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

Lyrically, the song (and "Generation Landslide") finds Cooper tipping his top hat to Billy Rose's Depression-era anthem "I Found a Million Dollar Baby" with its references to dime stores like Kresge's and Woolworth's, while the decapitated baby-doll heads link it to previous Cooper triumphs of bad taste like "Dead Babies." No children were harmed in the making of that record -- the sound of the baby crying was actually done by an adult. Here, the squeaky doll squawks are replicated by an unlikely source, '60s folkie Donovan, who happened to be recording in an adjacent studio. Incidentally, no tune on Billion Dollar Babies features Ezrin's sonic signature -- children singing. However, Ezrin would employ the trick on Welcome to My Nightmare, as well as albums he produced for KISS, Peter Gabriel and Pink Floyd.

Ezrin: "Another Brick in the Wall" was the ultimate kid record. [Cooper's manager] Shep Gordon said when he heard that he pulled off the highway laughing because it reminded him of "School's Out Redux." And in a way, he was right. What the hell? When you find something the audience likes, why deprive them of it? There was a lot of kid themes in the Alice Cooper stuff because we were kids.

"Unfinished Sweet"

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."

Not inspired by an actual toothache so much as a desire by the Coop to see an audience suffer. The extended spy instrumental passage was a staple of every Cooper live show, allowing him time to chase a dancing molar across the stage with a toothbrush.

Cooper: I was trying to think of what's the worst sound in the world. A dentist drill. We've got to get that thing in there because I would love to do a thing onstage with a giant dentist drill. How horrible is that? Tap into that fear. Everyone hates that. Then after that, where would he go if he went into a dream? He'd go into a spy dream. We were always suckers for TV theme songs. So in that section, the theme for I Spy was going on, the James Bond theme and The Man From U.N.C.L.E.theme are all going on at the same time and it all fits in mathematically.

"No More Mr. Nice Guy"

A song that reminds us Pat Boone shouldn't be allowed near amplification, but also one that recalls a time when Cooper -- now a golfer, restaurateur and respected member of the community -- was the scourge of decent citizens everywhere.

Nelson:When I was a kid growing up, I used to get teased, yelled at and mocked because Alice Cooper was a fag. And I said, "Who do you listen to?" And they'd say, "Elton John. Elton rules." I'd get the crap beaten out of me being an Alice Cooper fan.

Cooper:To this day he does! (Laughs.) As soon as people got over the Alice Cooper name and realized that we were always after girls, then all of a sudden came Elton and Bowie, and they were definitely ambiguous.

Even after Cheech & Chong fused Alice and Bowie together in the film Up in Smoke?

Cooper:Which was funny. I thought that was one of the great moments when I was watching that movie and all of the sudden Alice Bowie comes out. Y'know what? That was a cool song, I wish we would've learned that song. Cheech & Chong used to open up for us -- we did a lot of shows with them, so you could imagine that tour. They were at their absolute peak, [the comedy duo's pot-heavy 1972 album] Big Bambu was out and we were always afraid to cross borders with them. Back then, they would take a bus or an airplane apart looking for stuff.

"Generation Landslide"

The lyrics to this tune read like a drastic take on the '60s teen-revolt flick Wild in the Street. Only in this case, it isn't the 14-year-olds who get the vote, but brazen bed wetters. It also appears here in outtake form as "Son of Billion Dollar Babies."

Ezrin: The way that we used to work is we would all gather and bring in our stuff and then we'd start by listening to the ideas that each of us had brought in. Basically, I was the arbiter, but everybody got to express themselves, and if something really grabbed our fancy, we'd pick up the instruments and start playing it. And that was a really good way to inspire creativity and freedom of thought. We would go to playing before we were ready to commit to anything. In the process, we worked up a lot of things that never got used, but part of them may have survived. It may have just been a riff, which we'd hold it to the side until we needed a another riff in D."

Very likely, "Generation Landslide" -- the only new five-way composition on the album -- was a result of this cut-and-paste construct.

"Sick Things"

Cooper: That was Bob Ezrin. Bob wanted this to be the real effects song.

Ezrin: I don't think we ever demo'd it. It's supposed to sound like the whole universe has slowed down to half speed. It's one of those things that started out on a piano late, late, late at night (chuckles). And it had an ominous and sick sound to it in the very low register of the piano. The idea was to capture that richness and percussiveness and thickness with the band. Some of the stuff was actually recorded at a higher speed and slowed down to normal. I don't remember all of the things we put on there. I remember the smashing of the guitar for the solo. That was the most fun I'd had in years. We had to come up with a solo that was suitably sick for the track and tried doing stuff backwards, which was okay, but it had been done before and we tried things, effects which were distracting in a way that I didn't feel served the song. And then somebody fed back out of an amplifier and it was just awful feedback and I said, "That's it. That's what I want. Let's just get a bunch of that, shall we? And let's augment it with the sound of smashing, crashing and destroying a guitar." It was either Glen or Mike, I can't remember which one did it.

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