribute to "Killer". Well done Pale Wizard!
ROX TV Full Length Documentary now on YouTube! Also available as a Director's Cut DVD from ROX Network!