Billion Dollar Babies

So audiophiles are all effete snobs right? Hanging out in their mansions, listening to $500,000 speaker systems, sipping something expensive, noses in the air, with the occasional sniff that maybe this isn’t the best performed or pressed Beethoven Symphony Cycle after all?

Ahhh, No. While that portrait may fit a rarified few, there are a whole lot more audiophiles or audiophile–leaning music fans who are home, using their Class B through E gear, listening to, shall we say, less dignified tunes. Either that or several audiophile and major record labels are completely out of their minds for reissuing what I’d call the masterpieces of early 1970s metal.

All genuine music fans with curious minds and expansive ears have guilty pleasures. Some more than others. There’s music you think or know you should be listening to…because it’s important or cutting edge or genre–busting or some damned thing, and then there’s the records you just plain love. Rather than defend or attack, lemme say much of what was recorded in the pop metal or proto—metal genres between 1971 and 1977 (though those dates can float in either direction), has not aged well. Yet, like all genres, even a blind pig like '70s metal has a few acorns worth nibbling on.

Marshall Blonstein of Audio Fidelity recently sent me (okay, at my request) his latest gold SACD of Alice Cooper’s Billion Dollar Babies which seems to be selling out of it’s numbered run quickly. Though it’s out of stock on audiofidelity.com, it’s still available on Amazon.com. This new reissue was remastered by Steve Hoffman at Stephen Marsh Mastering. The original record was produced by Bob Ezrin. The best recent reissues have been on Rhino Records in 2001 with a second 14-track disc of live versions of the album’s tracks as well as several outtakes from the original sessions. A beautifully pressed 180 gram LP followed, also from Rhino, in 2011. A multi-channel DVD-A was released in 2001, though I’ve never heard it or actually seen one for sale. In 1974, Warner Bros. released a quadraphonic LP version as part of its Quadradisc program. Originally recorded at the Record Plant in NYC, Morgan Studios in London and “The Cooper Mansion” in Greenwich, CT. this will always be something of an analogue Frankenstein sonically having been built from obvious overdubs and some very early use of samples. Not unlistenable by any stretch, this will never be mistaken for an audiophile recording. This SACD does however sound better than any other issue save the original vinyl.

The problem with Cooper is that the overblown caricature he subsequently became overshadows his narrow body of actual good work. Cooper’s first two records Pretties For You and both on Frank Zappa’s Bizarre label, are half–cocked snapshots of a band searching for an identity, but the audible musical tussle inside a Los Angeles cum Detroit edgy psychedelic band that was slowly becoming a more accessible, hard rock band is fascinating to hear. Then came the run of Love it to Death, Killer, School’s Out and finally the triumph, Billion Dollar Babies after which the band broke up, Cooper went on to a successful if less inspired solo career and the glam death rock genre he pioneered spun off in more serious, less fun, more absurd directions like Marilyn Manson.

Oddly, Billion Dollar Babies both musically and sonically is more theatrical bombast than volume or crunch. Upon repeated listens, and perhaps I’ve listened to one too many Metallica albums, but despite the presence of guitarists Steve Hunter, Dick Wagner, Michael Bruce and Glen Buxton, it’s a surprisingly light as opposed to heavy album. It's very bright sounding. There are horn parts in many tunes. “Generation Landslide,” credited to the band and the album’s most ambitious tune has more acoustic than electric guitars, a harmonica solo and starts out sounding for all the world like a Beatles tune. Other numbers like the opener “Hello Hooray,” which could have come from a Broadway show, have very little low end frequency response. The band’s semi–serious attitude, there’s a smirk inherent in the entire record, makes a tune like “Elected,” a grandiose take on politics, both listenable and believable. “Unfinished Sweet” is a child’s tale of tooth decay complete with a dentist’s drill, howls of pain and comical sound effects that simulate a tooth being pulled. This is menacing metal/hard rock, out to incite necrophilia, corrupt virgins and make boys wear platform heels? No, this is melodramatic indulgence, wrapped in pop tunes, all meant to support what was then the biggest rock stage show of them all, one that climaxed with Vince being guillotined! “Sick Things” and “I Love The Dead” gave the entire record a horror movie glaze that teenagers ate up. “Raped and Freezin’’” and “No More Mr. Nice Guy” were the album’s hits but again both are decidedly poppy rather than metallic. The snakeskin cover and dollar bill insert also made this one of the 70’s coolest album packaging jobs.

