SickthingsUK: Constrictor

After the relative lack of success of the early 80s albums Alice attempted a comeback in 1986 based on the back of the 'hair metal' influenced 'Constrictor' which featured the first appearance of Kane 'Rambo' Roberts, the body building guitarist who co-wrote the new songs. While the album wasn't that big a hit, the tour that supported it was, with Alice selling out shows all over the world and concluding with a massive show headlining the Reading Festival, England's biggest rock festival at the time. Alice Cooper's return to the top had begun.


September 1986

Track listing

  1. Teenage Frankenstein (Cooper, Roberts)(3:36)
  2. Give It Up (Cooper, Roberts)(4:12)
  3. Thrill My Gorilla (Cooper, Roberts)(2:55)
  4. Life And Death Of The Party (Cooper, Roberts)(3:40)
  5. Simple Disobedience (Cooper, Roberts)(3:29)
  6. The World Needs Guts (Cooper, Roberts)(3:57)
  7. Trick Bag (Cooper, Roberts, Wagener)(4:12)
  8. Crawlin' (Cooper, Roberts)(3:18)
  9. Great American Success Story (Cooper, Roberts, Hills)(3:30)
  10. He's Back (The Man Behind The Mask) (Cooper, Roberts, Kelly)(3:44)

Musicians

  • Alice Cooper - Vocals
  • Kane Roberts - Guitar, Bass, Keyboards, Vocals, Drums
  • Kip W(r)inger - Bass
  • David Rosenberg - Drums
  • Donnie Kisselbach - Bass
  • Paul Delph - Keyboards, Backing Vocals ('He's Back')
  • Tom Kelly - Backing Vocals ('He's Back')
  • Beau Hill - Backing Vocals

Sleeve Notes

Produced by Beau Hill and Michael Wagener ('He's Back')
Engineer: Stephen Bebben
Recorded at Atlantic Studios, New York and Amigo Studios, Los Angeles
Mixed by Michael Wagener
Assisted by Garth Richardson
Mastering: Mike Reese
Production Coordination: Anita Bourne

Album Notes - (Detailed release information)

The early '80s hadn't been kind to Alice. His drug and alcohol addictions had at least in part led to albums no one wanted to hear, and he had stopped touring. Outside the die hard fans no one knew or cared about Alice Cooper. By 1985 he was back to square one and in fact for all intents and purposes had retired for the music business and was rarely sighted in public. But on the up side he was finally completely clean and sober, and back with Sheryl after their brief seperation, and in June 1985 a second little Cooper arrived named Dashiell. He seemed quite content to stay at home with his young family.


Alice and Dee Snider on the set of 'Be Chrool to Your Scuel'

But then something rather unexpected happened. Lots of new bands started appearing on the radio and on MTV that looked strangly familiar. The had long hair, wore glittery costumes and played loud guitar rock, and when they were asked who influenced to do it they all included one name - Kiss!... and Alice Cooper. These new kids had grown up listing to 'Killer' and 'Billion Dollar Babies' along with Sabbath, Zeppelin and the rest and now they were trying to be stars themselves combining all that into a new metallic sound. Of course it had all started some years ealier but Alice, in his self-made hell, had completely missed it until now. If they could do it, could he still do it too?

And so Alice and Shep Gordon (his long time manager) started to make plans... They had done it once.. they would do it again, and amazingly it only really took three years and three albums.

A few news reports started to surface that Alice was writing with Joe Perry, then ex-Aerosmith. Joe was a natural choice with his laid back rock'n'roll style but that wasn't to be just yet. Supposedly a certain Steven Tyler heard about Alice and Joe working together and realised that if it happened there was no way Joe would return to Aerosmith, who at that point sorely needed him. A phone call was made, bridges rebuilt, and Perry returned to his first home. It took until 2015 before Alice and Perry finally got together to work seriously on a project - The Hollywood Vampires.

At pretty much the same point Alice was offered a leading part in a ultra-low budget Spanish/Puerto Rican horror film called 'Monster Dog' ('Leviatan' in Spainish), and accepted, partly as a way to get him back into a working, and partly because he was promised it wasn't going to be released outside the local areas. Of course it was, but original copies, normally ex-rental' were very hard to find for years. In 2004 it finally got a DVD release.

