Greetings, Glancers! For someone as influential on my life as a music fan, as a horror fan, and as an occasional writer as Alice Cooper has been, he’s not someone who comes up frequently on my blog. I don’t have many definitive influences on my lyrical approach (at least back when I wrote lyrics), but Alice Cooper is one of them. Cooper, Edwards and Wire, Cobain… nobody comes close to them. Alice Cooper is an incredibly underrated lyricist, songwriter, singer, performer, and both as a solo act and as a band his works have left an indelible mark on music for the last 60 years or so. It’s not just the Shock Rock stuff. You can make a case for Cooper inventing Metal, Punk, Grunge, for pushing Prog into new directions, he has changed his skin as many times as those who are more recognized for it – Bowie and Madonna spring to mind – but he has retained the core of who he is as an icon; a boundary pushing, genre transcending provocateur with a wit rarely so evocatively presented in music, and with a knack for writing anthems skirting the borders of the zeitgeist to forever appeal to the outsider. In short, he’s one of the all time greats. In honour of his recent four thousandth album, I humbly present my ranking of his albums. As always if you were to ask me to do this again next week (please don’t) some of these positions would inevitably shift around. But not by much – my favourites are my favourites and those at the bottom are still crap. You get the idea? Lets get on with it.
28: Special Forces
In the 1980s, Alice had been through his greatest Commercial and Critical peak, and like every good story of Rock ‘n’ Roll success he was now in a free fall decline in every respect. His music, his creativity, his personal life, his sanity and health, everything was out the window. It’s hardly a surprise that he doesn’t remember making a bunch of these albums, and hardly a surprise that these albums are not very good. If anything stands out with these albums it’s that they are a shit shower of ideas, mostly bad, mostly influenced by 80s New Wave, and if anything distinguishes Special Forces from the others it’s that the songs are less eventful, less ridiculous. Only the biggest Cooper fans are likely to get anything out of this.
Of all the 80s albums, there was a time when this was my favourite – now I’m not sure why. I think it’s because it’s so otherworldy and bizarre. It’s utterly deranged, but outside of the opening and closing tracks there’s nothing here you’ll ever want to hear.
26: Flush The Fashion
Cooper’s first foray into the 80s and New Wave, he was still clinging on to consciousness and creativity, but he produced a dated upon release, underwhelming and repetitive album of forgettable songs it’s difficult to differentiate between. Sadly, the album sold well enough on the strength of its lead single, likely making Coop think this was a brave new path he should continue ploughing blindly down.
25: Zipper Catches Skin
The third album in three years during the 80s for Cooper, this suffers from the same rushed and creatively barren issues as the others. This one has more positives than negatives and sheds the New Wave nonsense for something approximating the current wave of Post Punk which would in turn lead Cooper towards his Hair Metal reinvention. Of course, Dada would come before then, but at least this set some ground work and reminded fans that Cooper could still pen a decent rock song when he wanted to.
24. Along Came A Spider
This halfway point album joins (untidily) the Nu Metal 2000s era Cooper with his stripped back return to Garage Rock. It’s a mostly bland affair which suffers from the fact that Coop had already done the Garage Revival thing better in his two previous albums. Still, it was a more successful album than those two and stands out because it was another Concept album charting the rise and demise of a serial killer known as Spider.
23. Lace & Whiskey
For his third solo album, Cooper abandoned his Grand Guignol stylings and instead adopted the persona of a hard drinking hard boiled crime PI, who was also bumbling and inept. In retrospect it seems like the whole thing was set up just so he could allow himself the freedom to sink further into Alcoholism. I never found the album concept and sound to be coherent, instead coming across as a Greatest Hits without the Hits. There are still highlights – My God and You & Me feature in my regular shuffles – and even with a mish mash of styles it’s grounded in old fashioned Rock n Roll.
22. Pretties For You
The Cooper band debut, this zany Zappa inspired whack job is sure to confuse and infuriate fans of structure and sense. This album has no sense, the songs have no structure, and that’s why I enjoy it so much. It’s wonderful to see how the band started out and what they would become, many of the lyrical and conceptual ideas are there in their infancy, but above all the songs are somewhere between chaotic slices of brilliance and shameless nonsense.
