A classic pair of albums that go together as set for me are Alice Cooper’s first 2 solo albums from 1975 & ’76. Welcome To My Nightmare was a huge success, aided by a prime-time TV aired video for the album, as well as a massive tour. AC Goes To Hell would not be as successful, nor would there be a tour, but as far as themes, players, and sound go – these 2 are a pair. Both albums would be recorded at multiple studios, most notably Soundstage in Toronto. As with the earlier AC band successes, Alice solo was still working with (Toronto) Bob Ezrin, and use the former Lou Reed guitar team of Dick Wagner and Steve Hunter, both of whom also guest on earlier AC albums, as well as bass player Tony Levin. There would be other players on each albums as well, a number of them from Canada. Vincent Price, however, would only guest on WTMN!
“Alice Cooper Goes To Hell is sort of a continuation of Welcome To My Nightmare. It’s fun. You don’t really know if Alice woke up from the nightmare or not. He actually goes down to Hell and meets the devil. They have a battle on who is really the coolest.” – AC, Circus magazine, 1976.
Though Goes To Hell would be the weaker of the pair, like Welcome to Me Nightmare it did feature some classics. Both albums would lead off with the title track, both of which are pretty different than the typical rock tune, and both have returned to the live show for many tours. Each had an acoustic based ballad ending side one, both of which became big hit singles – “Only Women Bleed” and “I Never Cry” both reached #12 on the Billboard charts, about 6 months apart, while the former would reach #1 in Canada and the latter #7 here. These created a whole new avenue for Cooper with ballads on AM radio, with more to follow. While Welcome To My Nightmare seems a bit creepier lyrically, both albums would boast a couple rebellious teen anthems, “Department Of Youth” (from WTMN, and issued as a single) and “Guilty” (from GTH, which would’ve made a fine single).
Welcome To My Nightmare is heavier overall with tracks like “Steven”, “Cold Ethyl” and “Devils Food” & “The Black Widow”, while Goes To Hell seemed to have a bit more funky numbers like “I’m The Coolest”, “Give The Kid A Break” and “You Gotta Dance” – a somewhat disco tune, because disco was what was being played in Hell (or Hell was a disco!?). The latter album also had a few more ballads in “Wake Me Gently”, the Judy Garland cover “I’m Always Chasing Rainbows”, and the closing piece “Going Home”. Each album also borrowed some outside material – “Escape” [from WTMN] was a song recorded by The Hollywood Stars in 1974 (and unreleased for decades), with Alice re-writing the lyrics to fit the Nightmare theme. “Wish You Were Here” was borrowed somewhat (riff & solo) from the track “Stage Door Queen” from the 1972 album by Ursa Major – which included Dick Wagner and was produced by Ezrin!
Welcome To My Nightmare featured an iconic album cover from Pacific Eye & Ear, while Goes To Hell was far less memorable, but it did include the ‘bedtime story’ in the liner notes to go along with the lyrics, so.. Welcome To My Nightmare would be made in to a TV special, which included all the songs being acted out to the story, and the ensuring tour was one of the biggest of the decade and of Alice’s career, but Goes To Hell would see no TV show (though Alice did talk in interviews about wanting to make it into a Broadway performance), nor would there be a tour for Goes To Hell, with health issues keeping Alice off the road until his next album.
A proposed tour called “Ol Black Eyes Is Back” was scheduled to start in Canada (with Max Webster as openers), but was cancelled. There was however his performance on The Rock Music Awards in September of ’76, performing a couple of songs from the album with plenty of dancers. The lack of a tour may have also been part of the reason for there not being a follow up single to “I Never Cry”, and part of why WTMN made the Top 10 in Canada & the US, while GTH was in the Top 30 for both countries. It seemed Alice’s post-original band era would be more in to theatrics, but more like Hollywood theatrics with more focus on dancers, less straight ahead rock tunes, and becoming part of the Hollywood community (he would appear on the Hollywood Squares, and even acted in the Mae West movie “Sextette” during this time). His 1977 album Lace & Whiskey was a different story (lyrically and musically) to his first 2 solo albums.
Although I think Welcome To My Nightmare is the better album overall, Goes To Hell is a classic as well, “Guilty” being one of the best Alice rockers during this latter ’70s period and the lyrics to tracks like “Wish You Were Here” and “Go To Hell” being among his most twisted and funniest. I remember getting these in the early ’80s (when I started buying Alice records), and thinking how strange these were next to the Greatest Hits songs I knew – the song “Welcome To My Nightmare” wasn’t really a hard-rocker, with all the horns and soft intro, not to mention tracks like “Some Folks”, “Years Ago”… all very strange to a supposed hard-rock album. And the other I found a bit odd as well with the ballads, and odd tracks like “You Gotta Dance” and “Didn’t We Meet”. But I enjoyed them both repeatedly, as I got in to the stories and Alice’s ability to add and change so much to the character from song to song and album to album. When I first saw him in 1986 (then not thinking I’d ever get to see him) he played both title tracks, and ‘metaled’ them up quite a bit for the times. A great back-to-back adventure in ’70s rock from Alice.