|Single by Alice Cooper|
|from the album Love It to Death|
|B-side||"Body" ("Is It My Body?")|
|Genre||Hard rock, proto-punk|
|Alice Cooper singles chronology|
"I'm Eighteen" is a song by rock band Alice Cooper, first released as a single in November 1970 backed with "Is It My Body". It was the band's first top-forty success—peaking at number 21—and convinced Warner Bros. that Alice Cooper had the commercial potential to release an album, and the song features on the band's first major label release album Love It to Death (1971).
The anthemic song is driven by a lumbering, arpeggiated guitar riff and aggressive, raspy vocals. The lyrics tell of the angst and of being "in the middle" between youth and adulthood. It had begun as an eight-minute jam that young Canadian producer Bob Ezrin persuaded the band into tightening into a tight three-minute rocker.
The song was the band's breakthrough, and left a considerable influence on hard rock, punk, and heavy metal. Joey Ramone wrote his first song for the Ramones based on the chords to "I'm Eighteen", and John Lydon auditioned for the Sex Pistols by miming to the song. Bands such as thrash metalers Anthrax have covered the song, and Kiss settled out of court for plagiarism of the song over the 1998 track "Dreamin'".
The dark, aggressive song is driven by a lumbering and distorted, arpeggiated main guitar riff is in E minor; Glen Buxton and Michael Bruce play similar rhythm guitar parts with slight differences, and a pair of acoustic guitars subtly round out the sound—one filtered through a Leslie speaker.
Vocalist Cooper's raspy vocals sing 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!" There are no harmonies or doubling in the vocals.
Dennis Dunaway plays a moving, melodic bass part rather than the taking typical rock strategy of holding to the root. The performance also features some distorted lead guitar, Cooper on harmonica during the intro, and an organ that joins the band for the closing chord.
Production and release
The Alice Cooper band and Bob 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 its 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", including cutting down "I'm Eighteen" from an eight-minute jam to a tight three-minute rocker, a song whose aggressive chorus he misheard at first as "I'm Edgy".
"I'm Eighteen" was a sixteen-track recording made at RCA Mid-American Recording Center in Chicago. Ezrin found it a challenge to capture Cooper's raspy vocals with standard techniques: he settled on using a Shure SM57 microphone with high compression and judicious addition of treble and midrange equalization.
Zappa had sold Straight Records to Warner Bros. in 1970 for $50,000. That November 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. In Canada it broke the top ten, peaking at number 7. The success convinced Warner to allow the band to go ahead with Love It to Death, released February 1971. The band's next single was "Caught in a Dream" backed with "Hallowed Be My Name" in May 1971.
The band played "I'm Eighteen" live on the German television show Beat-Club in 1972. Cooper appeared on the floor in a Wonder Woman T-shirt gripping a whiskey bottle. During an extended intro, Cooper declares "I ain't twenty-one", then "twenty-two" and on until "twenty-five" before the band delivers an aggressive, heavily distorted performance of the song. A few minutes in, Cooper sings "I ain't no American Pie" and then a few variations of "I drove my Chevy to the levee, but the levee went dry", direct references to Don McLean's song, "American Pie", which had gone mainstream and reached its first major peak of popularity that same year.
Rolling Stone included the song on its list of "The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time" at #482 and had this to say of the song, "Before 'I'm Eighteen,' Cooper was just another hairy rock oddball. But this proto-punk smash defined the age when, in Cooper's words, you're 'old enough to be drafted but not old enough to vote.' Years later, Johnny Rotten sang this at his audition for the Sex Pistols; by then, Cooper was a guest on The Muppet Show."
It was selected by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as one of the 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll. It was voted #38 in Detroit's 100 Greatest Songs, a 2016 Detroit Free Press poll. The song ranked #39 on VH1's 40 Greatest Metal Songs and appeared on Guitar magazine as one of the 50 heaviest riffs of all time.
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.
Vocalist Joey Ramone based the first song by New York punk band the Ramones, "I Don't Care", on the chords of the main riff to "I'm Eighteen". John Lydon wrote the song "Seventeen" on the Sex Pistols album Never Mind the Bollocks in response to "I'm Eighteen", and is said to have auditioned for the Sex Pistols by miming to an Alice Cooper song—most frequently reported as "I'm Eighteen".
Thrash metal band Anthrax included a cover of "I'm Eighteen" on its debut album Fistful of Metal (1984). It was later covered by Creed on the soundtrack to the 1998 movie The Faculty, and also by Zwan on tour.
It was used in an episode of the 1999 TV show Freaks and Geeks, when guidance counsellor Mr. Rosso (Dave "Gruber" Allen) played an acoustic cover of the song to show the kids he knew what they were going through. The song is featured in Bill Couturié's 1987 documentary Dear America: Letters Home from Vietnam. At the end of the Sons of Anarchy episode "Giving Back", a cover version by Scott Shriner & the Forest Rangers is played.
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