Alice Cooper: The Original Shock Rocker Lady Gaga has built a reputation for flamboyant stage shows, but she could probably learn a lesson or two from one of the pioneers of theatrical rock. Alice Cooper has left a trail of blood, severed heads and boa constrictors on his way to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
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Alice Cooper: The Original Shock Rocker

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Alice Cooper: The Original Shock Rocker

Alice Cooper: The Original Shock Rocker

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STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

From member station WCPN, David C. Barnett has the story of Alice Cooper.

DAVID C: (Soundbite of song, "Why Don't You Love Me?")

THE SPIDERS: (Singing) "Spiders, why don't you love me?

BARNETT: They called themselves The Spiders, and Furnier says they really took their stage image seriously.

M: 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.

M: 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.

M: 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: (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")

M: 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.

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)

U: I thought you said school was out forever.

M: No, no, no. The song goes school is out for summer. Nice try though.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG "SCHOOL'S OUT")

COOPER: (Singing) School's out for summer. School's out forever...

M: 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.

M: (Soundbite of song, "No More Mr. Nice Guy")

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: (Soundbite of song, "No More Mr. Nice Guy")

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.

COOPER: (Singing) No more Mr. Nice Guy. They say he's sick, he's obscene...

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