Perhaps the least of the Hair Metal albums, although most of them are interchangeable in quality for me, Constrictor was the first to see Alice embracing the big hair, big guitars, glam persona, and return to his Shock Rock roots. He had been out of the limelight trying to get clean and in the years since Dada Metal had taken the world by storm. Cooper gathered together an array of talented musicians, doubled down on his notoriety by positioning himself as a hybrid Metal Horror icon in songs like He’s Back and Teenage Frankenstein, but most importantly he put himself back on the map as a performer and songwriter.
20. Detroit Stories
Cooper’s most recent album is all about looking back and giving thanks. Thanks to the bands and city and sounds who influenced him, to the bands they came up with in the 60s and 70s, and to his old pals. There are plenty of covers and plenty of Cooper’s trademark wit which has never dampened with time, and he’s still ready to pump out bangers when he needs to. It’s a little repetitive due to the sheer number of songs, but a solid album of Garage Rock.
Cooper has always been prolific, but this was his first album in 6 years – the longest gap he’s had between albums since 94 and 2000. Thankfully he still came back with his usual finesse and released an album which was received highly and did quite well in this new era of sales. He brings the old gang back together for a few songs and in total it’s a classic sounding Cooper albums with influences based in the dark fringe areas where normies fear to tread, a series of nightmarish lullabies and anthems.
18. The Last Temptation
By the time The Last Temptation was released I was a hardcore Cooper fan. I never liked lead single Lost In America or its video and was expecting something more adventurous and biting like Hey Stoopid. Still, I was 11 and anything with guitars and facepaint was cool. It’s a lighter album than its predecessor – by this point Metal was largely dead commercially – but was still successful enough that Cooper could go off and tour and play golf for the next six years before reinventing himself once more.
This and Brutal Planet are a pair. This is just as heavy, if less reliant on the Industrial and Nu Metal stylings of Brutal Planet but in songwriting terms there isn’t much to pick between them – plus they were released a year apart. The two albums are Alice at his heaviest.
16: Easy Action
I don’t see many people having either of the band’s first two albums so high on their ranking, but there’s something wholesome and youthful and ambitious about each – a true sense of zero fucks given. This follow-up at least nods its head to structures and conventions and loosely attempts to convey traditional songs through a psychedelic lens. As such, some of the songs have made their way onto Greatest Hits sets and later live tour setlists. It’s a heavier album too, less chaotic and more planned, allowing for both unpredictable epics and short and snappy wannabe hits.
15. Raise Your Fist And Yell
Another 80s Hair Metal album, for me this one has a better array of tunes than Constrictor. It still retains the inherent cheesy production and reverb drums of the time and it still feels like a less shitty Def Leppard album, but with a rejuvenated Alice at the helm. Alice continued his dalliance with horror – Robert Englund appears (Alice appeared in multiple horror movies around this time, including Elm Street 6 a few years later) just as Vincent Price had a decade earlier, and the songs are the teen and rebel bait outcast anthems we have come to expect from the greatest writer of such songs of his generation. Or any generation.
14. Brutal Planet
Alice has always kind of been Metal, and certainly doubled down on what passed for commercial Metal in the 80s, but it wasn’t until Brutal Planet where he actually sounded crushingly heavy. Under all the tuned down guitars and distortion is a selection of songs which could appear in any era of Alice’s work – change the production to suit the time period and Gimme could be an 80s Metal or 70s Rock anthem, while Take It Like A Woman is as good a ballad as any of his more famous works while conveying the sort of social message critics usually miss when dismissing Cooper.
Trash is the first album I ever bought. In a Golden Discs in Ards Shopping Centre if anyone cares. I also picked up Off The Wall. Money well spent. Alice has had any number of hits and several of those are cultural icons themselves. But Trash contains Poison, probably his most famous song. It’s the peak of his 80s work – a genuinely good song which manages to stand up against scrutiny verses 90% of everything else he released in the decade. Elsewhere on the album he invites various pals to play along – Jon Bon Jovi, Steven Tyler – and many mainstream hitmakers helped contribute and polish things – Desmond Child, Diane Warren, Joan Jett to name a few. For every silly song, there’s a better one, and it’s the strength of those better songs which raises an average album to the multi million seller it is.