With the movie done Alice did some preliminary work writing with Andy McCoy of Finish band 'Hanoi Rocks', who were HUGE Cooper fans. A photo of the pair appeared in a few publications but in the end this also came to nothing. But Alice was working again so it all served a purpose. There were also a few reports that he was working on a 'Welcome To My Nightmare II' comeback album but this too turned out to not really be the case.

Dee Snider of Twisted Sister, who had hit their peak at the time after the mega-selling 'Stay Hungry' record, contacted Alice in 1985 and asked if he would guest on a new song they had called 'Be Chrool to Your Scuel'. Snider had been one of the artists frequently crediting Alice Cooper as a influence, so Alice was only too happy to oblige, appearing in the video for the song as well. The pair also made the most of the colaboration with promo photos together in which Alice looked much healthier then he had the last time anyone had really seen him. Even better, he was wearing the classic clown make up again with no 'Widow Twanky' chopsticks to be seens. The real Alice was back!


Alice and Kane Roberts on the 'Nightmare Returns' tour, 1986

But while all this was great what Alice needed was a songwriting partner.. a new Dick Wagner, who could take his ideas and turn them into great songs. He reached out to his old friend Bob Ezrin for advice and Ezrin told him to look up a hot young guitarist by the name of Kane Roberts. Kane tells the story to Legendary Rock Interviews in 2011:

"Criminal Justice [Kane's band] opened a show for Alice well before I even got to meet him, which kind of freaks me out. We got the opportunity to do a show in upstate New York and I guess I must have quickly crossed paths with him as we were there to do the show. We were just lucky enough to land a spot on this one show. Later on, a guy who worked at a publishing company sent my tape to Bob Ezrin, which prompted he and Alice to sneak into one of our club shows to watch us. They invited me down to New York where I met Shep Gordon, Alice’s longtime manager and all of those people and suddenly I wasn’t at a strip club anymore. I was at a house on a beach in Maui which was a pretty interesting and surprising change of scenery! Alice and I wrote and wrote, we were there in Maui for almost three months and then it finally dawned on us that we might want to get back to L.A. before we start writing about coconuts."

Kane not only offered the musicianship to help Alice, and the ability to write songs, he was also a walking special effect all on his own. Kane was a serious bodybuilder and he was HUGE, a fact used to it's upmost in TV interviews, to which he was often invited. He was quickly nicknamed "Rambo" and to hammer it home a guitar was made in the shape of a machine gun which he would fire off pyrotechnics during his solo during the forthcoming tour.

Alice and Kane also went to visit original Alice Cooper band members Dennis Dunaway and Neal Smith for an afernoon to work on a couple of ideas. According to Brian Nalson a recording apparently exists but isn't really complete enough to ever be released.

With new songs ready Alice and Kane headed back to L.A to start recording the album with producer Baeu Hill, who had recently produced Ratt's debut album which sold over 3 million copies. It ws through Hill they met up with bassist Kip Winger and together the quartet started work, using a drum machine due, according to Kane, "budget and time constraints". Once the album was complete they took it to another LA producer who finished up the production.

'Constrictor' was launched by a single, 'He's Back (The Man Behind The Mask)' which was written for the movie 'Friday 13th Part VI'. It was promoted with a video featuring footage from the film and specially filmed clips of the films main character 'Jason'. In fact the original version of 'He's Back' featured the lyrics over the music of what became 'Trick Bag' on the new album. The original version, later available on the 'Life And Crmes Of Alice Cooper' box set, was considered "too heavy" by the films producers. The single had some success reaching #56 on the billboard charts. In an odd twist the single was a huge hit in Sweden and Alice frequently performed it there in later years as an added encore. A followup single of 'Teenage Frankenstein' however failed to chart

'Constrictor' itself was released in September 1986 to more publicity then Alice had seen since the seventies. The album was more 'heavy metal' then anything alice had done in the past but it was designed that way to fit in with the resurgent metal scene. The young metal fans were Alice's most obvious target audience if he wanted to make a comeback, and there were millions of them out there. Add them to the diehard Cooper fans that had stuck with him through the dark years and there was an audience waiting for what Alice was offering.>br />

An extremly rare acetate of 'Constrictor' exists with an extra track called 'Nobody Moves'. The track was removed before the album was came out and it's never been released anywhere.

