Once More, Mr. Nice Guy

Reminted Billion Dollar Babies recalls a time when Alice Cooper ruled the world and didn't have to become the 34th president to do it

 "I found a million dollar baby/In a five and ten cent store . . ."

-- Billy Rose, 1931

In other nickel-and-dime news, this year, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame shortchanged Alice Cooper singularly and collectively when it again failed to nominate Vincent Furnier and friends into the old boys' club. Sure, getting into the R 'n' R hall of fame is a dubious honor -- kind of like being praised and dipped in formaldehyde at the same time -- but if we must have a music mausoleum, I'd feel better if it had a guy in there who loves the dead before they're cold.

They're only in it for the money: The Alice Cooper Band poses in full Billion Dollar Babies regalia.
David Bailey
They're only in it for the money: The Alice Cooper Band poses in full Billion Dollar Babies regalia.
Cooper: "We were so popular it was undeniable."
Cooper: "We were so popular it was undeniable."

Certainly Cooper has influenced several generations of musicians already -- the booklet to 1999's boxed set The Lives and Crimes of Alice Cooper practically reads like a petition to get him elected, with everyone from Bono to Burt Bacharach signing their support. Yet the snub continues. Either the Chicken Defamation League has a particularly strong lobby or Rolling Stone publisher and Hall of Fame chairman Jann Wenner is still pissed off about all those pictures of the Coop in Creem magazine holding up Boy Howdy! cans.

Thirty years later, it's easy to forget how crucial the Alice Cooper Band -- Cooper, guitarists Mike Bruce and Glen Buxton, bassist Dennis Dunaway and drummer Neal Smith -- was. These Phoenix sons blurred the lines between acid rock, shock rock, glam rock and punk rock -- and they did it over the course of two years and four albums, recorded while they were touring like fugitives. Most bands today need that much time just to figure out whom to thank in the sleeve notes.

After two not-so-hot long-players, the group and then-rookie producer Bob Ezrin hooked up, simultaneously toughening their stance and streamlining their approach. And, it should be noted, they were tough at a time when folks were still counting backward to Lothar and the Hand People records. Love It to Death, Killer and School's Out were all early signs that the peace-and-love '60s were over, but Billion Dollar Babies -- the team's crowning achievement -- effectively nailed the hippie coffin shut, ushering in the glitter era in America and backing it up with the kind of record sales that David Bowie was still pretending he'd had.

When Alice Cooper's mentor Frank Zappa proclaimed We're Only in It for the Money in 1968, it was about the worst thing you could say if you were a rock band. But by 1973, the bill for free love came past due, and an album housed inside a giant snakeskin wallet seemed like the apogee of decadence and cool. The myth reinforcing David Bailey photos that adorned Billion Dollar Babies found the band decked out in white satin suits, posing with wads of genuine U.S. currency, stroking white rabbits like some James Bond super villain and making a poor infant in eye makeup cry.

After years of being available only on a cheapskate who-gives-a-shit-just-get-it-out CD configuration, Billion Dollar Babies has finally gotten the Tiffany treatment it deserves. Encased in a real wallet-size package, the new Warner Bros./Rhino Deluxe Edition restores all the original artwork, features new liners (by News Times' Brian Smith), improved sound and adds in a bonus disc of live songs and studio outtakes (an elaborate DVD-audio of Babies was also just released). To mark this auspicious occasion, we gathered Cooper, his longtime personal assistant Brian Nelson and legendary producer Bob Ezrin to reminisce about the making of this historic album, which began production just as the single of "School's Out" was perched in the Top 10, slugging it out with the likes of Elton John, the Rolling Stones and the Eagles, not to mention the Osmonds, Mouth & McNeal and Daniel Boone.

Alice Cooper: The whole idea of Billion Dollar Babies was us sitting there saying, "Two years ago, we couldn't even buy a can of tuna fish." And people wouldn't let us play in their bar for free. Now we're voted number-one band in the world above the Beatles, above Led Zeppelin in Melody Maker, all those papers. And Melody Maker wasn't even a big fan of ours. But we were so popular that it was undeniable.

Prior to Billion Dollar Babies, the word "pressure" hadn't figured into the Cooper vocabulary. "We honestly didn't care. Love It to Death came out and we were so happy it made the charts and was a gold record and Killer was actually the fifth-biggest record of that year in Rolling Stone, we're talking about sales. Then when School's Out came out, that really vaulted us to the top, to the real big leagues. And following it up with Billion Dollar Babies was something no one expected. They figured we had one huge hit album, we had two hit albums before that, but we weren't gonna top School's Out. But Billion Dollar Babies came out and actually topped it."

"Hello Hooray"

"Let the show begin . . . I'm ready/Ready as the rain to fall just to fall again/Ready as the man to be born only to be born again."

-- Rolf Kemp

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