He's performed in front of thousands of people with a boa constrictor around his neck and gaudy, goth makeup on his face, freaking out many a concerned parent. But all it took to freak out Alice Cooper himself was a disco song buried in his closet.
"I always felt embarrassed about ['No More Love at Your Convenience']," Cooper, 51, said. "I don't know what I was thinking about when I wrote it. In retrospect, it was the heart of the disco period."
That song -- found on Cooper's 1977 album, Lace and Whiskey -- is conspicuously absent from the recently released box set The Life and Crimes of Alice Cooper. But the exhaustive four-CD retrospective covers almost every other career benchmark of the singer who put the shock in shock rock and inspired such modern parental nightmares as Marilyn Manson.
The set contains songs from the garage-rock bands he led in the mid-1960s, when he was still known by his birth name, Vincent Furnier. The 81-track collection also includes demos, outtakes and even a song from a British flexi-disc.
And the cover sports a 3-D picture of Cooper in a dungeon behind prison bars.
"It's very classy and very expensive looking," Cooper said.
As expected, The Life and Crimes of Alice Cooper includes the 1970s hard-rock hits, such as "I'm Eighteen" (RealAudio excerpt), "School's Out" and
"No More Mr. Nice Guy" (RealAudio excerpt), that made Cooper's reputation. But it begins with cuts from the 1965-67 period, when he was with bands called the Spiders -- who covered Marvin Gaye's "Hitch Hike" -- and the Nazz (not to be confused with pop-rocker Todd Rundgren's '60s group of the same name).
"The Spiders and Nazz tracks came out locally as singles in the Southwest two years before his first album," said Gregg Geller, a Warner Bros. Records vice president who served as co-executive producer of the box. "They were garage bands, damn good rock 'n' roll bands, influenced by Motown and the Yardbirds."
The four-CD set also includes such rarities as "Slick Black Limousine," originally released in 1973 as a flexi-disc in the UK newspaper New Musical Express. The Life and Crimes of Alice Cooper follows Cooper's career into the '90s with songs such as "Hands of Death," a 1996 collaboration with Rob Zombie, one of Cooper's many rock disciples (the version on the box is a new Zombie remix). The last two discs of the set compile Cooper's numerous soundtrack cuts.
"The box set gives the fan an opportunity to go back and examine Alice's career chronologically," Geller said.
The package was in the works for seven years. Geller and Cooper's manager, Toby Mamis, blamed the delay on the need to license tracks from various sources and on management changes at Warner Bros.
An 80-page booklet includes testimonials to Cooper, offered by a group of musicians ranging from Elton John to U2 to Vince Neil and Nikki Sixx of Mötley Crüe to the usually acerbic ex-Sex Pistol Johnny "Rotten" Lydon.
In his introduction to the booklet, Lydon writes, "The songs that Alice has done are timeless to me. They provide instant relief. They're not dictated by trends or fashion. They're above and beyond all that. ... Straight to the point. He knows his stuff. ... He's the perfect antihero."
"I'm the only person he likes," Cooper said of Lydon. Once, he said, Lydon was at a show when Cooper's boa constrictor defecated onstage. "It's the only time this has ever happened in over 1,000 shows," Cooper said. "Johnny Rotten couldn't believe I didn't plan that. It was a historic show."
The boa was one of many wild props for which Cooper is known.
Mamis said, "It's easy to recall the snake [and] that [Alice] was friends with [comedian] Groucho Marx and forget that he brought some really excellent hard-rock songs to AM top-40 radio; that he revolutionized the entire way live concerts are produced and performed; ... that he pretty much invented what is now known as theatrical or shock rock; and that he has influenced countless other performers.
"How many other rock artists have collaborated with both Rob Zombie and [painter] Salvador Dali or had their songs performed by both Megadeth ['No More Mr. Nice Guy'] and Frank Sinatra [who did the ballad 'You and Me' in concert]?" Mamis asked. "Or had their song ('I'm Eighteen') used as Johnny 'Rotten' Lydon's audition for the Sex Pistols?"
While Cooper approved the final track listing and made several requests to include -- and exclude -- certain songs, he asked not to be too involved, Mamis said, because he wanted the chance to open the box set and rediscover the music.
Currently without a record deal, Cooper is writing songs for two albums. One is an all-out rock record, the other a high-concept album. Cooper isn't expected to enter the studio until November at the earliest, Mamis said.
Warner/Rhino has plans to issue deluxe versions of Cooper's 1973 album, Billion Dollar Babies, and the 1974 collection Alice Cooper's Greatest Hits next year.