Julian Cope’s Album of the Month

Alice Cooper - Don’t Blow Your Mind

Alice Cooper
Don’t Blow Your Mind

AOTM #15, August 2001ce
Released 1970 on Unknown
  1. Don’t Blow Your Mind (Recorded Live in Toronto 1970) (12.30)

Alice Cooper - A Group Of The Future

I suppose you’re all thinking “what a sneaky way to try and get us into Alice” and you’d be right. For a start, this isn’t even an LP; it’s just a live bootleg of twelve and a half minutes duration. But it’s my Album of the Month even if it is really only an EP’s worth. And it’s totally worth it in any case because this 1970 Live in Toronto version of "Don’t Blow Your Mind" (a single for them when they were still known as The Spiders) was recorded when Alice Cooper was still a group of ascendant longhairs led by two dudes called Vince Furnier and Dennis Dunnaway. This bad-ass wise-ass dumb-ass recording of a cumbersomely raging garage ritual was not only made long before Bob Ezrin added his whole cash’n’carry-size can o’Canuck AOR’n’B proto-Seeger colliery brass band to the proceedings. No babies, this prehistoric sucker was oo-flung-dung on the cusp of the ‘60s – indeed, outta the very beginnings of that Straight Records period when Frank Zappa was trying to sell them as just five more bogies from his ever-growing Snot Colony. You’ve heard the GTO’s, Wild Man Fischer, Captain Beefheart – now here’s Alice Cooper, the singer’s a re-incarnation of a 17th century witch and sings like Lennon AND McCartney over an inept space-jam backing of wannabe Magic Band meets early Barrett Floyd stuck in M25 contraflow. Sounds too contrived to sustain a career? U-betcha!

But as a rock‘n’roll group, Alice Cooper were always so much more than those first two horrible/brilliant LPs – and even they were genuine experimental rock of the Frankenstein kind. That is, they fell on their face at least 70% of the time, but struggled ever upward towards some Doorsian light at the end of the tunnel. Tell me the furry freakiness of "Swing Low Sweet Cheerio" couldn’t have a place in your twilight heart, you brutes. Tell me "Mr. & Miss Demeanor" ain’t the lost sacred twin of "Moonlight Drive" and I’ll weep for ya! Surely "Living" is really "Paperback Writer" as played by lost African Bushmen who’ve been taught about Western Culture by anthropologists armed only with second generation real-to-real copies of the Help film. Surely the Paradise Lost spacerock of "Levity Ball" is the truest kissing cousin of "Astronomy Dominie" to ever grace your turntable. Hear me, babies, even the Cargo Cults of the South Western Pacific couldn’ta played good old Rack’n’Roll weirder than these guys. Face it, if they’d split in 1971, we’d all be shelling out mini-fortunes for these records. As it is, I been scoffing up original Straight copies around Britain for the price of new Manic Street Porter releases. Shee-it, I even gotta copy of the Warners double-reissue for £3 last year DOWNSTAIRS (!!!) at the Notting Hill Record & Tape Exchange. Upstairs you’re nowadays paying nigh on a hundred quids for Harvest and Vertigo flotsam and jetsam sub-Colosseum – while this stuff ain’t even GETTING upstairs for Odin’s sake! It’s still down with the Dio-period Sabs and Motley Hoople without Ian Hunter. If it had a Brain label, we’d have intuitively subsumed it intravenously into our cultural consciousness light years ago.

But, though 1969’s Pretties for You and 1970’s Easy Action may have always been perceived as mere psychic noogies that you really have to work hard at just to get all the way through side one, they ain’t a hellavaway removed from their labelmate good old Captain Beefheart’s Lick My Decals Off, Baby – only far more choc full o’licks and hooks and singalongs from the (perceived) dog-end of psyche. Indude, the last time I put that perticklier Beefheart old timer on the turntable, its sheer arrant self-conscious twerpiness had me returning it to the Unplayed Classic section of my collection in Nothing Flat. And at least the Coop’s first two LPs sounded like the Beatles in a liquidiser – Lick My Decals Off sounded like fucking Henry Cow jamming late period Pere Ubu! Mercy!
It’s just that Alice Cooper became a Hollywood golf no-mark while Captain Beefheart became a holier-than-thou sepia print by Anton Corbijn. Alice may have become arena dross, but Beefheart opted out of music altogether. And, in my book, choosing the art gallery scene over the arena rock scene is a far bigger crime against humanity. But then, my love of music is such that, for me, even T’Pau, Living in a Box, and the Jools Holland Big Band together doing reggae versions of the Macarena comes closer to approaching the divine that the passive drywank snorathons of meaninglessness spewed-up by the I’ve-got-my-personal- neuroses-and-I’m-not-afraid-to-use-them brigade of Tate modern masters.

