Accompany music : The Black Widow
Its one of my earliest TV memories. It’s June 1974, I’m six years old, at my grans, it’s Saturday teatime and I am so scared. I have spent the last half hour hiding behind cushions and parents, as the Dr Who took on giant arachnids in The Planet of The Spiders. I was so frightened of them climbing on peoples backs and the huge queen spider, every time they appeared I let out a shriek and hid away. At the end of the episode, I hid again as the doctor transformed from a grey curly haired melodramatic actor to a brown curly haired melodramatic actor (who I would later become obsessed with). This was my Doctor Who epiphany and I would stay frightened for many years to come. As many of my age, I would hide behind the sofa, from the Daleks and especially the Cybermen. To be honest not much has changed, when the Weeping Angels start attacking now I find myself reaching for a large cushion or look at my phone in case someone has called.
I am even worse with horror films. I quite like the idea of horror, and I love the atmosphere and the mythology. Vampires don’t bother me (I love Buffy The Vampire Slayer on TV or Near Dark/Lost Boys/Fright Night on film), Werewolves are kind of cool ( I quite like American Werewolf in London) but I struggle with gore and especially suspense. I think thats why I struggle with Zombie based things with their slow meandering stumble towards an inevitable gruesome ending. I can’t even say I have watched a whole horror film without looking away or seeking sanctuary behind some upholstery. I “saw” Nightmare of Elm Street, 3 times at the cinema and saw 60% of it (and jumped at the same bits). I used to go to all night horror movies at the ABC cinema on Westgate Road, five films a night spent hiding behind legs or closing eyes.
I looked up the horror movies of 1974/75 around when this album came out. I struggled with both the big hits, I have never got through 1974’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, as its far too gruesome. The horror film of 1975 was Jaws, which I have watched (80% of) but the music freaks me more than the action. I do have a soft spot for older Hammer House films with fab actors Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. Also the 60’s Roger Corman films of Edgar Allan Poe, which were equally dark and ridiculous, mainly because of its charismatic lead actor, Vincent Price. By the 70’s, Price had continued to appear in the odd horror movie (Theatre of Blood) but now appeared regularly on various TV series and specials. One TV special in 1975, found himself reprising the role he had carried out on an album (long before Michael Jacksons thriller). This mock shock horror concept album of dreams of a boy called Steven, would become one of Alice Coopers biggest hits (and my favourite of his).
Opening with the title track Welcome to My Nightmare. An acoustic and whispered start builds in it’s sleaziness and more deranged vocals. There’s a fab jazz horn section before Alice ramps it up even more. It’s a fab start to the album.
Devils Food, hits with big riff and shout out lyrics. Suddenly leaping into spaced out effect bridge and into the one and only chorus. The breakdown follows into Vincent Price’s moment. His speech as a museum curator overseeing his prize collection of spiders is simply amazing. Price’s turn of phrase and pronunciation of words is the star of the show. The way he takes great delight in how the Black Widow ‘kills and eats’ her partner is both funny and creepy. The way he stops starts sentences also is great. The sentence ‘causing intense pain, profuse sweating, difficulty in breathing, loss of consciousness, violent convulsions and finally ………..err death’ is worth playing over and over again. This introduction fits perfectly into Alice’s spoken response at the start of Black Widow. The song rolls on, in sinister fashion with grinding riff and guitar interjections. The star of this is Alice’s creepy and held back delivery of the story and the warnings about the creature. The marching drum beat and the guitar fanfare riff that herald the ending of the song are great.
Alice Cooper albums always have these weird quirky tracks. Clicking fingers, piano and cabaret style performance and rousing singalong pop chorus make Some Folk a great song. Then even better, it kicks off, tumbles out of control with a deranged Alice and spiralling guitar. Makes it even better. Only Women Bleed, is a truly beautiful song about a truly awful subject. It’s a great emotive delivery by Cooper, retelling the terrible situation but sadly stops short of being a true protest song.
There is something kind of ironic listening to ‘Department Of Youth‘ at this time. Being associated with Youth Services for a long time, this song makes me happy as it sums up some great elements that sum up youth peoples participation, how they should be listened to and their role in society. In the state of the country at the moment, it is much needed now. With its 70’s glam rock groove it’s a really uplifting track.
