As we continue our look at rock right angles, let’s take a trip back in time:
It’s 1972, and two ambitious acts are in the studio. One, already well established, is a tough and grubby gang of post-glam Detroit headbangers. The other, making just their second album, is a troupe of suavely pretentious English art rockers.
But the frontmen of these very different bands, also their principal songwriters, are struck simultaneously by a strange inspiration….
The title track of Billion Dollar Babies from Alice Cooper (still a band at that point, not just a guy) is a song that, as you know if you’ve been with us for a while, we are rather fond of around here. We’ve mentioned it from time to time as a wonderfully entertaining piece of proto-metal cheese, and Pete gave it the full treatment in our Halloween marathon.
That insane drum and guitar intro, the ripping bass, that grand off-the-beat scream (1:18 on the clip), a guest vocal from Donovan…. it’s hard to imagine any hard rock lover not being captivated by this wonderful, ridiculous record.
And “Billion Dollar Babies” is about a romantic obsession, a love-hate relationship, simultaneous urges to embrace and to destroy. The object of all the emotional uproar: a blow-up doll. Picked up in a dimestore, she’s worth a billion dollars to Alice: “Rubber little lady/Slicker than a weasel/Grimy as an alley/Love me like no other lover.”
They spend the long nights together, but all is not well, as Alice offers this not-too-veiled threat to the beloved “Baby”:
If I’m too rough, tell me
I’m so scared your little head
Will come off in my hands.
Meanwhile, over in England, a band that could be considered almost the precise opposite of Alice Cooper are recording this:
Backed by horror-movie keyboards and crawly guitars, Bryan Ferry’s vocal on “In Every Dream Home a Heartache” is intense and essentially spoken — wise, since he was all but incapable of singing intelligibly (or on pitch). Ferry goes quickly through the song’s numerous short verses, in which a man who is drowning in guilt over something — we don’t yet know what — tells us that strange things go on behind comfortable, expensive facades:
In every dream home a heartache,
And every step I take,
Takes me further from heaven.
He describes a few of these dream homes: “The cottage is pretty, the main house a palace,” and “Penthouse perfection, but what goes on there?” (And, he warns, “Better pray there.”)
Open plan living,
All of its comforts,
Seem so essential.
And the principle comfort?: “I bought you mail order/My plain-wrapper baby.”
Ah, that’s what he’s so guilty about! But he’s not giving up his beloved.
Can’t throw you away now.
Immortal and life-size,
My breath is inside you,
I’ll dress you up daily,
And keep you till death sighs.
But, like Alice, Bryan finds his love is not quite everything he desires…
I blew up your body
But you blew my mind!
And off we go into a glorious instrumental break, led by Phil Manzanera’s ringing guitar and illustrating once again that the key difference between Roxy Music and the countless New Wave and New Romantic bands that copied them in the early ’80s — when the pop world finally caught up with what Ferry & Co. had been doing for 10 years — was that Roxy Music could rock.
After what may be the longest pause ever in a rock song’s false ending — a full six seconds of silence — the song comes briefly rolling back to life, with everything distorted in a flurry of Brian Eno-led production tricks that Pete could describe better than I.
Two songs, released the same year, about obsessive love for an artificial girlfriend, one from a quintessentially English band, the other all-American. One with an anti-consumerism overlay, the other just for the hell of it. One spiky and dark-hearted, the other a raucous concert favorite. One from a gold album in the UK that did not chart in the U.S., the other from a record that went platinum both here and there. A fine right angle for our collection.