It’s that time again, RPM-people, where I dip a retro-futuristic toe into the Pop Culture Schlock archive hoping to find something that will get your nostalgia nubs tingling and have you rushing to the secondary market seller of your choice, PayPal log-in details set to stun.
It’s the cavernous physical media section of the archive that I am plundering on this fine day, fingering a forgotten Eighties flick (that’s if you even knew of it in the first place!) that is more than deserving of the Cult Classic status that appeared desperately out of its reach as the film fell between the cinematic cracks, despite housing exclusive output from hit parade hot properties like Debbie Harry, Iggy Pop, Lou Reed, Cheap Trick, and, erm, Earth, Wind & Fire… but let’s not get ahead of ourselves…
1983’s Rock & Rule was the first fully animated feature film produced entirely in Canada. Nelvana, the studio behind it, was founded in 1971 and had reached for the pop culture skies several years later when it contributed to 1978’s much-maligned (long-forgotten if Lucasfilm could have its way) Star Wars Holiday Special; the studio creating the ten-minute animated segment that famously featured the first appearance of Boba Fett, the galaxy’s most-feared bounty hunter (well, until we found out that he was cloned from that bloke off of Shortland Street, at least).
Nelvana’s animators were ballpoints-deep in developing an animated feature entitled Drats! when they were approached by producer Ivan Reitman (Ghostbusters, Stripes, Twins) to work on a feature-length movie based on the classic magazine, Heavy Metal. Nelvana nixed the idea in favour of producing its own title. Heavy Metal, the movie, eventually released in 1981, utilised the services of several different animation houses, took around twenty million dollars at the box office, and became a cult classic. Them’s the breaks.
Drats! toiled through a development hell of sorts; originally intended as a more child-friendly Grimm’s fairy tale-like opus, the project was subject to countless changes, from tone to title. Now called Rock & Rule, the project dashed into production without a completed screenplay. Re-writes abounded, characters were changed long after their original footage was completed, the studio had to move location part-way through production, investment dried up, and the production sailed past every deadline. At least Nelvana had the might of MGM/UA behind them. Well, not quite. Boardroom musical chairs at MGM/UA resulted in the suits who had fallen for the animated project being hung out to dry and new suitors, if you could call them that, were less than enamoured with the work as a whole. Cuts were demanded, voice actors replaced, the title changed to Ring Of Power, resulting in the movie being dead on arrival – buried by a studio before it even had a chance to find its audience upon eventual release in 1983. But why? Was it really that bad?
Watching Rock & Rule now it’s easy to find fault – the post-apocalyptic tone is diluted too often by comic relief characters more suited to Saturday morning cartoons, and the cuts demanded (two different versions actually exist; American and Canadian) make for a patchy viewing experience – but, as far from perfect as it is, there is plenty on offer for this forgotten film to warrant rediscovery. It is, however, the rock and roll of Rock & Rule that will be of the greatest interest to RPM readers.
The story in a nutshell: on a post-apocalyptic Earth where the population has mutated from rodents to human form, a legendary super rocker, named Mok, resides in Nuke York and is obsessed with an evil experiment that will bring forth a demon from another dimension. To do this he needs to find an angelic voice to sing a certain combination of notes. Meanwhile, in a seedy club, a fledgling rock band has a keyboard player just finding her voice. Her name? Angel…
Mok was originally to be named ‘Mok Swagger’ until the talent representation of Mick Jagger objected. How did they know at such an early stage of development? Well, the Rolling Stones frontman was considered for the role of Mok (no doubt why the animated character has lips-a-plenty), as were David Bowie, Sting, Michael Jackson, and Tim Curry. Don Francks – who had provided the voice for Boba Fett in the aforementioned Holiday Special animated sequence – was eventually cast as Mok, although the character’s musical sequences were performed by none other than Lou Reed.
