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

Cooper: I don't know that "Sick Things" belongs on that album. It does now, but it's so creepy; it belonged on one of the creepier albums. Lyrically, it fits right in there. And I was thinking about the fans. We were always kind of making fun of us and our fans. Our fans were fans, but they were cultish. I mean, even to this day there are people today who are absolutely frightening cultish fans. I don't know if it happens to the Guess Who. I know ABBA has that kind of vicious fan.

When somebody dedicates their life to your band, then suddenly they are identified with you, everything that happens to you happens to them. They're looking so much for an identity that they take on the identity of the band. They fight for you in bars, and I wish sometimes I could go, "C'mon guys, we're just a band, okay? Your entire life does not have to depend on me." They give their life over to the band's existence -- you couldn't do anything to lose them as fans.

Not even slipping a ballad on the album like "Mary-Ann"?

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."

"Mary-Ann"

Cooper:Mike Bruce was sitting down playing this song, but he was serious! Absolutely serious about this being a song for us, and it didn't have the kicker ending for it. He played it for us and we said, "That's nice. What're you gonna do -- sell that to James Taylor?" Because it's a sweet song. So I sang it, and at the end I sang, "I thought you were my man." And everybody started laughing. So I said, "If we do this song, at least we'll have a punch line."

"I Love the Dead"

The decadent cabaret reverie of "Mary-Ann" gives way to another eerie Cooper song co-written with Bob Ezrin -- one that Johnny Rotten and Sid Vicious used to perform in subway terminals for loose change. Cooper has often said that he and Ezrin would plan out the general theme of an album and figure out how to make it pay off. It's a stretch, but you could almost make a case for "I Love the Dead" lyrically. After all, when you've amassed more elephant dollars than the Hamilton Mint and you've screwed every type of life form on the planet, what else is there to do but scour the cemetery for new kicks that won't kick back?

Cooper: "I Love the Dead" should've probably been on the Welcome to My Nightmare album. I always felt that song was a little out of place on Billion Dollar Babies. Maybe at the time we may have been thinking, "Hey we've got to give them something creepy." To maintain the creepiness . . . at that time we had that image. But I wish that song would've been on Nightmare or Hell. In reality, it actually felt like it belonged on Love It to Death. The feel of the song had a Dwight Frye, big, dark minor-key thing going on.

With its necrophiliac finale, Billion Dollar Babies bulleted to number one shortly after its release in the spring of 1973.

Cooper:When you have a number-one record, you can absolutely do anything you want. If we would've said, "Now we're gonna paint our heads green," every kid on the street would've had a green head. Number two? You don't have the same power. And the competition . . . when you put out a record then, you were up against Simon and Garfunkel, the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, all these bands that every time they put out a record it went to number one, and here's Alice Cooper putting out a record and everyone's going, "Huh? How does this fit in?" But it went right across the board, competed with everyone of those records and ended up on top. That was definitely a message that things were changing.

No one could have anticipated it, but the era the group worked so fervently to launch was already drawing to a close. For starters, it was the first album to feature the diminished contribution of Cooper guitarist Glen Buxton. Although the Cooper camp maintains "respect for the sleepers" by saying Buxton had health problems, it's the serious drinking that the whole group engaged in that incapacitated Buxton's musicianship first. Besides Rockin' Reggie, Lou Reed stalwarts Dick Wagner and Steve Hunter pitch in licks. It's perhaps the ultimate compliment that these hired guns do their damnedest to imitate Buxton's style.

Ezrin:Prior to Billion Dollar Babies, the only guest spot was on Killer, because Rick Derringer was in the studio next door and he was a hero of ours. And Glen didn't mind. I didn't actually have to look outside the band for a long time. But Glen was having substance-abuse problems. Mostly he was just drinking a lot. In the early days, the solos were fairly simple and required far less technical ability. As we grew as a band and the stuff got more sophisticated, we began to leave Glen behind. The question was, what's more important, the song or Glen's feelings? Ask me that question today as a more mature guy, I might have a different answer. But then we were all fired up on a mission from God to make these albums. Everything had to be great and nothing was to stand in our way.

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