12. Muscle Of Love
(Holy) Muscle Of Love, as the title suggests, sees Cooper and the boys going all dirty. Coop has never shied away from describing sexual antics in his lyrics but unlike overrated garbage spreaders AC/DC Cooper does it with more wit than a pre-pubescent. Muscle Of Love lacks the big hits of previous and subsequent albums, but it more than makes up for this in its lean, no frills approach. It’s to the point rock designed to upset the straight-laced moms and pops, but underneath it all are the singalong melodies, amusing lyrics and themes, and kickass riffs we’ve come to expect from a Cooper album.
11. School’s Out
I mentioned earlier that Poison was probably the most famous Cooper song. If you don’t agree, then you probably think School’s Out is the one. I’m good with that too; it probably had the bigger impact. The song, and the album, were huge hits and brought the band into the mainstream after a few smaller prior hits. This was one of the first Cooper albums I bought once I had enough money of my own to go spend on such things – by that time I already knew the title track and the hype around the album. I wasn’t impressed by the whole album first time around, not being aware if was more of a Rock Opera or a less campy version of West Side Story. It was a nine track album with two throwaway instrumentals. It took me a good few years to come back to it and gain appreciation for it. It is a concept album, it does follow a loose theme and plot, and the songs are designed to follow both. The title track is the only hit, but every other song has its charm with the greaser rock being subverted by both American Musicals and bizarro psychedelia; I simply wasn’t ready for it and was expecting a straightforward collection of Rock anthems. The raw, in your face production where you can feel the vibration from every bass note, the strange nods to jazz and appreciation of US culture given the skewed Alice twist all raise this to something different. Go in expecting weirdness and you’ll get more out of it.
10: The Eyes Of Alice Cooper
In the new Millennium, Cooper had been courting the biggest Metal movements of the time – Nu Metal and Industrial Metal. The results were heavier than anything he’d done in the past but thankfully he decided to return to his more Garage based roots in 2003. The Eyes Of Alice Cooper is a retro themed album taking in the changes which emerged in the decades since they last played in this style. It’s what a lot of old school fans were looking for and it was refreshing after two darker albums to rediscover a sense of fun. While no single song has the power of School’s Out, the whole collection is consistent – mini anthems for the disaffected, riffs, humour, choruses, fun.
9. Dirty Diamonds
Dirty Diamonds came hot on the heels of Eyes and was essentially more of the same, but better. Better tunes, better lyrics, better ideas – more fun, more humour. From the outright laughs of The Saga Of Jessie Jane, complete with Cooper’s vocal antics to the opening pop punk bombast of Woman Of Mass Distraction to the laidback groove of closer Zombie Dance, it’s another example of Alice doing it better than anyone else. The only thing missing are the big hits.
8. Love It To Death
This album gave the band their first hit after two experimental freak out albums. If they hadn’t scored a hit single with this one, the band probably would have ceased to exist. The band moved to Detroit and absorbed the burgeoning Garage rock sounds, recruited Bob Ezrin as Producer, and whacked out I’m Eighteen as the first in a long line of rebellious anthems. Not that it’s a one hit album – opener Caught In A Dream is just as much fun while The Ballad Of Dwight Fry showed the band were not willing to drop their experimental roots but instead had honed those to create something more palatable while seeding the ideas for extravagant live shows, future characters, and outlandish concepts.
7. Welcome To My Nightmare
If School’s Out isn’t the band’s most famous album, then it has to be Welcome To My Nightmare. This was the peak of his theatrics, the peak of the Cooper character emerging as a separate demonic oddity, and the first album as a solo performer. Alice was not the solo creative driving force before this album, even though he was the draw, so this was in no way a guaranteed success. Perhaps over-compensating, Cooper tripled down on the blood, guts, and storytelling but more importantly he retained the ability to write a cracking tune – the title track, the peerless ballad Only Women Blood, and the anthems Cold Ethyl and Department Of Youth – these are all live mainstays. If you only recommend 3-5 Cooper albums to anyone, this has to be one of them due to its quality and importance.