Who could provide that angelic voice, though? Well, voice-over veteran Susan Roman was cast as Angel, but the character’s potentially demon-inducing singing voice was provided by Debbie Harry. Add to these that fact that Angel’s bandmate, Omar, had a singing voice provided by Cheap Trick’s Robin Zander, and the one-and-only Iggy Pop voiced the thing from another dimension, and you have a proper rock ‘n’ roll curio almost certain to be missing from many a collection.
‘Angel’s Song’ is, in fact, an early version of the song, ‘Maybe For Sure’, that would appear on Harry’s 1989 solo album, ‘Def, Dumb & Blonde’. This was just one of three songs written by Harry and fellow Blondie founder, Chris Stein, for the movie; the others being ‘Invocation Song’ and ‘Send Love Through’, the version of the latter featured at the climax containing lead vocals by both Debbie Harry and Robin Zander. Zander’s Cheap Trick bandmate, Rick Nielsen, penned three tunes for the movie (‘Born To Raise Hell’, ‘I’m The Man’, and ‘Ohm Sweet Ohm’), Lou Reed two (‘Triumph’ and ‘My Name Is Mok’), and Iggy Pop just the one (‘Pain & Suffering’). It’s the Earth, Wind & Fire tune that you want to know about though, right? Well, ‘Dance, Dance, Dance’ plays out in a neo-disco scene set at Club 666. Now you’re interested!
Arthouse cinemas and film festivals provided the only opportunities to view Rock & Rule after its initial flop at release, aside from a rare mid-eighties airing on Canadian television, where it was promoted as a music special rather than an animated feature. Eventual home video releases on video cassette and laserdisc finally allowed the movie to find something of an audience until, in more recent times, a long-awaited double DVD release presented an anamorphic widescreen version to curious viewers and collectors alike. This digital versatile disc set is now out of print so good luck in finding a copy. I did, and it now resides in the Pop Culture Schlock archive where another curious item lies waiting to be fingered for my next RPM column…
Until then, keep watching the skies!
Author: Gaz Tidey
Season’s greetings to all RPM-People! This time of year is prime for accumulating all manner of collectables that you really don’t need, but really must have: Christmas is coming, the goose is getting tat, and all that. With that skewed mantra in mind, for this latest of my Pop Culture Schlock columns I present a righteous rockin’ relic that I found loitering under the Xmas tree at my childhood home on December 25th, 1981…
I have extolled the virtues of the annual previously in the virtual pages of RPM; detailing the must-have Rock On! annual from Christmas 1979 in an earlier column. It would be very remiss of me, however, to not dip a cowboy-booted-toe into the waters of this hard-backed veteran of youthful gift lore at the time of year when, once upon a happier time, an annual was as Christmas as mince pie.
The Record Mirror Pop Club annual 1982 – released in time for Christmas 1981 – was given to my then-ten-year-old self by a cool aunt. She had once won a beauty contest, almost got scalped in a car accident, and had got the top of one of her fingers cut off at a zoo so, yeah, she was cool. The cover photo of said annual was a great live shot of The Police, the first band that I, post-childish Showaddywaddy infatuation, really got into and had posters on my bedroom wall of. I guessed that this cover was the reason why this annual had resided in a pile of now-crumpled wrapping paper under my tree. But, no; a quick finger of the pages informed me that this gift was pointed in my direction due to the inclusion of my latest (and arguably greatest) musical infatuation, KISS!
Yes, a full-page colour feature entitled “The KISS of Success” was the reason why this annual found itself in my possession, where it would remain for almost four full decades. The photograph that accompanied the article was, and remains, simply awesome. Messrs Simmons, Stanley, Frehley, and Carr, the newest band member, looking slick in the photoshoot used to promote the band’s 1980/81 ‘Unmasked’ world tour. Now, I know that the photos were taken on the day of the band’s 1980 show at the New York Palladium – the only show where Eric Carr wore the original “silver fox” version of his make-up. Then, I, like many others, I guess, was left wondering just how this great new drummer looked a little different. The photos were used for the tour books of the European and Australian legs of the ‘Unmasked’ world tour with crude touching-up of Carr’s make-up to remove all traces of the silver outlines. I wouldn’t hold an ‘Unmasked’ tour book in my hoarder hands for many a year, so this was my first experience of the original (not to be confused with Carr’s hawk make-up trial which was mocked more than Gene’s future hair hats) fox look and it felt special.
