Easy Action is the second album by the original Alice Cooper band on Frank Zappa’s Straight Records label. It was released just over seven months after their first, Pretties for You. Not a long time, but you can tell the boys did their homework. Gone are the strange little demo-like songs, as well as most of the psychedelia. With Easy Action, you get nine songs that all have some substance. Though two, “Laughing at Me” and “Refrigerator Heaven,” are short, they both have qualities that separate them from the almost-snippets found on Pretties for You.
The first cut is “Mr. and Misdemeanor.” Right off with this first song you have to ask yourself – “Wow! Is this the same group who made Pretties for You?” It’s here you hear the voice for the first time, that signature gravel growl of Alice that would stick with the bad boy forever – Nobody likes me, but we adore you. Da-da da-da da, yeah yeah yeah yeah.
Track 2 is “Shoe Salesman,” completely different from the first cut. It sounds like a song you’d be playing while driving along a sunny coastline in a cool convertible with the top down, or at least with the windows down in a Chevy van. You can’t help but to think of the Beatles when you hear this. The harmonies are so Beatlesque that it’s a little difficult to imagine them not singing this song. But it’s when you actually listen to the lyrics that you realize, “Nope. That isn’t the Fab Four singing THAT.” I know a shoe salesman. He’s an acquaintance of mine. One day he showed me some marks on his arms in a line.
Next up is “Still No Air.” Here the band pays tribute to West Side Story. Even the title of the album is from a line in the musical, from when Riff tells Action to “Just play it cool, boy. Real cool! Easy, Action. Easy.“ A band favorite, West Side Story would be revisited on the School’s Out album.
Rhythm guitarist Michael Bruce takes the lead vocal on the 6:41 minute long “Below Your Means,” though the vocals actually end just after two minutes. The rest of the song is a nice example of what the entire band could really do together musically. It also has a very long ending fade, but be careful if you’re wearing headphones. If you turn up the volume while trying to listen to the very end, you’ll get a very loud surprise before the song is over.
The next cut is “Return of the Spiders.” If you listen to it while driving you may just wind up getting a speeding ticket. This song is fast and rockin’. Along with Alice’s growl, Glen Buxton’s lead guitar screams. Dennis Dunaway’s bass thumps hard and Neal Smith is a drumming madman. The Spiders was the second name of the band, after The Earwigs. In 1965 they recorded their first single, a cover called “Why Don’t You Love Me.” The next year Michael Bruce replaced rhythm guitarist John Tatum, and The Spiders released their second single, an original called “Don’t Blow Your Mind.”
“Laughing at Me” is only 2:12 minutes long, but is quite a little gem. There is something called ‘the Alice Cooper sound’, and this one has it the most on this album. I can’t explain it in words. It simply has to be heard. There are smatterings of it throughout Easy Action, especially on “Below Your Means,” but for me, this is the song that starts to put the pieces together. It’s nowhere near perfection, but it’s getting there. Though each member plays a significant part in the developing signature sound, it’s Buxton’s guitar that is most noticeable and notable.
Next up is “Refrigerator Heaven,” the shortest song on the album. It’s a busy little song about being cryogenically frozen until a cure for cancer can be found. But that may take a while, as we “won’t get back ’till my sun sets down on the moon.” Alice visits the refrigerator again on his first solo album Welcome to My Nightmare, but with an entirely different motive.
“Beautiful Flyaway.” Another lead vocal by Michael Bruce. It doesn’t take a genius to realize just how much he and Paul McCartney sound alike. It’s obvious that the Beatles were a great influence on Bruce, but I wonder if it’s not also the other way around with this song. I know songs come to songwriters out of the blue, in a dream or just after hearing someone say a particular word or phrase, but “Beautiful Flyaway” sounds as if it could have easily been on McCartney’s Chaos and Creation in the Backyard album. The sound, the feeling of it just screams it. I would not be surprised at all if McCartney said that he had listened to “Beautiful Flyaway” just prior to writing the songs for Chaos, but I’ll let you be the judge.
At 7:36 minutes, the last song is the longest. “Lay Down and Die, Goodbye” begins with just Alice speaking, “You are the only censor. If you don’t like what I say, you have a choice. You can turn me off.” It sounds as if Frank Zappa may have asked to sit in on this. It’s a strange one. It starts with some really good guitar work from Bruce and Buxton, but then transforms into what reminds me of the Monolith absorbing poor ol’ Dave Bowman. It would have been an instrumental if not for the very last part: Well, I’ve written home to mother. The ink ran from my tear. I said, ‘Momma, Momma please tell me why you brought me here. (Note: On the back of the original album cover “Beautiful Flyaway” is mistakenly listed as the last track after “Lay Down and Die, Goodbye.”)
Though light years ahead of Pretties for You, Easy Action doesn’t yet capture the complete Alice Cooper sound. But the boys are still learning, still evolving. I really like it though, especially “Mr. and Misdemeanor,” “Below Your Means,” “Laughing At Me,” “Return of the Spiders” and “Beautiful Flyaway.” It’s just that there’s a lot of different kinds of sounds here, and nothing that really ties it all together. It just needs to be cooked a little bit longer, and as history shows us, dinner is almost ready.