Long before the epic anthems, platinum albums and sold-out concert tours — before the boas, guillotines and outrageous urban legends, Alice Cooper merely was a peculiar unknown band, peddling a peculiar debut record. Wanna feel old? That LP was released 50 years ago this week on Frank Zappa’s Straight Records label. Yikes, can you believe it?
Formed during the mid-‘60s in Phoenix, Arizona, the Spiders later would change their name to Nazz. By 1968, the struggling combo now known as Alice Cooper, was residing in southern California, fighting for survival on the L.A. club scene, developing a reputation for being a “weird” band — a distinction that soon got them noticed by Zappa, as well as by their legendary manager, Shep Gordon.
From a distance, Alice Cooper’s musically meandering, psychedelic-sounding debut bared little resemblance to the rock-ribbed arena style that would define the band’s iconic latter work. However, upon examining the record’s 13 “tea leaves” a bit closer, the future could certainly be seen.
Despite the listed production team — Ian Underwood, Herb Cohen and Frank Zappa, manager Shep Gordon has stated that Pretties for You actually had no producer — and it shows. Gordon maintains further that the album merely was a hodgepodge of incomplete compositions recorded during the band’s in-studio rehearsal. Clearly.
Are you dressed and ready to attend the “Levity Ball?”
A commercial failure, Pretties for You barely grazed the bottom rung of the Billboard Top 200 — reaching only a disappointing #193. Additionally, none of the tracks ever have been performed by the band in concert since the release of their 1971 breakout album, Love It to Death.
The record opens with “Titanic Overture” — a haunting, orchestrated, minute-long snippet that sinks abruptly and basically leads nowhere. Another brief interlude, “10 Minutes Before the Worm” is clunky and trippy. Possessing no real structure to speak of, it does provide a brief splash of melody, just before falling apart randomly. The coolest thing about “10 Minutes” is that it offers the first glimpse of the gloriously skitzo signature style of drummer Neal Smith — the musical force who would arguably deserve the MVP award on subsequent Cooper records.
Pretties for You soon erupts into a splendid dysfunctional fiesta in which several of the tracks often sound like songs. A stylistic collision between The Piper at the Gates of Dawn and Idlewild South, “Swing Low, Sweet Cheerio” is an authentic, harmonica-driven classic rock stand-out. Other noteworthy numbers include the occasionally melodic, lo-fi live track “Levity Ball” and “Apple Bush” — a near-radio-friendly tune nailed to the floor by bassist Dennis Dunaway and accented by lead vocalist Alice Cooper’s legit harmonica work. While less than hooky, “Fields of Regret” bursts with ear-splitting urgency, courtesy of guitarists Glen Buxton and Michael Bruce. Combined with Cooper’s oft eerie vocal, “Fields” lights a path showing where the band would travel musically in the not so distant future.
In 1969, this was what the face of the future kings of “shock rock” looked like:
Of the record’s super-highlights, “Living” is an irresistibly buzzy delight, while the lead-off single, “Reflected,” serves an adequate demo for what would become, “Elected,” the monster Top 40 hit from the band’s 1973 album, Billion Dollar Babies. And although it certainly is catchy, “Changing Arranging” woulda, coulda, shoulda delivered even more, had celebrated producer Bob Ezrin arrived on the A.C. scene two records earlier.
In sum, Pretties for You is as “weird” now as when it first was released, half a century ago. And while it may not be the preferred “go-to” record that most Cooper fans pop in the deck while cruisin’ with the top down on a Saturday night, it remains a much-loved and well-respected work among the band’s most fervent followers.
Pretties for You Track Listing:
01. Titanic Overture (1:12)
02. 10 Minutes Before the Worm (1:39)
03. Swing Low, Sweet Cheerio (5:42)
04. Today Mueller (1:48)
05. Living (3:12)
06. Fields of Regret (5:44)
01. No Longer Umpire (2:02)
02. Levity Ball (4:39)
03. B.B. on Mars (1:17)
04. Reflected (3:17)
05. Apple Bush (3:08)
06. Earwigs to Eternity (1:19)
07. Changing Arranging (3:03)
Run Time: 38:10
Release Date: June 25, 1969
Record Label: Straight
Check out this old-school promo for the song “Reflected.”