Love It to Death

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Love It to Death
Black-and-white album cover.  A group of five men in makeup pose together.  The figure in the middle wears a cape and sticks his thumb out from behind it near his crotch.
Original album cover
Studio album by Alice Cooper
Released February 21, 1971[citation needed]
Recorded 1971 at RCA Mid-American Recording Center, Chicago, Illinois
Genre Hard rock, heavy metal
Length 37:21
Label Straight, Warner Bros.
Producer Jack Richardson, Bob Ezrin
Alice Cooper chronology
Easy Action
(1970)
Love It to Death
(1971)
Killer
(1971)
Singles from Love It to Death
  1. "I'm Eighteen"
  2. "Caught in a Dream"

Love It to Death is the third album by the Alice Cooper band, released in 1971. It was the band's first commercially successful album, and is considered where the band first consolidated its aggressive hard-rocking sound. The album's best-known track, "I'm Eighteen", was released as a single to test the band's commercial viability before the album was recorded.

Formed in the mid-1960s, the band took the name Alice Cooper in 1968 and became known for its outrageous theatrical live shows. The loose, psychedelic freak rock of its first two albums failed to find an audience. The band moved to Detroit in 1970 and was influenced by the aggressive hard rock scene there. The group enlisted a young Bob Ezrin as producer and spent two months rehearsing ten to twelve hours a day as Ezrin encouraged the band to tighten its songwriting. Soon after, the single "I'm Eighteen" achieved top-forty success, convincing Warner Bros. that Alice Cooper had the commercial potential to release an album. Love It to Death appeared in February 1971 and reached number 35 on the Billboard albums chart. A single of "Caught in a Dream" charted at number 94.

The original album cover featured Cooper posed with his thumb protruding from his cape so it appeared to be his penis; Warner Bros. soon replaced it with a censored version. The Love It to Death tour was an elaborate shock rock live show. During "Ballad of Dwight Fry"—about an inmate in an insane asylum—Cooper would be dragged offstage and return in a straitjacket. The show climaxed with Cooper's mock execution in a prop electric chair during "Black Juju". Ezrin and the Coopers continued to work together for a string of hit albums until the band's breakup in 1974. The album has come to be seen as a foundational influence on hard rock and heavy metal; several tracks have become live Alice Cooper standards and are frequently covered by other bands.

Background[edit]

Detroit-born vocalist Vincent Furnier co-formed the Earwigs in the mid-1960s in Phoenix, Arizona, with guitarist Glen Buxton, guitarist and keyboardist Michael Bruce, bassist Dennis Dunaway, and drummer Neal Smith. The band released a few singles in 1967 after changing names to the Spiders.[1] In 1968 the band changed names again to Alice Cooper—a name Furnier later adopted for his own—and perpetuated the story that it came from a 17th-century witch whose name they learned from a session with a ouija board.[2]

At some point Buxton painted circles under his eyes with cigarette ashes, and soon the rest followed with ghoulish black makeup and outlandish clothes.[2] The band moved to Los Angeles[2] and became known for its provocative, theatrical shock rock stage show.[3] In a headline-grabbing incident during a performance at the Toronto Rock and Roll Revival in 1969, Cooper threw a live chicken into the audience, and it was torn to shreds.[4]

The group's first two albums, Pretties for You (1969) and Easy Action (1970) appeared on Frank Zappa's Straight Records label, and failed to find an audience. The band relocated to Detroit and found itself in the midst of a rock scene populated with the hard driving rock of the MC5, the stage-diving Iggy Pop with the Stooges, and the theatricality of George Clinton's Parliament and Funkadelic. The Alice Cooper band went on to incorporate these influences, resulting in a tight, hard-rock driven sound with an outrageous theatrical live show beginning.[5]

