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Alice Cooper On 'Wayne's World,' Mixing With Motown & The Musical Heritage Of Detroit

Alice Cooper

Photo: Cole Bennetts/Getty Images

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Alice Cooper On 'Wayne's World,' Mixing With Motown & The Musical Heritage Of Detroit

"I always believe that nothing's going to stop a great song. No matter who it's coming from, a great song is a great song," Alice Cooper tells GRAMMY.com

GRAMMYs/Mar 25, 2021 - 09:49 pm

At 73, Alice Cooper is in the middle of his first extended break from touring. Time away from his black-caped, blood-soaked alter-ego has given him plenty of opportunities to continue working (for instance, before our call, he was demoing ideas for the next album by Hollywood Vampires, a project he shares with Aerosmith’s Joe Perry). But mainly, he’s looking forward to performing tracks from his newest release Detroit Stories, which was released on February 26—even if his signature outlandish live visuals are still TBD.

When it does come time to add to his collection of concert props, there’s plenty of inspiration to choose from. Cooper’s twenty-eighth album is stomp through the Midwestern city where he was born and later readopted as his own in 1970. Populated by fictional colorful characters and performed by local musicians, it’s both a hard-driving look at the spirit of the city and—in the case of "$1000 High Heel Shoes"—a cheeky departure from his signature sound with the help of Motor City Horns. (Motown, as it turns out, plays well with shock rock.)

Even Lou Reed doesn't escape Cooper’s clutches. The musician sincerely calls his cover of the Velvet Underground frontman’s "Rock 'n' Roll" a "V8 engine," a blending of sounds that received the blessing of Reed’s widow, Laurie Anderson, who declared that her late partner would have loved the song’s transition from heroin chic to a full-fledged rock anthem.

Alice Cooper spoke with GRAMMY.com about spiritually dragging Lou Reed to Detroit, giving in to fate, and why he’s refusing to let COVID get him down.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

How has it been, taking a break from your onstage persona and all the theatrics that come with it for the first time in years?

It's sort of like I have to remind myself, "What do we do on stage now?" Because it's a complicated show. Just to keep yourself in the game, you have to remember, "I did this on that song." I always surround myself with the best players. We've been around for 28 or 29 albums. There are maybe 15 songs on the show that fans have to hear. If you don't play those songs, they would revolt. 

I remember talking to Bowie one time and he said, "I'm gonna do a whole show without doing any hits," and in the back of my mind I went, "That's the worst idea I've ever heard!"

Has putting out so many albums changed your definition of what can be a hit?

I used to be able to listen to an album and say, "Okay, that's the single." And it was pretty obvious what the three-minute single was going to be on the radio. It was pretty easy to pick "School's Out" or "Poison" or one of those songs. It just jumped off the album. I could listen to somebody else's album and go, "Oh, that's the single right there." Because there were sort of boundaries. 

Now, I don't even know what a single is. I honestly don't, because it's such a different venue out there. It's such a different technology. I don't know if there is such a thing as a single.

Interesting. So how does a concept like Detroit Stories come together? Is it all just one high point?

It's one of those things where the single will emerge. You do 12 or 13or 15 songs, and certain songs just emerge, and they just go, "Okay, that's, that's one, it's so obvious that one's gonna get airplay." I think we knew when we did Lou Reed's "Rock ‘n’ Roll," that that was going to get airplay because it just had everything. It had all the elements in it: Joe Bonamassa on guitar, Steven Hunter on guitar, and everything about the song was relentless—it never stops. 

Then you have a quirky song like "Our Love Will Change the World," and that song is getting played to death in London. That's weird. Why would that song get played?

How did Lou Reed, who's emblematic of New York, get folded into the Detroit theme? 

Well, we played [the track] for Laurie Anderson. And she says, "He would have absolutely loved this." I knew Lou back in Chelsea Hotel, in New York back before all this, when The Velvet Underground was living there and we were living there. We knew each other pretty well. 

But when I thought of the song, their version was so New York heroin chic. Yeah, that's cool for that. But when I heard that, I said, "Well, what if we took this and put a V8 engine in it?" Turn it into a song that you can't miss. It's just a rock and roll jam. It was one of those songs, it felt like Detroit. And I'm sure he would not mind if I switched Detroit station from New York station. 

