How Alice Cooper Made Fun of Themselves With ‘Billion Dollar Babies’
The breakthrough success of 1972's School's Out put the Alice Cooper band in an unusual position: in demand. In this exclusive excerpt from the book Alice Cooper @75, UCR contributor Gary Graff explains how the band found time to make fun of themselves, their newfound fame and the corporate bigwigs that were suddenly throwing large amounts of cash in their direction while crafting 1973's Billion Dollar Babies.
The April 15, 1973, issue of Forbes magazine, the conservative business journal, featured a photo of Alice Cooper, in white tails and top hat, and guitarist Michael Bruce on its cover, declaring them “A New Breed of Tycoon.” And that’s exactly what the band’s sixth studio album was celebrating.
Cooper and company were not billionaires by any stretch when Billion Dollar Babies was released during February 1973. But they were living the rarefied life of the rich, residing (together) in a mansion, traveling on private jets, hobnobbing with celebrities—the works. It seemed only natural to make that the theme of the new album. “That was us making fun of ourselves,” Cooper wrote in Golf Addict. “We’re Billion Dollar Babies, a bunch of ‘babies’ from Phoenix that large multinational corporations (starting with our record company) were now throwing money at. The same guys who couldn’t get a gig because we were too weird ... and now, everybody wanted a piece of us. ...
“We were laughing at our audience and at ourselves and at the circus spectacle and absurdity of our success.” And, we should add, making some great rock ’n’ roll at the same time.
If School’s Out was about codifying the Cooper stage presentation, Billion Dollar Babies — packaged to look like a giant green snakeskin wallet — tightened any divide between the dual aims of rocking and shocking. The 10-track set was a single-stroke combination of showmanship, satire, societal commentary, and rock ’n’ roll dynamics.
Its No. 1 showing in the Billboard 200 — the group’s first and Cooper’s only chart-topper — was at least partly the result of building momentum since “I’m Eighteen” pounded into the Top 40, but Billion Dollar Babies certainly merited that pinnacle by any measure.
The album started at the Galesi Estate in Greenwich, Conn., where the Alice Cooper band and crew were moved during 1972 and which housed some of the spoils of its success — notably fancy cars that included drummer Neal Smith’s Rolls-Royce. Producer Bob Ezrin brought the Record Plant’s mobile recording unit up from New York, and rough tracks were created for many of the songs.
The range of material would again be wide, starting with the first single, “Hello Hooray,” a vaudevillian song by Rolf Kemp that had been recorded three years earlier by Judy Collins (!). The Cooper crew kept its cabaret-flavored kitsch but added a more muscular thump that made for an arresting album and (subsequently) show opener. The title track, meanwhile, stemmed from a jam Bruce had with Rockin’ Reggie Vinson, a friend from the band’s days in Detroit.
Alice Cooper Albums Ranked
How Alice Cooper Wrote ‘No More Mr. Nice Guy'