SickthingsUK: Killer

Arguably THE classic Cooper album, 'Killer' is crammed full of great songs from the rock'n'roll of 'Under My Wheels' to the epic horror of 'Killer' itself. Alice Cooper had arrived with 'Love It To Death' but on 'Killer' they were busy making themselves at home at the top of their game. Few bands were able to go from the basic garage rock of 'Be My Lover' to the grandeur of ''Killer' in the space of one album and pull off both with such style and originality. 'Halo Of Flies' is still rated as one of the most popular Alice Cooper songs ever by fans and the title track, when performed live with the gruesome gallows sequence, was jawdropping to behold. Essential.


November 1971 (UK-August?)

Track listing

  1. Under My Wheels (Bruce, Dunaway, Ezrin)(2:50)
  2. Be My Lover (Bruce)(3:15)
  3. Halo Of Flies (Cooper, Smith, Dunaway, Bruce, Buxton)(8:21)
  4. Desperado (Cooper, Bruce)(3:21)
  5. You Drive Me Nervous (Cooper, Bruce, Ezrin)(2:24)
  6. Yeah, Yeah, Yeah (Cooper, Bruce)(3.33)
  7. Dead Babies (Cooper, Smith, Buxton, Bruce, Dunaway)(5:40)
  8. Killer (Bruce, Dunaway)(7:07)

Musicians

  • Alice Cooper - Vocals and Harmonia
  • Neal Smith - Drums and Vocals
  • Dennis Dunaway - Bass and Vocals
  • Glen Buxton - Lead Guitar
  • Michael Bruce - Rhythm Guitar, Vocals, Piano and Organ
  • Bob Ezrin - Keyboards, Mini-Moog
  • Rick Derringer - Guitar on 'Under My Wheels' and 'Yeah, Yeah, Yeah'
  • Reggie Vincent - Backing Vocals

Sleeve Notes

Produced By Bob Ezrin for Nimbus 9 Productions
Executive Producer: Jack Richardson
Session Engineer: Brian Christian
Recording Technician: Joe Lopes
Mastering Engineer: Randy Kling
Recorded at RCA Mid-America Recording Center, Chicago
Photography: Pete Turner
Boa Constrictor: Kachina
String and Horn Arrangements: Bob Ezrin
Album Design: Alice Cooper

Album Notes - (Detailed release information)


An early advert for 'Killer'. Note that Alice is still pictured in the 'Love It To Death' make-up.

By the end of 1971 Alice Cooper had well and truly arrived. 'I'm Eighteen' and 'Love It To Death' had been respectable hits, which had in turn allowed the band to tour overseas for the first time, and with Bob Ezrin on board they had all the pieces in place to take on the world.

It's possibly hard to imagine in today's music landscape, where bands release albums every few years, that back in the early seventies artists were expected to release new material at a frightening rate. As soon as 'Love It To Death' was in the can Alice Cooper were back on the road to promote it, but still expected to have the material for another album ready to be released just eight months later! The fact that the band not only did it, but came up with such a masterpiece is astonishing. In many ways 'Killer' is the perfect Alice Cooper album. You have the short 'rock and roll' songs like 'Under My Wheels' and 'Be My Lover' to serve as singles, as well as the epic theatrical set pieces made for the stage in 'Dead Babies' and 'Killer'. On top of that there's the bands answer to all the critics who claimed they hid poor musicianship behind a shocking stage show... 'Halo Of Flies'. All wrapped up on an album that is only 36 minutes long!

As with 'Love It To Death' the exact release date is a little fuzzy. The generally accepted date is November 27th, however that can't be correct. For a start November 27th 1971 was a Saturday, and albums in the US were released on Tuesdays. Secondly the issue of Billboard dated November 27th already shows it "bubbling under" the top 200 at #203 (it entered the main charts the following week at #83) so it must have been on sale earlier. The Billboard chart shows sales data collected 11 days before the cover date and covers the week before. That puts 'Killer' as being released on Tuesday November 9th 1971 at the latest.

'Killer' eventually hit #21 on the Billboard charts, with it's two singles 'Under My Wheels' and 'Be My Lover' reaching #59 and #49 respectively. By January 1972 it had gone 'Gold', signifying in excess of 500,000 copies had been shipped to the stores. By 1986 it was Platinum (in excess of 10 million copies shipped) and of course it has continued to sell well in the 30+ years since, especially after the introduction of compact discs.

John Lydon (Sex Pistols, Public Image Ltd.), in the booklet that came with the 'Life And Crimes Of Alice Cooper' box set, described 'Killer' as "The greatest rock album of all time."

Rick Derringer played lead guitar on two songs on 'Killer' including opener 'Under My Wheels'. Dennis Dunaway:

"Rick lived near our management office in New York City. He would come down and hang at the office and we got to know him. We were in Chicago recording 'Killer' and Rick called and said he was in town. Ezrin told him to come on down and we told him to bring his guitar. He walked in and 'Under My Wheels' happened to be the song that we were working on. Glen showed him the changes. Glen was not resentful at all because we were all friends. Rick plugged in and ran through the song a little bit and then nailed it."

