It’s impossible to overstate how popular the original Alice Cooper (the name Alice Cooper referred to the band) had become by the time their sixth album, Billion Dollar Babies, was released in February of 1973. In the span of two short years, beginning with their breakthrough Love it to Death album in 1971, the band had grown into a juggernaut that dominated American rock and roll. Billion Dollar Babies was at once the apex of the ascendance and an ironic jab at a culture that had made the legendary rockers -- which featured Michael Bruce and Glen Buxton on guitars, Dennis Dunaway on bass, Neal Smith on drums, and, of course, Alice Cooper on vocals -- the most successful rock band, to that point, ever to be loathed by American parents.

“It can all be traced back to the song, ‘Caught in a Dream,’ from the Love it to Death album,” says Smith, when asked about the album’s motif. “Back then, we were predicting our future, and Billion Dollar Babies was that prediction come true. To go from a time when no one would pay a penny to see us, to having one of the biggest selling albums ever, for that time … well, we certainly had the last laugh on that score.”

Listening to Billion Dollar Babies today, it’s hard to imagine that in their formative stages Alice Cooper were regarded by some as a mere novelty act. An intensely collaborative unit, the group quickly became adept at churning out radio-ready rock anthems and, in keeping with their shock-rock reputation, theatrical dirges. Songs such as “More Mr. Nice Guy,” “Elected,” and “Raped and Freezin’” showcased Bruce’s mastery of the elegantly simple guitar riff, while Buxton contributed an abundance of “angry hornet” leads  (Dunaway’s words).

“Glen’s main guitar was a white SG with three humbuckers and a Bigsby B-5 tremolo,” says 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 several songs, 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 parade 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.

“Harry Nilsson was there, although [producer] Bob Ezrin had to kick him out of the studio a couple of times for falling onto the control board and moving all the dials,” says Dunaway, with a laugh. “I must say, though, that even when Nilsson could barely walk he could still sing beautifully. And Keith Moon was there, along with Marc Bolan, Rick Grech of Blind Faith, and [former Turtles] Flo and Eddie. There’s actually a tape of a jam session we all did, but as far as the music goes, it didn’t come together. It was like a typical jam from that era, at least until Bolan plugged in his guitar and started that crunchy, ‘Bang a Gong’-style chugging sound. After that, things got lively.”

 Despite the party atmosphere, what emerged from the sessions was a collection of tight, concise songs that tempered the Alice Cooper group’s reputation for the macabre with generous slabs of humor. Smith credits Michael Bruce as the band’s main composer, while he, Dunaway, and Ezrin worked to refine the arrangements into shiny gems of economy and structure. Cooper himself penned the majority of the lyrics, and, with Billion Dollar Babies, his wit reached a new plateau.

Notwithstanding the sometimes grotesque subject matter, Cooper says one of his main inspirations was Chuck Berry.

“[Berry] was my favorite lyricist,” says Cooper. “When I first heard something like ‘Nadine,’ or ‘Maybelline,’ I understood those songs told a story. As the lyrics went along, you really got a picture of what was going on. He took the girl out; he couldn’t get his seat belt off -- things like that. I always wanted to write three-minute stories that were funny, or maybe not just funny, but also dramatic. The idea was to compact everything into three minutes, which is really hard to do.”

Following the release of Billion Dollar Babies, the Alice Cooper undertook their biggest tour ever, playing more than 70 cities in three months and grossing $4 million -- a tremendous sum, in those days. The album topped the charts in both the U.S. and England, but by that time the rigors of touring, and the failing health of Buxton, were beginning to take a toll. The band forged on to make one more album – 1974’s Muscle of Love -- but soon afterwards Cooper left the group to pursue a solo career.

Still, even today, many view the original Alice Cooper group as the quintessential American rock band.

“Groucho Marx once said that Alice was the last great hope for vaudeville,” says Cooper. “And that’s what we were – rock and roll burlesque, or rock and roll vaudeville. At the same time, we were certainly sort of the dark side of that, but that was always our intention, to be pure entertainers. Our targets were always sex, death, and money, but there was never any agenda. We were just trying to sell ourselves as a fun show.”