The Life And Crimes Of Alice Cooper

Alice Cooper

Rhino Records, 1999

REVIEW BY: Roland Fratzl


In 1999 Rhino Records (the nostalgia-friendly label under Warner) released The Life And Crimes Of Alice Cooper, a four cd, eighty-one track box set monster, complete with a sickeningly detailed and well put together eighty-one page booklet. The good folks at Rhino as usual went that extra mile to put together a fantastic package that leaves no stone unturned. Every era of Alice Cooper's long career is faithfully covered with this set, from his very earliest high school recordings in the mid 60's right up to 1999. Finally, a collection exists that gives one of the most influential artists in rock history the respect that he deserves, and even critics who are not fans of Cooper have admitted that this kind of tribute was long overdue, and that the presentation of the box set itself is a model for others to follow.

Although this box set is a fantastic overview of the 30 year career of Alice Cooper, it does have a couple of minor faults. Someone who is just interested in a greatest hits collection is not going to fork over eighty bucks for this extravagant summary of a legendary career, and for the complete Alice freaks like myself there is too much inclusion of common tracks already widely available elsewhere.

Nevertheless, the purpose of a box set is to provide many examples of an artist's musical history, and to unlock the vaults to gain access to obscure material, and in this sense, The Life And Crimes Of Alice Cooper delivers. There's a plentiful amount of rare and unreleased tracks, comprising of demos, soundtrack contributions, and foreign singles and b-sides, all remastered, as well as the eighty-one page booklet, containing tons and tons of high quality rare photographs from all periods of his illustrious career, in addition to plenty of celebrity guest opinions, thorough essays on the history of Cooper's career, an extensive breakdown of his entire discography, including release dates, songwriting credits, and other technical information, and a track by track detailed synopsis done mainly by Alice himself as well as former members of his various bands, etc., all in full colour! The four cd's are basically arranged in chronological order, with disc one covering 1965 - 1972, disc two covering 1973 - 1976, disc three covering 1977 - 1986, and disc four covering 1986 - 1999.

Time for a bit of history: before the five high school buddies who comprised the classic line-up of the early Alice Cooper group (1968 - 1974) were actually called Alice Cooper, they were briefly named the Nazz, and before that, the Spiders. Under these little known aliases the band recorded a handful of ultra rare singles, which are included on disc one and provide the most fascinating glimpse at the very earliest beginnings of what would become one of the world's most notorious bands barely five years later.

"Hitch Hike" is the earliest example included here, a Marvin Gaye cover recorded by the Spiders way back in 1965. Along with the Beatle-esque "Why Don't You Love Me", and the Who-ish "Don't Blow Your Mind" (both from 1966), these early tracks are surprisingly catchy and well played slices of mid 60's raw guitar pop-rock that showcase a bunch of teenagers with great talent and limitless potential.

So this naturally begs the question: Why did they completely abandon that musical approach in favour of the amateurish and bizarre foray into sloppily played noise psychedelia on the debut album, Pretties For You? Maybe they thought that that was the future of music, or that they were still trying to find their own sound, so who knows...but I can't help but think that they might have made a big impression much sooner if only they had applied the more conventional pop hooks that they were obviously capable of, heard on these early recordings, to the debut album, which probably would have made it much more listenable than it is.

It doesn't end there; also included are several tracks from around the time of the Pretties For You recording sessions that would have made the album much stronger had they been included, like the studio version of "Levity Ball". First of all, that's one of the few decent songs on that whole album, but for some reason they choose to put a horribly recorded live version of the song on the album instead of the far superior studio version included on this box set. Why did they do that??my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

But the most stunning omission on Pretties For You is the song "Nobody Likes Me", also included here. It's sickening that a song of such quality did not make the final cut of an album otherwise filled mostly with silly noise experiments. "Nobody Likes Me" is probably the earliest example of the eccentric, fully theatrical creepy Alice Cooper that wouldn't surface for several more years. It opens with a hauntingly beautiful guitar line over a waltz rhythm before a fascinating polka style mid section takes over. Extremely creative song in every sense, and highly melodic. I believe it to be one of the finest songs the band ever wrote, so it truly boggles my mind as to why it never got more exposure. I guess they didn't include it on Pretties For You because it was too melodic!