While at the Strawberry Fields Festival in Canada in April 1970 the band's manager Shep Gordon contacted producer Jack Richardson, who had produced hit singles for the the Guess Who. Richardson was uninterested himself in producing the Alice Cooper band, and sent nineteen-year-old Bob Ezrin in his place. Cooper recalled the young junior producer as "a nineteen-year-old Jewish hippie" who reacted to meeting the outlandish band "as if he had just opened a surprise package and found a box full of maggots".[6]

Ezrin initially turned down working with the band, but had a change of heart when he saw them live at Max's Kansas City in New York City the following October. Ezrin was impressed with the band's audience-participation rock-theater performance and the cult-like devotion of the band's fans who dressed up and knew the lyrics and actions to the music, which Ezrin compared to the later cult following of the The Rocky Horror Picture Show.[6] Ezrin returned to Toronto to convince Richardson to take on the band; Richardson did not want to work directly with such a group but agreed on condition that Ezrin took the lead.[7]

Production[edit]

The band and Ezrin did pre-production for the album in Pontiac, Michigan in November and December 1970. Ezrin, with his classical and folk background, attempted to have the band tighten the loosely-structured songs. The band resisted at first, but came to see things Ezrin's way, and ten to twelve hours a day of rehearsal resulted in a tight set of hard-rocking songs with little of the psychedelic freak-rock aesthetic of the first two albums. According to Cooper, Ezrin "ironed the songs out note by note, giving them coloring, personality".[8]

Zappa had sold Straight Records to Warner Bros. in 1970 for $50,000.[9] That November[10] the group released a single of "I'm Eighteen" backed with "Is It My Body", and Warner Bros. agreed that if it sold well the group could go forward with an album. The band posed as fans and made hundreds of calls to radio stations to request the song, and Gordon is said to have paid others a dollar per radio request. Soon the song was on the airwaves across the country—even on mainstream AM radio—and peaked at number 21 on the charts.[11] The success of convinced Warner to contract Richardson to produce Love It to Death—one of the first times an American producer assigned a Canadian to produce an album.[12] It was recorded at the RCA Mid-American Recording Center in Chicago. "I'm Eighteen" was a sixteen-track recording at 15 IPS; other tracks were recorded at 30 IPS.[13]

The classically-trained Ezrin was intent on developing a cohesive sound for the band, and his earnestness was a source of humor for the band.[14] A time when the reputation of the Beatles made them seem beyond criticism, the band meant "Second Coming" was intended as a jab the recently-released track "The Long and Winding Road" and the elaborate production Phil Spector had given it. The hyperbolic acclaim it received struck the band as if it were the Second Coming of a master composer on the order of Beethoven—and at Ezrin's attempts to bring such production values to Alice Cooper's music. Ezrin did not realize the joke was largely at his expense.[15]

Ezrin had Cooper lie on the floor surrounded by a cage of metal chairs while recording the "I wanna get out of here" sequence of "Ballad of Dwight Fry".[16]

Content[edit]

A dark, aggressive song whose lumbering, distorted main guitar riff is in E minor, "I'm Eighteen" was the band's first hit. In raspy vocals against arpeggiated guitar backing, the lyrics speak of the existential anguish of being at the cusp of adulthood, decrying in each verse being "in the middle"—"of life" or "of doubt". The chorus switches to a series of crashing power chords building from A, the vocals proclaiming: "I'm eighteen / And I don't know what I want ... I gotta get out of this place / I'll go runnin' in outer space". The song turns around at the conclusion with an embrace of those things that had been such anguish: "I'm eighteen and I like it!"[17]

"I'm Eighteen" is sandwiched between two straight-ahead rockers: "Long Way to Go" and album opener "Caught in a Dream". Both follow simple hard-rock formulas, trading heavy riffing with guitar fills and solos,[18] "Caught in a Dream" was the album's second single and featured irreverent, tongue-in-cheek lyrics such as "I need everything the world owes me / I tell that to myself and I agree". The first side closes with "Black Juju" by bassist Dunaway, an lengthy track in the eerie vein of The Doors and the Pink Floyd's "Interstellar Overdrive" —both bands Alice Cooper had earlier opened for.[19]

