You may not know Vincent Furnier, but you do know Alice Cooper. For nearly 50 years, Cooper and the band bearing that name is one of the iconic figures in hard rock. With an outrageous stage show that featured boa constrictors, guillotines, and chopped-up baby dolls, Cooper became arguably the first “shock rockers” to fuse hard rock with horror movie imagery.
Retaining the Alice Cooper name as a solo artist, Furnier split with his original band and launched the second phase of his career with 1975’s Welcome To My Nightmare. While continuing to wear wild facepaint and making entertainingly gory concept albums, Cooper became a show business renaissance man. He was a regular at celebrity golf tournaments as well as a soft rock balladeer on the 1977 top 10 hit “You and Me.”
In celebration of the 50th anniversaries of Alice Cooper’s Killer and School’s Out this year with deluxe editions of both albums. Click here to order both, available now. Here’s a look back at 10 memorable moments that turned Alice Cooper into a hard rock icon:
10. A Fateful 7 am Audition for Frank Zappa
At the height of Frank Zappa’s fame in the late ‘60s, the guitar legend started two labels that were distributed by Warner Bros: Bizarre Records and Straight Records. The original Alice Cooper band – Furnier, guitarists Glen Buxton and Michael Bruce, bassist Dennis Dunaway, and drummer Neal Smith — secured an audition for the label but misunderstood Zappa’s instructions to arrive at his house at 7 o’clock the next day.
The band arrived ready to play at 7 am. “Frank comes down and says what are you doing? I meant 7 at night,” Cooper remembered in the 2014 documentary Super Duper Alice Cooper. Nonetheless, Zappa was impressed enough by the band’s resolve that he signed them to a three-album deal. Alice Cooper’s third album for Straight, 1971’s Love It To Death, was their commercial breakthrough, at which point the band began releasing albums directly through Warner Bros.
9. Alice (The Band) Becomes Alice (The Man)
In 1968, the band that had been known as The Spiders and Nazz got wind of Todd Rundgren’s The Nazz, and decided to change its name. Furnier came up with the name Alice Cooper as an “all-American, sweet little old lady name” to contrast with the band’s dark image, though he often told the press a bogus story about the name being suggested by a Ouija board.
Formally, Alice Cooper was a band on its first seven albums from 1969 to 1973, although the line was always blurry, with the singer credited as Alice Cooper, not Vincent Furnier, in the sleeve notes. Once the band stopped getting along and decided to go on hiatus, however, Fournier simply began releasing solo albums, still under the Alice Cooper banner. In 1975, Furnier legally changed his name to Alice Cooper, and a year later published the book Me, Alice: The Autobiography of Alice Cooper. Although Glen Buxton died in 1997, Fournier has periodically reunited with the surviving members of the original band since 1999, including for their 2011 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction and on the 2021 studio album Detroit Stories.
8. Dropping Panties at the Hollywood Bowl
In 1972, Alice Cooper’s album School’s Out was released with the record wrapped in a pair of women’s underwear. A few weeks later, the band pulled an even bigger stunt with the same theme at the Hollywood Bowl. The band’s epic concert opened with an introduction by radio legend Wolfman Jack and culminated in a helicopter dropping 18,000 pairs of panties on the audience. “I was inspired, I was moved, as a showman,” said Elton John, one of the fans in attendance, who would soon begin to turn his concerts into flashier spectacles. The panty drop proved to be costly: the helicopter pilot went to jail for several weeks after breaking the law for the caper, and the band ultimately spent $100,000 supporting the pilot’s family and covering associated expenses.
7. Alice Cooper Becomes Drinking Buddies With His British Invasion Heroes
In the Alice Cooper band’s first incarnation as The Spiders in the mid-‘60s, the band would perform the songs of their favorite British bands like The Beatles and The Who. A decade later, Cooper rubbed elbows with his childhood heroes so often that his “celebrity drinking club,” the Hollywood Vampires, counted John Lennon, Ringo Starr, and Keith Moon among its members.
Cooper’s drinking eventually became a serious problem and he quit in 1977, and has been sober since 1983, and Alice Cooper’s 1978 album From the Inside was dedicated to Moon. In 2015, Cooper revived the Hollywood Vampires name for his new band with Johnny Depp and Aerosmith’s Joe Perry.