The feature spoke to me of enthusiastic acclaim for ‘Attack of the Phantoms’ from Australia and Germany; of how the solo albums sojourn had seen the band members return stronger, with astonishing new energy, to produce sensational albums like ‘Dynasty’ and ‘Unmasked’; and of how former member, Peter Criss, would always “remain as a member of the KISS partnership.” As frothy as the feature was, the fact that I now had a full-page colour feature to drool over rather than the minuscule black and white cuttings collected by each and every UK-based KISS Kid meant everything.
The annual wasn’t all about KISS, though: the pages featured many intelligent articles on all manner of (then-)current bands and artists. The Daily Mirror Pop Club was, you see, an actual club that offered money off concert tickets, free to enter rock and pop contests, and a members-only cassette lending library which boasted over 5,000 titles. Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones were honorary presidents of the club. If proof were ever needed that the Daily Mirror once had a life beyond indentikit idiocy enabler then here it is.
“Things Look Good For Dire Straits” yelled a headline accompanying a two-page spread; “Go Quo in ’82!” another such piece. Cover stars The Police got a three-page article where each band member’s private life was dissected; guitarist Andy Summers revealed to have once shared an apartment with actor Paul Michael Glaser – yes, Starsky himself! Sheena Easton, Olivia Newton-John, Joan Armatrading, Kelly Marie, and Earth, Wind and Fire all got one-page features, as did Barry Manilow and Neil Diamond in a dedicated crooners section. To even things up a little, The Tourists, XTC, and Hazel O’Connor all featured, as did a lengthy John Peel article. With Elton John and Billy Joel spreads rubbing inked shoulders with features on Air Supply and Don McLean, the eclectic mix of the hit parade of the early Eighties was captured almost perfectly. But what of the rock and metal, I hear you cry over your Manowar records – full colour posters of Judas Priest and Thin Lizzy would surely quench any metalli-thirst.
Posters, you say? What kind of savage would cut up a frigging annual? Not me! If, however, you were some kind of imbecile then matt-finished photographs of Debbie Harry, Kate Bush, Rod Stewart, Madness, Sad Café, Cliff Richard, and Leo Sayer in a bike jacket could have covered up the woodchip in your boxroom.
I hope that an annual resides under the Xmas tree of all cool kids who have taken the time to read my retro ramblings on RPM this year. I shall return in 2020 with more tales of rock ‘n’ roll spit being swallowed by the worlds of comic books, board games, action figures, and the like. I know that the world appears to be more fucked up than it has for some time but, if you’ve ever asked the question offered by the theme tune of one of the greatest television shows of the twentieth century – “is the only thing to look forward to, the past?” – then I may be able to bring you brief moments of solace via my much-loved, well-fingered pieces of tat. Have a cool yule, y’all!
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Author: Gaz Tidey
Thanks for taking time out from sharing grammatically incorrect memes to read my fifth column for RPM. Last month, after turning a dodgy Black Crowes comic-book into an unsolved murder case, I promised that October’s column would be something of a spooktakular in the run-up to All Hallow’s Eve. A man of my word, I now throw my horns in the direction of a mid-Eighties issue of the World’s most famous horror magazine where both metal and punk were honoured via the Gospel according to the Church of the Cathode Ray.
I wrote previously of the long-lost music magazine, Rock Video (later Hard Rock Video), which was created to cash in on the popularity explosion detonated by MTV. Well, just like how the Star Wars cash cow saw George Lucas characters force their way onto almost every magazine cover in the 1970s (from The House of Hammer to Titbits – I have proof!), the 1980s found the stars of Music Television moonwalk all over magazine front covers, unhindered by the title’s original USP. Fangoria, arguably the greatest horror movie magazine of all time (my favourite, certainly), was one such example that succumbed to the evil powers of punk ‘n’ roll.
