40 Years Ago: Alice Cooper’s ‘Billion Dollar Babies’
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…
The era dawned on a deeply divided America, caught between the iron grip of conservative government and the leather glove of shock rock, courtesy of Alice Cooper, who released ‘Billion Dollar Babies’ on Feb. 25, 1973.
Some three months prior, Richard Nixon had soundly beaten Democratic challenger George McGovern to win his second term of office, thus apparently confirming that America’s right-wing majority desired nothing more than to sweep the late-’60s — with all of its human rights conflagrations, counter-culture movements, and political instability — right under the wooly shag rug of history.
But though they had clearly failed miserably at the polls back in November, America’s liberal youth soon cast their votes against conformity in record stores, by driving the Alice Cooper band’s sixth studio album to the very top of the American charts (followed in short order by U.K. fans).
For the members of Alice Cooper — the high school friends who had started out playing together as the Spiders nearly a decade earlier in the geographic backwater of Phoenix, Ariz. — the climb out of obscurity to top of the mountain was a long and arduous one, indeed.
But after years of punishing dues-paying and a pair of commercially failed albums for Frank Zappa’s Straight Records, Alice Cooper vocalist Vincent Furnier, guitarists Glen Buxton and Michael Bruce, bassist Dennis Dunaway and drummer Neal Smith began their inexorable infection of America’s consciousness after joining forces with producer Bob Ezrin.
‘Billion Dollar Babies’ proved the artistic and commercial culmination of their joint efforts, surpassing the previous year’s equally seminal, No. 2 charting ‘School’s Out,’ to reach Billboard’s coveted No. 1 spot on the strength of immortal singles like ‘Elected,’ ‘No More Mr. Nice Guy’ and the title track.
And it didn’t stop there, since a slew of equally compelling – not to mention controversy-fueling – album cuts like ‘Raped and Freezing’ and ‘I Love the Dead’ were made-to-order for appeasing even the most diehard, sellout-sensitive Alice fans of old, thus assuring the band’s unchallenged coronation via ‘Billion Dollar Babies.’
“Move over ‘Tricky Dick,’” the cultural headlines seemed to shriek. “Shock rock has arrived!”
But unfortunately, much like Nixon’s crooked administration, whose day of reckoning lay just ahead in the shape of the Watergate scandal, the Alice Cooper band, too, was already crumbling amid increasing substance abuse and fraying relationships.
By the end of the grueling, revenues-record-breaking ‘Billion Dollar Babies’ tour, and late-’73 release of the disappointing ‘Muscle of Love’ album, Alice Cooper was officially heading back down the mountain of rock stardom, never again to breathe the rarefied air to which they’d only recently grown accustomed.
Within the year, Furnier would dismiss his longtime bandmates and carry on as a solo artist in all but name – that is, until he legally changed his name to Alice Cooper in order to stave off potential lawsuits — thus rudely excising those four from the shock rock legacy that was, in part, rightfully theirs, too.
Like we said earlier: it was the best of times, it was the worst of times…