Two other recent audiophile '70s rock reissues have aged less well, but are still worth more than a listen. If Cooper became a cartoon, then Steven Tyler has fulfilled the prophecy about dudes and ladies and Joe Perry is yet another guitarist gone political. Yet in 1976, before they got all sober (and began preaching about it!), they made what is, along with Toys in the Attic, their best record, Rocks. Reissued on 180 gram vinyl by Sony for Record Store Day 2014, this new Rocks is far superior in sound and pressing quality to the cheesy 1984 US vinyl reissue.

Rocks is never gonna be confused for a Zep record or some forever influential rock masterwork: this is the sound of a bar band turned into arena rock giants. Less baroque and nuanced than Toys, this record’s best moments are as a blunt instrument. While “Back In the Saddle” and “Sick As a Dog,” were good singles—the second of which featured a glockenspiel à la labelmate, Springsteen—it’s the second side when the gloves come off, with “Nobody’s Fault” “Get The Lead Out” and the fabulously hard–driving, “Lick and a Promise” being a terrific trio of what Aerosmith did best: tuneful hard rock with Tyler out front being Tyler—painted nails, scarves tied to the mic stand and those lips and teeth doing their thing.

There was a moment, in 1975 to be exact, when Ted Nugent was taken very seriously. As a musician. Before he decided to become whatever it is that he is now. So let’s keep politics out of this. Let’s talk about Ted Nugent before he became Uncle Ted. Let’s think back to 1975 when Ted was just a sex–crazed rock star who made a killer self–titled debut solo record that has now been remastered and reissued as a gatefold, by Chad Kassem’s Analogue Productions and Quality Record Pressing.

While his songwriting interests have never really changed, these were the best takes on all those ideas that Nugent would from this point on build his career on. The long “Stranglehold” contains these immortal sentiments, echoed again and again throughout his long career: “You ran the night that your left me/You put me in my place/I got you in a stranglehold baby/The night I crushed your face.” Then there’s “Hey Baby” which intones: “I don’t need the fancy types/I need the ones that’s clean/Hey Baby/follow me down to my house and I’ll show you the real love game.”

But hey, I quibble on Ted Nugent his guitar riffs were never sharper, his playing never less indulgent. This is a record where even the inner cuts like “Just What the Doctor Ordered” and “Queen of the Forest” were good to great. And to walking gland teenage boys, side two was the coolest. “Snakeskin Cowboys” was bad–assed. The antidote to disco. This was the point while listening where you really begin staring at the photo on the back cover of the quartet bringing it at Alex Cooley’s Electric Ballroom. And then there’s “You Make Me Feel Right At Home,” a jazzy Steve Miller feeling midtempo song that is nothing if not completely and utterly unexpected. And Derek St. Holmes was the singer/guitarist who tied the whole thing together.

Share | |
COMMENTS
otaku's picture

I see that HDTracks has something listed as a 2001 remastering.
Do you think that is comparable to the SACD? It is half the price.

drblank's picture

taken the SACD and just pumped it out with PCM 24 bit, which is what that sounds like. It's a cheap way of doing it.

brian2010's picture

I had the good fortune to see both artists in their heyday and they both put on good shows. Alice Cooper though was a master showman who put on events that could nearly rival the likes of The Rolling Stones. Welcome to my Nightmare was true genius. Alice's albums were also quite good. Nugent offered some good songs and a decent show but has become a caricature of evil thought that Cooper only pretended to be. I wouldn't attend or buy anything that would enrich a scum like Nugent and I was unaware of his seduction of underage girls when I attended his shows. Nugent is the epitome of everything that is wrong with rock music and America today.

sudont's picture

Haven't seen these records in quite a while. I had to buy them used, even thirty years ago. The Nuge is a bit of a guilty pleasure of mine, and when I was a DJ in a punk rock club, (emphasis on "rock"), back in the day, I loved to toss Stranglehold or Free-for-All in the mix. As far as that goes, Alice Cooper's "You Drive Me Nervous" fit in perfectly with seventies/eighties punk. I was a bit older than the crowd, and those raised on seventies punk weren't familiar with these cuts, so I'd get a lot of, "Who was that?" Ah, the pre-postmodern days...

X
Enter your Stereophile.com username.
Enter the password that accompanies your username.
Loading