Let’s backtrack a little: Fangoria debuted in 1979 with a Godzilla cover and, over its first six issues, also featured Star Trek, Arabian Adventure, and Star Wars (told you!) as cover stars. Yes, it was certainly more of a fantasy-based magazine until issue 7 when they slapped The Shining on the cover, and then followed it up with a now-iconic Zombie Flesh Eaters cover. Subsequently, throughout the Eighties Fango was the go-to tome for all that was happening in horror. A bit like how Kerrang! was essential Wednesday reading for every rock and metal fan… before it went shit. Fangoria never really went shit – it flirted with disaster in the confused Nineties when it put Jurassic Park and other such commercial fodder on the cover – but it did go out of production earlier this decade. Happily, it has been relaunched as a print magazine and balance in the horror movie world has been restored.
Fangoria, this century, has had its share of rock stars grace the cover. Alice Cooper has been on there, Gene Simmons too, and Rob Zombie’s movies (some of them good) have featured several times. Back in the mag’s Eighties halcyon days, however, it was a little more difficult to get a hard rocker to windmill a monster or ghoul off the front cover. Alice Cooper did, via his limited music video skirmish with Jason Voorhees, poison the front page of a volume of The Bloody Best Of Fangoria compendium, but it took a head-biting madman’s visit to Holloway Sanitorium to guarantee a cover proper.
“Rock Video’s Gruesome FX!” screamed the headline on the cover of Fangoria #35 from early 1984. Beneath the words, ‘Bark at the Moon’ era Ozzy Osbourne in full werewolf mode! Beside him, on the magazine’s iconic ‘film strip’ side panel, a shot from the Ramones’ ‘Psycho Therapy’ music video – yes, Fango had been bitten by the MTV bug and, thankfully, the editor had decided that metal- and punk-related music video was the avenue down which it would stagger.
Via a skewed version of the Ozzy story (dead pigeon pulled out of bag at record company meeting; biting the head off what looked like a rubber bird, etc) the cultured Fangoria reader spent little time waiting for darkness as the five-page article – entitled ‘Makeup’s Greatest Hits’ – detailed the cover art of Ozzy’s ‘Bark at the Moon’ album from the previous year, and the accompanying music video for the title track by way of an interview with make-up FX artist, Greg Cannom, who was recommended for the werewolf-centric duties due to his work as a key crew member on Joe Dante’s 1981 love letter to lycanthropes, The Howling. He had also appeared (wearing his own make-up) in Michael Jackson’s Thriller; in fact, the last face that you see in that epic music video’s fade-out is Cannom’s.
Cannom was faced with two major problems: one, Ozzy’s werewolf make-up was needed in just one week and, two, Sharon Osbourne (who now has a pretend face that deserves to be on a Fangoria cover) was sure that nobody could keep her old man to sit still in a chair for five hours to have make-up appliances stuck all over his face and body. Cannom, of course, overcame both issues, backed by a team that included a young Kevin Yagher. Yagher provided make-up FX for some of the Eighties’ most celebrated movies (three Elm Street flicks, a Friday the 13th sequel, Child’s Play, and Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure to name but several) and, heavy metal horror movie fans, played the guitarist offed by Sammi Curr at the high school Halloween party in Trick or Treat, after having designed the Skeezix monster for the film’s scene with the naked girl and melting ears – you know what I’m writing about! Yagher was part of Cannom’s U.S. team (he made Ozzy’s teeth and finger extensions) working on both the ‘Bark at the Moon’ album cover and music video featuring, you may be surprised to learn, two different Ozzy werewolf designs.
