In 1978, Alice Cooper’s From the Inside was an absurdity that would only appeal to the fringe. I don’t think Alice would have it any other way. While one of the songs got some radio play, it went sadly unnoticed by most and was panned by critics as being contrived.
When I first heard this album, I was fifteen years old and a big fan of The Alice Cooper Show – a live album Alice’s concert. I knew From the Inside was something special.
This concept album was inspired by Cooper’s stay in a New York sanitarium while in rehab for alcoholism, with each of the characters in the songs based on a person Cooper met during his stay. Even the cover was unique – A close-up of Alice that opens in the middle and folds out, exposing a picture of all the inmates.
He worked with three former members of the Elton John band: lyricist Bernie Taupin, guitarist Davey Johnstone and bassist Dee Murray.
Bernie Tauplin’s influences are evident throughout and coupled with Cooper’s twisted humor and whacked take on the asylum world, became an uneven but fascinating collage of songs. Immaculately performed and produced – From the Inside is a very polished, imperfect piece of work. I’ll summarize the songs, in order, and highlight what I liked most about each:
The title song, From the Inside, is about Cooper’s crash – the pressure of being on the road, performing concerts every night and living out of a suitcase, spending the entire time with a toxic level of alcohol in his bloodstream finally driving him to get help. While delivered with ironic front-man mystique, it shows great vulnerability. Where’s my makeup, where’s my face on the inside?
Wish I Were Born in Beverly Hills is about a young debutante of privilege and wealth who losses her grip. She cracked one day at Cartier, when things came to head. They put her trinkets away and wrapped her up instead.
The Quiet Room is an introspective song about the proverbial padded cell where a suicidal inmate has been placed to protect him from himself. Plastic forks and spoons. No laces in my shoes. They all know what I tried to do, outside the quiet room.
Nurse Rosseta – A catchy song about an imbalanced priest in the asylum, fantasizing about one of the nurses. It’s raunchy and funny and wrong in all the right places. Nurse Rosetta, Make me better, let me feel your tongue depressor.
Millie and Billie – A duet, with the characters of Millie and Billie confessing their love for each other and revealing what drove them mad. I love a song that tells a story, and this one didn’t disappoint. I liked your late husband, Donald, but what torture his memory brings. All sliced-up and sealed tight in baggies. I guess love makes you do crazy things.
Serious –Silky is a man with a serious gambling and drinking habit. Musically, this is probably the best song on the album. All of my life was a laugh and a joke, a drink and a smoke, until I passed out on the floor again and again and again and again.
How You Gonna See Me Now – A ballad that plays uncharacteristically straight and a little sappy for a Cooper song. With his rehab behind him, he is going home and ponders how his wife will see him now that he is straight. Just like the first time, we are strangers again. I might have grown out of style in the place I’ve been.
For Veronica’s Sake is done with twisted irony, dealing with an inmate’s struggle to get his grip on reality so he can get his dog out of the pound before she gets put down. We’ve both been put in cages. We’ve got our shots and tags. I got a sweaty fist to shake. She’s got a tail to wag.
Jackknife Johnny – a junkie and veteran of the Vietnam War, the song vaguely tells the story of how Johnny was drafted and that all his friends are dead. Jackknife Johnny, tool of a daggers drawn world.
Inmates (We’re All Crazy) – This is a typical Cooper parody, echoing the attitude of the asylum’s inhabitants – We watch every day for the bus and driver says, “That’s where the lunatics stay.” I wonder if he’s talking about us.
I am a sucker of the theme album, and Pink Floyd’s The Wall or Jethro Tull’s Thick as a Brick are regulars on my listening rotation. As for From the Inside, these songs hold up and sound great, over 30 years later. I love the stories and the production, which is top-notch, by the way. I would love to see how this would play in concert. Cooper’s music and concepts brought to life on the stage are greatly theatrical, inappropriate, bizarre and unconventional.
Who doesn’t love that?