6. Alice Cooper Meets Wayne Campbell
After a few years without any major hits, Alice Cooper returned to the charts in the hair metal era with 1989’s Trash and 1991’s Hey Stoopid. That comeback also included a significant cameo in one of the top box office hits of 1992. In the Saturday Night Live spinoff Wayne’s World, Wayne (Mike Myers) and Garth (Dana Carvey) score backstage passes to an Alice Cooper show, seeing him perform the Hey Stoopid single “Feed My Frankenstein” and then meeting their idol backstage in the immortal “We’re not worthy” scene. The shock rocker and his band turned out to be bookish and soft-spoken, which was a great gag.
5. Alice Cooper Brings West Side Story Into the Hard Rock World
Alice Cooper may not have seemed like Broadway buffs when they first began shocking parents in the ‘70s. However, Cooper and bassist Dale Dunaway were huge fans of West Side Story and repeatedly referenced the classic musical. The title of Alice Cooper’s 1970 album Easy Action and the song “Still No Air” were both references to the play. The band’s 1972 track “Gutter Cat vs. the Jets” interpolated the play’s “Jet Song” so substantially that Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim were given songwriting credits.
4. Alice Cooper’s Unlikely Punk Legacy
One might think that Alice Cooper was just the kind of theatrical arena rock act that early punk bands existed in staunch opposition to. Cooper had regularly rubbed elbows with influential proto-punk musicians, though. When the band relocated to the singer’s hometown of Detroit, they played shows with The Stooges and MC5. Later, Cooper rebooted his backing band on 1975’s Welcome To My Nightmare and drafted two guitarists from Lou Reed’s band, guitarists Dick Wagner and Steve Hunter.
John Lydon auditioned for the Sex Pistols by singing along with Alice Cooper’s “I’m Eighteen” on a jukebox for manager Malcolm McLaren. “I never meant the Pistols to be a challenge to Alice Cooper, more like a compliment. He had an influence on us,” Lydon later said in Super Duper Alice Cooper. Many more punk and indie bands have covered Alice Cooper over the years, including Sonic Youth. The alternative rockers took on two deep cuts from Love It To Death, “Is It My Body” and “Hallowed By My Name” (retitled “Hallowed Be Thy Name”). In 2005, former Dead Kennedys frontman Jello Biafra teamed with The Melvins for an album that opened with a cover of Alice Cooper’s epic “Halo of Flies.”
3. A Chicken Dies and A Star Is Born
Growing up a city boy, Cooper had never been to a farm and had mistakenly assumed that chickens could fly. This misunderstanding led to a pivotal moment in 1969 when a rowdy Toronto festival audience threw a chicken onto the stage while Alice Cooper was playing a gig in support of their low-selling debut, Pretties For You. “It had wings, it should fly,” Cooper remembered thinking in Super Duper Alice Cooper. “I chucked it in the audience….The audience tore it to pieces and threw it back up on stage. We killed a chicken in front of 70,000 hippies. All of a sudden we were the most notorious band on the planet, everyone wanted to know about Alice Cooper.”
2. Alice Cooper Tries to Get Elected
Decades before Sonny Bono joined the U.S. Senate or Kanye West ran for President, Alice Cooper lampooned the idea of a pop star running for office with the lead single for Billion Dollar Babies. “Elected” was a rewrite of the band’s 1969 debut single “Reflected,” overhauled with a new concept and bigger sound. The track was given a fairly splashy music video for the pre-MTV era: a satirical campaign film. The song peaked in the Top 40 in November 1972 as President Nixon was re-elected. Cooper continued to facetiously run for POTUS every four years, although he has declined to detail his own political beliefs and objected to other entertainers endorsing politicians.
1. Alice Cooper Meets Bob Ezrin
After Alice Cooper’s first two albums came and went without making a major impact on the charts, the band decided it needed to start making hit singles. They sought out Canadian producer Jack Richardson and his production company Nimbus 9, who’d guided The Guess Who to a string of massive hits. It was one of Nimbus 9’s less seasoned producers, a 20-year-old named Bob Ezrin, however, who became Alice Cooper’s most fertile creative partners.