Alice Cooper

While today's fans may think Marilyn Manson is at the cutting edge of

rock theatrics, the young shock rocker borrowed the concept for his name

and his disturbing live act from the godfather of the genre, Alice

Cooper.

Cooper hasn't had any chartbusters lately, but recognition of his

importance has recently arrived in the form of Humanary Stew

(Cleopatra Records), a tribute disc of Cooper hits featuring such

artists as Ronnie James Dio, Dee Snider, Vince Neil and Don Dokken, all

of whom cite Cooper as a major influence. The opening cut, a cover of

Cooper's 1973 top-40 hit "No More Mr. Nice

Guy" (RealAudio excerpt of new version), is sung by the Who's

Roger Daltrey and features Slash on guitar.

Cooper was born Vincent Damon Furnier 51 years ago today in Detroit. He

was the son of a preacher and began singing in a hard rock band in

Phoenix. The group began as the Earwigs, became the Spiders, and then

the Nazz. But after discovering Todd Rundgren's band, Nazz, Furnier

changed his group's moniker to Alice Cooper -- supposedly because a

Ouija board indicated that was his name in a previous life, when he was

a 17th century witch.

Alice Cooper became known on the L.A.-area bar scene because of their

bizarre stage theatrics. Frank Zappa signed the band to his Straight

Records and released its first two albums, both flops.

After relocating to Detroit, Alice Cooper refined their show, which

included fake executions, live boa constrictors and the chopping-up of

dolls. Warner Bros. Records soon issued their major label debut, 1971's

Love It to Death, which made Alice Cooper a focal point of teen

rebellion. The LP combined the group's then-explicit lyrics with its

potent mix of guitar pop and metal and the singer's raucous vocals. It

also featured the hit teenage anthem "Eighteen," one of Cooper's

signature songs.

School's Out (1972) and its uproarious title song made Alice

Cooper superstars. By then, Furnier had changed his name to the band's

handle and become one of the favorite subjects of rock journalists.

The following year's Billion Dollar Babies spawned "No More Mr.

Nice Guy" and was the band's most commercially successful LP. After the

relative commercial letdown of 1974's Muscle of Love, Cooper

jettisoned his band and kept the name for his solo records.

Cooper's best-selling solo album was his first, 1975's Welcome to My

Nightmare. Cooper toured behind the LP with a spectacle show, and

starred in a TV special based on it. The television program, and

Cooper's appearances on TV game shows such as "Hollywood Squares," weakened

his menacing image. Though Nightmare's first single "Only Women

Bleed" was a hit, it was also a ballad that presaged a series of

slower-tempo songs that diminished his fanbase.

Alice Cooper Goes to Hell (1976) was his last big success for

quite a while. He spent the rest of the '70s in alcohol rehab (which he

documented on 1978's From the Inside, a collaboration with Elton

John lyricist Bernie Taupin); many of his releases seemed half-hearted.

Cooper shifted to heavier rock on Flush the Fashion (1980), but

was on hiatus for most of the early '80s. When he returned in 1986 with

Constrictor, he returned to heavy-duty heavy metal. He resumed

full-scale touring and did a Halloween special for MTV, both of which

revived his career. Trash (1989) was certified platinum and

yielded the top-10 hit, "Poison."

Cooper also turned to acting and has appeared in such movies as "Wayne's

World" and "Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare."

Dio said of Cooper: "... he was doing the guillotine job [on himself],

and I was just stunned. I just realized how much he was giving to an

audience with what he was doing, and I wanted to do the same."

Cooper's management said a four-disc box-set anthology of his music will

be issued shortly. Other rockers who have worked with Cooper and cite

him as an influence are Axl Rose, Steve Vai and Rob Zombie (who

contributed a track with Cooper to the "X-Files" TV show soundtrack,

Songs In The Key Of X).

Other birthdays: John Steel (The Animals), 58; Florence LaRue (Fifth

Dimension), 55; Phil Ehart (Kansas), 48; Jerry Shirley (Humble Pie), 47;

Tim Booth (James), 39; and Henry Bogdan (Helmet), 38.