It’s time for another edition of What’s the Concept?! This week, we’ll take a gander at Alice Cooper’s 1975 album Welcome To My Nightmare.
What’s the Concept?!
Welcome To My Nightmare, like Electric Light Orchestra’s Eldorado, revolves around dreams. However, the dreams in this case are the nightmares of a young man named Steven. Some of the nightmares include spousal abuse, murder and necrophilia. Now, there are a couple different interpretations of the album. Because it culminates in Steven murdering his wife, some interpret it as that being part of Steven’s nightmare as well, while others take that part literally. Due to Steven popping up as a character in later Alice Cooper work, with references about him being locked away for over twenty years, I believe it’s safe to say that Steven isn’t actually a child having bad dreams, but rather an adult Steven with a childlike mentality who killed his wife.
Welcome To My Nightmare, the first song on the album, was one of three singles. It’s a pretty rocking track with some badass instrumentation to bring us into this world of Steven’s.
Only Women Bleed, a song about spousal abuse and how hard women can have it, is a very moving ballad. This song, unfortunately, was misinterpreted by some people. Some folks thought that, because of the title, it was about menstruation. Others were offended by it, period. This is not the first time Alice Cooper had his message misconstrued. When he released Killer in 1971, the song Dead Babies was completely misunderstood, when it was a song about the horrors of child abuse and neglect. Shocking you with the imagery was the point. He was trying to get a message across. He had to change the name from Only Women Bleed to Only Women to get it to play on the radio in some markets because people are stupid.
The Department of Youth was the third single from the album, but to be honest, it kind of leaves a bit to be desired. It’s fine, it’s just not Alice Cooper at his best. It’s understandable why this one didn’t catch on the way the other two singles did.
This is where it gets fun. Devil’s Food and Black Widow are a suite, and it is delightful. Vincent Price provides narration during the suite and it is magnificent. (Hey, Michael Jackson, you stole Alice Cooper’s idea!) Musically it’s fun, but then you get to Vincent Price’s part where he’s describing spiders in this manic and sinister way for a good two minutes, and then brings it to this brilliant coda before Alice starts singing again:
If I may put forward a slice of personal philosophy; I feel that man has ruled this world as stumbling, demented child-king long enough, and as his empire crumbles my precious black widow shall rise as his most fitting successor!
I’m a huge fan of whenever Alice Cooper gets raunchy and weird, so Cold Ethyl is right up my alley. It’s a hard rocking, jaunty number about necrophilia, with lyrics about the titular Ethyl’s skeleton kiss and how they make love by the refrigerator light.
Steven is where the story of the album kind of kicks into overdrive. It’s where he kills his wife and this track is flat out creepy, from the voice Alice Cooper sings in to the entire feel of the song. The Awakening and Escape continue these themes, with the latter having a more upbeat rock sound to masquerade the eerie stuff we’re listening to.
This album was the first with Vincent Furnier as Alice Cooper, solo artist, rather than Alice Cooper the band. It was released to mixed reviews, though the opinion of the work has become more favorable over time. In my opinion, it’s… fine. I mean, there’s a lot to like about the album, and I appreciate what Alice was trying to do, but it does not reach the heights of Killer, Billion Dollar Babies and Love It To Death. It’s not a bad album by any means, it just isn’t anywhere approaching Alice Cooper’s best work, and has a bit of a dud with the single The Department of Youth. Still, it’s fun to see live, and was a good effort, even if it flails at times.
Vincent Furnier wrote Vincent Price a letter to see if he’d be willing to do the monologue on the album. He thought it was a long shot, but Vincent Price knew who he was and was impressed by him and the band’s theatrical stage shows, so he was totally on board.
This is from a different album, but I can’t not include this fun factoid: magician James Randi, as in the guy who has the million dollar challenge if you can prove you’re psychic, toured with Alice Cooper for his Billion Dollar Babies tour, built his guillotine prop, and played his executioner.
Steven is mentioned in five other Alice Cooper albums. Sometimes explicitly, sometimes in the liner notes. His story seems to come to an end in Welcome To My Nightmare 2, where he dies and goes to hell.
A concert film of this album, which had a live performance from Vincent Price, debuted in 1976. It did not do well at the box office, but has since become a cult classic.
Alice Cooper has discussed doing a Broadway adaptation of this album. I can only hope this never comes to fruition. Keep the rock and roll with the rock and rollers, people, not with the Broadway actors who couldn’t do rock convincingly if their lives depended on it.