Rock and roll is Detroit! If you think of Los Angeles, they had The Doors, and all these kind of hip, sexy bands. San Francisco has the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, sort of the psychedelic country. New York City has The Rascals and Billy Joel, and that very sophisticated stuff. 

Detroit, though, has Alice Cooper, Iggy and the Stooges, MC5, Bob Seger, Suzi Quatro, Ted Nugent—every band that came out of the Midwest in Detroit was a hard rock, guitar-driven rock ‘n’ roll band with a lot of attitude. And that's what Detroit wanted. You couldn't be a soft rock band in Detroit; they would kill you.

Alice Cooper with his python, Rachina, in 1971. Photo: Victor Crawshaw/Mirrorpix/Getty Images​

Was there a moment in Detroit you wanted to freeze or immortalize in this album?

I kind of invented characters that would have been from Detroit that I would have known. Like Hamtramck Hammer, and his girlfriend Painkiller Jane. They were just the absolute hell-raisers of all time. There are three guys sitting in an alley and they can't wait for Hail Mary to come by, because she's a great-looking girl and that's the high point of their day. They just sat there and drank wine, and couldn't wait for her to walk by and they would just go, "Hail Mary, full of grace, what are you doing in this place?" 

When you've got Wayne Kramer from MC5 on guitar, these guys live in Detroit. Johnny Bee on drums, who is the premier drummer in Detroit. They have a certain amount of R&B that's in the DNA. They'll play hard rock, but there's a certain taste of R&B in there. And normally I would go, "No no no, I don't want that." In this case, I said, "I want all of that!" Because that is Detroit. 

And even a song like "$1,000 High Heel Shoes," I said, let's just do a Motown song. Let's give Motown a nod, because we would do the Grand Ballroom, let's say, in 1970, and it would be us in the Stooges and the MC5, and The Who, and 1,500 sweaty rock ‘n’ roll kids. I would look down and see, Oh, there's Smokey Robinson. There's a couple of guys from The Temptations. Rock ‘n’ roll and Motown, we're all in bed together. 

I mean, nobody saw color. It was just music. They came because they loved hard rock and they loved the energy behind it. We would go to their shows because they were just so well done. The Motown bands were classy.

I think it's still there; I really do! When we went back, we didn't have a theme when we decided to do this album. And normally, we go into the thematic kind of thing; almost every album we've ever done has been thematic. 

And I said, let's do 12 really good hard rock songs. We'll just get the best players, and really put out a real classic Alice Cooper rock ‘n’ roll album. And we went, OK, that's from Detroit. Let's write the songs in Detroit. Let's record it in Detroit venues, all Detroit players. And then it became a theme.

Do you believe in the idea of fate, that you were meant to be in this place this time?

It was just something that fell into place. And a lot of people have mentioned, "Well did you realize Love It to Death is having its 50th anniversary, and you're going back to Detroit where all that happened?" That's a total coincidence. 

I don't live in the past. I'm not one of those guys that lives in nostalgia. I talk about it. And I certainly don't deny any of it. But I'm always thinking about the next album. And if I can incorporate that Detroit sound into a new Alice Cooper album that sounds fresh and like a lot of fun, that's what we're gonna do.

Do you see COVID changing the nature of those places in Detroit that you love? 

I'm a total optimist. I believe that I think that this vaccine is going to really make a big difference. By the end of summer, I'm expecting everybody to be back on the road because now you've got 70-80% of the country protected. Why wouldn't you go back on the road? Why wouldn't there be concerts like there used to be? What are you afraid of at that point? 

COVID had its day. That's how I look at it. I don't look at it as COVID is going to be here forever, and we're never going to do concerts again. It's not going to last forever. COVID has got a departure date coming up.

And you know, the thing about it is, there's going to be such a glut of albums coming out. You have to figure every single guy in every band has got his own studio. And if you have a year off, what are they going to do? They're going to write and demo songs. So, there could be like 400 albums coming out in the next two years. Everybody is going to. 

I'm already working on the album after Detroit Stories and the next Vampires album. So, that's really the most creative thing you can do—to sit and write and do demos.

What would your advice be to a musician who is just starting out their career and might be worried about falling through the cracks in the middle of this surge of music?

Well, that's that will be a problem with young bands. They’d better show up with something pretty interesting because you're up against everybody now. I would say if you're a young band, if you have something that's just going to knock everybody out, great. 

