I'm Eighteen: One of 500 Songs that Shaped Rock & Roll

I'm Eighteen
Single by: Alice Cooper
Album: Love It to Death
Released: November 1970
Genre: Hard rock, glam rock
Songwriters: Alice Cooper, Michael Bruce,
Glen Buxton, Dennis Dunaway, Neal Smith

"I'm Eighteen," from their third album Love It to Death, was Alice Cooper's breakthrough hit, reaching number 21 on the Billboard Hot 100 single's chart. The song describes the frustrations of being an American teenager. According to the group's drummer, Neal Smith: "It was a song about growing up in the '60s, with lines in it like you could go to war but you couldn't vote. We had no idea it would become an anthem; we were just thinking it would be a cool song."

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame museum selected  "I'm Eighteen" one of 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll.  In 1999, VH1 aired a documentary about Alice Cooper for their "Behind the Music" series . In 2003, Rolling Stone magazine listed "I'm Eighteen" number 487 of the "500 Greatest Songs of All Time."  It ranked number 39 on VH1's  2006  list of the 40 Greatest Metal Songs.  In a 2016 poll, Detroit Free Press readers voted it number 38 of Detroit's 100 Greatest Songs. 

Vincent Furnier

Vincent Furnier
Vincent Furnier

"Alice Cooper" is Vincent Furnier. He was born in Detroit, Michigan. His father was Ether Moroni Furnier; an evangelist in The Church of Jesus Christ. His grandfather was Thurman Sylvester Furnier;  an apostle and president of that church. The family moved to Phoenix, Arizona, where Furnier attended Cortez High School, ran on the cross-country track team, and wrote for the student newspaper under the pseudonym "Muscles McNasal."

Five original members of the Spiders
Five original members of the Spiders

In 1964, the 16-year-old entered Cortez High Letterman's talent show with four fellow cross-country teammates. The teens formed a group they named the Earwigs. Dressed in costumes and wigs, they performed  parodies of Beatles tunes. The boys won the contest and decided to become a real band, renaming themselves the Spiders. By 1967, they were making regular road trips to Los Angeles to play real shows. They rebranded again - this time calling their group Nazz - and released the single "Wonder Who's Lovin' Her Now." 


Alice Cooper
"When I moved to L.A. with this little wimpy garage band,
the first people we met were the Doors.
Then we met Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin.
Alice Cooper
When they discovered Tod Rundgren's group was also called The Nazz, they became Alice Cooper. That was originally the name of the band. The members spread a rumor "Alice Cooper" was a girl accused of being a witch in the 1600s who contacted them through a Ouija board. Furnier later explained he made up the name, thinking something innocent-sounding would contrast with their shocking stage show. The name became so associated with the singer, he took it on and changed his birthname, 

Photo from A Closer Look, 20 April 1968
Photo from A Closer Look, 20 April 1968

He considers "Alice Cooper" his alter-ego; a character separate from himself who views the world in a skewed, pessimistic way.  It's Cooper who writes his songs,  performs onstage and is considered "The Godfather of Shock Rock." In the January, 2009 issue of Esquire he explained:  "When I moved to L.A. with this little wimpy garage band, the first people we met were the Doors. Then we met Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin. All of the people who died of excess were our big brothers and sisters. So I said to myself: How do you become a legend and enjoy it? The answer is to create a character as legendary as those guys and leave that character on the stage."

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?
What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?

In his 2007 autobiographical book, Alice Cooper: Golf Monster, Cooper said his look was inspired in part by What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?. "In the movie, Bette Davis wears disgusting caked makeup smeared on her face and underneath her eyes, with deep, dark, black eyeliner."  Another cinematic influence was Barbarella"When I saw Anita Pallenberg playing the Great Tyrant in that movie in 1968, wearing long black leather gloves with switchblades coming out of them, I thought, 'That's what Alice should look like.' That, and a little bit of Emma Peel from The Avengers."

From the start, Cooper's stage show was filled with horror movie-styled props: live snakes, straight jackets,  and corpses. But though he took the Rock Horror genre to new depths, he kept religion out. No implied Satanism with his snakes and blood. Said Cooper: "Religion is something I don't even want to mess with, because I am really afraid of the clouds opening up and my being struck by lightning."

Frank Zappa
Well, whatever you do, 
don't tell anyone you didn't do it.
Frank Zappa
One night while opening for the Doors at the Cheetah club in Venice, California, Alice Cooper (the band) emptied the room after playing just ten minutes. Music manager Shep Gordon saw that negative impact as a force that could be productive. He arranged an audition for the group with Frank Zappa. Zappa was signing bizarre music acts to his new record label, Straight Records. He signed Alice Cooper to a three-album deal. 

Their reputation for "shock rock" was enhanced at the Toronto Rock and Roll Revival concert in September 1969. They were opening for John Lennon and the Doors. During a routine involving feathers from pillows, a live chicken landed onstage. Cooper, knowing nothing about farm animals, assumed chickens could fly and threw it out over the crowd. The chicken plummeted into the first few rows where fans tore the bird to pieces and threw it back onstage. 

Toronto Rock and Roll Revival concert
Alice Cooper at the Toronto Rock and Roll Revival concert

The incident made the front page of national newspapers. The media reported Cooper had bitten the chicken's head off and drunk its blood on stage. When Zappa phoned to ask if the story was true, Cooper denied the rumor. Zappa told him, "Well, whatever you do, don't tell anyone you didn't do it."

I'm Eighteen

Alice Cooper cut two LPs with Zappa's label. Their first album made #199 on the charts, and their next one didn't chart at all. When Zappa's interest waned, Straight's parent company, Warner, took over the band. Warner demanded a four-song demo from Alice Cooper to prove their worth. Bob Ezrin went to New York and saw them perform at Max's Kansas City. They were so raw Ezrin thought on "I'm Eighteen" Cooper was singing "I'm Edgy." But he liked the group and he liked the song. 

Alice Cooper
Alice Cooper

Originally eight minutes long, "I'm Eighteen" was timed to allow the group to build up an elaborate stage show. Fine for live performances, but they needed a hit: With Ezrin at the controls, they polished the song down to 2:56.  The label was impressed, the song broke into the Top 40, and Ezrin continued helping the group craft radio-friendly rock songs without compromising their image.  

According to Neal Smith, "We were playing every night on stage. We knew how to get a crowd excited. We were like a pot ready to boil over. But the heat wasn't hot enough yet. We always worked with a total group effort, everybody collaborating, everybody making suggestions. But Bob became like the 6th member of the band. He was the one person who had the final word."

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