It’s impossible to overstate how popular Alice Cooper (the original band, not just “Alice” the singer) had become by the time Billion Dollar Babies hit record stores on February 25, 1973. Beginning with Love it to Death, the band’s 1971 breakthrough LP, the group had grown into a juggernaut that dominated the American rock and roll landscape. The sheer chemistry of the band—which featured Michael Bruce and Glen Buxton on guitars, Dennis Dunaway on bass, Neal Smith on drums, and “Alice” on vocals—had evolved through such colossal hits as “Eighteen” and “School’s Out.” Billion Dollar Babies marked the apex of that evolution, even as the group began to parody the “shock rock” theatrics that had helped bring them to such lofty heights.
Listening to Billion Dollar Babies today, it’s clearer than ever that Alice Cooper transcended the novelty tag that some tried to pin on the band at the time. An intensely collaborative unit, the group had sharpened their songwriting skills to perfection, churning out radio-friendly anthems, dirge-y ballads and the occasional stylistic detour with sure-handed finesse. Two hits from Billion Dollar Babies—“No More Mr. Nice Guy” and “Elected”—showcased Bruce’s mastery of hook-laden guitar riffs. And while guitar greats Steve Hunter and Dick Wagner served as backups, the ailing Glen Buxton continued to contribute his distinctive lead work.
“Glen’s main guitar was a white SG with three humbuckers and a Bigsby B-5 tremolo,” recalls Smith, “and Michael played an SG–a burgundy one–as well. They each had a really different sound, especially on-stage. Michael had a big, meaty, solid sound, whereas Glen liked to use the tremolo bar a lot. There was lot more jazz in Glen’s playing.”
Smith continues: “Michael and Glen orchestrated their guitar parts. On some songs they played the same line, but one might be an octave different from the other. And sometimes, instead of two guitars playing harmony, Glen would play in a way that would reinforce the bass guitar. That was something he did that was really different.”
The initial sessions for Billion Dollar Babies took place at the Galecie Estate, a Greenwich, Connecticut-based mansion purchased by the band soon after recording their 1972 album, School’s Out. For songs such as “Slick Black Limousine” (one of the bonus tracks included on the deluxe version of the album), the group ran a microphone into an empty greenhouse room built with marble floors and glass walls, in order to capture a natural echo effect. In other instances, rooms of various sizes–usually very small–were miked to achieve particular vocal sounds. Later, the group traveled to Morgan Studios in London to work on additional tracks. During those proceedings a Who’s Who of rock stars converged on the sessions, but only Donovan Leitch (who sang with Cooper on the title song) was sober enough to make a contribution.