Another brilliant rock song Cold Ethyl is next with a subject matter not needed on this blog. Strange relationship preferences innocently sang out against great riffs and song structure. Less said about the sound effects in the breakdown before the final verse the better.
The wind up organ effects of Years Ago, start the real concept element of the album. Sinister nursery rhyme lyrics herald spooky noises and Stephen. An Exorcist/Tubular Bell starts, Alice’s child like voice goes into musical territory broke up by the Exorcist piano riff. The choral element when it arrives screams Stephen. The track builds in structure through the guitar solo and brings us back to Stephen soliloquy and further choral responses. Stephens story continues in The Awakening. starting sparingly the track builds in intensity and then gives way gently to a quiet end.
The last track is another great example of an Alice rock standard. Cue great riff, song structure, shouty lyrics and singalong choruses. The guitar solo and xylophone elements are so happy. Escape probably follows on from the story but does seem a little out of place. In the end it leaves a happy smile on the face at the end of a great album.
So why do I love this album so much with some of its dodgy subject matter and weird concept elements. It may not have the hits of Billion Dollar Babies or the overwhelming concept of From the Inside, but somehow it combines both of these to some extent. Fab songwriting and great performances wrapped up in a Hammer House like black veil which never takes itself too seriously. Only wish I was reviewing this at the end of October, as it’s perfect Halloween fare.
Alice is one of my favourite artists. I first saw him in the mid-eighties and I was genuinely scared. I wore a red jumper to the gig, in case I was splattered by blood and was worried of the big balloons which were rumoured to contain live spiders. I don’t think he was in the greatest of places at that point, seemed genuinely angry and on edge which added to his performance. I would see him many more times, where he seemed more mellowed and content with life but the shows did not lack intensity and were far more coherent.
Of course his shows are legendary. Stage sets like haunted houses, monsters straight out of Doctor Who, ghoul roadies, ridiculous weapons plus there’s the character of Alice. One part psychopath, one part ringmaster, one part cheerleader and one part misunderstood. Every gig follows the story of the character falling on the wrong side, is mistreated, ‘accidentally kills’ someone/thing, is judged, dies in a various way and then comes back to life. I have seen the “death” in numerous different forms. Guillotine, hanging, iron maiden and electric chair. All expertly carried out. On one very mad occasion the story cycle played out 3 times with 3 different endings. All this stagecraft is only as good as the songs and Alice can call on a huge number of excellent tracks which are instantly recognisable and strangely singalongable. That combination of great music and theatrics makes Mr Cooper (& welcome to my nightmare) frighteningly good.
The art for this had to be a little scary. So what better than make the Black Widow within a card. The numerous times above I have discussed spiders, shows I am not exactly happy with them. I should be fascinated by them especially their amazing web making but there’s something about their legs and random motion which is unsettling. Take for instance an incident at a Steven Wilson gig a couple of years ago. Half way through a very long track I felt a smack on top of my head as through I had been hit with something. Suddenly I felt something crawling across my hair and then my face, it was a big spider (not as big as the Queen one btw), after fantastically swooshing it away it seemed to disappear. I went back to the music only for a few minutes later for it to reappear and attempt to get back on my face. Frantically I waved my arms, trying to get rid of it (may have looked like I had went into a psychedelic dance from on stage) and again it disappeared. Worried it was still on my person, I left the auditorium, went to the toilet and took off my shirt…. nothing there and assumed I had got rid of it. So I took the opportunity to use the urinal, only to turn around to see the spider walking away from me. My skin still crawls thinking about it. I used the actual spider image in this bunting piece from a Misplaced Childhood post and creating a spider card again would be a challenge.
I decided to make a pop-up spider and wanted it to be about the correct size. So I used a place name card as the background for this to limit the largeness. The spider is created from 2 black shapes cut out for the abdomen and the head. These are made to pop up via v-folds which lift the body and head as the card opens and because of their closeness seems to suggest they are a whole piece. I made numerous attempts to make legs pop up, which proved difficult. So there is one set of legs which v-fold behind the head which raise up whilst the other six are stuck loosely to the card, allowing the ends to rise a little. A metallic red skull like shape is stuck on the abdomen to signify the Black Widow. Although it doesn’t pop fully, it does give a suitable fright when opened. I added a front cover as though it was a 50’s b-movie or a pulp fiction horror book and on the back the lyrics Alice speaks at the end of Prices monologue.
Billy (aged 7 at time of album release)