When You See Me With A Smile On My Face, Then You’ll Know I’m A Mental Case

The silence is speaking
so why am I weeping
I guess I love it
I love it to death     (Long Way To Go)

Alice Cooper Love It To Death 07

No matter how great the music within, we 1980’s record buyers really got the shitty end of the stick from record companies.  Take, my beloved, Alice Cooper Love It To Death – a stone cold classic, scabrous chunk of ugly beauty and wondrousness.  When I forked over my hard-earned cash for it on Valentine’s Day 1989* all I got back was a vinyl LP that was almost thin enough to see through and the black and white pics on front and back covers.  Along with the track listing, that really was it, no credits, no lyrics, not even the band members’ names.  Piss poor.  I didn’t even know that it originally came in a gatefold until I looked it up this morning**.

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My knowledge of Alice Cooper when I bought this was confined to the track ‘School’s Out’ and that they played hard rock and my parents had a book called West Coast Story in which there was an interview with Mr Alice Cooper, who I’m pretty sure was naked apart from a boa constrictor.  We were still 5 months off Trash back then.  I just wanted some hard rock kicks and thrills from Love It To Death, it coughed some up for me and then gave me a load more besides.

Alice Cooper Love It To Death 05

The two big hitters for me at the time were the most obvious tracks here ‘I’m Eighteen’ and ‘Ballad of Dwight Fry’.  I still think ‘I’m Eighteen’, which of course figures large in the Sex Pistols’ legend, is a brilliant song, capturing all the confusion, all the exuberance all the snot and spite of the age – it feels unselfconsciously epic too, which can only be good thing to be and there is something perfect about Mr Furnier’s raspy voice and the organ chord sounding at the very end.

Mommy, where’s daddy?
He’s been gone for so long.
Do you think he’ll ever come home?

And as for ‘…Dwight Fry’, as well as keeping the makers of bespoke strait jackets for touring rock stars employed for nigh on 45 years now, it is just a wonderfully conceived and executed slice of schlock horror.  I just get goose bumps when the guitars come in after that piano intro, it fits the 1537 definition of genius perfection in that I can’t think of anything you could either add to, or take away from it, to make it one iota better.  Plus I have always been a sucker for songs with distinct separate sections in them.  Needless to say, the singer gets to ham it up good style and that’s another reason I like him so much, his references and acting come straight from that wonderful classic Hollywood tradition*^ – all good clean family entertainment, even when it’s dealing with the descent into insanity and gibbering darkness.

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And speaking of Rolf Harris, their cover of ‘Sun Arise’ that closes Love It To Death has always been a WTF moment for me, in fact I think I may have just listened to it all the way through for the first time.  Wobbleboard aside^, it’s a pretty true cover too, apparently they used it as a show opener for a while.  The mind boggles.  There’s nothing wildly wrong about it as a piece of music, but still …

Alice Cooper Love It To Death 02 (2)

I’m guilty of taping off my two fave tracks, along with the lascivious shimmy-shimmy of ‘Is It My Body’ – which if I were a 70s rocker I’d have sung directly to the laydeez and the square straight-baiting ‘Hallowed Be Thy Name’, which owes The Doors a big debt in terms of its rhythm and overall sound, raspy vocals aside:

Sluts and the hookers have taken your money
The queens are out dancing but now they’re not funny
‘Cause there goes one walkin’ away with your sonny
Cursing their lovers
Cursing the Bible

This time around though I find myself listening more and more to the other tracks here, some of which are real gems.  What really struck me is how much of a 1960’s album Love It To Death was, if you’ve ever listened to Mr Furnier’s radio show then you will know that he is always praising the Yardbirds and the Doors to the high heavens, you can really hear their influence on this album, overlaid by some 70s brashness.  Take the rave-up of ‘Long Way To Go’, written by Michael Bruce, which sounds like a hot-rodded slice of the British Invasion.  How snotty do you want?

Please don’t waste your energy on me my friend
cause we still got a long way to go
we’ll meet again some day
but right now just go away
’cause I still got a long way to go

Alice Cooper Love It To Death 05 (2)

I’ve also got a real jazz-on for ‘Black Juju’, which sounds not unlike a honky take on Santana jamming with Dr John, but with some extra amateur dramatics in the middle.  I always picture the band recording this one dressed up like Screaming Lord Sutch meeting Arthur Brown uptown.  Named after a stray dog, it is one in the context of the album, it borrows more than its organ part from Pink Floyd’s ‘Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun’, this is interstellar travel for the Quaalude generation.  It is a great showcase for the instrumental talents in the band too, they can never get enough credit as far as I’m concerned too, Glen Buxton and Michael Bruce never get their dues as a guitar tag team and the rhythm section of Dennis Dunaway and Michael Smith are so nimble and light on their feet, nothing here ever plods.