Says it all about the power of MTV in the early Eighties, but Cannom viewed the album cover shoot as a test for the upcoming video shoot, where his U.K. team (based at Shepperton Studios for the album cover shoot, and on location at the aforementioned Holloway Sanitorium for the music video) had much more time to work on the FX. Still, though, as iconic as the Ozzy werewolf look has become, Cannom was disappointed that the make-up was not shown more in the video’s final cut. That disappointment was surely tempered by his recruitment to the ‘Shooting Shark’ music video by Blue Öyster Cult, alongside Rick Lazzarini…
Lazzarini features in the article due to his work with The Tubes. The band found him as a promising fifteen-year-old wannabe make-up artist and, aged seventeen, he went on to tour with KISS as a pyrotechnician. He actually helped invent a formula for the stage blood to be spat out by Gene Simmons. “He wanted something that would be healthy if you swallowed it,” Lazzarini informed Fangoria via a sentence that obviously went right over my youthful head. “We wound up using a mixture of egg whites, some flour to thicken it, and red food coloring, ” he continued. “It had to be warmed a bit too because [Gene] didn’t want to take it cold.” Some Demon, eh?!
Simmons didn’t make the cover then, though, did he? No, but the Ramones did. Mark Shostrom (Videodrome, From Beyond) and Anthony Showe (Elm Street 2, Chopping Mall) designed and executed the effects in the music video for ‘Psycho Therapy’, the track pulled from 1983’s ‘Subterranean Jungle’ album for potential MTV acclaim. Not actually being able to meet the legendary band on the video’s three-day shoot – the band were used for the first two days, with the third used for pick-ups and effects – Shostrom and Showe created a monstrous character called the Teenage Dope Fiend – the TDF – that, when about to have a lobotomy in the psycho ward, would have its head split open and its ‘alter ego’ emerge.
This effect, straight out of a typical Eighties horror flick, didn’t go down well with people at both the record label, Warner Brothers (owners of Sire Records), and MTV. The effect was subsequently accomplished “dry” without “unpleasant gore, slime, or other viscous substances.” Even though the video was shot bloodless, people still walked out of the screening room when the video was first shown to the MTV hierarchy.
Shostrom expected special make-up FX to become an increasing part of the rock video phenomenon because, “just by the nature of the music” the possibilities for visuals and make-up of all kinds were great. YouTube Jani Lane’s smile in the ‘Cherry Pie’ video and tell me that this guy wasn’t some kind of Eighties Nostradamus!
With a full-page ad for a poster of Greg Hildebrandt’s ‘Dance of Death’ artwork, and the back cover devoted to Rock Video magazine – “Be Part of the Rock Video Explosion!” – Fangoria #35 blurred the lines between rock and horror and this twelve-year-old kid couldn’t have been happier. Well, until Trick or Treat, Hard Rock Zombies, Rock ‘n’ Roll Nightmare, Blood Tracks, and Black Roses hit the video shops at least…
As ever, thanks for reading. I shall return in November with an article dedicated to a sequel to one of the best worst movies ever that you probably don’t even know exists! Death to False Metal!
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What’s that musty smell? Ah yes, it’s emanating from the veritable feast of vintage collectables housed in the Pop Culture Schlock archive. For your delectation today I take you back to the Christmas of 1979; a seminal decade of music about to come to an end and give way to the dawn of a more brash, more brazen ten year period…
If you were a good, music-loving boy or girl in 1979 and had a.) done well in school, and; b.) not scratched your big brother’s vinyl, then there was a good chance that you’d find the Rock On! Annual 1980 nestled under the Christmas tree in your modest living room.
“The Rock What Annual?” I hear you exclaim, and you shouldn’t be embarrassed at your lack of knowledge on this subject because, truth be told, Rock On! magazine was a short-lived, oft-forgotten publication… if you’d ever heard of it at all.
Rock On! magazine debuted with an issue cover-dated May 1978. Debbie Harry featured on its cover and the mag – costing a whole 25p – promised a healthy mix of punk, new wave, heavy metal, and prog rock. It kept its promise too as, over the course of seven eclectic issues, Rock On! dished out features and photo spreads on a dizzying cadre of top musical combos; from Status Quo to Sham 69, The Clash to KISS, Rush to The Rezillos. Meat Loaf graced a cover, Ozzy, too, until Issue 7, with Jimmy Pursey as its cover star, and cover-dated November 1978, when Rock On! disappeared from newsagent shelves. The editorial in that final issue wrote of the outrage of cutting off such a desirable publication in its prime but, if anything, Rock On! was a victim of its own blurring of genre lines: readers seemingly wanting specialist publications dedicated to singular strands of the rock ‘n’ roll world rather than this ambitious crossover style.