The album was a moderate hit reaching #59 on the Billboard charts and 41 in the UK. but it was really just setting the stage for the tour which was very successful. The 'Nightmare Returns' tour officially commenced (after a few warm up shows) back in his old home town, Detroit, where a first show at Joe Louis Arena sold out in three hours and a second had to be added for the night before. The Halloween show was also transmitted on MTV which exposed a huge number of people to Alice Cooper for possibly the first time. Alice later confessed that before the first show he wasn't completely sure what would happen when he walked on stage. "Would Alice show up?" he wondered. When he did walk out the audience saw a master of the stage back at the top of his game. No longer was Alice the little boy who was frightened of his own shadow. The new Alice was in complete control of his surroundings and frightened of nothing. He commanded the stage like a general addressing his troups and the audience lapped it up. And the theatrics were back as well including the nurse,a full sized Teenage Frankenstein and the legendary Guillotone. In November the tour headed to the UK, always a Cooper stronghold, and sold out every show, with extra nights being added in some cities.

On March 29th 1987, Alice was a participant in a World Wrestling Federation (WWF) pay-per-view event called 'Wrestlemania III'. 93,173 people reportedly watched the show in person, while almost another million watched live on TV. Amongst wrestling fans, 'Wrestlemania III' remains one of their most revered of events. Alice was "in the corner" for Jake "The Snake" Roberts (real name, Aurelian Smith Jr), as Roberts locked horns with The Honky Tonk Man (real name Wayne Farris.) Naturally, Alice got a huge response from the crowd, as it was at the Pontiac Silverdome, just outside of Detroit - a city synonymous with Alice.
At the time, Roberts was one of wrestling's most popular good-guys, known for bringing a live snake in a bag for each match. After winning a match, Jake would ceremoniously dump the python on top of a beaten foe. The Honky Tonk Man was the perfect rival -- he was a cowardly Elvis-wannabe character, noted for having smashed an acoustic guitar over Jake's head weeks before the event. What better way to get even with the phony musician than for Jake to enlist a REAL heavy metal icon to watch his back. It was oldies versus heavy metal!
Unfortunately, Jake Roberts lost the match via pinfall. However, the fans were not entirely disappointed. Alice and Jake had a few laughs trying to introduce The Honky Tonk Man's pesky manager, Jimmy Hart, to Jake's pet python named "Damien."

By the time the tour came to a close, headlining the Reading Festival in the UK before a record breaking audience, Alice already had a tape of the next album.. 'Raise Your Fist and Yell'.


One working title for 'Constrictor' was 'Awake For The Snake'.

'The All-American Success Story' was originally intended as part of the Rodney Dangerfield movie 'Back to School' at the request of MCA but in the end wasn't used.

The live version of 'Billion Dollar Babies' on the b-side of the 'He's Back' single is in fact not "Live from 1976", but taken from the 'Paris TV Special' from 1981. The audience sound is just added just like 'Generation Landslide '81' on 'Special Forces'. In fact there weren't any shows in 1976 for it to come from!

A 12" Promo dance remix of 'He`s Back' exists but this has nothing to do with Alice or MCA records and is completely unauthorised.

