The Alice Cooper Group ended with a whimper, as the guy who played Alice, really named Vince, took the group’s name and launched a solo career.
Now named Alice Cooper, he started with what is now considered a classic, Welcome to My Nightmare. Forty-five years later, it’s still a vibrant and rocking album.
Alice was well-prepared for his solo effort. Bob Ezrin, who had worked on many Group albums, came along with Alice. Ezrin had supplemented the Group albums with musicians he had worked with before, and used them on Nightmare.
Alice’s songwriting evolved through the years into a competent lyricist, but he needed musicians to write the music. Ezrin was also a musician, and along with guitarists Steve Hunter and Dick Wagner, combinations of these four wrote most of the songs. Hunter and Wagner has also been in Lou Reed’s band, along with Prakash John and Pentti Glan. Ezrin produced Lou Reed albums, so he brought the entire band to the Alice project. Ezrin would also begin work with Peter Gabriel and use some of these musicians along with Tony Levin who worked on both these albums.
Alice headed into his solo career wanting more theatrics; more than the guillotines, snakes and other ghoulish stage gimmicks used by the Group. Nightmare would be a big concept album designed to haunt and scare you even more, especially when he took it on the road. Granted the Group was pretty glam-rock focused, but Alice didn’t think it was very theatrical. Okay. Bring on Vincent Price narrate one of the songs. Nice touch.
Welcome to My Nightmare was an album written about the trials of Steven, and his nightmare. Paranoia, nightmarish dreams, creatures, a mental hospital and various other images pass through these songs. Ezrin populated the songs with large rock arrangements, supplemented by a youth choir and orchestra as needed, but also dialed back the accompaniment to just Alice and acoustic instruments at times. This measured approach to the arrangements is like a haunted house of thrills, sometimes the creepiest times are when it is quiet and you can hear the stress and uncertainty in Alice’s voice as he almost whispers the lyrics, and then wham!
Even the album cover sent a mixed message. Spiders and creepy crawlers, with Alice in a tuxedo. This was the tightrope Alice would walk, not just on this album, but going forward.
Side one Title Writer(s) Length
“Welcome to My Nightmare” Cooper, Wagner 5:19 A very big production on this song, it incorporates several styles, something that the Alice Cooper Group did quite well. The beginning of the song sounds a lot like the Group.
“Devil’s Food” Cooper, Ezrin, Kelley Jay 3:38 A nice heavy guitar riff, not unlike what you’ve heard from past Group albums. The middle section is spoken word by actor Vincent Price who adds a macabre factor to the song. A song about a black widow, who eats her male.
“The Black Widow” Cooper, Wagner, Ezrin 3:37 A continuation of the previous song. A heavy riffing of guitars support Alice’s ode to the black widow. A nice chorus section, building later to a big orchestral backing. Musically, one of the better songs on the album.
“Some Folks” Cooper, Gordon, Ezrin 4:19 An old-time sounding tune, picture Alice with dancers and performing in front of a big orchestra. The song transition to a big production build-up. Alice was an old-fashioned performer at heart.
“Only Women Bleed” Cooper, Wagner 5:49 A nice ballad, a power ballad at that (before the term was coined), it rose to number 12 on the chart, the only one of three singles to break the top 40. Alice always liked ballads, he was good at it, and it gave him a chance to stretch.
Side two No. Title Writer(s) Length
This side is more of an opera, not just thematically, but the music was arranged to ebb and flow from song to song.
“Department of Youth” Cooper, Wagner, Ezrin 3:18 Another single from the album, Alice gets playful by incorporating a youth choir to the song, and a nice reference to Donny Osmond at the end. One of the best songs on the album, it should have been a bigger hit. Ezrin can make a large bombastic arrangement sound very pleasing.
“Cold Ethyl” Cooper, Ezrin 2:51 A song about making love to a corpse. A distorted guitar, but a bouncy little tune. Ezrin makes sure there are plenty of the melodic hooks.
“Years Ago” Cooper, Wagner 2:51 A slow, Calliope-type time signature. A haunting arrangement of a twisted, confused state of mind, recalling the past. Is Steven a boy or a man?
“Steven” Cooper, Ezrin 5:52 The keynote song about Steven’s nightmare, a pretty guitar/piano intro and first verse. The chorus thunders with instruments and orchestra, magnifying Steven’s inter conflict. Nice arrangement by Ezrin and guitars by Hunter/Wagner.
“The Awakening” Cooper, Wagner, Ezrin 2:25 A slow beginning picks up power. It is really a ramped-up ballad. The song conveys waking from the nightmare, getting ready for the next phase.
“Escape” Cooper, Fowley, Anthony A straight-ahead rocker built on a repetitious guitar riff. Not a great song, almost a throw-away, but the riff is nice.
If you notice some small resemblance to the sound of the Alice Cooper Group, I heard it too. It’s in the swagger of the guitars. The Group was one of the best guitar bands of the early 1970s with Glen Buxton and Michael Bruce delivering tasty riffs and solos on every album. Wagner and Hunter are no slouches either.
Welcome to My Nightmare was a reasonably well received album. Not every Alice Cooper Group fan was happy, but the album gained Alice some new fans. Alice would struggle to top the expectations he created with each subsequent album. He went through some leaner times and put himself into rehab for a drinking problem. Musical tastes were changing as well, it would be awhile before heavy metal emerged in the 1980s with a vengeance. Alice would also struggle, balancing his legion of youthful fans of gore with his more sophisticated and mainstream interests of golf tournaments and hobnobbing with the Hollywood establishment. Alice found a way, and it started with Welcome to My Nightmare.