Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Alice Cooper—
Pretties For You


Released 1969 on Straight
The Seth Man, March 2000ce
This album is like no other I’ve ever heard. The music is cut from the harshest rock available at the time while the lyrics, though innocent, are not only a mystery but a loud, cheap hoot to boot. Even the Ed Beardsley painting on the cover reflects a similar duality: A Sidney Greenstreet looking man holding a beer mug looks to his side at an expressionless young woman hitching her skirt to reveal white panties. In the background travel a soundless funerary procession of long, thin black cars and hearse drive in profile framed in a shade of lilac I’ve never seen used on an album cover with the title in bold yellow letters. It’s like a vision of sex and death reduced to such mundane, middle American symbols you’d like to keep to yourself, because it’s not only borderline questionable and tasteless, but completely mysterious as well.

The music within is the same way, bearing all the marks of a garage band reaching beyond their Stones/Yardbirds posturing and dosing themselves with turned up amps and outright freakery. Having moved base camp to the freak community of Venice, California from Arizona, Alice Cooper landed a residency at the legendary Cheetah Club, and for their incompetence and ugly mayhem earned them the tag of “The Worst Band In the World.” Sneaking into Frank Zappa’s home studio late one night and commencing playing their tunes was enough to get them signed to his then newly formed Straight label. What they produced was an under recorded monster of tricky stops and starts, screeching fuzztone guitar and rudimentary drums in one of the exalted cases of the poorest production ever that lost out to sheer dementedness. Half the time it sounds like they’re not playing, but battling each other with amplified sound. The lyrics (as such) are extremely weird yet sung with such casualness, they’re often completely drowned out by the by post garage a lama trip out backing. Rise/collapse/fall is pretty much the only structure extant here, but when it isn’t it’s a barely grasped LSD trip in the tacky suburbs of your mind. It’s indescribable, but the only expressionist signpost readily available is to pretend that Tiny Tim’s spirit floats over the NY Dolls as they proceed to grind out Grand Funk’s “Paranoid” live in the studio.

The album starts with the instrumental “Titanic Overture,” pumped out stately by Michael Bruce on Gothic organ, riffing on “I Think I’m Going Out Of My Head” as the mighty grey lady slips beneath icy waves. A poignant piano surfaces, then quickly fades. Then completely inappropriate sounds of nibbling, fluttering wings and cooing appear. Guitar weird outs scratchy on the bridge appear with disjointed hi hat hits that kick start “10 Minutes Before The Worm”; all bouncy Barrettesque melody shot through with sharp guitar bursts. It all ends with a fake vocal slow down, like the record has willed your stereo to freak out and stop playing this ugly record already. But orthodox musical terrain is found within the next track, “Swing Low Sweet Cheerio,” a barely competent and ruder Quicksilver Messenger Service with more Glen Buxton fuzztone guitar bursts that are extremely over recorded and burst outta the speakers in non EQ’ed overdubs which pepper the entire elpee with alarming regularity. Then for the first of innumerable times they throw in the whole kitchen sink: guitar raveups, harmonica wails, dumb, roaming drums that are recorded low, but played loud as fuck in an effort to compensate. “Today Mueller” has the hilarious “Red Rover/Red Rover/Pass under/Pass over/Pass through...” wearing water wings through a tsunami of acid flashes, then continues with the almost punch line: “Bend over/Bend over/The white cliffs of Dover/With you...” Oh, man, they were wrecked beyond belief but kept it together through all the stop and starts and abrupt endings, over arranged but played like the long haired, acid/drag/camp fuckups that they were. The rockin’ centerpiece of “Living” bursts in and Buxton’s fuzztone wipes out everything in the entire audio field. His first solo is an obvious overdub because it ends RIGHT before the vocals come back in again, but it can barely be reigned in as the reverb’s too heavy and sustained! The track rocks out like The Pretty Things’ “Old Man Going”, but with drums played in the backyard or in the attic. It’s ugly and chaotic and everybody “Woodstock” must have despised it in 1969, feeling that these ex bowlcuts weren’t taking themselves seriously enough. Ha!

“Fields of Regret” open with HEAVY lumpen fuzz, a downered wipe out with more stop and start arrangements with all the neatness of a squadron of drunk reserves on forced parade. Dennis Dunaway’s snaky bass line carries it all and a burning Buxton riff sears into careening labyrinths just in time for the phasing to kick in over everything at the end. It’s Grand Funk Railroad tripping through Vox amps, I swear. Side two begins with “No Longer Umpire”, a sped up intro into Neal Smith hitting all 10 of his cymbals, heavy on the snare into more Cipollina type expositions that build to yet another abrupt end. Then, the absolute lo fi “Astronomy Domine” initiation rite of “Levity Ball (Live At the Cheetah)”: all “woooooo” vocalising backed by Barrett informed guitar skittering. During the quiet part, the source tape reveals what sounds like the signal from the OTHER side of the cassette playing backwards! Lyrics like “sitting on a stairway/seven hours at a time” and “I got into my evening wear/and left my clothes behind” emanate forth before a massive build like a nitrous headrush ringing of ear crescendo, all delirious with more “woooooooo”s until it breaks down again. “B.B. On Mars” features even more torturous Buxton SG exercises, buzzsawing over the loping Dunaway basslines and the classic line “You look outstanding with you eyes in disguise/Just beyond Damascus.” Strident tempo changes galore over a total stoned punks on fuzz wah stomp. “Apple Bush” sooths down the lysergic broth although the lyrics recount a “land that’s in my backyard” until they chant “Apple bush/Apple tree/Back to eternity” until it’s got you contacting high like crazy. The remaining two tracks, “Earwigs To Eternity” and “Changing Arranging” grind out mind excursions of further bludgeon sludge that never fail to surprise or incite laughter.

This CD, like the original album, is currently out of print (although a decade or so ago it was released in a way befitting such a classic along with their second and last album for Straight, “Easy Action” by Restless/Retro), which is inexcusable. Because a full blown rockin’, messy mindfuck should be accessible ALWAYS. Especially the ones you can’t always figure out.