Hello, fellow fans of the macabre. My name is Thakgore and for my introduction to the site, I’m bringing you the first in a series of articles on horror in music I call Dirges in the Dark. Today’s journey into madness is a little diddy from a titan of the horror genre: Alice Cooper.
In 1975 Alice Cooper released his first solo effort, the concept album masterpiece Welcome to My Nightmare. While this album contains other great horror tracks including “Cold Ethyl” and the titular “Welcome to My Nightmare.” Today I want to talk about my favorite of the bunch, the haunting debut of one of Alice’s most beloved characters, “Steven”.
The concept of the album is centered around a journey through the nightmares of a child named Steven and the accompanying stage show (the centerpiece of Alice’s lavish 1975 tour) cost in excess of a million dollars. Containing such genre set-pieces as baby dolls skewered over a spit, a working, bloody guillotine, and even a giant spider it was certainly a spectacular vision of horror. The album and the television special that came later was even graced with narration from the great Vincent Price. The horror pedigree here is certainly undeniable.
“Steven” is positioned near the end of the album and is intended to be the point in the story that Steven begins to awake from the nightmare he’s been trapped in. From the haunting piano melody that opens the song to the creeping harpsichord and eventual swell of percussion, horns, and electric guitars, the song fills the listener with unease when accompanied by Alice’s increasingly unhinged vocals. As part of the ensemble, the song is not, in and of itself, all that horrifying. It is as heavy in, and light on details, but when considered as a singular piece, it becomes much more unsettling when opened to interpretation.
Is it a song about killer trying desperately not to take another life but ultimately failing? Is it about an insane man that can’t wake from a demented dream? Or could it be a widowed father, driven mad by the screaming of his newborn baby, trying to talk himself out of and, eventually, into infanticide? As with all art, the meaning is, of course, subjective but what can’t be denied is that “Steven” is a triumph in horror music and should absolutely be admired. Give it a listen and decide for yourself.