I hear "guilty pleasures" a lot when us music snobs are talking about the music we actually listen to, rather than the music we say we like to listen to. Like when you hear a guy talking about how cool he thinks the new Radiohead album is, when you just KNOW he's got a Justin Timberlake CD in his car stereo... Guilty Pleasure. He ain't man enough to cop to what he's really groovin' to.
Anyway, here's my top three guilty pleasures (although some readers would probably argue that I don't show much guilt in the first place in listening to low-quality music... be that as it may...) in order from least guilty to most guilty.
#3. Alice Cooper. I don't know if Alice qualifies anymore. He's become rock n' roll's slightly eccentric older uncle with some really great stories about the crap he pulled back in the 70's. This in comparison to Ozzy's bat-shit-crazy-who's-going-to-pay-for-Uncle-Larry's-stay-in-the-home-after-we-have-him-committed burden on the family. As Alice's utterly insane peak has receded from memory, leaving a middle aged father who likes to golf, it's become a lot easier to listen to his music when no one's beheading a dwarf or sacrificing live chickens on stage while slugging an entire fifth of rum during the instrumental fade out of "Eighteen."
What you end up with is a bizarre combination of vaudeville show tunes, hard, hard, hard garage rock, an incredibly perceptive and funny lyricist, and a singer with a fantastically warm, charismatic voice. Just take the Billion Dollar Babies album... and I won't even talk about the hits... the hidden masterpieces only...
"Raped and Freezin'" a fantastic garage rocker, flipping the rock star/groupie relationship around, turning the pursuer in the pursued, with our hero only escaping by running out the hotel room naked into the cold Mexican night. That the rock n' roll collapses on itself into a Mariachi band only serves to seal the deal.
"Unfinished Sweet" a tale of everyday terror: going to the dentist. Featuring the mouth harp. Of course. "De Sade is gonna dance on my molars tonight." "Take it to the doc 'cus he ought to know... He says my teeth are o.k., but my gums got to go." And then the electric drill solo guaranteed to make everyone in the room squirm, painful moaning, followed by a break into the Peter Gunn theme, guitar solo, a strange yanking sound, tension mounts, tooth pulled, back to the mouth harp. Genius.
"Generation Landslide" A great, great song. Maybe my favorite ever by anyone. What if babies were in charge? In this case, what if babies were really aliens and decided to take over the world? "They looked just like humans in Kresge's and Woolworth's, but decadent brains were at work to destroy." "Brats in batallion ruling the streets, said generation landslide closed the gap between them."
"Molotov milk bottles." "Bankers son's hours." How many fantastic throw away lines do you need in one song? And then the jaw-droppingly beautiful guitar solo. I'm not a shred-head. I like my guitar lyrical. And this is as lyrical as it gets. Glenn Buxton was a fantastic guitarist, and I have no idea why he never did anything of consequence (musically, I mean... I don't know the man, I'm sure he did something of consequence outside of music later on) after this album.
"I Love the Dead" Rock n' Roll's appeal in many respects has often been founded on making the forbidden seem appealing. I think a straight faced argument can be made that the fear of miscegenation (you know, black folks and white folks getting it on in bed or wherever else together) was what caused the orignal backlash against rock n' roll in the late 50's. The whole "jungle beat" complaint was racist code. Basically, what they were really saying was, "This music makes you wanna dance like an African, and if you want to dance like an African, sooner or later you're gonna want to dance with an African, and if you're dancin' with an African, sooner or later, you're actually gonna talk to that African, and go maybe share a chocolate milkshake, and before you know it, I've got me a bunch of mixed race grand kids running around, and how will I ever explain that to my buddies at the next Klan rally?"
So, with "I Love the Dead" Alice takes things one step beyond. Well, it's more than one step... "Hey Ma, if you don't like me running around with that black girl, get a load of this!"
This is a basic truth: THERE HAS NEVER BEEN A BAD SONG ABOUT NECROPHILIA!!! Alice just happens to do it better than everybody else. (And by "everybody else," I mean Slayer, because I don't think anyone else has ever done a song about necrophilia.)
What's so mind-blowing about "I Love the Dead" is that it's not even Alice's best song about necrophilia. That's "Cold Ethyl" from Welcome to My Nightmare.
In all seriousness, though, no lesser person than Bob Dylan has said that Alice is one of America's most overlooked songwriters. And in Alice, you get all the great American contradictions: gauche but somehow classy, dumb in a really smart way, sexy, ugly, endlessly creative and talented, but using all that talent and creativity in ways that nobody would have thought of and certainly never approved of.
#2 next time...