The album came out at the height of the Parents Music Resource Center (P.M.R.C.) movement in the United States. The P.M.R.C. was a Committee of rich politians wives who decided it was there job to censor what kids should listen to. One of their demands was that albums should have warning stickers on them (which actually happened and still does to this day), and that lyrics should be printed on the cover so concerned parents could vet them before allowing their little darlings to hear it. Alice:

"I always do that. I can't think of one album that I've done where I didn't print the lyrics anywhere. The P.M.R.C. did come to us and they did say "We demand that you write these lyrics on the back." and I said "I insist on it. I have nothing to hide." We're on the top of their hit list anyway. They just released an article in New York saying we were definitely rated X. I said "So, now are we allowed to come to your homes and rate the books that you read? Can we rate the novels that you read, because I'm sure we'll find some Jackie Collins novel [laughs]. We'll compare lyrics and see who's reading what!" The kids are a lot smarter than the parents give them credit for. So, the P.M.R.C. doesn't bother me at all. I think that the great thing about the P.M.R.C. is that they don't have a right to be. You know, this is America; they have a right to do anything they want to do. But I think when they get to the point of telling you that you're so stupid that you can't judge what to look at, or what to listen to, that sounds to me like a 1984 Big Brother. I don't like the idea of that. I think it's pretty insulting to the American public to have a senator's wife tell them what to listen to."
The next album, 'Raise Your Fist And Yell' would feature several songs aimed at the P.M.R.C.

'Constrictor' Live

Randy Piper, ex-guitarist of W.A.S.P. was announced as part of the touring band:

"Yeah I played with Alice for a while. I didn't end up touring but I worked on the 'Constrictor' album [he didn't]. But I really don't think I had my shit together, it's a long story. I did not have any gear or my guitars. They had not come back from Japan and when they did Blackie kept all my shit, my amps and everything and made it really hard on me to do that thing with Alice. I was struggling borrowing pieces of junk from people you know what I mean. I really didn't have my shit together. Kane Roberts and I did not gel together. We really didn't get along. He's a nice guy, but I got along really good with Alice but I just did not have my shit together enough to go out on a tour.
(Randy Piper, April 2005 for RockEyes.com)

Randy Piper (ex-Wasp) was hired for the 'Nightmare Returns' tour. He was fired for not being able to play his instrument during the first rehearsals.
(Brian Nelson, Alice's personal assistant/archivist August 1996)


A classic shot of Alice and the new, bloody guillotine in 1986

The 'Constrictor' album and the 'Nightmare Returns' tour supporting it had one main purpose, to re-establish Alice Cooper as a contemporary artist and remind audiences what he was all about. In that it succeded extremely well. Alice was welcomed back with open arms and reviews for the tour were universally good. The show relatively quietly with the first notes of 'Welcome To My Nightmare' ringing out before Alice burst onto the stage and the band hit into a new, heavyier version of the 1975 classic. Gone were the almost jazzy guitars of the original, and in their place was a full-on heavy metal attack, with Kane leading the band from the front, impossible to miss on his own riser.

Using a trick from the original '...Nightmare' tour the band used snippets of 'Years Ago' to introduce the first pair of band classic, which also boasted new much heavier arrangements. 'Billion Dollar Babies' (doll's head and sword), 'No More Mr Nice Guy', 'Be My Lover' (a huge boa constrictor) and 'I'm Eighteen' (with crutch) crashed past with all the subtlety of a brick in the face, Alice stalking the stage in black leather coat with flames painted on it, and leather pants with his name down the side in red letters. 'The World Needs Guts' was the first of the new songs and exemplfied the new metal approach, all roaring guitars and frantic drums courtesy of Ken Mary. A photographer slips onto the stage only for Alice to chase him away. 'Give It Up' slowed things down a touch before 'Cold Ethyl' arrived, alice throwing the lifesize doll around before tangoing across the stage. That pesky cameraman is back as well... 'Only Women Bleed' recreated the classics switch from doll to real dancer, 'Go To Hell' featured the bondage girl whiping Alice before he took command and whipped her back. Oh, and the camerman was back and this time Alice had had enough. run him through with a mic stand, blood spurting from his back. He takes a microphone stand and runs him through, blood exploding from his back. He hangs there wedged on the mic stand before two roadies appear to drag him away.

