During his five-decade career, legendary rocker Alice Cooper has released a long list of hit singles that have become some of the most recognizable songs in rock history: “I’m Eighteen,” “School’s Out,” “No More Mr. Nice Guy,” “Muscle of Love,” “Only Women Bleed,” “Welcome to My Nightmare,” and “Poison,” among many others. His latest album, Detroit Stories (which came out in February via earMUSIC) pays homage to the Motor City, where Cooper was born—and where he found his first career success.
Calling from his Phoenix home, Cooper is willing to pass along some of his songwriting knowledge to aspiring writers. He cites lyrics from one of his biggest hits, “I’m Eighteen” (released almost exactly fifty years ago), to illustrate his first piece of advice, which is to avoid predictability.
“The simplicity of, I’m eighteen and I like it—you’re expecting him to say, ‘I’m 18 and I just hate it,’” Cooper says, “but at the end of it, he goes, and I like it, and that made every eighteen-year-old kid go, ‘Yeah!’”
Writing this kind of anthemic song takes a lot more work than many people probably realize, Cooper says, so he suggests that songwriters learn patience: “For every hit you write, there’s twenty songs in the garbage can that you got in the middle of and went, ‘This isn’t working.’ I mean, it takes a lot of writing.”
But while Cooper encourages songwriters to become diligent about their writing, he also cautions that it’s possible to overwork a song, too. “I find that most writers are trying to stick a square peg in a round hole,” he says. “If the song is not flowing, if you’re working on it for two months, then it’s already not working.
“I mean, some of the greatest hits were written in ten minutes,” Cooper continues. “If you get that verse or that lyric married to the right chords, and you know what you’re doing, you can go ‘Yes, that works.’ Or if listen to it and you go, ‘It’s just not working for me,’ you throw that song away.”
Cooper says he used these techniques when he was writing Detroit Stories. These new songs—full of memorable riffs and his signature startling (and sometimes startlingly funny) lyrics—proving he’s still a master of the songwriting craft.