Posts Tagged ‘Straight Records’

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Long before the epic anthems, platinum albums and sold-out concert tours — before the boas, guillotines and outrageous urban legends, Alice Cooper merely was a peculiar unknown band, peddling a peculiar debut record. That LP was released 50 years ago this week on Frank Zappa’s Straight Records label. American rock band Alice Cooper, released on June 25th, 1969 . At this time, the name “Alice Cooper” referred to the band and not its lead singer Vincent Furnier, although he was also known as Alice Cooper. The album has a psychedelic flavour to it; the group had yet to develop the more concise hard rock sound that they would become famous for. Most of the tracks feature unusual time signatures and arrangements, jarring syncopation, expressive dynamics, sound effects, and an eclectic range of music influences. A few songs, such as “Levity Ball”, show the influence of Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd, with whom the band hung out during the British group’s U.S. tour. Alice Cooper guitarist Glen Buxton stated he could listen to Barrett’s guitar playing for hours on end.

Formed during the mid-‘60s in Phoenix, Arizonathe Spiders later would change their name to Nazz. By 1968, the struggling combo now known as Alice Cooper, was residing in southern California, fighting for survival on the L.A. club scene, developing a reputation for being a “weird” band — a distinction that soon got them noticed by Zappa, as well as by their legendary manager, Shep Gordon.

From a distance, Alice Cooper’s musically meandering, psychedelic-sounding debut bared little resemblance to the rock-ribbed arena style that would define the band’s iconic latter work. However, upon examining the record’s 13 “tea leaves” a bit closer, the future could certainly be seen.

Despite the listed production team — Ian UnderwoodHerb Cohen and Frank Zappa, manager Shep Gordon has stated that “Pretties for You” actually had no producer — and it shows. Gordon maintains further that the album merely was a hodgepodge of incomplete compositions recorded during the band’s in-studio rehearsal.

A commercial failure, Pretties for You barely grazed the bottom rung of the Billboard Top 200 — reaching only a disappointing #193. Additionally, none of the tracks ever have been performed by the band in concert since the release of their 1971 breakout album, Love It to Death.

The record opens with “Titanic Overture” a haunting, orchestrated, minute-long snippet that sinks abruptly and basically leads nowhere. Another brief interlude, “10 Minutes Before the Worm” is clunky and trippy. Possessing no real structure to speak of, it does provide a brief splash of melody, just before falling apart randomly. The coolest thing about “10 Minutes” is that it offers the first glimpse of the gloriously skitzo signature style of drummer Neal Smith — the musical force who would arguably deserve the MVP award on subsequent Cooper records.

Pretties for You soon erupts into a splendid dysfunctional fiesta in which several of the tracks often sound like songs. A stylistic collision between The Piper at the Gates of Dawn and Idlewild South, “Swing Low, Sweet Cheerio” is an authentic, harmonica-driven classic rock stand-out. Other noteworthy numbers include the occasionally melodic, lo-fi live track “Levity Ball” and “Apple Bush” — a near-radio-friendly tune nailed to the floor by bassist Dennis Dunaway and accented by lead vocalist Alice Cooper’s legit harmonica work. While less than hooky, “Fields of Regret” bursts with ear-splitting urgency, courtesy of guitarists Glen Buxton and Michael Bruce. Combined with Cooper’s oft eerie vocal, “Fields” lights a path showing where the band would travel musically in the not so distant future.

Of the record’s super-highlights, “Living” is an irresistibly buzzy delight, while the lead-off single, “Reflected” serves an adequate demo for what would become, “Elected,” the monster Top 40 hit from the band’s 1973 album, Billion Dollar Babies. And although it certainly is catchy, “Changing Arranging” woulda, coulda, shoulda delivered even more, had celebrated producer Bob Ezrin arrived on the A.C. scene two records earlier.

The artwork for this album is a painting by Edward Beardsley. It was originally hanging on the wall of the living room in Frank Zappa’s house, and his wife Gail Zappa stated that it was later stolen from them.

In sum, Pretties for You is as “weird” now as when it first was released, half a century ago. And while it may not be the preferred “go-to” record that most Cooper fans pop in the deck, but it remains a much-loved and well-respected work among the band’s most fervent followers.

“Pretties for You” Track Listing:

Side One
01. Titanic Overture (1:12)
02. 10 Minutes Before the Worm (1:39)
03. Swing Low, Sweet Cheerio (5:42)
04. Today Mueller (1:48)
05. Living (3:12)
06. Fields of Regret (5:44)

Side Two
01. No Longer Umpire (2:02)
02. Levity Ball (4:39)
03. B.B. on Mars (1:17)
04. Reflected (3:17)
05. Apple Bush (3:08)
06. Earwigs to Eternity (1:19)
07. Changing Arranging (3:03)