Any excuse to talk about Alice Cooper is good enough for me, and at Halloween there really is no better musician to discuss than the Coop. Vincent Furnier aka Alice Cooper, either with the Alice Cooper Band or as a solo artist has become the accepted master of shock rock. Uber theatrical live shows since the late 60’s have made Alice Cooper the go-to example for ‘horror in Rock’ – Screaming Lord Sutch may have done it first, and the likes of Rob Zombie, Wednesday 13, Eminem even, may have done it since but it is undeniably thought of as ‘Alice Cooper’s shtick’ and hopefully forever will be. But truth be told Alice Cooper’s biggest hits – School’s Out, I’m Eighteen, Poison and Only Women Bleed - aren’t very horror (well Only Women Bleed’s subject matter is without a doubt horrific, if you don’t find violence to women horrific you’re an arse and probably drink Stella but it’s not horror-themed in the way we’re talking about). Luckily I have just about every Alice Cooper song ever released (I’m a bit of a fan) so if you’re sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin.
10. Welcome to My Nightmare (Welcome to My Nightmare, 1975)
This one has to be on this list by some kind of unwritten pop-cultural law, buuut it is creepy – Alice’s delivery is the clincher I reckon – he sounds inviting, come on in his singing says, come into the nightmare, I think you’re gonna like it (and he clearly doesn’t mean it when he says ‘I hope it didn’t scare you’ the big fat liar) the vamping guitars and swirling backing doesn’t help things either, it sounds like entering a nightmare via a heavy rock concert (that sounds really good fun…I think I need help). Also you want to see this performed at its spooky best – watch the Muppets performance, I kid you not.
09. Bad Place Alone (The Last Temptation, 1994)
This may not sound creepy; it’s a pretty driving rock song musically with a big ‘wow-wow-wow’ guitar thing and Alice doing his sneering vocals so you may think “what, this is creepier than Welcome to my fucking Nightmare dwitefry? Stroll on, mate”. Listen to the words then you fucking stroll on mate – this song is the testimony of dead kids who died on the streets, mostly through drugs and gang-related horrors, with them joining together in a chorus to entice the new boy (Steven, this is from a concept album) come on, join us – a group of dead kids asking you to join them in a broadway sing-along while detailing their deaths (my favourite line? “I watched my body hauled off by the local garbage man”) now tell me it’s not creepy (also, read the Bad Place Alone scene from Neil Gaiman’s The Last Temptation mini-series from Marvel Comics, it proves my point with pictures).
08. Wind-Up Toy (Hey Stoopid, 1991)
I should think the piano plinking at the start and the obvious jump scare noise that whrooow’s its way into the guitar noodling at the start should pretty much confirm this as creepy. Alice turns creepy cute to deliver the verses detailing the unknowingly terrifying day-to-day life of an adult with a child’s brain locked up in a mental institute on shock therapy (it’s Steven again, this was his first appearance since Goes to Hell back in 1976, so it was a big deal really). Like just about every song on Hey Stoopid it’s also really good to sing along to – Hey Stoopid doesn’t get enough praise - the title track’s a piece of shit (and makes Mr Cooper look like an ignorant prat) but the rest of the album, as they say, rocks.
07. Ballad of Dwight Fry (Love it to Death, 1971)
This is my favourite Alice Cooper song and one of my favourite songs period, it’s where my online ‘handle’ comes from and is the start of my obsession with horror actor Dwight Frye so I am well biased but it is still very creepy – it’s about an insane murder I think, the explanation from Alice is that it’s the sort of character Frye would play (so an insane murderer then), which by itself is unsettling. It’s sung in the first person which makes it worse (see the above two songs for more of that shit) and the character is frighteningly detached from everything, kind of drifting through this weird life and the (possible) choking of a random person that gets him locked up again, the vocal’s nosedive into frantic ‘I wanna get out of here’s then pushes the unsettling that little bit further. Oh and a little girl does the intro (‘mommy, where’s daddy…etc), making even more fridge horror – the character has a kid and a wife!
06. I Love the Dead (Billion Dollar Babies, 1973)
Singing about how you like to fuck corpses over and over in a really triumphant voice is creepy, end of. Incidentally I had a girlfriend who used to sing this as a child, she’s just walk around the house singing ‘iiiii luuuuuv the dead’, is it any wonder I was in love with her?