I always believe that nothing's going to stop a great song. No matter who it's coming from, a great song is a great song, and it doesn't matter if it's a brand-new band or if it's a band that's 60 years old. That song will live. So, my advice to young bands is to write the best songs you can write. Not riffs, songs. 

I tell young bands all the time, want you to listen to three albums. I want you to listen to Meet the Beatles, any Beach Boys album, and Burt Bacharach. They sit there and they go, "We don't want to sound like that!" You don't have to, but look at the way the songs are constructed. It's okay to be angry and write an angry song, but put a melody to it. 

With Wayne's World being revived recently for an Uber Eats ad, do you still have fans declaring "We're not worthy" when they meet you? 

This is not exaggerating: I would say if I'm in an airport, I get it at least two to three times per airport. And everybody thinks it's the first time I've ever heard it! It'll be three businessmen chanting, "We're not worthy!" And I try to pretend like it's the first time I've ever heard it. "Oh, that's clever!"

I'm not exaggerating—probably 1,000 times it's happened. And then Mike Myers says, "I could have stuck you with something much worse than that!" 

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Iggy Pop Announces New Album, 'Free', Shares Title Track

Iggy Pop

Photo: Harmony Korine

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Iggy Pop Announces New Album, 'Free', Shares Title Track

"By the end of the tours following Post Pop Depression, I felt sure that I had rid myself of the problem of chronic insecurity that had dogged my life and career for too long. But I also felt drained… I wanted to be free," the Godfather of Punk explained

GRAMMYs/Jul 18, 2019 - 11:47 pm

Today, GRAMMY-nominated punk forbearer Iggy Pop revealed the details for his forthcoming 18th solo studio album, along with its short—at under two minutes—yet spacious title track, "Free." The 10-track LP is due out Sept. 6 and follow's 2016's GRAMMY-nominated Post Pop Depression.

"This is an album in which other artists speak for me, but I lend my voice," Pop explains in a press release.

The statement notes jazz trumpeter Leron Thomas and L.A.-based electric guitarist Noveller as the "principal players" collaborating with Pop on this exploratory new project. On "Free," Thomas' horn and Noveller's guitar add layers of depth, somberness and exploration, as Pop's echoing voice cuts through twice to proclaim, "I want to be free."

Pop adds that his last tour left him feeling exhausted but ready for change, and the shifts eventually led him to these new sounds:

"By the end of the tours following Post Pop Depression, I felt sure that I had rid myself of the problem of chronic insecurity that had dogged my life and career for too long. But I also felt drained. And I felt like I wanted to put on shades, turn my back, and walk away. I wanted to be free. I know that's an illusion, and that freedom is only something you feel, but I have lived my life thus far in the belief that that feeling is all that is worth pursuing; all that you need—not happiness or love necessarily, but the feeling of being free. So this album just kind of happened to me, and I let it happen."

Post Pop Depression earned the former Stooges frontman his second GRAMMY nod, at the 59th GRAMMY Awards for Best Alternative Music Album. It was produced by GRAMMY winner Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age and as a tribute of sorts to David Bowie, Pop's longtime friend the producer of his first two solo albums, and was released shortly after Bowie's surprising passing.

As the press release states, "While it follows the highest charting album of Iggy's career, Free has virtually nothing in common sonically with its predecessor—or with any other Iggy Pop album."

You can pre-order and pre-save the new album now for the Sept. 6 release here. You can also check out Pop's new book, 'Til Wrong Feels Right, on Sept. 26.

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ReImagined At Home: Watch Ant Clemons Croon The Cosmic Blues In Performance Of Bill Withers' "Ain't No Sunshine"

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ReImagined At Home: Watch Ant Clemons Croon The Cosmic Blues In Performance Of Bill Withers' "Ain't No Sunshine"

Singer/songwriter Ant Clemons puts his own spin on Bill Withers' immortal "Ain't No Sunshine" in an exclusive performance for ReImagined At Home.

GRAMMYs/Jun 15, 2021 - 08:13 pm

Why has Bill Withers' immortal hit, "Ain't No Sunshine," endured for decades? And, furthermore, why does it seem set to reverberate throughout the ages?

Could it be because it's blues-based? Because it's relatable to anyone with a pulse? Because virtually anyone with an ounce of zeal can believably yowl the song at karaoke?

