"Why's the dog floating?", I asked my buddy Andy. The two of us were sitting on the floor with a gatefold-style record album open in front of us. The picture we were looking at featured the aforementioned floating dog as well as a guy in army fatigues with an umbrella, a lecherous looking Priest caught groping a sexy nurse and some guy in a straight jacket amongst others, all gathered together in a medical day-room à la ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST. The record was Alice Cooper's FROM THE INSIDE and it was a piece of gold we had just discovered sandwiched between Andy's mother's Dr.Hook and Eagles records. Oh yea, and that dog, the dog was floating because she was a ghost.
I want to stay away from "the making of" side of things with this column and focus more on why I love the albums that I'm talking about, but there are a couple of significant events that went into the making of this album that factor in pretty huge as to why I love this album. First, in 1978, Alice checked himself into a rehab/sanitarium for a rather severe alcohol dependence problem (chronicled in the song "Serious"). The resulting stay inspired him to make a concept album based on his time he spent and the people he met there. If Alice Cooper doing a concept album about the occupants of an asylum seems a tad obvious, then the big surprise for this album is who he brought in to write the lyrics: Elton John's main collaborator Bernie Taupin. That's right, the "Dead Babies" singer teamed up with the writer of "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" to write a concept album about crazy people. Interested yet?
The resulting album combines the saccharin sweetness of Tauplin's lyrics with Cooper's macabre sensibilities to somewhat stunning effect (at least to this listener's ears). Each song tells a different occupant of the asylum's story. There's Alice's tale of a rock star consumed by the bottle and his demons, the lead-off single, the power-ballady "How You Gonna See Me Now" about a man returning from a stay at the institution, concerned at how his family will see him post breakdown, "For Veronica's Sake", a story of a man with a dog in the city pound that no one knows is his, and if he doesn't get out soon they'll gas her (see floating dog), a suicidal man locked in a padded cell ("The Quiet Room"), a sex-fiend priest obsessed with a nurse ("Nurse Rozetta"), and my personal favorite "Millie and Billie", a beautiful duet with future Shakespeare's Sister singer Marcy Levy about a pair of star-crossed lovers who go to great lengths to be together. Sample lyric: "And I liked your late husband Donald/But such torture his memory brings/All sliced up and sealed tight in baggies/Guess love makes you do funny things." The album concludes, as these things do, with a rousing sing-along song called "Inmates (We're All Crazy)", wherein a choir sings the chorus and Alice sing/talks about the various crazy/homicidal activities of the inmates. Good stuff.
The album was a modest success, spawning a home video release of the elaborate stage show he was performing based on the album called THE STRANGE CASE OF ALICE COOPER and an adaptation of the album by Marvel Comics, making FROM THE INSIDE one of the first cross-platform, multimedia pieces of entertainment. Bernie Tauplin and Alice never wrote anything else together and I think it's a shame; Tauplin's ability to deliver hook-filled melodies really helped Cooper's music deliver in a way it never had before, using Pop to deliver some truly dark material. If you're not an Alice fan this might be the album for you. My buddy Andy was never a fan but he grooved on this one. If you are a fan but never liked this one, give it another shot; you never know, maybe you'll develop a new appreciation (looking at you, Cheese!). Now I wonder what other gold Andy's mom had in those records?
Choice Cut: "Millie and Billie"
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