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

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.

By 1974, the only thing standing in the way of the Alice Cooper band was the group itself.

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."

Ezrin: I didn't do [Billion Dollar Babies' follow-up] Muscle of Love because of a difference of opinion. I think in general, everyone was at a point where a change was a good idea. We all worked together a lot and very hard and we'd done it a number of times and we came in -- all of us -- kind of looking for something new for Muscle of Love. The band's idea of something new and my idea of something new weren't completely in sync. It felt like maybe we shouldn't do this record together.

Cooper: After that, we started to feel the pressure. Now we've gotta do an album that's better than Billion Dollar Babies. Then the band was getting really cocky and they started feeling like, "Well, we're really great musicians."

Nelson: The other pressure was that the band was touring so much that they were never given any breathing space to craft a good follow-up -- ever. That's one repeating theme that's heard from everybody back then.

Cooper: When Billion Dollar Babies came out, we were on a two-year tour where we didn't have time to count the money we were making or spend it. In those days, when you had a record out, you had to work the record because there was no MTV. You had to show up live. We were averaging five shows a week for two years. It just never ended.

Instead of rest and re-Cooper-ation, the band teamed with Jack Richardson (the producer who originally turned down an opportunity to work with Cooper and sent his assistant Ezrin to check the band out instead) and Jack Douglas for Muscle of Love, the last hello hooray from the Alice Cooper group.

Cooper: Muscle of Love was a pretty cool album, it just didn't . . . it was too fragmented. It didn't have the glue because the band was all over the place. I felt that that's what the album was, the band's conscious effort in the writing to go the other way to tone down the theatrics. To me, the next natural album would've been Nightmare. With the original band, Nightmare would've been our biggest album. The songs hadn't been written yet, but it would've happened because most of the ideas for those albums came from me anyway. In the end, School's Out and Billion Dollar Babies was coming from Ezrin and myself, and so when it came to the lyrical part, the actual written word and the titles, a lot of those things came down to me and Ezrin. Welcome to My Nightmare would've come up. But Muscle of Love was like, "Well, we've just had a number one, we gotta go back in the studio right now, we gotta get another one." We just didn't give the time to breathe.

After a stopgap greatest hits, the original group disbanded for good, with Cooper reuniting with Ezrin and taking the Alice Cooper name as a solo artist. The original members (minus Buxton) countered by forming a band named after the band's most famous album. The Billion Dollar Babies released their one and only LP, Battle Axe, in 1977. While a few catchy Michael Bruce riffs turn up, so do a lot of boring song titles: "Too Young," "Shine Your Love," "Love Is Rather Blind," "Dance With Me" and one too boring to even list. (All right, you asked for it . . . "Rock n' Roll Radio.")

Cooper: I was just thinking about that the other day: The band spent all their time not wanting to do theatrics and then put together an album called Battle Axe and did a whole theatrical thing in a boxing ring! And you're sitting there thinking, "Maybe they just wanted to get rid of the lead singer."

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