STEVE INSKEEP, host:
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame will be inducting new members next month. And in the lead-up to the ceremony, we are looking at the careers of those who will be entering the hall.
Forty-some years ago, a guy named Vince changed his name and then helped to usher in a new era in rock.
From member station WCPN, David C. Barnett has the story of Alice Cooper.
DAVID C. BARNETT: Vince Furnier's first stage costume was a Beatles wig. He and some buddies from the Cortez High School cross-country Team in Phoenix entered a talent show in 1964, doing their impression of the Fab Four. They went over so well, that they cut a record the following year.
(Soundbite of song, "Why Don't You Love Me?")
THE SPIDERS (Music Band): (Singing) "Spiders, why don't you love me?
BARNETT: They called themselves The Spiders, and Furnier says they really took their stage image seriously.
Mr. ALICE COOPER (Singer-Songwriter): There was a giant web behind us. We wore all black. We didn't just show up and stand up on stage, we appeared on stage.
BARNETT: And that became a key to the band's success. They headed for Los Angeles and a name change.
Mr. COOPER: That was the point where I said, let's not be obvious. Let's not call ourselves The Tarantulas or anything like that. Let's go the other way. Let's call ourselves something that sounds like a little old lady. I said Alice Cooper and that just kind of stuck.
BARNETT: The band found that the more confusing their image was the more gigs they got. So Vince Furnier dressed his little old lady character in black leather pants. He borrowed his girlfriend's slip and he threw some stage blood on it.
Mr. COOPER: People would look at it and go, what the hell is that?
BARNETT: Critics had the same reaction to the Alice Cooper band's first album.
(Soundbite of song, "Today Mueller")
ALICE COOPER (Music Band): (Singing) Today, Mueller let it happen happy slapping, tapping, paddy oh. She'd like to give her life away, like to stay another day, oh...
BARNETT: "Pretties for You" was released in 1969 on Frank Zappa's Straight Records label. Zappa saw Alice Cooper as a bizarre comedy act, but the band's first two albums tanked. Then, producer Bob Ezrin came in and took a song that was originally called "I'm Edgy" and turned it into the commercial pop hit.
(Soundbite of song, "I'm Eighteen")
Mr. COOPER: He took that and he kept dumbing it down until it was a three-minute anthem for every kid that was 18 and an outcast.
ALICE COOPER: (Singing) I'm 18 and I don't know what I want. Eighteen and I just don't know what I want...
BARNETT: The band kept building its image, staging theatrical concerts, which generally involved the character of Alice being executed, via hanging, electrocution or a guillotine. Once, he brought a live boa constrictor on stage. But a key to his persona has always been a sense of humor - Cooper appeared on "The Muppet Show," and in a Staples commercial, playing a father shopping with a sullen daughter for school supplies.
(Soundbite of a Staples commercial)
Unidentified Child: I thought you said school was out forever.
Mr. COOPER: No, no, no. The song goes school is out for summer. Nice try though.
(Soundbite of song, "School's Out")
ALICE COOPER: (Singing) School's out for summer. School's out forever...
Mr. COOPER: I think the shock value of Alice is over, and I don't think you can shock an audience anymore, really. I mean, Lady Gaga really shocking? I don't think so.
BARNETT: Alice Cooper knows that image is just that, and he's a bit bemused by some of the musicians who have followed in his footsteps.
Mr. COOPER: You get these bands that are, oh, we are the Baby Eaters and we're Satan worshipers and all this. And then, you meet them offstage and they're going, Hello, Mr. Cooper, this is my mother. She made cookies for you.
(Soundbite of song, "No More Mr. Nice Guy")
ALICE COOPER: (Singing) I used to be such a sweet, sweet thing 'til they got a hold of me. I opened doors for little old ladies. I helped the blind to see...
BARNETT: After all these years, the person behind the lyrics, the black leather and the mascara, is still a nice guy.
For NPR News, I'm David C. Barnett in Cleveland.
(Soundbite of song, "No More Mr. Nice Guy")
ALICE COOPER: (Singing) No more Mr. Nice Guy. No more Mister Clean.
INSKEEP: It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And I'm Renee Montagne.
ALICE COOPER: (Singing) No more Mr. Nice Guy. They say he's sick, he's obscene...
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