40 Years Ago: Alice Cooper Goes Solo With ‘Welcome to My Nightmare’
In March 1975, Alice Cooper welcomed fans to his nightmare, but bid farewell to his band with his first solo album. Not that the average listener really understood the difference between Alice Cooper the frontman (born Vincent Furnier) and Alice Cooper the band (formed as such in 1968). Perhaps that's the benefit -- or trouble, for some -- with naming your alter ego and your band the exact same thing.
By the mid-'70s, Alice and Alice were going in two separate directions. While the band remained devoted to raucous, glammy rock and roll, the singer was interested in becoming more theatrical, both in concert and on records. The band played their final shows together in the spring of '74, before singer Alice began working on his first solo project with producer Bob Ezrin.
The producer had helmed the band's last four LPs, along with co-writing some songs, and shared Furnier's vision for what Alice could become in the context of a full-on concept album. The idea was that the record would take listeners on a trip through the nightmares of a boy named Steven, with Alice Cooper as the macabre guide. Breaking from the confines of a band, Alice Cooper could become the character his creator willed him to be.
Of course, not having a band also had its disadvantages in the form of musicians to play on the album. So, for Welcome to My Nightmare, Alice was paired with an assortment of players who had worked with Lou Reed, including on his 1973 Berlin record. Legendary sidemen Steve Hunter and Dick Wagner would take on key creative roles during writing and recording, particularly Wagner, who co-wrote more than half the record (Ezrin also shared co-writing credit on a majority of tracks). Notably, the late, great Wagner helped write the album's three singles: the soon-to-become signature title track, the rocking "Department of Youth" and the tuneful ballad "Only Women Bleed," which would hit No. 12 on the Billboard charts.
But the music was only the first step in Alice's new direction. After its release, Welcome to My Nightmare became the basis for a spooky TV special (Alice Cooper: The Nightmare, featuring narration from another creepy dude named Vincent -- Vincent Price). It also helped launch Alice Cooper's most outlandish tour yet. The extensive trek around the U.S., Canada and Europe kept the band mostly back stage while Alice became a character in a mini-musical, albeit one in which he decapitates a cyclops.
Although the album Welcome to My Nightmare would prove a popular success, going platinum in the U.S. and outperforming the final Alice Cooper band album, Muscle of Love, it would not fare as well with rock writers. Some longed for the rawer sound of the old band and others found Alice's more theatrical sound chintzy. Critical opinion has since improved as the album has been regarded as Alice Cooper's best solo work.
It's become such an important release to Alice that he even made a sequel to the album, Welcome 2 My Nightmare, in 2011, re-teaming not only with Ezrin, Wagner and Hunter, but also members of the original Alice Cooper band. How interesting that the band was dispatched on the original, only to reunite on the sequel.
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