Wednesday, 19 May 2021

Pink Floyd - On tour in 1974 and 1977

  The program on the left is from Pink Floyd's UK winter tour in 1974.
On the right is the program from the 'Animals' tour in 1977. 

Somewhere along the line in the 1970s, concert programs became expensive and rather boring. We can probably trace it to the 1975 concerts by Led Zeppelin at Earls Court. I bought the program, the T-shirt and the poster. I can't remember how much I paid but I probably didn't get much change from a £10 note. 

Now, of course, you'd expect to pay £10 for the program alone, plus another £30 for the t-shirt. Merchandising is big money for bands, along with the concert tickets themselves, now that physical music is so cheaply and easily consumed, without the need to buy a whole album.

Certainly between these two Pink Floyd programs, from 1974 and 1977, the Floyd became a corporate monster and their programs became all style and no content.

The 1974 tour program was a treat though, being made to resemble a comic, with each member of the band given their own comic strip: Rog Of The Rovers, Captain Mason, R.N. - you get the idea.

Little quiz pages were interspersed and, most notably the program included the lyrics to the new songs the band played in the first half of the show.

Lyrics to the new songs
Going back to the start of the decade, the Floyd's way of working up new material was to take it out on tour and gauge audience reaction, before committing it to record. Hence, the prototype for Dark Side Of The Moon was premiered as Eclipse at live shows in 1972.

During the winter tour of 1974, the songs being trialled were Shine On You Crazy Diamond, You Gotta Be Crazy and Raving and Drooling. Of the three, Shine On... was the most impressive and the one clearly more complete than the other two. It was ready to appear on their next album, Wish You Were Here. Despite its unfamiliarity, Shine On You Crazy Diamond got a great reception from the audience at Wembley's Empire Pool.

You Gotta be Crazy and Raving and Drooling, with alterations to their lyrics and arrangements, would become Dogs and Sheep on the album Animals. So fully three years before they would appear on an album, these songs were being road-tested.

First half: New Songs
Shine On You Crazy Diamond
Raving and Drooling (Sheep)
You Gotta be Crazy (Dogs)

Pink Floyd playing DSOTM at Wembley, 1974
Second half: The Dark Side of the Moon
Speak to Me
On the Run
The Great Gig in the Sky
Us and Them
Any Colour You Like
Brain Damage


The show was spellbinding and the audience loved it - the recordings show that clearly. But not everyone was impressed. That sniffy hipster at the NME, Nick Kent, a man who almost certainly never played a three-hour show in his life, thought the Floyd were too detached from the audience.

My bootleg CDs of the '74 show
Kent missed the point, then. With Pink Floyd, it was never about the band members as rock stars. They were not throwing shapes and projecting themselves in the manner of other groups. Above all, it was about the music and the visuals. Right back to their earliest shows at London's UFO club in 1967, the light show was the focal point.

And by the time of the Dark Side Of The Moon tours, the show was all about the images projected on the circular screen that dominated the stage. 

My ticket
Melody Maker's Chris Charlesworth, reviewing an earlier show in Edinburgh, said of Dark Side of the Moon: "On this tour it takes on magnificent proportions with that truly brilliant movie screen designed, I think, to take the observer on a space flight to the other side of the galaxy."

In the Classic Albums show about Dark Side, they show many of the visuals projected on the circular screen. This was innovative staging at the time.

Nowadays, stage lighting and visuals are way more advanced at arena shows, but the Floyd were at the forefront of concepts to transform live shows into a much more visual and engaging spectacle - a process that developed into flying pigs with the Animals tour and, ultimately, The Wall.

"Visions flash past all too quickly," said Charlesworth. "But stand-out bits include various tumbling buildings, a pilot’s view of a take-off, coins and clocks in profusion, plenty of sea and surf, and the closing sequence depicting prominent politicians apparently well satisfied with the Floyd’s performance."