That final editorial, though, did offer some hope for the future; stating that it was the last Rock On! “in its present form”. Fast forward to around a year later and, in the Autumn of 1979, the true final piece of the Rock On! jigsaw arrived in shops and catalogues to complete the punk ‘n’ prog rocking picture.
With a scorching hot live photo of Thin Lizzy’s Phil Lynott on the cover, Rock On! Annual 1980 (price – £2.00) may well have been jostling for attention on the shelves alongside big-hitting television and film spin-off annuals, but it certainly looked the most badass. It was, the cover screamed, packed with pictures, facts, and quizzes on your favourite rock bands. It did not disappoint.
The heady mix of photo spreads and more in-depth features on select bands really did make Rock On! stand out from its competitors, and this annual amps that angle right up to eleven. The first photo spread was a “Tribute to Vocal Power!!!” (yes, with three exclamation marks) and featured cool live action shots of Joe Strummer, Johnny Rotten, Cherie Currie, Pete Townsend, Willy DeVille, Graham Parker, Joan Jett, and Mick Jagger. A good start, I’m sure you’ll agree.
Next up, a photo diary detailing a “hard band” going “soft” as The Stranglers met their devoted fans, followed by a quartet of stinging live shots of “the band the critics love to hate”, Status Quo. Rock On!’s attitude to those Quo critics could be “summed up in two fingers” readers were informed.
With barely a pause for breath, a six-page A-Z of Heavy Metal feature detailed the prime acts in the genre, from AC/DC to, erm, Wishbone Ash. A-W, then. A few curious names in this run-down, too: Prism, Quartz, and Mahogany Rush rubbing shoulders with the expected likes of Whitesnake, Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, and, a firm favourite on the turntable at RPM HQ, Uriah Heep. A “Heads Down Heavy Metal Quiz” followed: a select question being “On Your Feet Or On Your Knees was a double live album for which heavy metal superstars?”
A Ten Years of Genesis feature followed, the first in a series of in-depth essays by John Tobler. His similar two-page spread on the history of Queen followed, as did those dedicated to Thin Lizzy, Blue Öyster Cult, Rush, and KISS. The latter, subtitled “Kings of Shock Rock”, wrote of “the forty foot columns of fire that emit from Gene Simmons’ mouth” and, c’mon, if you were eight years old at Xmas 1979 you had every excuse for then falling head over platform heels in love with the idea of the hottest band in the world.
There was a Rock On! reggae report, a fashion guide of sorts where the Quo’s Rick Parfitt spoke of his love of jeans and Hugh Cornwell of The Stranglers of his love of raincoats (!), a Hi-Fi buying guide, a feature on sound engineers, a top DJ article covering John Peel and Anne Nightingale, plus one-page specials on Peter Gabriel and Ken Hensley of the Heep.
A photo spread of Ian Dury swimming (just your seven shots) padded out the pages, but not before an impressive photo set of live Black Sabbath shots appeared, a Star Cars article featuring Steve Jones, Meat Loaf, Midge Ure, and, ominously, Cozy Powell, a “Cult Heroes” feature detailing the likes of Iggy Pop, Nils Lofgren, Todd Rundgren, Tom Petty, and Bruce Spingsteen, and a “Sex ‘n’ Girls ‘n’ Rock ‘n’ Roll” spread featuring Debbie Harry, Joan Jett, Siouxsie Sioux, Linda Ronstadt, Annie Golden, Poly Styrene, Stevie Nicks, and Rachel Sweet.
