I've been an obsessed hard rock/heavy metal fan and collector since the early 1980s. If it's got a good guitar riff and attitude, I'm in.
"Humanary Stew: A Tribute to Alice Cooper"
(Deadline Records, 1999)
11 tracks, run time: 48:18
I was eight years old when I first heard the music of Alice Cooper, thanks to his 1978 appearance on The Muppet Show. My parents were mortified by the presence of this ghoulishly face-painted rocker on a normally "safe," family-friendly show, but my youthful curiosity was piqued. I was both unnerved and fascinated by Alice as he performed "Welcome to My Nightmare" and "School's Out" (backed by an assortment of Jim Henson's monstrous Muppet creations), and I had to learn more!
It wasn't till many years later that I finally got the full Alice Cooper treatment when I saw him live in concert. It was the summer of 1991 and Alice was part of a heavy-metal package tour dubbed "Operation Rock 'n' Roll" with Judas Priest, Motorhead, Dangerous Toys and Metal Church. I was still not much more than a casual Alice fan at the time, but he absolutely wiped the floor with rest of the bill. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that Alice Cooper put on the single best stage show that I have ever witnessed -- better than KISS, better than Iron Maiden, better than every other so-called "theatrical" rock band out there. I've seen a lot of bands, before and since, but when it comes to stage craft nobody beats the Coop. In other words, bow down to the Detroit-born son of a preacher man formerly known as Vincent Furnier, motherf***ers!!
Dee Snider - "Go To Hell"
He's Still the Man!
Alice is still rocking in the 21st century and producing new music, both as a solo artist and as a member of Hollywood Vampires, an all star "supergroup" that includes Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry and actor/musician Johnny Depp. In addition to his musical endeavors, Alice hosts his own radio show, owns a restaurant in his adopted home town of Phoenix, Arizona, and has a plaque in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Obviously the man enjoys a certain measure of respect as one of the Elder Statesmen of hard rock and heavy metal, and when you reach that level of influence, it's common to be the subject of a tribute album... which brings us to today's bargain-bin CD pickup, 1999's Humanary Stew: A Tribute to Alice Cooper.
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Humanary What Now?
Humanary Stew (the title comes from a lyric in the song "Black Widow") was one of a fist full of low-budget tribute albums released by the Deadline/Cleopatra Records label in the late '90s and early '00s. These tributes were produced in an assembly-line fashion by putting a bunch of out-of-work '80s rockers from different bands into a recording studio and turning them loose on the catalog of a famous '70s or '80s artist. (Other discs in this series included Leppardmania: A Tribute to Def Leppard, The Number One Beast: A Tribute to Iron Maiden, and Not the Same Old Song and Dance: A Tribute to Aerosmith, to name just a few.)
As you might expect, this approach resulted in a number of totally unnecessary albums full of sub-par cover versions, but Humanary Stew is the exception to the rule. It features a much stronger-than-usual pool of participants, and it sounds like they were all Cooper fans to the bone, having a blast while making it!
Bruce Dickinson - "Black Widow"
One of the cool things about multi-artist tributes like these is that they inevitably produce some unique "supergroup" lineups. Some match-ups turn out better than others, of course, but even before you pop this CD in the player, it's a fan-boy kick to scan the liner notes and see that Dave Mustaine and Marty Friedman of Megadeth played on the same track as KISS drummer Eric Singer, for example, or that Dee Snider of Twisted Sister was paired up with Ozzy/Black Label Society guitarist Zakk Wylde. There are some seriously cool/bizarre once-in-a-lifetime match ups on Humanary Stew and for the most part, they work pretty well. Def Leppard's Joe Elliott and Phil Collen kick things off with a spirited rip through "Under My Wheels," backed by Meat Loaf guitarist Bob Kulick (who also produced the album) and Quiet Riot bassist Chuck Wright. Mustaine and Friedman tear through "School's Out" with the help of Singer and Kulick, then Motley Crue's Vince Neil gives a surprisingly spirited performance on "Cold Ethyl" with the help of his Crue bandmate Mick Mars and bass great Billy Sheehan. Bruce Dickinson's crunchy, over-the-top take on "Black Widow" and Dee Snider's sinister, snarling "Go To Hell" are the heaviest tracks on the album, and are worth the purchase price all by themselves.
However, not every track is a home run. It must have been quite a coup for the producers to land Roger Daltrey of the Who for this project, but unfortunately his awkward rendition of "No More Mr. Nice Guy" is the worst track on the record. Roger may be rock royalty, but he stumbles through the song as if he's never heard it before and is reading the lyrics off of cue cards. The late, great Ronnie James Dio sounds similarly out of his element on "Welcome to My Nightmare." Lord knows that Ronnie could sing the phone book and make it sound good, but this simply wasn't the right song for him. To hear Ronnie truly kick a classic-rock track in the ass, check out his amazing version of Aerosmith's "Dream On," which can be found on Deadline's Not The Same Old Song and Dance tribute. Glenn Hughes of Deep Purple fame resurfaces for a smooth rendition of the ballad "Only Women Bleed," and Phil Lewis of L.A. Guns turns in a strong performance om "Billion Dollar Babies."
The closing track is a punk-fueled "Elected," led by former Sex Pistol Steve Jones, supported by the dream-team combo of Billy Duffy (The Cult) and Duff McKagan and Matt Sorum of Guns N Roses... needless to say it ends the album with a suitably kick-ass bang! After several spins of Humanary Stew, I realized how under-nourished the Alice Cooper section of my CD shelf really is, and I have resolved to do something about it as soon as possible. Better late than never!!
Steve Jones - "Elected"
Cleopatra released an updated version of Humanary Stew through its heavy metal-oriented "Magick Records" imprint in 2005, entitled Welcome to the Nightmare: An All-Star Salute to Alice Cooper. In addition to the new title and cover art, Welcome to the Nightmare shuffled the original Humanary track list around and added three more classic Coop covers performed by Iced Earth ("Dead Babies"), Children of Bodom ("Bed of Nails") and Icarus Witch ("Roses on White Lace"). Whichever version you prefer, used copies can be found fairly cheaply via Amazon and other CD resellers. Happy Hunting!
© 2015 Keith Abt