The Wembley '74 show climaxed with the giant screen showing sun being eclipsed by the moon. On the bootleg recording of the Empire Pool show, you can hear the audience response as the Eclipse reaches its crescendo. It was very well done, the whole thing, topped off, let's not forget, by this timeless classic of an album.

Here's an audio recording from Wembley 1974

By 1977 and the Animals tour, the Floyd had taken the live experience to another level. "Roger had an idea for the next Pink Floyd album," according to the withdrawn liner notes for the new 5.1 mix of Animals: "He borrowed from George Orwell’s allegorical story, Animal Farm, in which pigs and other farmyard animals were reimagined anthropomorphically. Waters portrays the human race as three sub-species trapped in a violent, vicious cycle, with sheep serving despotic pigs and authoritarian dogs. You Gotta be Crazy and Raving And Drooling perfectly fitted his new concept."

The show was again split into two halves.

First half: Animals
Pigs on the Wing (Part I)
Pigs on the Wing (Part II)
Pigs (Three Different Ones)"

Second half: Wish You Were Here

Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Parts I–V)
Welcome to the Machine
Have a Cigar
Wish You Were Here
Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Parts VI–IX)"

Us and Them

Part of the Pink Floyd show at the V&A
If you saw the Pink Floyd exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum a few years ago, you will have seen the flying pig, the war plane and the various other stage props that made up the Animals show. The 1977 shows were suitably over the top, to match the music.

The pyrotechnic stage lighting was choreographed from two articulated towers. At the climax of Sheep, fireworks burst out from the towers. At various points during the first set, an inflatable family, larger than life household items like a fridge or a car and various animals would appear. 

I believe these concerts utilised quadrophonic sound and the band made good use of the available technology. The sound of dogs barking and pigs squealing was particularly freaky.

The four-piece band was augmented by second guitarist/bass player Snowy White. The overall sound was much more punchy and aggressive than the 1974 show had been. 

My ticket
I suppose that's a lot to do with the songs. The lyrics by Roger Waters became darker and more political on Animals. The unused liner notes to the 5.1 mixes of Animals said: "Despite being recorded in London during the long summer heatwave of 1976, Pink Floyd’s Animals remains a dark album. Its critique of capitalism and greed caught the prevailing mood in Britain: a time of industrial strife, economic turmoil, The Troubles in Northern Ireland and the race riots of Notting Hill."

The alienation and distance from the audience, that Nick Kent sensed in 1974, also became quite real, particularly on the last date of the North American tour in Montreal. By all accounts, including his own, Waters became increasingly angry with the rowdy American audiences. It culminated with him spitting in the face of a fan at the front of the stage. The experience fed into the writing of the next Pink Floyd album, The Wall.

Despite the improved audio facilities, there were no official recordings made of the Animals tour and no decent unofficial audio exists from the Wembley shows. Here's a recording from the US tour

The Animals tour program was black and glossy. It contained no words, apart from Pink Floyd - Animals on the cover; just a bunch of so-so photos. A waste of money frankly, but a memento nonetheless all these years later.

I gave up buying concert programs after that.

Also on this blog:

Reviewing Pink Floyd at the V&A: Their Mortal Remains

March 1973 - 'Dark Side of the Moon' enters the charts

Vegetable Man - Syd Barrett's last Floyd recordings

Sunday, 18 April 2021

Alice Cooper - back when he was genuinely scary

Following on from my recent blog about the Frank Zappa movie, it's time to reminisce about one of the bands he took under his wing in the late 1960s, Alice Cooper. 

Zappa gave the Alice Cooper group a break when no one else would.

The group had moved From Phoenix, Arizona to Los Angeles in 1967 to make the big time, or so they thought. 

Zappa saw them live a few times at the Whisky A-Go-Go in 1968 and saw something within their shambolic stage act that he might be able to work with. He told them to come to his house to audition. They turned up at 7am one morning. Frank had meant for them to come at 7pm - he was still in bed. 

