In 1975 the king of shock rock struck out on his own on his debut solo album. How does the album stand up 40 years on?
There is not a rock or metal fan in the world now that has not been touched by the genius of Alice Cooper, now a sprightly 67 years old, but back in 1975 he was about to take the first steps on a solo career that would eventually take him to unknown heights and secure his status as a genuine Rock n’ Roll legend.
When released in March 1975 Welcome to My Nightmare was the eight studio album that Vincent Furnier (or Alice Cooper as he was soon to be known) had been part of. However, it was the first as a solo artist after the Alice Cooper Band unofficially called time in the previous year after Vincent felt the band has become stale after ten years together. The success of WTMN would finally cement the end of the band. In order to prevent legal complications over ownership of the group name, “Alice Cooper” had by then become the Furnier’s legal name.
Becoming a solo artist allowed Cooper to fully embrace the theatrical side of his character without the restrictions of being in a band. Fueled and inspired by the theatrics of artists like Arthur Brown it was not long before Alice would become the household name for terrifying parents and enthralling teenagers in 1970’s America.
The album was also to be Cooper’s first “Concept” album with the story revolving around the nightmare of a child, soon to be killer, called Steven. To add an extra air of menace Cooper, and famed producer Bob Ezrin, roped in Horror legend Vincent Price to provide the suitably spooky narration.
The first track out of the blocks for public consumption was the US Top 20 hit ballad “Only Women Bleed” which Cooper co-wrote with guitarist Dick Wagner. However, the album began with the Doors-infused title track. Embarrassingly too close to Jim Morrison for Rolling Stone magazine’s liking at the time. No doubt it has an L.A. Woman-vibe all over it but that’s not a bad thing and listening to it now conjures images of sun-kissed California beaches despite the sinister undertones. A twisted Beach Boys if you will.
“Devil’s Food” sees Price’s introduction halfway through the track to its end. The track is more what we know of as traditional Alice Cooper than the opener and sees him tread familiar musical ground but with a phasing and group vocals
“Black Widow” is still a live favourite today and it’s not difficult to hear why. The music is a rolling riff-laden ode to the mass killer whilst pledging your allegiance to his darkened charms. To follow we get a cabaret-style “Some Folks” which wouldn’t be out of place on a back-alley bar on the Broadway stage. It’s off-kilter in comparison with the rest of the album but fits in surprisingly well when listening to the whole album.
“Only Women Bleed” allows the album to take stock and survey the damage already done albeit through the sorry tale of domestic abuse. “Department of Youth” is now a staple Cooper-classic and like the first half of “Devil’s Food” is a more familiar refrain to old school Cooper fans. “Cold Ethyl” takes the nightmare a stage further and introduces the often under-represented issue of frozen necrophilia!! Despite the sinister humour involved the energy is high and the rocking is set to the ceiling. It’s probably the most straight forward and accessible rock song on the album, now that’s saying something!!
“Years Ago” and “Steven” decrease the pace and increases the eeriness and sinister humour. Tortured and pained may be the best way to described Cooper’s vocal delivery as he crawls his way through these two tracks. “The Awakening” continues the slow spiral into madness and murder. As unsettling as the image of Steven’s “crimson spots dripping from my hands”.
The madness is eventually ended, at least temporarily, with the track “Escape” detailing his break free from imprisonment and hinting at what the future holds for the protagonist. Musically it’s a fun ride through some classic rock licks and tricks and an entertaining way to close the first chapter of Steven’s story.
The response and aftermath
The response to the album was very favourable with most rock critics giving it the thumbs up. It was never going to be to everyone’s taste such is the divisive nature of his work but time has been kind to the album and it is regarded today as a classic.
Soon after the album there was a stage show and television special The Nightmare, starring Cooper and Vincent Price, which aired on US TV in April 1975 and a live concert film. The character of Steven has been revived more than once on Cooper’s subsequent output and this eventually led to Welcome 2 My Nightmare which was released in 2011 to generally positive reviews. Bob Ezrin initially proposed the idea of a sequel which Cooper agreed to and was based around the premise of “another nightmare, worse than the last”.
The vast majority of things you would want from an Alice Cooper album can be found on Welcome To My Nightmare. From sneering attitude, dark and twisted humour, riffs to general horror-theme craziness there is no aspect of Alice Cooper’s psyche that isn’t represented here. The production skills of the great Bob Ezrin once again play more than their part is ensuring that this will be remembered for another 40 years and more.
Welcome To My Nightmare
The Black Widow
Only Women Bleed
Department Of Youth
Alice Cooper – Vocals
Bob Ezrin – Synthesizer, Arranger, Keyboards, Vocals, Producer
Dick Wagner – Electric and Acoustic Guitar, Vocals
Steve Hunter – Electric and Acoustic Guitar
Prakash John – Bass
Tony Levin – Bass
Pentti “Whitey” Glan – Drums
Johnny “Bee” Badanjek – Drums