The click sound at the end of 'Be My Lover' is Neal dropping his sticks. Michael's met many musicians (drummers) who cover the song and try to imitate the sound not knowing it was an accident. Neal Smith in 1989:

"I used to drive Bob Ezrin crazy by twirling my sticks, as I do after every song. This made Bob crazy because if I dropped them, we would have to do the song over again. [This time] they decided to leave the 'click' in.


Alice Cooper album cover photo session 1971.

Mike Bruce describes 'Halo of Flies' as basically a mixture of three different songs that the band had been working on which Alice strung together to make one piece of music using a central 'spy theme'. Brian Nelson recalls "Alice has mentioned that 'Halo...' was the first song that he had 'arranged' (or 'strung') and was always rather proud of the effort." In liner notes Alice points to the spy theme as being based on 'SMERSH', the fictional soviet counterintelligence organisation from Ian Flemming's 'James Bond' novels.
Alice's then girlfriend Cindy Laing apparently came up with the title of the song.

An early working version for what ended up as 'Desperado' was 'Desert Nights' which had lyrics by Dennis. On the final version Alice's vocals are purposely imitating the style of his old drinking buddy Jim Morrison from 'The Doors' who had died in July 1971 just before the band started working on 'Killer'. In an interview for NPR Radio Alice states that the song itself is not about Morrison, but is in fact based on the character of 'Lee' in 'The Magnificent Seven', played by actor Robert Vaughan.

During 'Yeah, Yeah, Yeah' Alice says the word "Suffer". This is a reference to the musical 'Bye Bye Birdie'. The singer in the film, Conrad Birdie, comes to town and is making all the girls faint and sings for them to 'suffer.' When the band were in high school there was a traveling theatre production of the musical in which the producers would hire a local band to play the part of 'Birdie' (as opposed to just a singer which the original script calls for). Vince and the Spiders got the Phoenix gig. Using the line was a delibrate reference to their own past. (Paraphrased quote from Brian Nelson in 1995)

'Dead Babies' is a song about child abuse and lack of perental responsibility, something completely missed by many critics at the time, who couldn't see past the title and thought the band were just being sick and in bad taste. The fact that Alice would chop up toy dolls filled with blood on stage every night didn't help! Alice:

“Actually that song was probably the first anti-drug, anti-parental abuse song, It was like ‘Mom is high and in the other room with some guy she’d never seen before. Dad is out drinking and the baby is taking every pill in the medicine cabinet.’ It was a total anti-parental abuse song.”

Dennis recalls:

"‘Dead Babies’ was actually two different songs, one had a great chorus and a lousy verse and the other song had the opposite. So both songs were going to fall by the wayside like so many had in those days. I talked to the band and said “Let’s take the good verse out of that song and take the good chorus out of that song and put them together” [and] I wrote this baseline to tie it together."

In the lyrics to 'Dead Babies', an "agrophile" is someone or something that lives or thrives on cultivated soil.. a farmer for example. Alice claims that the word was made up by the band, in the same way Chuck Berry would make up words to fit his songs. Nowadays it can be found on Dictionary.com so whether they did make it up, or had came across it somewhere else and simply didn't remember, we may never know.

Dennis Dunaway in 2012:

"'Killer' came from a vivid dream that I had. I woke up and wrote it down as lyrics. Not long after that the band was packing up after a long rehearsal day at our farm in Pontiac when I asked Michael to stay after. I played 'Killer' for him and we worked it up pretty fast. I wanted it to be longer but Michael applied what he had learned from Ezrin. The next day, we showed it to the others and the band took it to the next level. I love how Glen and Michael's guitar parts compliment each other on that song."

The Cover


The calendar that featured inside the 'Killer' album cover.

'Killer' came in a slightly unusual cover format in that while technically a gatefold cover it didn't open up like a book the way most do (at least my copy doesn't!). In effect, the front cover was where you would expect the back cover to be (it opened on the left and not the right), and on opening it up you could then open up a third panel to reveal the famous image of Alice, hanging from a noose in black and red, and a calendar (see right). Versions of the calendar exist for at least 1972 and 1973.

The snake on the cover is Neal's snake 'Kachina'. Dennis Dunaway (Glide Magazine 2003):

When Neal got the snake, of course it was going to be in the show. He took care of it. He fed it and he’s the one that had a nice travel case for it and everything. It’s name was 'Kachina' and that’s 'Kachina' on the cover of our 'Killer' album. Neal was holding Kachina and I was watching the photographers photograph this. They were trying to get a picture, a really good picture of Kachina, because we wanted that to be the album cover because it was called 'Killer' and we thought, well, this snake lives to kill (laughs). So we wanted them to get a picture of the snake with it’s tongue out.
Well, the photographer kept waiting until he saw the tongue and then he’d click it. Neal’s arm was starting to shake from holding the weight of this snake up for like, I think they took like forty-eight pictures. Two rolls, I think. So Neal started getting mad: "You can’t wait till you see the tongue. You got to take the picture when you don’t see the tongue because as soon as you see the tongue it’s too late." Anyway, when we went back and looked at all of the proof sheet, there was only one picture where the snake’s tongue was out. And that’s the one we used."

