Alice Cooper: An Overview

I’ve recently created three iTunes playlists covering Alice Cooper’s career from 1969 to the present. These playlists are based on his studio discography. I’ll be meditating on my impressions of him as a long time fan — since the 70s — and my recent listening to his work. Cooper has meant a lot to me since around 1977 or 1978. While “School’s Out” had already been out a few years, I didn’t catch up to it until then. It was my anthem. I hated school. Once I started following him, I dressed up like Alice Cooper for Halloween every year. I had the face and hair to pull it off with the right makeup. I loved his rebellion, his transgression, his sense of threat. He was my first real badass hero.

I’ve divided up his career, and this playlist, into three rather uneven eras:

The first playlist covers the Alice Cooper Band period, from 1969 to 1973:

During this period, “Alice Cooper” wasn’t the name of the lead singer but the name of the band. It became the name of the lead singer over the course of this period, mostly due to fans. The band lineup was very stable during this time, and this is the period of his enduring classic hits such as “School’s Out” and “No More Mr. Nice Guy” plus a number of other songs.

But if you were to listen to a greatest hits album covering this period, I think you’d get a false impression of the music the Alice Cooper band actually produced. Rock was just a small part of it. I think it’s better to compare Alice Cooper to David Bowie and Queen in the 70s: they played rock hits, but musically, overall, they weren’t at all limited to rock music, mixing jazz, cabaret, broadway, and folk with rock. Queen was very much interested in opera and musical forms from the 20s and 30s, Bowie in Black American musical forms and German electronica, and Alice Cooper in broadway and a number of other forms.

Of the seven albums the original Alice Cooper band released, the two standout albums are Killer (1971) and Billion Dollar Babies (1973) because the band committed to making rock albums (the rock ballad during the 70s was a standard part of a hard rock album — don’t let that throw you). I would say the weakness of Cooper’s albums until the mid 80s was that he, or the band, didn’t do anything as well as a good rock song. Bowie’s and Queen’s excursions into even the remotest of genres were better produced than anything Alice Cooper did as a band or solo artist outside of rock or rock ballads.

My next playlist covers his early solo period, 1975-1983:

Alice Cooper the band became Alice Cooper the solo act: Vincent Furnier the man was to “Alice Cooper” as David Jones was to “David Bowie.” Cooper continues his exploratory compositional preferences with a new band, continually reaching out to new musical forms while still remaining anchored in a rock sound. His first album from this period, Welcome to My Nightmare (1975), was released on Atlantic records, but all other albums during this period were with Warner.

Welcome to My Nightmare was his last platinum album until 1989’s Trash. It was his last album to have any kind of US certification at all, in fact, until Trash. So this period marks a period of commercial decline for Cooper. It’s generally seen as a period of artistic decline as well, but I think some albums, such as Flush the Fashion (1980), make a coherent musical and thematic statement worth some attention, in addition to producing the Gary Numanesque hit “Clones (We’re All),” and I think Dada (1983) is one of the most interesting albums in Cooper’s catalog in addition to being his most experimental. It’s his version of Bowie’s Berlin Trilogy, but it was ignored when it was released and is generally ignored today.

What happens between 1983 and 1986 is very important. Going into 1983, Cooper is an alcoholic and addicted to cocaine. He and his wife had filed for divorce. One evening, he looks into the mirror and sees blood streaming from his eyes. He’s not sure if he’s hallucinating or really bleeding, but he gets the point, and he flushes his cocaine down the toilet and calls his wife to tell her he’s given it up. She tells him to prove it — go to church. Cooper was raised Evangelical. He does. The spiritually-oriented songs that appear on his later albums are reflective of his own real faith. Some of them, “Salvation” (from the 2006 Along Came a Spider), are even evangelistic in tone, but these are few and far between. He learns to be a rock star without killing himself like one. The Last Temptation (1994) is a notable statement in this way, not only being his first concept album in some time but also the inspiration for a series of comic books by Neil Gaiman.

So my third and final playlist covers a much bigger block of time. Following on the heels of his recovery and conversion, it spans 1986 to the present, which as of the time of this writing is 37 years. But note that the first four-year period covers seven albums, the next eight years covers nine albums, and this 37 year period thirteen:

He’s less prolific in his late career but more focused. He knows what he’s doing. His only two certified albums are the platinum certified Trash from 1986 and his next album, Hey Stoopid (1991). I remember feeling pleased hearing Alice Cooper on the radio again at 22 when I hadn’t heard much of him since my early teenage years in the 1970s. Welcome 2 My Nightmare (2011) and Paranormal (2017) both chart in the top 40 but don’t hit gold level sales.

But I would hardly call this a period of decline. Cooper abandons, by and large, mixing musical forms and plays to his strengths, which are hard rock mixed with metal and, for the most part, straight up heavy metal. None of these albums ever go wrong, but the standout albums to me are his serial killer concept album Along Came a Spider (2008), which is straight up metal, and the industrial inspired Brutal Planet (2000) and Dragontown (2001), both of which engage in searing commentary on the cruelties of the modern world.

Welcome 2 My Nightmare marks a return to his 70s’ formula as a response to 1975’s Welcome to My Nightmare, and it’s a good response, but I don’t like it as much as his metal albums — although his fans liked it more. His most recent album, Detroit Stories (2021), sees him reunited with old bandmates from the Alice Cooper band period (those that remain) and notable figures in Detroit rock to perform a classic rock album mixed with some nods to soul and the blues, which don’t appear often on Cooper’s albums at any time during his career. It’s him giving something back to a city of Detroit that gave quite a bit to him musically– and all of us. Despite the band’s Arizona roots, Cooper’s early childhood was spent in Detroit, so this album is a musical return home.

I’ve been fortunate enough to see Alice Cooper live twice, both times since 2015. The first time I’d ever seen Cooper perform live was in Ohio opening up for Mötley Crüe on their farewell tour, probably in 2015 (they have since said farewell to their farewell), and then again in Ohio not long after, before 2018, as a headlining act in Columbus in a smaller venue. He had a great band; it was tight, and Nita Strauss shreds. He played a covers set honoring recently dead rock musicians. And the theatrical, horror elements of his show didn’t so much shock me as make me laugh. It was kitsch horror. It probably always was. But it was fun to watch.

If you like my writing about rock, check out the bookstore.


Published by James Rovira

Dr. James Rovira is higher education professional with twenty years experience in the field in teaching, administration, and advising roles. He is also an interdisciplinary scholar and writer whose works include fiction, poetry, and scholarship exploring the intersections of literature and philosophy, literature and psychology, literary theory, and music and literature.. His books include Women in Rock, Women in Romanticism (Routledge, 2023); David Bowie and Romanticism (Palgrave Macmillan, 2022); Writing for College and Beyond (a first-year composition textbook (Lulu 2019)); Reading as Democracy in Crisis: Interpretation, Theory, History (Lexington Books 2019); Rock and Romanticism: Blake, Wordsworth, and Rock from Dylan to U2 (Lexington Books, 2018); Rock and Romanticism: Post-Punk, Goth, and Metal as Dark Romanticisms (Palgrave Macmillan, 2018); and Blake and Kierkegaard: Creation and Anxiety (Continuum/Bloomsbury, 2010). See his website at for details.

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