There then followed an electrified 'Ballad Of Dwight Fry', Alice in the straight jacket, a single white spotlight picking out the insanity in his eyes as he's tommented by the nurse, who he of course strangles. 'Teenage Frankenstein' introduced a brand new theatrical effect. As keyboardist Paul Taylor played a creepy John Carpenter-esque theme Alice searched the stage for body parts - legs, torso, arms, and finally head - slowly building up a robotic monster on a low platform stage right. The band built up the music and suddenly the monster stood up and walked! The audience watched in awe as it moved down steps and onto the main stage, throwing off Alice's attempts to stop it. Finally as the music reached a crescendo the monster climbed back up to it's platform and Alice shoved it off. As it fell it broke apart into it's original seperate body parts falling all across the stage. It was stunning to see live, and to this day most people have no idea how they got someone into the costume and back out without being seen (which is obviously what they did). You could see through the hollow feet and torso before and after the stunt, and you could see underneath the platform and through the steps as well. There seemed nowhere to hide a full-sized person. To this day it's baffling.

'Sick Things' brought things back down a little, with various creepy monsters crawling across the stage to fawn over Alice. before the main show concluded with a full version of 'I Love The Dead' as Alice was taken to the new blood-stained guillotine and beheaded, his executioner displaying his severed head before kissing it and getting a faceful of blood in return. Of course having been punished Alice returned in the traditional white top hat and tailcoat for 'School's Out', with the band all taking short solos, before 'Elected' and 'Under My Wheels' brought the show to an end.

The production was a triumph, one of Alice's best productions, and while some later complained about the new metalised versions of the classics when you were there you barely notice it. There was so much going on the sheer joy of seeing the real Alice back on stage again superceeded most criticism. The show (designed by old friend Joe Gannon) was a triumph in every way that mattered.

Several short pieces of new music were written for the show, most of which have never been recorded elsewhere. One new section of 'I Love The Dead', which was patially rewritten for the show, later became 'Gail' on 'Raise Your Fist And Yell'.

Kane Roberts explained the re-working of old songs:

"Alice and I set out to layer some different colors on the older material. Quite a daunting task as those songs, too many, are sacred ground. Alice still has a rebellious side and he wanted to upset the apple cart a little, so we added some different influences to the classic songs. Some of the ideas worked better than others, but it was an overall success to both of us."

The full Detroit show was filmed and transmitted by MTV on Halloween. Shortly afterwards it was released on home video as 'The Nightmare Returns' and much later on DVD.

Only 'The World Needs Guts', 'Give It Up' and 'Teenage Frankenstein' were performed on 'The Nightmare Returns' tour, and only 'Teenage Frankenstein' survived as far as the next tour. After that only 'He's Back' ever appeared, normally in Scandinavia where it had been a surprise hit, until 2002 when 'Teenage Frankenstein' made a surprise return on the North American 'Dragontown' tour (it was replaced by Feed My Frankenstein' in Europe).
Beyond that fans who met Alice often asked about the possibility of adding more tracks from the "metal" albums to the show, but it wasn't until 2014 they got what they wanted with 'He's Back' appearing during the 'Raise The Dead' tour. With the introduction of Nita Strauss to the band, a self-confessed "metalhead" who names 'Constrictor' and 'Raise Your Fist And Yell as her favourite Alice Cooper albums, 'The World Needs Guts' was finally resurrected in 2017 and sounded amazing!

The Performers
  • Kane Roberts - Guitar, Backing Vocals
  • Devlin 7 (Arthur Funaro)- Guitar, Backing Vocals
  • Ken Mary - Drums
  • Kip Winger III - Bass, Backing Vocals
  • Paul 'Horrors' Horowitz (Paul Taylor) - Keyboards, Backing Vocals
  • Sylvia Dohi - Dancer
  • Linda Albertano - The Executioner
  • Tracey Dea - The Photographer
  • Brian "Renfield" Nelson - The photographer (in Detroit)

Setlist:

  1. Welcome to My Nightmare
  2. Years Ago - Billion Dollar Babies
  3. Years Ago - No More Mr. Nice Guy
  4. Be My Lover
  5. I'm Eighteen
  6. The World Needs Guts
  7. Give It Up
  8. Cold Ethyl
  9. Only Women Bleed
  10. Go to Hell
  11. Ballad of Dwight Fry
  12. Teenage Frankenstein
  13. Sick Things
  14. I Love the Dead
  15. School's Out
  16. Elected
  17. Under My Wheels