05. Dead Babies (Killer, 1971)
This is kind of the opposite of Bad Place Alone – the concept of dead babies and the music to go along with it is unnerving but the song’s just about neglectful parents and saying that being a neglectful parent is bad (m’kay?) aaand it’s also about a toddler not a baby, but it’s the arrangement that makes it the chilling. Musically speaking it’s something akin to a slasher film in musical form with the guitar leading you down a dark hallway and jump scare noises chiming in every few footsteps while Alice sings a very crooning tale of Betty, who died cos her parents weren’t around to take care of her (she took some pills while they were out) and then the hollering of DEAD BABIES! (I really like that part, shush) and the parent’s denial of ‘we didn’t love you anyway’ - it’s unsettling (and Alice Cooper’s habit of ripping dolls apart while performing it on stage doesn’t help matters).
04. Years Ago (Welcome to My Nightmare, 1975)
Organ music, played out of time – guaranteed spookiness. I guess you could argue that The Awakening is scarier (waking up to find you’ve murdered someone) but this has the creepy child thing going full tilt to tip it into ‘really fucking hair-raising’ territory – I quote: “all my toys are broken / and so am I inside, mum / the carnival went home – years ago’ and the singing stops so that the band can make this horrible noise half way through, like the dream world is screaming at you via Hammer Horror Sound-FX or something and finally two personalities arguing with each other to finish things off, and this is just a song to link the rest of the album together (it’s kind of a prelude to the next track Steven, which isn’t exactly easy listening either).
03. Gail (Raise Your Fist and Yell, 1987)
People need to spend more time with the first two ‘Sober’ Cooper albums (Constrictor and Raise Your Fist and Yell – his two ‘hard rock’ albums) there’s come good stuff to be had on ‘em including this little ditty, a sort of medieval sounding jaunt closer to Blackmore’s Night than School’s Out – well when it’s not got Universal Horror piano chords punctuating it. It’s a killer romanticising about one of his old kills (the album, more or less, is all about a serial killer, the latter half of the album is very focussed on this story) things like ‘Blood seeped into the soil / From the knife in her chest’ and “What a lovely young girl /Everybody would say /You can still hear her laugh /In the shadows on a cold winter's day” sung with a sort of whimsy remembering, like how your gran talks about someone they knew 50 years ago. It’s a short affair that ends in a massive rock out (in keeping with the rest of the album) but it leaves a somewhat lasting impression – the impression that in the park is a dead woman and you can still hear her chuckle.
02. Mille & Billie (From the Inside, 1978)
This is from one of my favourite albums, so again, lot of biased going on here, buuuut even objectively speaking (or as objective as I can get) Millie & Billie should be on this list. From the Inside is all based on people Cooper met when he accidentally checked himself into a mental ward for detox (only him, only him) and this is a nice little romantic ballad – between brother and sister; I present to you the incestuous murderers song! It just sounds so nice, this nice girl and Cooper doing his ‘normal’ singing voice with this nice ballad back-up, soft guitars and domp-de-domp drumming and then you listen to the words, such aaaaaaaaas: ‘god made love crazy so we wouldn’t feel so alone’, ‘Billie I dream of our children / they’re frighting and gruesome and sad / and I don’t’ awn them growing inside me’, ‘all sliced up and sealed tight in baggies – guess love makes you do funny things’ ‘you with your pickaxe and scissors / and you with your shovel and gun’ all sung by the two romantic leads in a musical – a musical of madness wuaaahhhahah *ehem* and then there’s the ending of the song as they call to each other…buy From The Inside, each track is a different madman and all of them are fantastic.
01. Former Lee Warmer (DaDa, 1983)
Bullshit you cry, what is this? I’ve never heard of it – well that’s ok, even Alice Cooper can’t remember a thing about DaDa (he was pissed, very pissed, all the time, at that point, DaDa’s his last ‘drunk’ album) he also says it’s the scariest thing he’s recorded, even if the rest of the album doesn’t live up to that Former Lee Warmer does. Set to an Alice Cooper version of a cut track from John Carpenter’s Halloween soundtrack – ‘bob-bob-bob-bob’ - with something lush below it (strings? I’m not so good with instruments, blame it on me having only one ear – I do) Alice sings a Beatles song about his brother (it’s very much a Beatles song actually, sort of Sgt Pepper’s played by the Grim-Grinnin’ Ghosts) Lee Warmer – a cannibal locked in the attic playing the piano all day and night, creepy doesn’t do it justice. FLW is a bit of a bugger to get hold of though, DaDa’s out of print and doesn’t show up in many stores (hell I don’t even know where my physical copy is) though it is on The Definitive Alice Cooper Box Set but that’s a 40-quid-odd set so your best bet is to hit up illegal internet sources I of course know nothing about, but it’s worth it – if you like being creeped out by rock music – but I do, so I say it’s worth it :D.
Honourable mentions – Inmates (We’re All Crazy) (From the Inside), Pretty Ballerina (Dirty Diamonds), The Awakening (Welcome to My Nightmare), Didn’t We Meet (Alice Cooper Goes to Hell).