Essential Atlantic: Alice Cooper, WELCOME TO MY NIGHTMARE
By 1975, Alice Cooper was on top of the rock world. Enough that his 1974 full-length, Alice Cooper's Greatest Hits, was a chart sensation, selling enough copies to peak at #8 on the Billboard 200 for the week of November 16, 1974. The #1 album at the time: John Lennon's Walls and Bridges. The collection glossed over the fact that the group's previous studio effort, Muscle of Love, had been considered a commercial disappointment after the chart-topping success of Billion Dollar Babies. Wholesale changes were on the horizon.
"There was some discontent about the direction we were going in, if I remember correctly," Cooper explained last year. "Some of the band decided that they were going to go and work on their own projects so I quite naturally thought I'd do pretty much the same. At the time there was no major decision to disband the Alice Cooper Band, we were just working on different things. It just happened that eventually that's the way things turned out."
The unexpected liberation led the singer to record his very first official solo album, Welcome to My Nightmare, with producer Bob Ezrin helping realize the grandiose vision.
"Bob had worked with us on every album from Love It To Death to Billion Dollar Babies," Cooper said. "He'd been a major player in some of our biggest successes and it felt right to get him involved again. On top of that, Bob is a genius. He hears things other people don't hear and seems to know exactly how to orchestrate things in a way you don't get with other producers. His input was invaluable to Welcome To My Nightmare."
The concept album about the terrifying nightmare suffered by young boy named Steven was the product of the singer's lifelong fascination with scary films: "I loved horror movies. Still do," he revealed. "And I also love theater and musicals. And I always had the grand idea that we could take the basic album and create a stage show from it, which is what we ultimately did. I saw it as like a cross between a nasty fairy tale and something like West Side Story. If you listen to something like Gutter Cat Vs. The Jets from School's Out you can hear that anyway. Working with someone like Bob Ezrin really helped propel the whole thing forward. He doesn't really hold back and is open to anything so we really just went for it. The whole view was to almost make the album sound like a soundtrack for a movie or a play. And I think we achieved that with Welcome..."
Cooper's vision for Welcome to My Nightmare exceeded well beyond just an album. It was the source of a massive and creatively ambitious stage show featuring video segments and a cast of onstage characters including dancing spiders and a nine-foot-tall cyclops. The elaborate production cost more than a half-million dollars to realize, and even inspired a TV special on the ABC network, Alice Cooper: The Nightmare. Originally aired on April 25, 1975, the show won an Emmy in 1976 for Outstanding Achievement in Video Tape Editing for a Special.The hour-long production boasted a very special guest: Welcome to My Nightmare album narrator, Vincent Price.
"That wasn't planned. But as time went on, we began wondering whether we might need something to add extra effect. I wrote to Vincent," Cooper said about landing the Hollywood legend. "I didn't expect a reply, but apparently he knew all about who I was, and was only more than happy to take part. He was fantastic, he really got stuck into the role, and he even took part in the TV special that followed. I think he might have even fancied doing the tour as well."
Released on March 11, 1975, Welcome to My Nightmare confounded many critics at the time, due in large part to the album's wildly diverse sound that leaned more towards soundtrack dramatics than heavy metal thunder. The fans, however, ate it up, sending the LP all the way to #5 on the Billboard 200 for the week of June 21, 1975. The #1 album in America that week: Elton John's Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy.
Controversial track "Only Women Bleed" still stands as one of Cooper's most popular songs on the charts. Released as the single "Only Women," the tune peaked at #12 on the Hot 100 over the same week that the album reached its highest chart position: June 21, 1975. The most popular song at the time: The Captain & Tennille's "Love Will Keep Us Together."
"I think we got it right with this album," Cooper said. "It had all the elements that I wanted on the record. And for a first solo album, it's not a bad start!"
FUN FACT: Welcome to My Nightmare is Alice Cooper's only full-length release on the Atlantic Records label.