Billion Dollar Babies

Alice Cooper

Warner Brothers Records, 1973

http://www.alicecooper.com

REVIEW BY: Roland Fratzl

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 10/06/2001

The Alice Cooper group roared back with a vengeance in 1973 with Billion Dollar Babies, what many consider to be their artistic and creative peak. At that point it certainly was their most successful album commercially, reaching the number one spot on the Billboard charts and spawning not one, but four hit singles. I personally can't decide if it's their best album...to me it's just another amazing example in a string of brilliant albums.

Something that the band successfully managed to maintain on this album is the steadily evolving excellent musicianship combined with top notch songwriting. Each and every song is not only solid, but they are also all completely distinctive from one another...to me a sign of a great album is when not only are the songs all diverse, but that they are all high quality as well, not just a great single or two among filler, which is common today.

Also very apparent is how over these albums each of the musicians has a distinct style of playing, and their personalities really shine. Not only do they have remarkable skills, but each of the instruments often seem to be playing their own melody, which they effortlessly weave together to create a very unique sound which can only be found on the Alice Cooper albums on which these five bizarre individuals (all high school buddies from the 60's) expressed their talent. Also, unlike most bands, where the bass and drums are relegated to the status of low end effects and rhythym, here they often play a pivotal role with very prominent main riffs and melodies in certain tunes.

More than ever at this point the band used calculated outrage to continue to shake the rock 'n roll establishment and irritate the religious right. Continuing the trend from the previous albums, this time the band set its sights on tackling a new subject: politics! Yep, most of the tunes here humourously satirize the American political system and way of life through the use of Alice's ever sharp and witty lyrics. God I love concept albums! They have a neat re-occuring theme running through most of the songs like a Wagnerian leitmotiv!

But the promtional stunt used for this album takes the cake: Alice himself ran a mock campaign for president of the United States in the 1972 election, and the really hilarious thing is that in hindsight most people probably would have voted for him instead of Nixon if they had known what would happen in 1974!

"Hello Hooray", the opening track, immediately sets the tone for the album as an inviting introductory song, practically making the listener's mouth water in anticipation of what is to come, acting as a type of prelude to the main course as a very theatrical sounding open letter to the audience. A very teasing tune, and one of the big hit singles from the album.

One of the most memorable songs in rock history is "Elected", another monster hit that hilariously satirizes the democratic election process with a deep rooted cynicism. Alice has always written brilliant lyrics, but on this album as a whole he really seemed to be working at a much higher level than most rock music listeners are used to. Humour and irony are never lost on this guy, and I feel that his talent for conveying powerful messages through sarcastic wit and humour have gone severely undervalued. If Alice Cooper hadn't become a rock star, I could totally picture that he would have wound up as a writer for Mad Magazine or The Onion!

"Billion Dollar Babies", another classic hard rocker, is built around the unforgettable opening melodic drum riff, hard hitting riffs, takes a humerous stab at the money and power involved in politics, and even features a guest vocal by the then popular folk singer Donovan, trading off a very unique creepy chorus with Alice...it's such a wonderful song and one of the band's signatures. You can just sense the power and urgency of a band at the peak of its prime. The whole band sounds completely determined to make the best possible album and take over the mantle of kings of rock. The record's tremendous mainstream success validated their efforts and silenced the arrogant critics who predicted that they would never last or make a big impact because their overly flashy live show was in the critic's eyes merely used to disguise their supposed lack of songwriting and playing ability. All I can say is that here we are almost 30 years later talking about what a huge impact Alice Cooper has had on rock music, and that he continues to release new music just as potent and relevant as any of his classic material.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

What can one say about "Unfinished Sweet", a song about a nightmarish trip to the dentist? As kooky as it is, it's a fantastic musical journey, opening with a one note distorted bass line that sounds like electronic beeping, followed by the main bombastic heavy guitar riffs and catchy vocal melody, only to go into a wacky lenghty instrumental section that speeds up and slows down, complete with James Bond inspired spy-like chase themes while you hear a dental drill whirring in the background! Does it get any more theatrical or glam sounding than this, unless you're in an actual musical? No way...and when I saw Alice live in 1999, they played this song and he was being chased around on stage by a team of demented looking dentists who then strapped him down in a chair and brutally pulled his tooth. Now that's what I call quality entertainment!

Halfway through the album we get to the legendary "No More Mister Nice Guy", which was another instant hit and has remained as one of the most popular rock tunes of all time. It's a prime example of how Alice was able to express frustration and aggression without taking himself too seriously, by not being above the use of humour and fun. I don't care who you are; how can anyone not appreciate such sharp writing? Speaking of inspired lyricism, "Generation Landslide" is another stand out track, criticizing the game of politics and war while everyone forgets about real problems.

Suddenly, after that song, the album gets extremely dark and offers perhaps some of the more disturbing material of Alice's career. "Sick Things" sounds like something from the bowels of hades...not a commercial song at all, with it's plodding beat, and ominous bass surges. Along with the album closer, the piano led vaudeville doo wop number "I Love The Dead" (every necrophiliac's anthem!), these are a very creepy listen, as Alice does his best psychotic madman impression. I still get chills down my spine when I listen to those songs.

Of course, by 1973 the Alice Cooper stage show was so shocking that these two songs provided the ultimate soundtrack for the on-stage activities, such as the dismembering of various dolls, the staged brawls, the flirtation with insanity, Alice's own ghoulish appearance, and most famously, the mock executions either by hanging, electric chair, or guillotine!

As if this huge success wasn't enough, there were seeveral other aspects to Alice Cooper at that time that should be mentioned, such as the extraordinary packaging. For example, the original sleeve of School's Out came with pink panties wrapped around them (another cause of outrage for high strung people everywhere) and would stand on fold out legs to simulate a school desk. Billion Dollar Babies' sleeve has a serrated surface to capture the feel of a wallet (which is the album artwork) and inside was a giant billion dollar bill with the band's faces on it, not to mention hockey card sized pics of the band members, posters, and a whole bunch of other stuff that is no longer possible in the CD age.

In a startling case of forsight, the band was also one of the first ever to film a "promotional clip" (now called music video) for one of the album's singles, "Elected", a hilarious video showing Alice in his trademark white coat tails and top hat, getting chauffeured around in a Rolls Royce, shaking hands with potential voters, answering 10 phones all at once in his campiagn office, and writhing about in a mountain of dollar bills!

In 2001, Billion Dollar Babies got the deluxe remaster treatment courtesy of Rhino (who always seem to go out of their way to do a fantastic job with anything they touch), with fully restored artwork, extensive new liner notes, and a bonus second cd of live recordings from the 1973 tour, as well as a few unreleased tracks (which are also on the box set). I have to admit that I usually don't notice a difference between remastered cd's and originals, but in this case there definitely is an improvement in sound quality, with much needed low end added and clearer separation for a more vibrant stereo effect. The live tracks are excellent, showcasing a surprisingly tight band unit despite the major alcohol problems that most of them were dealing with at the time, and so far it's the only officially available live documentation from the Alice Cooper group early 70's era, which many people consider to be the peak.

So is it the peak for Alice Cooper? Many think so, but I'm undecided. Billion Dollar Babies is without doubt an indispensable monument of hard rock brilliance, but so are the other Alice Cooper albums from this period. All I can say is that this is one of the finest rock albums ever made, and if you're getting into Alice Cooper, then you certainly can't go wrong by starting right here. An incredible blend of a commercial sound with the eccentricity of Alice. No one else could have gotten away with it and achieved #1 no less.

Rating: A

User Rating: A


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© 2001 Roland Fratzl and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Warner Brothers Records, and is used for informational purposes only.