Boy About Town Chapter by Song #49
THE SECOND STORY CHAPTER in Boy About Town could as easily have been entitled ‘School’s Out.’ That number one hit from the summer of 1972 served as my first musical epiphany, and immediately reset my path from the teenybop pop of David Cassidy to the shock glitter rock of Detroit’s Alice Cooper. But it’s Cooper’s subsequent single ‘Hello Hooray’ that better sums up my musical memories of the times. It’s a firm statement – or even threat – of intent from a super star set to reign equal parts love and terror over his audience. It’s the person(ality) I wanted for myself, but didn’t have the balls (quite literally) as I fell in love with glam and set about singing the hits of the day at my primary school’s Friday afternoon assemblies.
Alice Cooper was my first true pop idol. As detailed in Boy About Town, after buying ‘School’s Out’, I picked up the singles ‘Elected,’ ‘Hello Hooray’ and ‘No More Mr Nice Guy,’ and the LPs School’s Out, Killer and Billion Dollar Babies, in respective orders. I have faint memories of purchasing a Gary Glitter LP somewhere in that same 12-month period, and my brother and I bought one of those Top of The Pops compilations with the bikini-clad girl on the front – which we promptly returned to the record shop because the versions were so different from the original recordings we assumed there was something wrong with the record (and from an artistic perspective, indeed there was). Still, it’s the Alice Cooper LPs that survived the test of time. Indeed, all three of them sit by my side as I type, in impressively good condition, as evidenced by the fact that I’ve just been playing them at appropriately loud volume, chuckling at some of the lyrics, and marveling at Bob Ezrin’s grand production techniques, which gave the playing group necessary space to expound without ever letting them into the singer’s spotlight.
‘Hello Hooray’ opens Billion Dollar Babies, which makes sense given not only its ‘Be My Baby’ style rhythm and its elaborate orchestral embellishments, but the singer’s insistence that he’s “ready as this audience that’s coming here to dream,” his confidence reaching a suitably symphonic climax with the break-down boast “God I feel so strong” and the subsequent ad-lib fade around those insistent words. The super stars of glam and glitter rock liked to put themselves into their songs – it was part of the whole fantasy – but none did it quite so defiantly as Alice Cooper with ‘Hello Hooray’. It’s hard to imagine anyone else ever singing his song.
…And yet Cooper didn’t write it. Nor did any of his band, who otherwise scored enough composing credits that I gradually learned to distinguish their names (if not their individual faces, all of which seemed to be constantly draped by excessively long hair). Nor did Ezrin, who had no compunction about in claiming a songwriting share here and there. In fact, of all the songs on the three Alice Cooper LPs currently by my side, and with the exception of the acknowledged inclusion of the West Side Story Jets theme as used in the middle of School’s Out, ‘Hello Hooray’ is the only cover version. And yet, as Michael Caine is wont to say, not many people know that.
‘Hello, Hurray’ (as originally spelled) originated with its composer, Rolf Kempf, in 1968, an ambitious attempt at self-assurance by a modestly unsuccessful Canadian-born, California-based singer-songwriter wrestling with the dilemma of a broken hand, a stolen guitar, and an enforced subsequent sabbatical. Residing in Laurel Canyon at the time – as was just about every other singer-songwriter of the period – Kempf received a visit from Judy Collins, in search of new material. Collins seized on ‘Hello, Hurray’ as an opportunity to further break with her public image as a folk cherub, and placed it upfront and personal on her album Who Knows Where The Time Goes? For those whose introduction to the song came via the glitter schlock rock of Alice Cooper and co., rather than the earnest sunshine folk of Collins and company, her (original) version appears positively bizarre. Just listen…
…And as you do, you’ll notice the difference not only in presentation and arrangement, but also lyrics. Collins warbles compassionately about “the rain to fall” and “a man to be born only to be born again” and each of the audience being “an actor” and “a play.” Cooper says to hell with all of that and turns the song entirely in on himself, singing of “loving every second, every moment, every scream.” Collins, impressively, concludes the song with a fifteen-second miasma as the likes of Van Dyke Parks vibe and vamp behind her, but it’s no match for that menacing Cooper finale. Kempf, understandably given the subsequent royalties, had no complaints about Cooper’s rewrite. “He got the emotional essence of the tune right, and added a tag to bring it home,” he’s on record as saying.
Kempf subsequently recorded his own version of Alice Cooper’s interpretation – the orchestration leaning on folk- rather than shock-rock – for his Woodstock Album, recorded, as are so many similar projects, in my current home town with, supposedly, many of the usual local suspects.
Though Kempf’s version has much to recommend, by this point in the history of the song he’s a guest at his own party. ‘Hello Hooray’ belongs now and forever to Alice Cooper.
I never saw Alice Cooper perform live. Like many of his British fans, I abruptly, even inexplicably, stopped buying his records after the excess of Billion Dollar Babies. But when I met him in 1986, as we each made our way into the BBC’s studio for its Rock Around The Clock special (I was there with Echo & The Bunnymen), I felt compelled to introduce myself as a childhood fan. The conversation went roughly like this:
“If I may, I just wanted to let you know, the first three albums I bought were all by Alice Cooper.”
“Cool. Hey, I’ve got a new one coming out.” Cooper turned to the managerial figure signing him into the BBC. “When’s it coming out again?” And he supplied me with a release date for an album who’s title I couldn’t recount unless you paid me to go look it up.
I was crushed. The man who had nightly, fearlessly, put his head in a noose was now pitifully angling for individual record sales. ‘They’ advise against meeting your heroes, and this was one of those occasions I thought ‘they’ were right.
Fortunately, amends were made a decade later when I wrote the Keith Moon biography and had a delightful hour-long phone interview with Cooper, a close friend of Moon’s during the drummer’s wild but waning years in Los Angeles.
“People expected him to always be Keith,” said the man christened Vincent Fournier. “And he felt obligated to always be Keith Moon. I had the same problem where I always thought I had to be Alice Cooper, onstage and offstage, to be this character that was dark and menacing and in trouble. Then I finally realized, ‘That character belongs onstage and play him to the hilt, but don’t be him offstage.’ Then I was able to lead a normal life.”
Keith Moon died aged 32. Vince Fournier is now 65. He continues to perform as Alice Cooper.
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