So why have I been humming and ha-ing for the past year about writing about Alice Cooper? I really dunno. I suppose it’s because he coulda been great but he never shoulda kicked the cute longhairs into touch. Because he himself wasn’t even the thing that was the most great about ‘Alice Cooper’ in the beginning. Because the cute longhairs WERE Alice Cooper. Because Michael Bruce wrote all the best songs and then got unceremoniously kicked out without so much as a champagne handshake. Because Dennis Dunnaway was my favourite bass player as a teenager AND he was the most experimental AND he did it on a silver glitter Gibson SG bass dressed as a skinny pre-teen zombie.1 Because Neal Smith was a 6’6" drumming freakshow on his own who took the rhythms into African places that scared me AND wrote "Black Ju Ju" on his own! The best slice of recorded ‘70s post-Doors schlock/shock rock theatre since the Guess Who’s "Friends of Mine" and the fucking drummer wrote it! Because Love It To Death is the best MC5/Detroit rock’n’roll LP of all time not made by a Detroit band. Because Killer is the too-brutal-to-be-prog art-rock LP of life experience, which they sensationally topped with the "Schools Out" 45, then lamely followed-up with the Schools Out LP – a bare half-hour long cash-in unworthy of Mike Curb. Because they saved the day with Billion Dollar Babies, but the rot was setting in by then (and ONLY then, all you motherfucking non-believers). Because nostalgia is about yearning for a time that you didn’t even realise was that cool while it was happening. And while Alice Cooper the Group got it completely right all too rarely, Alice Cooper the Guy got it completely right Never. Damn you, son of a preacher man.

What am I moaning about? What am I raging about?? I’m howling for the hicks from the provinces, can’t you see? I’m weeping for the Troggs in Andover and I’m blarting for Simply Saucer in Hamilton, Canada. I’m blubbering for Les Rallizes Denudes in Japan, and I’m moping for the Electric Eels in Cleveland. Man, I’m kicking my legs and throwing a tantrum at the sheer tragedy of all the genius geek-rock still laying there in the vaults unheard, unreleased, unsung, and unknown. And Alice is worse because Alice is famous and STILL HE’S UNHEARD AND UNKNOWN! Like the best Alex Harvey stuff, primo-period Alice Cooper was too casually heard to be considered worthy of re-evaluation. Well, we must re-evaluate NOW NOW NOW! Shit, I seen a fucking rock rag call Tears for Fears albums ‘classic’ the other day. What am I reading, a car magazine? Mark 2 Cortina is 30 years old – must be a classic. Austin Allegro and that wedge-shaped Austin Westminster? Must be classics – dead old. Fuck ‘em all and the horse they rode in on.

Rock’n’roll is life affirming. Rock’n’roll is life, full stop. Without it we’d all be Christians. Christianity = death. Bye bye.

So listen to this here piece of free-rock heathenstompf they called "Don’t Blow Your Mind" and dig it as their "Black to Comm"2 - as their group mantra and their setting up of their stall. And sure, you can dig the way they slow down into the choruses like Ash do on "Goldfinger". And smile as you dig the way chords echo "Hey Joe." But dig even more the other bits which sound like guys standing rampantly longhaired in front of huge Marshall cabs and the drummer plays a drum solo in welding goggles so big that he can’t see the kit and keeps falling off his stool. And dig that all this is going on soon after the release of 2001 A Space Odyssey, so the ape scene with the monolith has to be included, so they can all worship the monolithic speaker cabinets and oo-oo-ah-ah at each other across the big rock festival-size stage. And dig that the group are all Anglophiles and, therefore, fans of Patrick MacGoohan in The Prisoner. So they greedily try to incorporate all this into one big human orgy of rock ritual which can’t possibly succeed, but still does in any case because of their sheer exuberance. And, whilst you’re listening, dig that the whole thing was being filmed by D.A. Pennebaker – the guy who filmed that Don’t Look Back film of Bob Dylan slagging everyone off. So this whole thing is a moment captured forever.

And remember that, when the guy at the end of the song screams: "Ladies and Gentlemen, Alice Cooper - a group of the Future!!!" he really meant what he was saying. Alice Cooper was a group. The MC really meant those words, so listen like he meant them. Really hear the whole thing. The future. The future. Because we all belong to the future, babies. We’re all constantly in the process of becoming… we know not what. Used to be that, when a man wanted to say a woman was beautiful, he would say she was Becoming. And that, ladies’n’gentlemen, is what I love so much about this recording. It’s Becoming.

It’s 12 and a half minutes of evolution. It’s a sonic celebration of all that’s human – the physical, the cerebral, the pan-shamanic flipout amidst total control. It’s the sound of young people… Becoming.3

  1. The Gibson SG bass is known as the EB0 or EB3, depending whether it has one or two pick-ups respectively.
  2. Unlike, for example, the great hardrock-cum-meditational Krautrock pieces such as Ash Ra Tempel’s "Amboss", any of Guru Guru’s UFO LP or GAM’s "Gam Jam", both the Five’s Black to Comm" and Alice Cooper’s "Don’t Blow Your Mind" are successful for their disrupture of rhythmic and the role of their lead singers – both of whom provide a virtual Dislexicon of shamanic stutter’n’holler on these two tracks. It is the stop-start which may be most annoying to the general listener, but it is precisely this stop-start which enables the tracks to develop their drawing down of the Muse. Much of the free jazz which attempts this is a stone cold bore to me because I hate the acousticness of the chosen instrumentation. But gimme the feedback and the a-rhythmic wailathon can go on all night.
  3. In the Norse Myths, the Triple Goddess manifests as the Norns; three women who tend to the roots of Yggdrasil, the Tree of Life. The meaning of their names, Urd, Verdandi and Skuld, has, in the past, been generally translated as meaning Fate, Being and Necessity. But some scholars have translated Verdandi as meaning ‘Becoming’.