Dennis Dunaway wrote the album title on the cover as he tells Glide Magazine in 2003:

"We were at our farm in Pontiac and I was sitting in the living room and Alice came up and handed me a piece of paper and said, "Here, write Alice Cooper Killer" for the album cover. And I thought, ok, this should look like a killer, like a ransom note or some demented person. So I decided to write it with my left hand, I’m right-handed, so I wrote it with my left hand and I tried to get in this frame of mind that would be like some kind of demented person. And I wrote it and handed it to Alice and that’s the last I saw of it.
You know, actually a couple of years ago, Alice did a tour, The 'Eyes Of Alice Cooper' Tour, and the guy who designed the set had the A-L-I-C-E gigantic and hanging down on stage in fluorescent colors. When I went to see Alice, he took me out to make sure I recognized that he took those letters directly off what I had written on that album cover. And he asked me if that story I just told you was true and I told him it was. He said, "Well, I hear so many stories that I’m not sure if I should believe any or not."

The cover caused problems in Mexico supposedly due to some national taboos, so the inside photo of Alice hanging from a noose was used as a replacement. To make this edition of the album even more unique the title was spelt out in Mexican - 'Asesino'. Because of the changes the Mexican edition has become highly collectable but buyer beware as a few years ago fake copies (on red vinyl) started appearing on Ebay which obviously aren't nearly as desirable as an original.

'Killer' Live


The 'Killer' tour programme featured a flexi-disc on the back.

Offically the 'Killer' tour began on December 1st 1971 at the Academy Of Music in New York, although in fact there had been a couple of warm up shows the week before. It ended 7 months later on June 30th with a final show was at the Empire Pool, Wembley, England. The new show featured was a step up from 'Love It To Death' on every level.

For the new show Alice had new make up, his most famous "clown" style facepaint. On top of that the band had a better light show, which was used to send silhouettes onto a white backdrop to great effect, and a new theatrical setpiece set to blow young minds everywhere.

The new show began with bubbles filling the stage and an instrumental build up leading into 'Be My Lover', Alice appearing all in black with lightning bolts down his legs. 'You Drive Me Nervous' featured lots of strobe effects, throwing shadows onto the white backdrop. 'I'm Eighteen' was now being performed much closer to the album version, with Alice at the front of the stage holding a beer bottle, but included a short quote for 'American Pie' near the end. 'Halo Of Flies' gave the band a chance to show off their chops before 'Is It My Body?' saw the arrival of Kachina who did her thing during the 'Graveyard' section cut from the studio version.
'Dead Babies' sees Alice cuddling a baby doll, sometimes filled with stage blood, which he proceeds to violently chop up with a hatchet at the front of the stage, ending the song snarling the words to it's severed head. Of course he couldn`t be allowed to get away with such a crime and so begins 'Killer', the big set piece of the show.
The band performs the instrumental parts of the song while Alice wanders the stage, playing with "Little Betty's" head and still holding the hatchet. "What did I do to deserve such a fate...". The music switches to tape as Glen, in executioner's hood, drags Alice up a flight of stairs to the right of the stage, followed by Dennis dressed as a priest and reading last rites from a bible. At the top they reveal the bands newest toy... a full sized gallows custom built by the Waner Brothers Props department. Glen pulls the lever and Alice drops. He continues tohangs there while wind and rain effects fill the room. The effect was stunning, and scary as hell.
The band returned for an encore of 'Long Way To Go' which during the tour started to move into a jam based around Glen's 'School's Out' riff, which allowed Alice to play with the front rows, throwing out posters and watching the chaos that ensued as the crowd fought to get their hands on one. 'Under My Wheels' then closed the show with Alice finally talking to the audience, waving a sword with dollar bills on it over a year before 'Billion Dollar Babies'.

The 'Killer' tour was the first tour to have a specially made tour programme available which featured a 'cutout' record on the back featuring a unique studio recording of 'Nobody Likes Me'.

At the end of the 'Killer' tour, the band were presented with gold discs by Warner Bros executive vice president Joe Smith in Burbank California. Unfortunately, the 'Killer' discs hadn't arrived from the manufacturing plant so if you look carefully at pictures of the presentation, you can see that the discs are for Hendrix's 'Rainbow Bridge' album.

The live show did change as it went along. 'School's Out' was recorded during the tour and the title track was added to the encore, first as a jammed idea during 'Long Way To Go' but later as a song in it`s own right.


Alice Cooper on stage in Tucson 1972

Killer (original show) Setlist 1971-2

  • Instrumental Intro
  • Be My Lover
  • You Drive Me Nervous (Opener on December 1st)
  • Yeah, Yeah, Yeah
  • I'm Eighteen
  • Halo of Flies
  • Is It My Body-My Very Own
  • Dead Babies
  • Killer
  • Long Way To Go - School's Out instrumental
  • Under My Wheels

After School's Out' was recorded the set changed slightly with 'Is It My Body?' moving to the encore after new song 'School's Out'.