Not a nice way to wake up, because by all accounts the Alice Cooper group were pretty horrible to listen to, and fairly intimating too. They had a real knack for emptying a room in no time at all, said their singer.

Alice Cooper and Frank Zappa, 1968
Alice recalled that Zappa came to a show: "We scared the hell out of the audience - they were all on acid. We looked like we'd just come up out of the ground, and we didn't mind a little violence onstage. That audience couldn't get out of the room fast enough. It was like somebody yelled "FIRE!" 

There were three people left standing. Frank said, "Anybody that can clear a room that quick, I've got to sign."

The resulting records on Frank's Straight label, Pretties for You and Easy Action, bore little of the production values displayed on their later records. Sales were slim.

Zappa's patronage took them nowhere. The band felt they were out of step with the laid back music culture in LA. "They were all on acid and we were drinking beer," said Alice. So in 1970 they moved to Detroit, where Alice was from. 

"Told her that I came from Detroit city
- and I played guitar in a long-haired rock 'n' roll band."

Love It To Death, 1971
Alice Cooper the band were a close-knit gang and certainly looked the part, with their mix of glam and Rolling Stones early 70s-style chic. They just needed the right producer to deliver on their potential. 

That's when the group hooked up with producer Bob Ezrin and refined their 'theatre of the grotesque' stage act, complete with guillotines, electric chairs, fake blood, reptiles and mutilated dolls.

Ezrin's productions were all about drama and he worked at convincing the band to refine their stage act into more polished songs. He also drafted in some sessions musicians to bolster the sound.

And just like that, they had a US hit single, I'm Eighteen in late 1970 and early '71. It was enough to convince Warner Brothers to offer the group a budget for the first of their classic run of albums, Love It To Death

Touring America in the summer of 1971, the band really began to up the theatrics, with Alice appearing in a straitjacket during The Ballad of Dwight Fry and being sent to the electric chair in Black Juju

Killer, 1971

The band's popularity grew further with the release of the album Killer in late 1971. It contained a stronger more cohesive set of songs that have remained fan favorites. 

Side One is literally all Killer, no filler. Opening with the one-two punch of Under My Wheels and Be My Lover, followed by one of the bands most successful extended tracks, the eight minute Halo of Flies

Showing they could combine the Detroit rock styling with more complex arrangements, Ezrin topped it all off with typically grandiose production and string arrangements to enhance the drama. 

After the tension and release in Halo of Flies, side one closed with one of Alice and guitarist Michael Bruce's best co-compositions, Desperado

The Killer tour, 1972
I've always viewed these two songs as a one-two punch. The change of pace and mood of Desperado is the perfect complement to Halo of Flies and adds new depth to the album. Alice claimed he wrote it about The Doors' singer Jim Morrison, who died around the time the album was being made in 1971.

Controversy was never far away from Alice Cooper in this era, and that was just the way they wanted it. On Killer the song Dead Babies stirred up a heap of trouble. Despite the band's claim that the song was railing against child abuse, the guardians of the public morals decided it was nothing short of satanic. 

1972 calendar from Killer
Alice's notoriety had reached British shores by this point and when School's Out became a number one hit in 1972, there were calls by Mary Whitehouse and members of the British Parliament to have the group banned from the UK. 

Leo Abse MP described Alice Cooper's act as "the culture of the concentration camp. His incitement to infanticide and his commercial exploitation of masochism is evidently an attempt to teach our children to find their destiny in hate, not in love."

The establishment was outraged. A report in The Guardian newspaper in 1973 said, "It is the Cooper stage show which arouses alarm. I saw him perform in his home town of Detroit last month. Although the thick clouds of marijuana probably preserved me from too sadistic a reaction, wax babies were smashed and impaled on guitars. 

Disco 45, 1972
"Alice was beheaded and his bleeding neck and the bodies of shop-window mannequins were nuzzled and gnawed to the accompaniment of a throbbing, relentless tide of menacing rock music."

Of course, this only made fans even more determined to buy the group's records and concert tickets. 