Maybe it's for all of those reasons and one more: "Ain't No Sunshine" is flexible

In the latest episode of ReImagined At Home, check out how singer/songwriter Ant Clemons pulls at the song's edges like taffy. With a dose of vocoder and slapback, Clemons recasts the lonesome-lover blues as the lament of a shipwrecked android.

Giving this oft-covered soul classic a whirl, Clemons reminds music lovers exactly why Withers' signature song has staying power far beyond his passing in 2020. It will probably be a standard in 4040, too.

Check out Ant Clemons' cosmic, soulful performance of "Ain't No Sunshine" above and click here to enjoy more episodes of ReImagined At Home.

ReImagined At Home: Keedron Bryant Powerfully Interprets John Legend's Love Song "Ordinary People"

 

The Week In Music: Elton Rocks Rush
Elton John performs at the 52nd Annual GRAMMY Awards

Photo: Kevin Mazur/WireImage.com

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The Week In Music: Elton Rocks Rush

The Rocket Man performs at talk show host Rush Limbaugh's fourth wedding

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 05:06 am

We're guessing he didn't play anything from his album A Single Man. According to a People.com report, flamboyant rocker Elton John was the musical guest (for a cool fee of $1 million) at conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh's fourth wedding, this one to 33-year-old Kathryn Rogers, who is reportedly a direct descendant of President John Adams. Regarding the couple's age difference, Rogers said, "I'm sometimes not able to relate to the average person my age." It would seem the 59-year-old Limbaugh is neither her age nor the average person.

Here's a concert that went to the dogs. Performance artist Laurie Anderson staged a show outside the Sydney Opera House for an audience of canine music lovers on June 5. The show took place as part of the city's Vivid Live festival, which is being co-curated by Anderson and her husband, Lou Reed, and featured music for mutts including high-pitch squeals and even sounds only dogs could hear. Anderson called the show, which was born from a conversation with cello master Yo-Yo Ma, "a highlight of my life." For man's best friend, it may have been the best dedicated music since the Singing Dogs' version of "Jingle Bells."

If you think Richard Wagner's "Ring" cycle — the four-part opera based on Teutonic and Norse mythology that can run as long as 15 hours over four nights for the full cycle — carries some pretty heavy artistic heft, you'd be right…and literally right. For a new Metropolitan Opera staging over the next two years, the Met had to install 65-foot steel girders to support the 45-ton set. This might make Wagner the biggest current heavy metal act in music. The opera is set to open Sept. 27.

Coldplay's own artistic heft just got heavier...and freakier. In 2002 guitarist Jonny Buckland and frontman Chris Martin starred as a murder-solving duo in Irish rock band Ash's self-made slasher flick, appropriately titled Slashed. Unfortunately, the project was shelved, but footage has made its way into the band's new video for "Binary." Meanwhile, Coldplay bassist Guy Berryman is steering clear of axe-wielding killer ghosts to restore Scandinavian furniture with his brother Mark. Berryman's Antiques specializes in tables, seating, cabinetry, and even a Swedish bridal chest. Customers who find their purchased antiques haunted should contact Buckland and Martin immediately.

Now you can love him tender, love him mashed, or even love him au gratin. The Elvis Presley estate has teamed with Hasbro and PPW Toys to launch an Elvis version of the classic Mr. Potato Head toy. The first release will be a Las Vegas jumpsuited Elvis, scheduled to debut during Elvis Week in Memphis, Tenn., in August, and will be followed by a leather-clad Elvis spud. The Elvis potato follows a Kiss version released last year.

Bon Jovi launched an impressive 12-night, sold-out residency at London's O2 Arena on June 7, marking a return to the venue they officially launched three years ago. The GRAMMY-winning New Jersey natives also recently christened their new hometown digs, New Meadowlands Stadium, with three concerts in late May. AEG Live is predicting tickets sales for the band's current tour will eclipse their 2007–2008 Lost Highway trek, which was Billboard's highest-grossing tour in 2008. Not bad for a band Rolling Stone magazine once described as a "bad fourth-generation metal, smudgy Xerox of Quiet Riot." Jon Bon Jovi's take? He recently smirked, "Like it or not, we're one of the biggest bands in the world." No word on a JBJ Mr. Potato Head, however.