"Is It My Body", the B-side to the "I'm Eighteen" single, opens the second side of the album. "Hallowed Be My Name" follows.[citation needed] "Second Coming" developed from a a lyrical fragment Cooper had come up with: "Time is getting closer / I read it on a poster"—lines set to a delicate piano by Ezrin.[15]

Black-and-white photograph of a seated man in a suit and tie
Dwight Frye was a real-life horror movie actor, dubbed "the man with the thousand-watt stare".

"The Ballad of Dwight Fry" is a dramatic piece about an insane man in a mental asylum. It opens with a young girl's voice asking if her "Daddy" will "ever come home",[a] against a childlike piano backdrop. The song shifts to acoustic guitar and Cooper singing presumably in the persona of the girl's father,[20] singing at first in a wavering almost-whisper. His voice builds with his persona's increasing instability, breaking out in shouting in the heavy, electric guitar-backed chorus: "See my only mind explode / Since I've gone away". After the second chorus there is a softer, creepy keyboard break[21] by Buxton,[16] and when the vocals reappear they repeat "I wanna get out of here", at first tentative and imploring, eventually climaxing in the character's total mental breakdown and a return to the chorus.[21] The name of the song's main character is drawn from Dwight Frye,[20] an actor Hollywood media dubbed "the man with the thousand-watt stare"[22] and who portrayed Renfield, the lunatic slave of the titular vampire in the 1931 film Dracula starring Bela Lugosi.[20]

The album closes with a cover of "Sun Arise" by Australian entertainer Rolf Harris. The upbeat pop song song had been a show-opener for the band throughout 1970, and is a dramatic contrast to the darkness of the rest of the album.[14]

Track listing[edit]

Side one
No. Title Writer(s) Length
1. "Caught in a Dream"   Michael Bruce 3:10
2. "I'm Eighteen"   Bruce, Alice Cooper, Dennis Dunaway, Neal Smith, Glen Buxton 3:00
3. "Long Way to Go"   Bruce 3:04
4. "Black Juju"   Dunaway 9:09
Side two
No. Title Writer(s) Length
1. "Is It My Body"   Cooper, Dunaway, Bruce, Smith, Buxton 2:39
2. "Hallowed Be My Name"   Smith 2:29
3. "Second Coming"   Cooper 3:04
4. "Ballad of Dwight Fry"   Bruce, Cooper 6:33
5. "Sun Arise"   Harry Butler, Rolf Harris 3:50

Release and reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic 4.5/5 stars [23]
Rolling Stone (favorable)[24]
Robert Christgau (B−)[25]

"I'm Eighteen" was the band's first top 40 in the US, a success that led to a recording deal with Warner Bros. Records.[8] In Canada it broke the top ten, peaking at number 7.[26] Love It to Death was release first on Straight, then soon after on Reprise Records[citation needed] and then Warner and reached number 35 on the US album charts[1] and 34 in Canada.[27] The RIAA certified the album gold November 6, 1972, and platinum July 30, 2001.[28] Alice Cooper was the first band on Warner Music Canada's roster to sell more than 100,000 copies of four platinum in Canada. In 1973 the band were awarded platinum albums in Canada for Love It to Death, Killer, School's Out, and Billion Dollar Babies.[29]

The original cover has the long-haired band members in dresses and makeup, and has Cooper holding cape around him with his thumb sticking out to give the illusion of an exposed penis.[3] This led Warner Brothers to censor it by airbrushing out Cooper's thumb and arm.[30]