Alice and Warner Brothers made the most of all this publicity. The School's Out LP came with the record wrapped around a pair of disposable knickers.

This raw live performance of the School's Out album track Public Animal #9 shows how the Alice Cooper sound and attitude influenced future punk Johnny Rotten, who once claimed that Killer was his favourite record. 

In the late summer of 1972, in the run-up to the US presidential election, Alice Cooper released the single Elected. The promotional video, seen on Top Of The Pops, showed Alice on the campaign trail, stepping out of a limousine in New York City and greeting potential voters in a white suit and tails and a top hat. 

His campaign message was simple and direct. At the end of the song he can heard proclaiming:
"And if I am elected, I promise the formation of a new party - A third party, the Wild Party!
I know we have problems. We got problems right here in Central City,
We have problems on the North, South, East and West,
New York City, Saint Louis, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Detroit, Chicago,
Everybody has problems,
And personally, I don't care."
45s and the free flexi-disc from NME in 1973
, the 45, was slightly edited and had a different mix from the subsequent album version, with a grungier guitar sound. I can still remember the thrill of hearing that intro blasting out at a local church disco.

The group's biggest selling album, Billion Dollar Babies, was previewed for fans in Britain by a promotional flexi-disc given away with the weekly music paper NME in February 1973. 

Pretty much every song on the album was a big production number. Probably the most over-the-top was Unfinished Sweet, with Alice in the dentist's chair about to have his gums removed. Ezrin's orchestral arrangement was aptly melodramatic.

The album's finale was the outrageous and anthemic I Love The Dead, another song that would have had Mary Whitehouse tearing her hair out.

No one cared. Billion Dollar Babies was a number one album on both sides of the Atlantic. The record was packaged elaborately, including a billion dollar note. The band were headlining tours around the world and they looked the part, dressed up in white silk suits on the inside sleeve of the record. 

But by 1974 things began falling apart. There were disagreements over how much money was being spent on the stage shows. Alice wanted to go more in the theatrical direction, but the others wanted to get back to being a rock band. 

Meanwhile Alice was probably being encouraged by the record company to ditch the band and carry on as a solo artist, formally adopting the Alice Cooper name as his own.

Drugs and alcohol played their part in the downfall. Alice, nowadays teetotal, was back then never pictured without a beer in his hand. Lead guitarist Glen Buxton contributed less and less in the studio and was excluded altogether from the recording of the next record, Muscle Of Love

The crucial split came with Bob Ezrin. Mike Bruce and Ezrin clashed over the arrangement of one of the new songs and Ezrin quit. The band has lost their production wizard. The resultant album had fewer quality songs and less of the sparkle of the previous records. Bass player Dennis Dunaway said later: "We could tell that everything was being pulled out from underneath us. As hard as we tried to get it back to where it once was, we had that sinking feeling."

And that, sadly for the rest of the band, is where the story ended. A group that had worked for 10 years to make it was fairly suddenly cast adrift. Alice took the name and struck out on his own with Bob Ezrin back in the producer's chair. 

The first Alice Cooper solo album, Welcome To My Nightmare, gave him a platform to develop the Alice character and sustain his career to this day. 

But by leaving the band behind, he lost a degree of credibility. No longer scary, just cartoonish. Rolling Stone's review said that "without the wildness and drive the Cooper band had, the gimmicks on which Alice the performer must rely are flat and obvious."

Overall, the reviewers were generous about Welcome To My Nightmare. But a later review of Alice's solo career concluded that despite this promising start, "the majority of his subsequent releases were often not as focused and were of varying quality."

Alice Cooper interviewed  by Russell Harty, 1975

Dennis Dunaway on life in the Alice Cooper group

Eighteen and Black Juju, live 1971

Alice Cooper and Vincent Price perform The Black Widow, 1975

See also on this blog:

Slade, the 1970s Glam Rockers back at Number One

At Home With The Bolans, 1971

There's a lot to like in the ZAPPA movie