We “Love It to Death”: Alice Cooper’s 1972 performance of “Eighteen” on German TV show “Beat Club”

By on July 11, 2016

“One of the first rock stars to present himself as an androgynous performer was Vincent Furnier, son of a preacher, better known as Alice Cooper,” says Pat Prescott in her intro to this episode of Night Flight’s “Take Off to Androgyny,” which originally aired on April 13, 1984. “His ‘shock rock’ theaters included bizarre stage presentations like his 1971 hit, ‘Eighteen.'” Watch the episode now on Night Flight Plus.

The video she introduces is actually a performance of the song that was broadcast on “Beat Club,”, a German music program that ran from September 1965 until December 1972.

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Vincent Damon Furnier — better known today as Alice Cooper — liked to play with the audience’s perception of androgyny, transcending beyond what was considered masculine, and what was considered feminine. It was up to the fans to not only accept their own sexuality, their own physical appearances, but up to them to accept their impressions of what other people were expressing, male or female, straight or gay.

Blurring the sexual (and gender) boundaries was an aspect of the glam rock era, a time when male (and presumably heterosexual) rock stars would dress up in women’s clothing to show how comfortable they were with their own bodies, their own mental images of bisexuality. Transvestism and homo-eroticism were two key elements of the colorful glam rock era, a vibrant era of openness and yet one that was also shadowy with ambiguity.

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The Alice Cooper Band would end up in the pages of Rolling Stone in 1970 for their displays of androgyny, after writer Elaine Gross wrote about seeing them in New York City, at Max’s Kansas City,  writing that Alice Cooper had come across during the performance like “Supreme Bitch Drag Queen,” wearing “silver-striped leather heart-on-crotch pants.”

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After those concerts, Gross interviewed Cooper and his band and asked about the traces of sexual confusion surrounding them, and Cooper said: “Everyone is part man and part woman, and you’ve got to accept both parts if your head is together.”

Cooper told Gross that he was aware that his young audience were already more aware of their own sexuality at age fourteen than he’d been at that same age, saying: “They’re fourteen and fucking. I was eighteen before I fucked.”

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The band’s 1970 album Easy Action would feature a cover photo of five long-haired women facing away, topless, except these weren’t women, this was the band posing, showing their backsides and blurring the lines early on by playing with a glammed-out image.

In 1971, they’d made the move to a major label, Warner Bros. Records, who put them on tour to support what would be their eventual breakthrough album, Love It to Death.

The album — produced by a young Toronto-based producer named Bob Ezrin during the last month of 1970 and released on March 8, 1971 — was propelled up the sales charts by their first breakthrough hit single, an anthemic track that would tap into these teenage feelings. It was called “Eighteen.”

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The song’s lyrics perfectly captured the expression of the in-betweenness felt by much of America’s youth at the time — feeling stuck between adolescence and adulthood (or, boyhood/manhood: “I’m eighteen/And I don’t know what I want”); between confidence and confusion, a place of true uncertainty (“I’m in the middle without any plans/I’m a boy and I’m a man”; “Don’t always know what I’m talkin’ about/Feels like I’m livin’ in the middle of doubt”); and then, finally, the need or desire to escape, to get out of that squeezed-in place between the inevitable rock-and-a-hard-place (“I gotta get out of this place…”), which for a teenager who can’t physically leave, that could mean getting out of this “place” (out of his/her brain) on drugs and alcohol (between 1970 and 1975, 29 states had lowered the legal minimum drinking age to eighteen, nineteen or twenty), before ultimately accepting that they’ve reached a place where it’s okay to be in the “middle of doubt,” embracing that it’s okay to affirm that it’s good to have a foot in both camps (“I’m eighteen and I like it!”).

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The success of “Eighteen” — which would climb to #21 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart — and sales of the band’s two top 40 albums, Love It to Death and their second album from 1971, Killer, encouraged Warner Bros. to provide the band with a substantial budget to further explore their theatrical leanings, which would soon simulate executions — with Cooper hanging from a noose or (on subsequent tours) having his head lopped off by a guillotine — while Bob Ezrin continued to produce the band’s big selling albums.

By the end of 1972, on tour in Europe to promote Alice Cooper’s biggest album, School’s Out, the title track providing yet another anthemic hit and a paean to youth rebellion as well as their biggest chart success up to that point (Rolling Stone contributor Ben Gerson called it “an instant classic as well as an instant manifesto”), the band made an infamous appearance on Germany’s popular music TV show “Beat Club”, which had been airing since September 1965.

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“Beat Club” was broadcast from Bremen, West Germany, on Erstes Deutsches Fernsehen, the first of two national public TV channels, broadcast once a month on a Saturday afternoons or evenings for 30-45 minutes.

The TV show was notable for being the first German show to feature top rock artists; the Grateful Dead, Cream, Frank Zappa, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, The Who, Black Sabbath, David Bowie, The Beach Boys, The Doors, and Kraftwerk were just a handful of bands and artists who appeared on the show during its seven-year run.

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By the time Alice Cooper was appearing on the show, however, they were near the end: in fact, the broadcast on Saturday, November 25, 1972 would be its penultimate episode, and in addition to Cooper, would also feature appearances by King Crimson, Fanny, Flo and Eddie and a handful of others (the final show, on December 9, 1972, featured only the Osmonds; afterwards, “Beat Club” would retire, and a new TV show, “Musikladen”, would take over the time slot).

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As you can see in the video included in Night Flight’s “Take Off,” “Beat Club” hostess Uschi Nerke introduced the band for their performance of “Eighteen” and you immediately can get the sense just how incredibly inebriated Alice Cooper was during the taping, wearing a Wonder Woman T-shirt, smeared eye-liner and mouth lines looking like a ventriloquist’s dummy, swigging from a whiskey bottle. He’s so close to “falling down” drunk that, staggering on his platform heels, he has to sit down onstage.

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At the time, Cooper would often skip singing the first verse and chorus of the song, and yell out “Mama!!!,” and that’s what he does here.

In an online interview from August 2013, Cooper said this particular performance “was probably one of the most punk things I ever did.”

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Towards the end of the song, as the band delivers an aggressive, heavily distorted performance of the song as the near-height of their powers, Cooper even adds a humorous coda from Don McLean’s 1972 mainstream pop hit, “American Pie,” (the full eight-and-a-half-minute song had been released in December 1971, charting in ’72 as the #3 single on Billboard’s Hot 100 charts). (“I ain’t twenty-one/I ain’t twenty-two” continues until he reaches twenty-five, which then morphs into “I ain’t no American Pie/Drove my Chevy to the levee but the levee was dry.”)

The Alice Cooper Band were among the first to exaggerate androgynous gothed-out aspects of darker side of American glam rock, and became hugely influential to bands that followed after them, like Mötley Crüe and Poison.

Night Flight’s “Take Off to Androgony” episode also looks at the gender-bending styles and comic cross-dressing in vintage video from artists like Little Richard, David Bowie, Eurythmics, Grace Jones, Culture Club and Michael Jackson, among others. Watch it now on Night Flight Plus.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.