"Caught in a Dream" was released as a single backed with "Hallowed Be My Name" in May 1971;[31] it peaked in the US at number 94.[19] The group supported the album with extensive touring. "Ballad of Dwight Frye" was a dramatized set piece in the live show, featuring an actress dressed as a nurse who dragged Cooper offstage and brought him back on straitjacketed in time for the second verse's "Sleepin' don't come very easy / In a strait white vest". At the song's climax, Cooper would break free of the straitjacket and hurl it into the audience.[21] The Love It to Death tour of 1971 featured an electric chair in the earliest staged executions of the singer. These executions were to become an attraction of the band's shows, which became progressively more flamboyant; the shows in the Billion Dollar Babies tour of 1973 concluded with Cooper's execution by prop guillotine.[32] The Love It to Death tour grossed so well the band bought a forty-two room mansion from Ann-Margret in Greenwich, Connecticut, which was to be its home base for the next few years.[11]

The album garnered mixed reviews. Billboard called the album "artfully absurd third-generation rock" and the group "the first stars of future rock".[33] John Mendelsohn gave the album a favorable review in Rolling Stone, writing it "represents at least a modest oasis in the desert of dreary blue-jeaned aloofness served up in concert by most American rock-and-rollers." However, referring to "Black Juju" he also stated that "the one bummer on this album is so loud a bummer that it may threaten to neutralize the ingratiating effect" of the other tracks.[24] Robert Christgau rated it B−, stating that he "never would have figured this theatre type to come up with it" and calling "I'm Eighteen" "as archetypal a hard rock single as you're liable to hear in this flaccid year, or maybe ever".[25]

The band and saw its popularity rise over the next several albums. Killer followed in November 1971 and reached number 21 on the US charts,[34] and the band finally topped those charts in 1973 with its sixth album, Billion Dollar Babies.[35]

Legacy[edit]

The band was pleased with the collaboration with Ezrin, and he remained their producer until Cooper's first solo album, Welcome to My Nightmare in 1975.[8] Songs from Love It to Death continued to be frequent requests long after Cooper went solo. In response, when writing material for his 1989 album Trash, Cooper and producer Desmond Child spent time listening to Love it to Death and the band's 1974 Greatest Hits album to "find that vibe and match it to" a style appropriate to the 1990s.[36]

Joey Ramone (left) wrote the first Ramones song "I Don't Care", based on the chords to "I'm Eighteen".

Love It to Death is seen as one of the foundational albums of the heavy metal sound, along with contemporary releases by Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and others.[37] A review in British magazine Melody Maker called it "an album for the punk and pimply crowd" a few years before punk rock became a phenomenon.[38] Early punk group the Ramones found inspiration in Alice Cooper's music and Love It to Death in particular.[39] Vocalist Joey Ramone based the group's first song, "I Don't Care", on the chords of the main riff to "I'm Eighteen".[40] John Lydon wrote the song "Seventeen" on the Sex Pistols album Never Mind the Bollocks in response to "I'm Eighteen",[41] and is said to have auditioned for the Sex Pistols by miming to an Alice Cooper song—most frequently reported as "I'm Eighteen".[42] Love It to Death inspired Pat Smear to pick up the guitar at age twelve; he went on to cofound the Germs and later was touring guitarist Nirvana and is rhythm guitarist for the Foo Fighters.[43] Sonic Youth performed covers of "Ballad of Dwight Fry",[44] "Hallowed Be My Name" (as "Hallowed Be Thy Name"),Mason, Stewart. Love It to Death at AllMusic. Retrieved 6 November 2014. and "Is It My Body"—the latter of which is bassist Kim Gordon's favorite of her own vocal performances.[45]

Black-and-white photo of a spiky-haired youth singing into a microphone
Legend has it John Lydon auditioned for the Sex Pistols by miming to "I'm Eighteen".

