I picked up my guitar to blast away the clouds, but somebody in the next room yelled, “you gotta turn that damn thing down!” That’s one of my favorite lines from an Alice Cooper track that dates back to 1973. Holy hell, you read that correctly! On this day forty-five years ago, Muscle Of Love was released, the follow up to the infamous Billion Dollar Babies from earlier that year! I’ll tell you, he’s getting old. The main significance of Muscle Of Love is that it is the final album that was performed by the original Alice Cooper band. Feuds and complications between members were breaking out, and after this record, Alice would go on to write music completely on his own, with different musicians on every record.
Despite the fact that the reception to this one wasn’t nearly as grand as the surrounding records, Billion Dollar Babies and Welcome To My Nightmare, it has a hell of a lot to unpack; bear with me here folks. Coincidentally, vinyl copies of this literally come in a corrugated box like sleeve, so you can literally unpack this disc; pretty sweet if you ask me. There are all sorts of different influences from heavier, metal-based tracks, to smoother calm tracks, and weirdly layered ones. Doesn’t sound too atypical, but I don’t think any other album by Alice up to this point varied in style as much as this one.
So, looking at this, I think that the proto-metal bands of the early ‘70s, especially Deep Purple, were driving some of the influence of the harder songs here. You can hear this almost immediately in the first track, as “Big Apple Dreamin’” has a much more blunt edge to the riffs, making them heavier. The usage of electric organ only doubles this effect down. “Hard Hearted Alice” also has one of the most Jon Lord-sounding keyboard solos I’ve ever heard from Alice and co. Not to mention that this is where they showcase how bass-heavy this record is, as the thicker rhythm carries a lot of the weight. “Man With A Golden Gun” does something similar, except it takes everything a step further and creates a bass-driven bridge with other instruments layering in acting as effects.
Even though some of the songs got a step heavier, Cooper wouldn’t roughen up his vocal cords too much (yet). There are, of course, poppier tunes with more of a dance feel to them present. Let “Working Up A Sweat” be the number that gets you moving, while “Crazy Little Child” attempts to do this by throwing back to very old school musical formulas. The implementation of a piano as the rhythm source and horns to build it up make this track a standout. A mixed bag like this that still holds a consistent factor is bound to make a great record, but we haven’t even touched on what ties this all together.
The biggest thing to know about this record is how relatable it is, especially if you’re a male that remembers what it’s like to be thirteen – sixteen years old. All of the songs not mentioned yet follow some theme of teenage struggle, most notably the discovery of sex, masturbation, women, and everything about what the title track “Muscle Of Love” eludes to. Hearing this song as a kid, I never quite understood. As I got older, it made more sense, much like it did to the character in this song. Any man that says he can’t relate to “I read Dad’s books like I did before, now things are crystal clear, lock the door in the bathroom now, I just can’t get caught in here” is probably lying. Song theme aside, the poetic flow and metaphors are genius. I also can’t get enough of the bouncy and fun rhythms as well as tight chord progression in this song. The drum fills are better than they’ve ever been before. I strongly urge you to visit this track, as it isn’t often an entire paragraph is engulfed by one track.
Other tracks follow this path, such as “Man With The Golden Gun” and “Woman Machine,” but they don’t deliver nearly as well as the title track, and are probably the two weakest songs. “Never Been Sold Before” is like this too, except the delivery is punchier and has a Nazareth feel to it, making it superior to the other two mentioned. Lastly, the teen struggle that actually doesn’t deal with sex is “Teenage Lament ‘74”, which is the ditty that I ripped the opening line of this article from. This track is far calmer than most of the album and deals in clean guitars. It’s such a calm tune with tight songwriting that I can see why it, along with the title track, were the ones to make it to the Greatest Hits LP that would come out a year later.
My oh my was that ever a lot to take it! If anything, this amount of variation should be the motivation to revisit it. There’s one more thing though; how well does this hold up today? The sad and truthful answer is not that well, as I believe I mentioned that it never got that huge of a following. I partially blame this for being sandwiched between two legendary Cooper records, and the fact that it was all over the place. When push comes to shove, Muscle Of Love is definitely topped by most, if not all of the other records recorded by the original band (save for Pretties For You, as that one is an absolute snooze-fest). All that should tell you is how ridiculously phenomenal the other records of this era are, as this one is still incredible in my eyes despite being one of the worst.
I really wish that Muscle Of Love would have had a bigger impact, as it’s such an underrated disc (if that isn’t clear by now). For the most part, the only people that really dig this are the die-hard fans such as myself; after all, The Coop is my second favorite artist of all time. The vinyl copy in the box is somewhat accessible, I got a copy for fairly cheap, as there were plenty in circulation. CDs are easy to find online, as most bigger named artists’ stuff are. For as much musical creativity goes into this, for as many sexually charged metaphors hide within the seams, and for as underrated as this masterpiece is, I encourage those who aren’t familiar with it give Muscle Of Love a spin.