A “That Was The Year That Was” feature dedicated to 1978 was an obvious leftover from the previous year’s magazine and makes for entertaining if a little sombre reading amongst the other genuinely funny articles. Rock On! was a cool magazine, with its tongue firmly in its cheek and its love of a broad range of music at the forefront of any thinking. Your Uber Rocks, your RPMs are all subconscious descendants of Rock On! magazine.
No annual is complete, however, without a pull-out poster section (even if no kid ever dared pull a poster out of an annual!), and Rock On! Annual 1980 does not disappoint in that department. There are pin-ups of the aforementioned Pursey, Rezillos, Dury, Harry, Clash, and Lynott, plus Bob Geldof, Paul Weller, Freddie Mercury, David Lee Roth, Jon Anderson, Elvis Costello, Paul Stanley, and the Buzzcocks. Great photos too.
The Rock On! Annual 1980 may well be an uncommon piece in the average music memorabilia collection, but it is certainly a worthy one. Copies turn up on the secondary market relatively cheaply and, yeah, you should pick one up if you get the chance. The Rock On! staff were most certainly music journalist mavericks, and we’ve all tried to go there, right? Search for this precious, rockin’ tome… or you might never know how Rick Parfitt’s aunt ironed his double denim.
Thanks for reading, and for the feedback on my first column on the debut Alice Cooper comic. I’ll be back next month with something suitably archaic that the rock ‘n’ roll world tried to forget. Search for Pop Culture Schlock 365 on Instagram, Twitter & Facebook
POP CULTURE SCHLOCK at RPM: Exhibit A – Alice Cooper’s 1st comic-book appearance
Step inside; walk this way; you and me, babe; hey, hey! Welcome, RPM-People, to the first irregular column dedicated to music-related items from the Pop Culture Schlock archive. Some will be cool, some will be curious, but all will be from a simpler time when music wasn’t just binary code on a smartphone stolen by some scally on a moped. So, pour yourself a Skol, slip into your Starsky cardigan, and wrap yourself in the warm embrace of nostalgia via a New York sanitarium by way of a Seventies newsagent.
Marvel Comics, before becoming responsible for almost every three hours you spend in the cinema, saw the late 1970s ripe for its own slice of the mass market appeal afforded to the rock stars of the day. Rather than living fast and dying young, your common or garden rock ‘n’ roll visage was more likely to be on the cover of a teen magazine or the panel of a game show than the front of a memorial service brochure.
After giving KISS its first appearances in issues 12 and 13 of its monthly Howard The Duck comic-book, Marvel rocked out no fewer than three times within the first five issues of its then-new title, Marvel Super Special, a 41-issue series of one-shots published between 1977 and 1986. KISS featured in the first (famously/supposedly donating blood to be used in the red ink) and fifth issues, The Beatles Story making up number 4. Now, any UK rock ‘n’ roll archivist with a shred of honesty who was in single figures age-wise when that first Holy Grail of a KISS comic came out will admit that it took until they were well versed in the art of mail order before they could add that piece of exquisite ephemera to their collection. Not so issue 50 of Marvel Premiere which hit spinner racks in the UK prior to its October 1979 cover-date…
Marvel Premiere was essentially a “try-out” comic; publishing a one-shot tale of a character to determine whether or not he/she/it could attract enough attention and/or revenue to launch their own regular title. After throwing around the idea of an Alice Cooper comic for a few years, Marvel finally took the plunge in 1979 with the special 50th issue of Marvel Premiere. That the legendary comic company did so with a storyline based around the Coop’s album from the previous year, ‘From The Inside’ (a concept record based on the then-troubled shock rocker’s time in a NY sanitarium where he was treated for alcoholism, with songs based around patients he met inside), remains bizarre to this day.