Hit Parader included Love It to Death in its heavy metal Hall of Fame in 1982,[46] and placed the album twenty-first on its list of "Top 100 Metal Albums" in 1989.[47] In 2003, Love It to Death was ranked #460 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.[citation needed] Greg Prato gave Love It to Death an AllMusic rating of four-and-a-half out of five stars, calling it "an incredibly consistent listen from beginning to end" and "the release when everything began to come together for the band".[23] To Pete Prown and Harvey Newquist, the band's theatrical arrangements help its two guitarists "[transcend] the all-too-common clichés" in their the simple hard-rock riffing and soloing "that were part and parcel of early seventies rock".[18]

Both "Second Coming" and "Ballad of Dwight Fry" were covered by alternative metal band The Melvins for their album Lysol. "Is It My Body" was covered by Emilie Autumn.[citation needed] Swedish death metal band Entombed released an EP in 1999 entitled Black Juju that includes a cover of "Black Juju".[48]

The song "Dreamin'" on the 1998 Kiss album Psycho Circus bears such a resemblance to "I'm Eighteen" that a month after the album's release Cooper's publisher filed a plagiarism suit, settled out of court in Cooper's favor.[49]

Personnel[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ The voice of the little girl was performed by a friend of the band remembered by the name "Monica".[16]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Hoffmann 2004, p. 478.
  2. ^ a b c Konow 2009, p. 31.
  3. ^ a b Lenig 2010, p. 117.
  4. ^ Konow 2009, p. 33.
  5. ^ Brackett & Hoard 2004, p. 12.
  6. ^ a b Crouse 2012, p. 104.
  7. ^ Crouse 2012, pp. 104–105.
  8. ^ a b c Crouse 2012, p. 105.
  9. ^ Konow 2009, p. 34.
  10. ^ Faulk 2013, p. 126.
  11. ^ a b Konow 2009, p. 37.
  12. ^ Billboard staff 1971a, p. 68.
  13. ^ Baseford 2010.
  14. ^ a b Thompson 2012, p. 135.
  15. ^ a b Thompson 2012, pp. 135–136.
  16. ^ a b c Thompson 2012, p. 136.
  17. ^ Waksman 2009, pp. 84–85.
  18. ^ a b Prown & Newquist 1997, p. 99.
  19. ^ a b Swanson.
  20. ^ a b c Waksman 2009, p. 77.
  21. ^ a b c Waksman 2009, p. 78.
  22. ^ Thompson 2012, pp. 136–137.
  23. ^ a b Prato, Greg. Love It to Death - Alice Cooper at AllMusic. Retrieved July 6, 2011.
  24. ^ a b Mendelsohn 1971.
  25. ^ a b Christgau, Robert. "Consumer Guide Reviews: Alice Cooper". The Village Voice. Robertchristgau.com. Retrieved July 6, 2011. 
  26. ^ RPM staff 1971a.
  27. ^ RPM staff 1971b.
  28. ^ Love It to Death RIAA certifications, published by RIAA.
  29. ^ Billboard staff 1973, p. 44.
  30. ^ Angle 2013.
  31. ^ Billboard staff 1971c, p. 66.
  32. ^ Waksman 2009, p. 86.
  33. ^ Billboard staff 1971b.
  34. ^ Konow 2009, p. 40.
  35. ^ Konow 2009, p. 41.
  36. ^ Thompson 2012, p. 352.
  37. ^ Waksman 2009, p. 67.
  38. ^ Elborough 2009, p. 274.
  39. ^ Leigh 2011, pp. 77–78.
  40. ^ Leigh 2011, pp. 92–93.
  41. ^ Hartley 2010, p. 141.
  42. ^ Thompson 2012, p. 152; Strausbaugh 2002, p. 202; Marcus 2009, p. 25; English 2007, p. 47; Ellis 2012, p. 75; Harrington 2002, p. 267.
  43. ^ Luerssen 2014, p. 356.
  44. ^ Harrington 2002, p. 267.
  45. ^ Browne 2008, p. 323.
  46. ^ Walser 1993, p. 174.
  47. ^ Walser 1993, p. 173.
  48. ^ Botchick 1999, p. 28.
  49. ^ English 2007, p. 46–47.

Works cited[edit]