Certainly "Nobody Likes Me" is way ahead of its time, sounding like a leftover from the 1975 Welcome To My Nightmare sessions, and I can't believe Alice didn't resurrect it for that album as the style would have been perfect. The song is also proof that the band already had strong theatrical leanings and excellent musicianship before Bob Ezrin came along and encouraged them to go in that direction in 1971.

On disc three there are also several noteworthy rare tracks, such as the inclusion of one song from the 1977 Battle Axe album, the only album recorded by a band called Billion Dollar Babies that included former Alice Cooper group band members Michael Bruce, Dennis Dunaway, and Neal Smith. There is also a creepy cover of the Beatles' song "Because", on which the Bee Gees (!) provide background vocal harmonies to Alice's lead vocals and a harpsichord melody. Quite an interesting version, and it comes from the soundtrack to a universally panned 1978 film called Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.

There are also the single versions of several standard album tracks included on the box set, and while most of the time this means that their overall length is shortened, in some cases these versions sound better than the ones found on the albums. One such case is the the single version of the 1978 track "From The Inside", from the album of the same name. Not only is it shorter, but I found the mix to be superior to the common version, with the crunchy, galopping guitar riff in the verses much more prominent, giving the song a more powerful feel that the album version could definitely have benefitted from.

The there is the excellent b-side, "No Tricks". This is another example of an amazing song that would have made the album it's connected with stronger had it been included in the final track listing, in this case From The Inside once again. It's a powerful, sultry bluesy/soul duet sung with Betty Wright, and it amazes me that it didn't make the final cut. "No Tricks" is another Alice Cooper song that would had potentially had classic status. What a shame.

"Look At You Over There, Ripping The Sawdust From My Teddy Bear" is a title that pretty much in itself gives away that it was a song written during Alice's strange early 80's punk-new wave phase. Indeed, this weird but somehow likeable keyboard pop song was intended for the final cut of the 1981 Special Forces album, and early pressings of the vinyl copies had it listed on the back of the album sleeve, even though it was not included! Apparently the first run of sleeves were printed before the album was even finished, and at the last minute Alice decided not to include the song on the album because he felt it didn't really fit in...strange thing is that I find this song to be much more listenable than almost half of the ones that were included!

Another ultra rare inclusion on this box set is of the two songs Alice recorded for the soundtrack of a totally obscure low-budget Spanish made slasher film in 1984 called Monster Dog. I had the personal misfortune of seeing the movie, which has to be among the worst ever made, but the two songs, the hilarious Iggy Pop-like "Identity Crisises", and the gothic Cure-like "See Me In The Mirror". It really hurts to see that he went from writing in this catchy style to th horrid hair metal of Constrictor and subsequent releases only two years later...if only he had kept this kind of material up, the rest of the 80's would not have been the creative trash heap that it became.

One other interesting song worth mentioning is a 1999 remix of "Hands Of Death", a great track recorded with Rob Zombie for the X-Files soundtrack in 1996. It's as close as you'll likely ever get to hear Cooper doing intense, stomping, harsh electronic industrial music...what an awesome tune, perfect for a dance floor filled with black clad, doc marten wearing rivetheads.

So, If all that still ain't enough to whet your appetite, then ya don't know what's good for you! What can I say other than repeat what I said before, that when it comes to a detailed, accurate overview of a rock legend's 30-plus year career in a supremely dedicated, beautiful package, then it doesn't get any better than this. A must have for Coop fanatics. True, it may be a bit intimidating for a casual fan to pick up, but The Life And Crimes Of Alice Cooper has just about Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Alice Cooper (But Were Afraid To Ask).

Rating: A-

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© 2001 Roland Fratzl and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Rhino Records, and is used for informational purposes only.