Looks like international singing sensation Susan Boyle will be making a holy trip later this year. The Roman Catholic Church says Boyle will likely perform for Pope Benedict XVI at an open-air papal Mass in Glasgow's Bellahouston Park on Sept. 16. An unidentified spokesman said negotiations are still taking place. "Likely" and "negotiations still taking place"? Could be a tour rider issue brewing…

Have the the Melvins gone commercial? The band's latest album, The Bride Screamed Murder, sold 2,809 units this past week, good enough for the bottom spot on the Billboard 200 and marking the first time the Seattle indie rock legends have placed on the album chart in their 25-plus-year career. With another 2,000 units, they would have reached the chart's upper echelon and passed the likes of Beyoncé, Eminem, Michael Jackson, Nickelback, Pink Floyd, and Timbaland. Asked for his comment on the milestone, singer/guitarist Roger "Buzz" Osborne said, "Top 200 what?"

Katy Perry's "California Gurls," featuring Snoop Dogg, reclaimed the No. 1 position on the Billboard Hot 100 this week, as well as the top spot on the iTunes singles chart.

Any news we've missed? Comment below.

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Last Week In Music

 

Recordings By Janet Jackson, Louis Armstrong, Odetta & More Inducted Into The National Recording Registry

Janet Jackson

Photo: Christopher Polk/Getty Images

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Recordings By Janet Jackson, Louis Armstrong, Odetta & More Inducted Into The National Recording Registry

Selections by Albert King, Labelle, Connie Smith, Nas, Jackson Browne, Pat Metheny, Kermit the Frog and others have also been marked for federal preservation

GRAMMYs/Mar 25, 2021 - 02:37 am

The Librarian of Congress Carla Haden has named 25 new inductees into the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress. They include Janet Jackson’s “Rhythm Nation 1814,” Louis Armstrong’s “When the Saints Go Marching In,” Labelle’s “Lady Marmalade,” Nas’ “Illmatic,” Kool & the Gang’s “Celebration,” Kermit the Frog’s “The Rainbow Connection” and more.

“The National Recording Registry will preserve our history through these vibrant recordings of music and voices that have reflected our humanity and shaped our culture from the past 143 years,” Hayden said in a statement. “We received about 900 public nominations this year for recordings to add to the registry, and we welcome the public’s input as the Library of Congress and its partners preserve the diverse sounds of history and culture.”

The National Recording Preservation Board is an advisory board consisting of professional organizations and experts who aim to preserve important recorded sounds. The Recording Academy is involved on a voting level. The 25 new entries bring the number of musical titles on the registry to 575; the entire sound collection includes nearly 3 million titles. Check out the full list of new inductees below:

National Recording Registry Selections for 2020

  1. Edison’s “St. Louis tinfoil” recording (1878)

  2. “Nikolina” — Hjalmar Peterson (1917) (single)

  3. “Smyrneikos Balos” — Marika Papagika (1928) (single)

  4. “When the Saints Go Marching In” — Louis Armstrong & his Orchestra (1938) (single)

  5. Christmas Eve Broadcast--Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill (December 24, 1941)

  6. “The Guiding Light” — Nov. 22, 1945

  7. “Odetta Sings Ballads and Blues” — Odetta (1957) (album)

  8. “Lord, Keep Me Day by Day” — Albertina Walker and the Caravans (1959) (single)  

  9. Roger Maris hits his 61st homerun (October 1, 1961)

  10. “Aida” — Leontyne Price, et.al. (1962) (album)

  11. “Once a Day” — Connie Smith (1964) (single)

  12. “Born Under a Bad Sign” — Albert King (1967) (album)

  13. “Free to Be…You & Me” — Marlo Thomas and Friends (1972) (album)

  14. “The Harder They Come” — Jimmy Cliff (1972) (album)

  15. “Lady Marmalade” — Labelle (1974) (single)

  16. “Late for the Sky” — Jackson Browne (1974) (album)

  17. “Bright Size Life” — Pat Metheny (1976) (album)

  18. “The Rainbow Connection” — Kermit the Frog (1979) (single)

  19. “Celebration” — Kool & the Gang (1980) (single)

  20. “Richard Strauss: Four Last Songs” — Jessye Norman (1983) (album)

  21. “Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814” — Janet Jackson (1989) (album)

  22. “Partners” — Flaco Jiménez (1992) (album)

  23. “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”/”What A Wonderful World” — Israel Kamakawiwo’ole (1993) (single)

  24. “Illmatic” — Nas (1994) (album)

  25. “This American Life: The Giant Pool of Money” (May 9, 2008)

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