“Billion Dollar Babies” by Alice Cooper (1973)
Taped to the wall of my parents’ basement in Paxtang, PA, is a small illustration, just a couple of square inches, of a sinister-looking infant.
That’s the last vestige of a once-mighty collection of posters and related materials that covered the basement walls in the mid- to late ’70s.
The drawing came with a collection of extras included with “Billion Dollar Babies,” the sixth album by the original Alice Cooper group and its finest moment.
Most folks today know Alice Cooper as an older guy who has a radio show and plays a great game of golf. That person actually is Vincent Damon Furnier, who celebrated his 64th birthday last week.
In the beginning, Alice Cooper was the name of a five-man band, reportedly coming from a Ouija-board message from a 17th-century witch. The quintet had been calling itself the Nazz, after a Yardbirds song, but decided to switch after learning Todd Rundgren’s Philadelphia-based band had the same name.
Vince, the lead singer, appropriated Alice Cooper as his nom de guerre, but the other four were equal partners: guitarists Michael Bruce and the late Glen Buxton; bass player Dennis Dunaway; and drummer Neal Smith, who can be seen here going ballistic at the Toronto Rock and Roll Revival on Sept. 13, 1969.
At the time, the Cooper group was signed to Frank Zappa and Herb Cohen’s Straight Records, which also included the likes of the late Larry “Wildman” Fischer, who used to tell stories about his stays in mental hospitals, and the groupie-group the GTOs. Alice Cooper recorded its first two albums, “Pretties for You” and “Easy Action” for Straight, but no one paid much attention.
Straight was a subsidiary of Warner Bros. Records, and that’s where the Cooper group ended up for its third album, “Love It to Death.” Under the auspices of young producer Bob Ezrin, the album reined in the band’s inherent weirdness to produce a hard-rock classic, featuring the timeless hit “Eighteen” and the ode to the straitjacket “The Ballad of Dwight Fry.”
Meanwhile, the band’s stage act became the stuff of legend, and scared the hell out of anyone over 30, what with the singer wrapping boa constrictors around his neck and simulating his death by hanging. The antics probably were tame by today’ standards, but they put the commercial viability of “shock rock” on full display.
“Love It to Death” was the first in a series of the four classic Alice Cooper albums, followed by “Killer,” “School’s Out” and “Billion Dollar Babies.” The last-named reached No. 1 on the charts on the strength of three Top 40 singles: “Elected,” Rolf Kempf’s “Hello Hooray” and “No More Mr. Nice Guy.”
Those songs represent only a few of the album’s many high points: “Unfinished Sweet,” a fear-of-dentistry song with the sound of a drill thrown in for good measure; “Generation Landslide,” a nod to the band’s negative reception among older folks; and “I Love the Dead,” a precursor to Alice’s solo “Cold Ethyl.”
The true choice cut is the title track, with its instantly recognizable guitar riff and suitably creepy lyrics about a seeming love affair with a doll.
The band supported the album with a tour that broke all kinds of box-office records, but also broke up the original Alice Cooper. Following the lackluster “Muscle of Love,” the members went their separate ways; Bruce, Dunaway and Smith actually called their project Billion Dollar Babies, but it amounted to little.
Vincent Furnier went on to further fame as Alice Cooper, but to many listeners, he always has missed his former bandmates.