To be fair, the album – housed in luxurious fold-out sleeve and playing as I type – was pretty upbeat, musically if not lyrically, no doubt courtesy of Cooper’s collaboration with Bernie Taupin. It was with that in mind, I guess, that Marvel deemed the content suitable for adaptation in comic-book form. Of course, as an eight-year-old kid I read it all in a blur, oblivious to its roots, simply joyous that I could actually find a comic that featured one of the coolest rockers to grace my turntable in a British newsagents. Reading through it now, four decades later, that sense of wonder remains, even though I now understand the serious ramifications of the original subject matter. That Marvel decided to go for a lighter-hearted tone (albeit with a wicked bite) more in keeping with the commercially-accepted theatrics of the album now means that critical re-evaluation doesn’t come with the wince that oft-accompanies the remembering of once-troubled celebrities.
With artwork by Tom Sutton and Terry Austin, who also provided the stunning cover art, and a script by Ed Hannigan (based on a plot by Alice, Jim Salicrup, and Roger Stern) the comic version of ‘From The Inside’ opens with Alice trying to escape from his sanitarium cell via the time-honoured tying together of bedsheets. Caught by Nurse Rozetta (yes, she of the album track – also joined in ink form by Jackknife Johnny and Millie and Billie from the record) Alice is thrown into The Quiet Room by Dr. Fingeroth. Here, the Coop recalls the unfortunate series of events that saw him stuck there on the inside looking out.
Y’see, Alice, his mind undergoing a meltdown whilst trying to survive the “high-powered lunacy of the showbiz world,” had checked into a clinic in an attempt to dry up and calm his nerves. As (bad) luck would have it, Alice was confused with an Alex Cooper – a “certified paranoid schizo with a radical tyre fetish!” – and locked away by mistake. As our hero is treated to electro-shock therapy, ice water baths, and a crude haircut, Alex Cooper is about to be elected governor!
With Veronica (his trusty snake here, yet a dog on the album track, ‘For Veronica’s Sake’) stripped from him and locked away herself, Alice has to negotiate bed straps, sedatives, muscle-bound orderlies, and a doctor seemingly more crazed than the inmates of his facility, in order to get his story believed. Spoiler alert: doesn’t happen!
With a legion of background cameos and in-jokes for lynx-eyed readers (featuring the likes of Popeye, the Incredible Hulk, and Donald Sutherland’s character from 1978’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers remake), the comic is wildly entertaining, possibly more so than the album it is based on (‘From The Inside’ attracting much cooler critical acclaim than many of its long-playing predecessors), though that claim could well be down to my original childhood love for what was then the pinnacle of my fledgling comic buying.
“But what of the future?” asked the powers that be at Marvel Comics in 1979. “Should Alice be awarded his own regular Marvel title? Should we break him out of that Asylum and send him blasting through the Marvel Universe?” Well, it would be 1994 before Marvel featured Cooper again via a three-part, Neil Gaiman-penned comic series that tied-in with Alice’s 1994 album, ‘The Last Temptation’.
Dark Horse Comics would later reprint ‘The Last Temptation’ as a trade paperback, but Cooper’s comic book history doesn’t end there. 1990 saw Revolutionary Comics’ dubious Rock ‘n’ Roll Comics title (more on these chancers in a future article) feature an unofficial Alice Cooper history, with Bluewater Comics later picking up that company’s past monstrosities and lowbrow ethics. Much better was to follow in 2014 with an ongoing Alice Cooper comic book title from Dynamite Entertainment which lasted for six issues and was followed by ‘Alice Cooper vs. Chaos!’, another six-parter that saw the veteran shock rocker up against the denizens of Dynamite’s horror universe; including Evil Ernie, Chastity, and Purgatori. Oh yeah, also look out for the Coop in a Treehouse of Horror special Simpsons comic along with Rob Zombie, Gene Simmons… and Pat Boone.
It is Marvel Premiere issue 50 that will forever be the peak of comic-book Alice Cooper, however. With the guillotine of nostalgia cutting deep, that forty-year-old mass of paper, ink, and staples is a thing of beauty in a world turned ugly. As Millenials and Post-Millenials reminisce about their friggin’ iTunes playlists, us forever-cool-kids will always have stuff like Alice Cooper comics to read via torchlight under our covers at night, knotted bedsheets at the ready…
Author: Gaz Tidey