6. Welcome II My Nightmare
I may be the only person in the world to say this, but I prefer the sequel. Coming almost 40 years after the original, it’s another literal nightmare, kicking off with one of my all time favourite Coop songs I Am Made Of You where he employs auto-tuning and somehow makes it a plus. Elsewhere he courts pop, with the Kesha led What Baby Wants, the ridiculously silly Caffeine, and obvious live favourite I’ll Bite Your Face Off. Cooper has battled a lot of demons over the years – here he wraps up the real and fictional in an entertaining tale and a solid batch of great tunes.
5. Goes To Hell
This is the point that Cooper jumped the shark for many. For me, he’s more nuzzling up to the shark, making it sniff some coke from a Giant Squid’s eye socket, and taking it down to Studio 54 to dance with a bunch of flare-wearing pagans. There’s a lot of disco and funk, there are a few ballads, show tunes, all mangled together with Cooper’s unique voice and mind, but at the heart of it all are great singalong songs. You can laugh at the musical choices – I do, you can laugh at the silly artwork (front and back) – I have, but this is Cooper at his most obtuse, singular, annoying best.
4. Billion Dollar Babies
This is the album I always thought School’s Out was going to be – a success, a lot of hype and critical praise, and a collection of classic hits and anthems rather than a single standout. Released less than a year after School’s Out, there’s a through line of quality and tone with the best songs appearing on this album rather than the predecessor. It was their first number 1 album in the US and UK and sold a bucket load. I Love The Dead, the title track, No More Mr Nice Guy, Elected, Generation Landslide – all classics, and every other track (while less known) are gold too. Another one of those must listens.
3. From The Inside
For my money, this is Cooper’s most consistent, best concept album. Having spent a little time in rehab/in an asylum due to his addiction, he was fairly well positioned to write an album about the characters one might meet on the inside. It’s more One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest than American Horror Story but equal weight is given to horror and heart. Each of the characters portrayed is more than life like and the lyrics leap off the page and through the headphones as he spits out memorable one-liners about murder, insanity, love, pain, sex, religion, addiction – ably helped by Bernie Taupin. Even above next two albums, this one doesn’t contain a single bum note or average track – everything is superb from the LOLZ of Nurse Rosetta, the musical theatre of Inmates, the sick ballad of Millie And Billie, and the rock thrills of Serious, not to mention album highlight How You Gonna See Me Now. My final two choices simply have higher highs.
Let there be no mistake; Killer is Cooper’s best album. It’s everything you want, expect, and need from a Cooper album, or from a Rock album, as well as being massively influential yet confusingly underrated. The title track may be the album’s only weaker moment, but it’s a B grade song at worst. Halo Of Flies… lets just say, no Halo Of Flies no Bohemian Rhapsody. The band out Zeppelins Zepplin with a collection of dirty blues rock shreds, with that filthy punk edge the boys from England didn’t have. I’m hard pushed to think of a stronger opening four tracks to any album than Under My Wheels, Be My Lover, Halo, and Desperado, and that quality continues into the second half. It’s simply one of the greatest Rock n Roll albums of all time, yet it’s somehow still a bit of a secret.
1: Hey Stoopid
It’s not the best Alice Cooper album, but it’s my favourite. A list of some of my favourite Cooper songs, some of my favourite all time songs – Wind Up Toy, Burning Our Bed, Dangerous Tonight, Die For You, throw in Snakebite, Might As Well Be On Mars, the title track, and the album’s most famous song Feeding My Frankenstein, and you really can’t go wrong. While it’s still in the vein of Hair Metal, it dispenses with much of the inherent garbage of that genre for a harsher edge which would inspire his heavier exploits a decade later, a more biting social commentary, and a host of talented guest musicians from Steve Vai to Joe Satriani to Slash to Ozzy to Vinnie Moore – even Elvira gets a spot. Huge choruses demanded to be chanted in the biggest stadium you can find, ominous agitated riffs, musicians on top form, and at the centre of it all a rejuvenated iconic Alice snarling his way through some of his most darkly commercial tales yet.
What a journey. What are your favourite Cooper albums and song? Let us know in the comments!