Billion Dollar Babies
Warner Brothers BS 2685
Released: January 1973
Chart Peak: #1
Weeks Charted: 50
Certified Platinum: 10/13/86
Concerning Alice Cooper, it is by now axiomatic that any new album is intended only as the soundtrack of the latest group traveling extravaganza. But even considered as a soundtrack, Billion Dollar Babies seems an abortion. The extended numbers (ones around which the stage skits revolve) are the most abrasive. Rather than following Cream's formula of presenting a tight skeleton on vinyl that can be expanded at will onstage, the Cooper troupers insist upon acting this soundtrack concept out to the bitter end. So we get to hear large stretches of the band in total sonic disarray while dentists' drills roar ("Unfinished Sweet"), snakes hiss ("Sick Things") and guillotine blades drop ("I Love the Dead"). Zero to each song.
As expected, Billion Dollar Babies doesn't cut the mustard when viewed musically, either. "Hello Hurray," which opens the album and the current stage act, is a Broadway production number by Rolf Kempf (the play escapes me), once again underscoring the "show" aspect of the Cooper experience. The adapted version gives an interesting view of the reluctant cynicism that's an unavoidable component of the rack star existence, but does precious little else. As on every other cut the band just never manages to mesh musically, and the final chorus merely bluffs its way around becoming the intended musical conjuration of the awesome instrumental power behind a rock singer.
"Elected" fails similarly, a victim of incredibly inept production. Alice builds the song's tone steadily throughout, then right at the top of the final chorus, just when you're expecting the thing to explode into a fist-hoisting anthem, the whole damn thing suddenly fizzles out. Guitars decelerate, horns recede...it doesn't make any sense for a group that's had such success with power-oriented songs in the past ("Under My Wheels," "School's Out," "I'm Eighteen"), the approach is as mysterious as it is absurd.
Donovan and Alice swap lines on the title cut, which is otherwise no different than the rest of the album -- tedium ranging from boredom to humdrumity. But seeing as how that has also been a good description of Mr. Leitch's career, his efforts here make a certain bizarre sense, something I'm sure that only Alice Cooper's followers could fully appreciate.
While they're currently quite content to hide behind this "entertainment" facade, I know damn well that these guys can be good musicians. They did a version of "The Train Kept A-Rollin'" once during a sound check that might have blown the Yardbirds away! Maybe we'll get a taste of this later this year when guitarist Mike Bruce releases a solo album -- could be nice. But as it is now, with each member totally willing to submerge his musical development within the group personality, we'll continue to see a dependence on cheap tricks and illusions of decadence instead of rock & roll. Personally, I prefer a little music with my decadence, so please excuse me while I put Raw Power on the old Garrard.
- Gordon Fletcher, Rolling Stone, 5/24/73.
Now that they're one of the biggest draws in the world, Alice Cooper's current tour (which ties in with their latest album, Billion Dollar Babies) is the largest-grossing rock band tour in history, and most of their old fans are lamenting "sell-out."
What a load of crap! Alice Cooper has never sold out. For their entire career they've been too busy buying in. The very jacket of their new album is a wallet, in line with the record's concept -- a future in which affluent youth rules. No matter which side of the cash register you're on, Alice Cooper is, as Dori McMartin has said, the biggest shopping center in the world; their new show, besides a guillotine and giant toothbrushes chasing teeth with Betty Grable legs, features a solid rippling bank of neon bulbs in a set so much like a hip boutique it's incredible. Alice himself looks like something out of a boutique -- wrapped in tinfoil with a flower in his mouth -- and if they have been consistently calculating about selling themselves through their entire career, the Coopers are at least honest about it in Billion Dollar Babies.
Unfortunately, however, in coming out of the showbiz closet far enough to sing something like "Hello Hooray" ("Let the show begin/ I'm ready...") or "I Love the Dead," they also lay the tombstone on any pretensions they might ever have had to living up to those early claims of innovation and profundity. Mothers may not like to see their fourteen-year-old daughters walk in the front door with this record, but it is also true that Alice Cooper is as old-fashioned as anything in Vegas, and that it will sell primarily to fourteen-year-olds because that's who it's aimed at. "Sick Things" is no more depraved than a Saturday afternoon monster movie on TV, and Alice Cooper will quite likely fulfill a lifelong dream by ending up as a network cartoon show. Hell, this album's even got individual group-member and live-action pinup punchouts, à la Donny Osmond and the Partridge Family, as well as a big Alice Cooper Dollar Bill poster. It's a toy through and through.
- Lester Bangs, Stereo Review, 9/73.
One of the best solid rock groups recording today has produced another set of unpretentious, straight rock. Cooper is a top vocalist and the band backs him ably, with this entire LP a bit tighter than previous efforts. Key to the group's success, besides top musical performances, seems to be the ability to draw the line between good fun and tastelessness, an ability they have mastered. Each member makes a contribution, be it in writing, singing or playing, and this is another plus. Best cuts: "Hello Hooray" and "Elected" (both single hits), "No More Mister Nice Guy" and "Generation Landslide."
- Billboard, 1973.
The title's as perfect as the band's latest symbol -- a $, it's "S" transformed into a two headed snake. No outrage Alice has concocted equals the frank, sweaty greed of his current success. Oddly, though, this blatant profit mechanism is his most consistent album -- even the song about (mercy me) necrophilia is tolerable, just like the song about tooth decay. But without a "School's Out" or an "I'm Eighteen" -- neither "No More Mr. Nice Guy" nor "Elected" quite makes the grade -- there's nothing to tempt anyone back to the new improved filler. B
- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.
It's not as mindbendingly outrageous or hard-rocking as School's Out, Killer, or Love It to Death, but with its conscious attempt at pop crossover ("No More Mr. Nice Guy" and "Elected"), Billion Dollar Babies is just as perverse as the earlier records, as well as being more consistent than any of his other proper albums. Sometimes selling out just a little bit might not be such a bad thing. * * * *
- Stephen Thomas Erlewine, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.
Like Killer and School's Out, Billion Dollar Babies is an entertaining effort with songs to serve both radio listeners and concert attendees. * * * 1/2
- Gary Graff, Musichound Rock: The Essential Album Guide, 1996.
When Billion Dollar Babies was released, Vincent Furnier -- a.k.a. Alice Cooper, the king of shock rock -- was still with the original members of the Alice Cooper Band. One album later the band parted, but they left behind this, their most powerful album.
A collaboration with producer Bob Ezrin saw the band embrace a much harder rock style, though now with a smoother polish, and accommodating strings and brass. Recording took place both in the United States (The Cooper Mansion, Connecticut and The Record Plant, New York) and the UK (Morgan Studios, London) -- where among the friends who passed by to lend a hand during the sessions were Marc Bolan, Donovan, and The Who's Keith Moon.
The album also marked the commercial explosion of the Alice Cooper phenomenon, and the accompanying tour was to prove one of the biggest money-spinners in rock history. Fake blood gallows (replaced by a guillotine for this tour), and electric chairs had been the props of Cooper's performance for a while, and now the songs followed suit. The choice cut here is perhaps "I Love The Dead," an unnerving story of necrophilia that helped take the album to No. 1 in both the U.S. and the UK charts. It is in excellent company however, with storming, stadium-friendly fare such as "Elected" (another hit single, and one of three UK Top Tens extracted from the LP) and "No More Mr. Nice Guy" (originally planned for 1971's Killer) which became something of a theme song for Cooper. (The original vinyl album was housed in a gatefold sleeve complete with a pullout billion-dollar banknote.)
- Lino Portela Gutiérrez, 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die, 2005.
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