Alice Cooper Love It To Death 01Alice Cooper Love It To Death 04

I had no idea that ‘Second Coming’ was written as a reaction to the, umm, reaction to ‘The Long and Winding Road’ when it was released,, it’s not a hugely arresting tune but is pure Bob Ezrin to the core, a mini symphony, tightly wound to a tee, guitars perfectly meshing, the drums to the fore – huge bonus points too for the seamless intro to ‘…Dwight Fry’, courtesy of Ezrin’s piano playing.  Strangely, whilst it is no way bad, the weakest track here is the opener ‘Caught In a Dream’ which comes over as a bit of a rocker by rote but I do love the line that I pinched for the title of this here post.

So there you have it the Alice Cooper’s first great album, and the start of an inspired winning streak of 4 LPs that ended with Billion Dollar Babies and moved rock’s tectonic plates for good.  Love It To Death is the sound of the band just stepping forward into that future, carving out some brilliance for themselves, having not quite thrown off the decade that shaped them yet – don’t worry, they’d get there 8 months later with Killer.

Inset photo taken by the, rather damn brilliant, Alice hawkins
Inset photo taken by the, rather damn brilliant, Alice hawkins
604 Down.

PS – Surely this has to be the first review of this album that doesn’t end with some variation on, ‘I loved it to death’? I claim my prize!


*well, it is a day for treating someone you truly love. I’m very proud to say that romance is still going strong too.

**There’s a bigger question here, one mentioned often by Mike Ladano over at his place, Alice Cooper’s back catalogue really needs some proper TLC lavishing on it.  I can’t think of many bands of their stature and import who haven’t had a full-on rerelease campaign, with some archive material, sleevenotes, artwork etc.  Are there weird Byzantine contractual issues involved?

*^he acted with Mae west, became good friends with Groucho Marx and paid £27k to restore one of the ‘o’s in the Hollywood sign in memory of him, which is a story I love.

^which in lieu of burning it, is the correct position for one.

47 thoughts on “When You See Me With A Smile On My Face, Then You’ll Know I’m A Mental Case

    1. Hiya. They were a better band than I’d realised really, possibly because the song-writing and persona was so strong I’d missed their musicianship a little. I’ve really enjoyed listening to this one again.

  1. Nice one. Not familiar with too much Alice Cooper at all. School’s Out and a couple of his recent things. You and Mr Ladano have convinced me to go investigate further … damn you!

  2. This is one of my favourite albums of all time. I’m glad you mentioned that Floyd comparison. And also that the Cooper catalogue needs a proper series of reissues.

    Favorite song : Sun Arise.

    I’ll never forget the Kool alt rock dude who came into my store when I was playing it. He was upset to learn that it was just Alice Cooper and not some garage band he liked.

    1. He’s a nice guy too, my friend’s wife took that photo of him with the snake that I’ve used and said he was a lovely, lovely man. Very old school Hollywood.

  3. Haha serves you right for liking the big black plastic discs. Go digital!

    This is a great album. Agreed on the reissues, they’re overdue. I bought a box set recently thinking it would be an upgrade and it was crap. No effort put into it whatsoever!

      1. Haha awesome. I was gonna add, for our international friends, that the joke was also from the CFL vs NFL thing. I think there was even a commercial, wasn’t there?

  4. Neat-o! Super-keen! Groovy! Haha I really enjoyed this (can’t you tell?). I don’t know a whole lot about Alice Cooper (apart from the hits and whatever I’ve read over at Mike’s), but it sounds like there’s some greatness within. Nice one!

  5. Never owned this, despite quite liking early Alice. Thanks for the tasty review.

    Talking of wobble-boards, could your wobbly LP, purchased in the 80s, have been a pressing from the oil-crisis years of the early-mid 70s? I remember records becoming so thin that someone invented flexi-discs just by holding one. True story.

    1. Thank you. I just don’t think you can go wrong with Alice Cooper whilst it was still the name of the band, beyond that it gets a bit wobbly.

      Possibly a 70s issue, it is awful. My vinyl curse now means I have to get hold of the gatefold version if it’s the last thing I ever do – regardless of the fact that I never knew it existed 24 hours ago.

  6. Great read! Dwight Fry is a great song. I really dig the intro the buildup of your tale! Right down to that U bought it on Valentine’s Day of 89…5 months before Trash! Ha! I guess Alice hasn’t humg out with Gene And Paul much as those two fella’s have remastered the remastered of a remaster in there back catalogue….

      1. Yep Alice opened for Maiden in 2012 ….here’s the cheap plug .i reviewed both the Alice and Maiden shows….Alice was awesome played at 6pm broad daylight.(outdoor show)90 degree heat and did the full show.

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