Funny thing about my taste in 80s new wave music—My favorite songs or albums by certain artists are often the very records those artists’ most hardcore fans despise. What most fans label as “sell out” albums, I consider masterpieces. For instance, the followers of the Ministry cult believe that the synthpop perfection of the With Sympathy album is trash (because they’ve been told that Al Jourgenson hates the album and was forced to record it). Worshippers of dark, gloomy goth Depeche Mode scoff at the infectious happy synths and drum machines on the Speak and Spell album—an album of which I Just Can’t Get Enough. And then there are the self-proclaimed anointers of genuine new wave who claim Ultravox was a brilliant post-punk band that was ruined when lead singer John Foxx was replaced by Midge Ure; the same anointers who don’t want to recognize that while Midge Ure’s Ultravox pioneered the new romantic sound, John Foxx went on to record several bubblegum synthpop albums that were simply imitations of the early Depeche Mode sound (albums which I consider better than anything Foxx ever recorded with Ultravox, by the way). Of course, when we speak of the pioneers of the new wave sound of the 80s, those who come to mind include Blondie, The Cars, Gary Numan, and…Alice Cooper.
Yep, horror glam hard rocker Alice Cooper didn’t hesitate, and in 1980, he jumped on the synth-infused rock sounds that became the norm by the mid-80s…a move that lost him a myriad of fans. But he gained a fan in me! Just listen to the synth melodies of “Clones” and you’ll be hooked.
This was groundbreaking new wave! Was Alice Cooper being satirical, proving how easy it was to crank out a perfect new wave record for mass consumption by a generation of kids looking for something different? Was he being pressured by his record company to turn out a hit record? Or was he truly into the new sounds, but trapped by a persona that didn’t give him the room to expand?
Flush the Fashion, the album from which the single “Clones” comes, features a photo of Alice in a futuristic jumpsuit, hair slicked back, with enough rouge on his cheeks to make him look like a dancer in a Robert Palmer video. Other classic new wave tracks on this album include “Leather Boots” and “Aspirin Damage.”
Next came the 1981 album Special Forces. On the cover, Alice looks like the love child of Visage’s Steve Strange and Deborah Harry. New wave classics on this album include “You Want It, You Got It,” the creepy Halloween new wave treasure “Skeletons in my Closet,” and the Devo-esque “You’re a Movie.” Hot.
Alice further cemented his new wave cred with 1982’s Zipper Catches Skin. The incredibly “visual” title of the album aside, Alice, dressed in a shirt and tie with his hair slicked back and his lips pursed in a campy pout on the back of the album, looks like he should be performing “Cool Places” alongside Jane Wiedlin in a Sparks video.
This album features quirky new wave power pop tracks like “Adaptable” and “I’m Alive (That was the Day my Dead Pet Returned to Save my Life),” plus an homage to both the sounds of the B-52’s and a response to the classic Waitresses’ hit “I Know What Boys Like” with the song “I Like Girls,” which features a guest vocal performance by none other than…Patty Donahue of the Waitresses! Oh yeah. Alice was definitely trying to tap it—the new wave market, that is.
Finally, there was the 1983 album Da Da, which Alice supposedly claims to not remember recording at all. That’s a really convenient way of trying to explain away four new wave albums, but quite honestly, I think it better explains why this fourth try was so bad. If he’d been fully in control of his senses, this probably would have been his BEST new wave album! This one ends up meandering all over the place, sounding like it’s trying to go back to a bizarre glam rock sound, often having little to no melodic cohesion. But it does pull off two fairly obvious new wave-inspired tracks in “Enough’s Enough” and “Dyslexia.” But the writing was on the wall. Alice Cooper’s streak of awesome 80s albums was coming to an end! And sadly, they were neglected by both his disillusioned fans and a possible legion of new fans who were never informed that Alice Cooper was more new wave than The Police. De Da Da Da!
Alice found the perfect segue back into his dark, gothic hard rock persona with the 1984 horror movie Monster Dog, which was visually new wave in its fashions, style, and neon red and blue lighting, but crossed over into classic Alice Cooper goth rock territory with the blatant forcing of two songs in rock video format into the movie. The film doesn’t waste a moment in its Alice promotion, opening with the video for “Identity Crisis.” This one is loaded with Argento lighting, high-haired woman, creepy shadows, and 80s fog machine effects.
In this rock horror film, Alice and his people are heading back to his hometown to shoot a video. They are warned by the local cops that a pack of dogs has been killing people. But this isn’t just a movie about a killer pack of dogs. It’s more like a werewolf movie (or should I say, wereDOG movie).
As the crew begins to film the video in Alice’s creepy old house, a disturbed old man keeps showing up to warn them, the truth comes out about Alice’s deceased father, and soon, an angry lynch mob comes from town to kill the evil beast that is terrorizing the town. This is when the blood really flows, with some hot 80s gore. There are also some serious gay slurs, with the lynch mob members claiming the crew looks like queers, griping that queers make their stomachs turn, and making remarks like “Say goodbye to your boyfriend, faggot!” Don’t these guys get it? Alice isn’t gay…he’s glam!
The movie races to a gory conclusion with Alice getting infected by Monster Dog in the very same fashion that Dee Wallace gets her werewolf bite in The Howling. Alice’s metamorphosis into Monster Dog is the stuff of 80s direct-to-video nightmares. Immediately after, the video that opens the movie reprises, only this time, it is interspersed with chronological clips from the movie that are in essence a complete summary of it! Awesome.
Oh, and I can’t forget to mention that the film is European, so many of the actors’ dialogue had to be dubbed into English—including Alice, even though he was speaking English! WTF? Why do they do that??? They did the same thing with porn star Jeff Stryker’s audio in the classic Zombie 4.
As for Alice, Monster Dog helped exorcise the new wave demon inside him, and he soon got back to his hard rocking roots, but not before recording the synth rockin’ “He’s Back (The Man Behind the Mask)” for 1986’s Friday the 13th Part 6.
Order was restored with the hard rocking title song for 1987’s Prince of Darkness. By that time, even many new wave bands of the early 80s had gone the hair band route, proving that even though Alice Cooper was on the cutting edge of music in the 80s, his thunder was stolen by 80s hacks like Madonna and Michael Jackson.
To finish off the 80s, Alice had a music video “cameo” in Wes Craven’s Shocker. He also appears on the movie’s soundtrack, doing a duet on a heavy metal song called “Shockdance,” on which he performs a rap. Seriously. I’m not even kidding. I have the soundtrack….