Review: Two Alice Cooper Classics Finally Get the Deluxe Treatment They Always Deserved

Alice Cooper
Killer
School’s Out
Deluxe Editions
(Warner/Rhino)
Both 5 out of 5 stars

Videos by American Songwriter

It’s about time. Alice Cooper, (the original five-piece band, not the person), was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame back in 2011. It would have been logical to reissue these remastered, expanded editions of the outfit’s two (out of four) platinum-selling titles to coincide with that major accomplishment. But for no apparent reason, it took another 12 years for that to occur.

Regardless, both Killer (November 1971) and School’s Out (1972) are acknowledged ’70s hard rock, five-star classics. They brought theatricality and sharp, witty lyrics—some with dark humor—to the genre that few bands accomplished with such clarity of vision and sheer musical talent. Credit also goes to producer Bob Ezrin, who jumped on board for the breakthrough Love It to Death (Jan 1971). He helped craft the charting single “I’m Eighteen,” editing it from an eight-minute jam to radio-ready length. That song encompassed much of the Alice Cooper band concept—teenage alienation, edgy humor, rebellion, psychological confusion—in just three enduring minutes. It was a modest hit at the time but is now considered a career-altering moment.

Ezrin was also crucial in molding the next three projects. Killer (1971), a song cycle of sorts about the titular personality. It’s a perfect combination of tighter rockers “Be My Lover,” “Yeah Yeah Yeah,” “Under My Wheels,” and “You Drive Me Nervous” (the latter two don’t even crack three minutes) with longer, more dramatic pieces that wind through prog, ballads, and hard rock, pushing us into a Twilight Zone of memorable characters. Of those, “Dead Babies,” “Halo of Flies” and the title track account for 20 minutes of playing time. Ezrin’s canny use of occasional strings, most noticeable on the sweeping “Desperado” (not the Eagles’ tune) added a level of class and intricacy rare for rock albums at the time, or since. The result was a No. 21 charting game changer.

This edition adds a 10-song set at the Mar Y Sol festival from April 2, 1972, seven of which are from Killer. It’s a dense, energized gig hampered by a cluttered mix that makes drummer Neal Smith often sound like he’s hitting trash cans. It closes with a jam on “Long Way to Go” that includes the riff to “School’s Out,” which had not yet been recorded.

Speaking of which, that collection, released soon afterward in June 1972, broke the Cooper band into widespread acclaim. Its lead single, notched Top 10 on the charts, the album (complete with the vinyl encased by a pair of girl’s panties) rose to an unexpected No. 2, and just like that, the Alice Cooper band exploded into worldwide popularity. School’s Out tamped down some of the more grisly aspects of Killer for a treatise on alienated teens and their education, most noticeably on the title track, but also the closing punch of “Alma Mater” and “Grand Finale.” Ezrin infuses sound effects, keyboards (the tinkling piano on the ballad “My Stars” is a classy touch), and a sonic dynamic that generally traded the band’s harsher edge for a more theatrical slant.

This oddly tacks on a show from a month after the Killer one, May 1972, predating the album’s June street date. Only “School’s Out,” in a nearly nine-minute version, makes the cut, begging the question of why another performance that featured more music from the now archetypal title wasn’t used. Nonetheless, the recording quality is better than the previous one and the concert is well worth hearing as an example of just how potent the original Alice Cooper quintet was when they ignited on stage.

The audio on both studio sets has mercifully been improved from the existing dreary CDs that had never been upgraded. Both include a handful of outtakes and single mixes along with extensive books with track-by-track notes, and rare photos. They are available on vinyl as well as CD.

It may have taken far too long for them to get this deluxe, spiffed-up treatment, but now that they’re here, we can experience two of the Alice Cooper band’s finest, the way they should be heard.      

Photo by Denise Truscello/Getty Images for Keep Memory Alive

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