From the Stacks

From Robbo’s Stacks: Alice Cooper — Pretties for You

AC - Pretties 001I hope that this becomes becomes a regular WIM feature. Robbo is a good friend from my art school and record store days, and he has a killer record collection. He’s also a huge Alice Cooper fan, as you probably picked up from his first From the Stacks piece.

He’s back again with Alice’s debut album. Put down your boa constrictor, both literally and figuratively, and pay attention:

AC - Pretties 006When producer Shep Gordon saw a band empty a club of its audience after only a few songs, he knew they had something. He arranged an audition for the five young men with Frank Zappa, who told the band to come by his house at 7 o’clock. They showed up at 7 a.m. instead of 7 p.m., but Zappa listened anyway, and was so impressed with their sound that he signed them right away. World, meet Alice Cooper.

Pretties For You was released in 1969 on Zappa’s Straight Records and was quickly panned and forgotten. Though there are some good tunes here,  it feels like an album left undone. Of the 13 cuts five are less than two minutes long, and most of these sound like unfinished demos. Too bad they didn’t go all the way with them. Not a good thing for a debut album, but luckily the boys got better as time went by.

The first cut is an instrumental, “Titanic Overture,” played by guitarist/keyboardist Michael Bruce. I can’t help but to think that Jeff Lynne heard this and took the riff from it for ‘Can’t Get It Out Of My Head’, released on ELO’s 1974 album ‘Eldorado’. I guess he couldn’t get it out of head.

This leads into “10 Minutes Before the Worm,” an odd little 1:39 song with opening sound effects of what has been said to be a bird eating a worm followed by off-key flat vocals. Guys, you got me. I have no idea what this about.

The third cut is “Sing Low, Sweet Cherrio.” It’s pure ’60s hippy groove and one of my favorites on the album. You can really hear the band’s potential here with Michael Bruce sharing the majority of the lead vocals with Alice. Though it’s Glen Buxton’s lead guitar that really shines, the entire band fills it in, especially Alice’s harmonica. The album credits the entire band as writers of all the songs, but I wonder if it was Alice himself who penned the things-to-come lyric: Right then my story ended, and a new one had begun / ‘Cause I had some vision in my sight on the journey to be one.

“Today Mueller” is another shorty, a spooky little song I’m just not sure about. One story is that it’s just about a girl they knew in Arizona. But each time I hear it I can only think of a poor girl being goaded into committing suicide:

Red rover, red rover 

Pass under, pass over, pass through

And over and over the White Cliffs of Dover with you.

Today Mueller make it happen.

Next up is “Living.” I really like this one. The best way I can describe this sweet rocker is The Beatles meet Nugent’s Amboy Dukes. I can’t explain that. You have to hear it for yourself. Living is only one part of being. Believing is to know just what you’re feeling. Yeah, man.

Another favorite is ‘Fields of Regret’. Neal Smith’s drumming is steady and pounding, and Dennis Dunaway’s bass pulls it all down. Buxton’s lead guitar receives an A+ here. With some good harmonica from Alice again, it’s a dark rocker with some ghostly spoken word lyric from Alice – “And when the doomed no more can flee from the flames of misery, assist me while I die!” Mwhahahaha!

The next cut is “No Longer Umpire.” It almost made the short list but broke the two minute barrier by two seconds. It’s a choppy song, full of swirling choral “aahhs.” It could be about a girlfriend of one of the band members, or maybe it’s about the Alice Cooper image realized as a girl who has painted a false picture of what the band is. That’s all I got.

“Levity Ball’ is probably the most well known song on the album. It has a weird feeling to it, eerie even. It creates a lot of imagery that I suppose could be induced by, well, a number of things: The memory I knew I must have had when I came in was of some varied places where I’ve never ever been.

At 1:17 long, “B. B. on Mars” is the shortest vocal song on the album. Here are the complete lyrics: ”

I stop, we stop! Go. Now let’s see what’s going on. See inside. It’s quiet inside. See? Now let’s hear what’s going on here inside.

Mmm. Your guess is as good as mine. One thing, though: I’m betting the Devo boys listened to this. You’ll know what I mean.

AC - Pretties 002

Now we come to “Reflected.” I do have to say that Glen Buxton kicks ass on lead guitar here, but I much rather like the re-write which appears on the Billion Dollar Babies album, “Elected.” At times the lyrics of “Reflected” don’t even rhyme, not even close: ”

Look upstanding with your head held high.

You will be reflected.

You look outstanding with your eyes in disguise

Just beyond your glasses.

Yeah, I know. Thank God for rewrites.

AC - Pretties 004Next up is “Apple Bush,” a quirky little ditty. I know, I know. Ditty is so overused these days, but it fits. I like this one — nice Alice harmonica solo. You’d think it’s a kid’s story about a house and the apple bush and apple tree that won’t leave it alone. It’s not until you get to the end that you might think of something entirely different, or at least I did. I won’t spoil it for you.

‘”Earwigs to Eternity.” Love that title. This infectious shorty has some great falsetto harmonies. You also get a taste of that upcoming classic Cooper sound by way of Dunaway’s bass and Smith’s drumming. Not sure what it means though. It puzzles me:

Oh, four years long
And oh, what a sigh to hear, my dear

Four long years
Now we stop to hear a whisper
(Alice Cooper)

Is it referring to something that happened four years earlier? Around ’64 or ’65? The Beatles? Maybe.

P.S. The Earwigs was the first name the band used. This first group consisted of Glen Buxton, Dennis Dunaway, John Tatum, John Speer and Vincent Furnier, the son of a preacher man who would later change his name to Alice Cooper.

The last cut is “Changing Arranging,” another favorite. Neal Smith dominates on the drums here. It’s about what the band was going through becoming Alice Cooper, dealing with personal issues while the image of the band grew bigger. Of course, at that point they had no idea what was to come. The changes in their future would be major, to say the least, but after only playing clubs and landing a record deal they were already feeling the change. That must have been something to experience: I fight a never-ending battle inside, just trying to rectify my personal pride. I swear I don’t know what it’s got over me, but I know it doesn’t want to be free.

Pretties For You isn’t my favorite classic Alice Cooper album. It’s actually my least favorite, but it’s not a bad album. I like a lot of the songs. It’s just because it could have been so much more…and that the other albums are just so damned good. Because their talent and popularity escalated with each new album, it’s fun to put it on every now and then and visit where all the madness first started. I think “interesting” is the right word. Yes, that’s it. It is an interesting album.

AC - Pretties 003photos courtesy of the author

1 reply »

  1. I first bought Pretties in 1975, when I was 10. I am 55 now. It’s my favorite album…ever. By anyone. It’s very special. I LIKE Alice Cooper’s later works, but I LOVE this one, and Easy Action. Over the years, it has fit with me in every phase of my life. I just never get tired of it. “Fields of Regret” is my favorite song. “Levity Ball” reminds me of the acid orgies I went to at the famous student co-op in Berkeley, in the 1980s. People hate this album so much. I guess it was made for me. 😉


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