Welcome To My Nightmare
I can remember spending cold, summer nights at our cottage (in Grand Bend, Ontario, for those who care about such details), sometime around 1978 or maybe ’79, listening to Alice Cooper’s Welcome To My Nightmare and being scared out of my mind. It didn’t help that I had also recently discovered the joys of Stephen King short stories with his collection entitled Night Shift! That little, horrifying book of short stories had a profound impact on me, as did The Coop’s first solo effort.
Since it’s Halloween week I thought I’d revisit this not so minor masterpiece of Bob Ezrin produced B-Movie soundtrack schlock (and I mean that in the most complimentary way possible).
The album starts appropriately enough with the title track; a groovy little horn endowed disco number with some really amazing wah-wah guitar from Dick Wagner. Devil’s Food, a hard rock number that acts as a sort of cinematic prelude to the album’s centerpiece, The Black Widow—which includes a fantastic spoken word bit from Vincent Price, are next, and they still gives me goose bumps when I hear them back to back. A great opening triptych if I’ve ever heard one.
The fourth track, Some Folks, is Cooper’s song and dance number, and quite a fun little ditty it is, but kind of non-essential. The fifth number is Only Women Bleed, a song that is synonomous with both this album and Alice Cooper. Even though I think Cooper’s heart was in the right place with this he was still criticized for the double entendre of the title. Still, it’s a pretty song, and quite uncharacteristic of him at the time. Of course this song’s overall success just emboldened him to do more ballads in the not too distant future like You and I, How You Gonna See Me Now and I Never Cry.
Department Of Youth is a throwback to the Alice Cooper Band Of Olde, and wouldn’t have been out of place on Billion Dollar Babies, or even Killer. It’s notable for the fade out where Alice is addressing a chorus of school kids and asks, “and who gave it to you?” to which they reply “Donnie Osmond!!” to which Coop exclaims, “WHAT??!?!”
Next song up: Cold Ethel, about, well, getting warm with a cold corpse. Consider this a sequel to ‘73’s I Love The Dead, from the Billion Dollar Babies album. It’s OK, but near the bottom of the list of favorites. A little too cliché, tune-wise, and the subject matter is a tad silly and a little tired.
The next 3 songs should have been one 10 and a half minute suite, and I have joined the tracks myself on itunes to reflect the way things should have been. Years Ago/Steven/The Awakening is a little ditty about a schizophrenic psychopath who…well, there are so many damn interpretations out there it’s become a little convoluted. Here are a couple I think are most plausible:
“To me the song is an exploration inside the mind of a man (Steven) who is stuck psychologically at the age of a little boy (“I’m a little boy, No I’m a great big man”), due to some trauma (“all my toys are broken, and so am I inside, mom”). The song Steven is the “nightmare” he experiences as he comes to terms with his past.
As for dying (I don’t want to feel you die”), I think this is Steven dealing with the past. Young Steven has to “die” so that the trauma can be dealt with and adult Steven can move on. “Years Ago” tells of the past trauma, “Steven” tells of him coming to terms with it, and “The Awakening ” tells of the resolution after the psychological journey.”
Or, this more analytical possibility:
“1. “Steven” happens first: it’s the beginning of this particular nightmare. A child dies and his father is possessed by Steven.
2. Some time later, possessed by Steven’s malevolent spirit, Steven’s father kills his wife (Steven’s mother), and his realization is told in “The Awakening”.
3. Steven Sr. flips, and as Steven Jr., goes to play in the park, remembering how he was “Years Ago”. Steven hears his (now dead) mother calling him.
4. Steven Sr. tells us that “Only Women Bleed”. Chronologically speaking, the middle section recalls that moment of realization when he’d just killed his wife.”
Whatever it means, it scared the crap out of me as a kid, and still raises the hairs! Unfortunately The Nightmare ends with a bit of a whimper with the musically out of place Escape. To me the album should have ended with The Awakening. Escape seems like a cop out, a nice, easy way to end the whole Nightmare concept.
To me, Welcome To My Nightmare remains my favorite Alice Cooper record, although one cannot go wrong with any of the albums from Love It To Death through Billion Dollar Babies.
One last bit of trivia: the cover was painted by the great Drew Struzen, a man whose name you may not know but whose artistic style should be part of your DNA if you grew up in the ‘70’s and ‘80’s. Check out his work HERE.