The Billion Dollar Babies were the band put together by Neal Smith, Dennis Dunaway and Michael Bruce in 1977 after it became clear that Alice wasn't going to return to the original band after 'Welcome To My Nightmare' was so successful, And 'Battle Axe' features material that was originally written for the follow up to 'Muscle Of Love'.
- Too Young (Bruce, Marconi, Smith)(3:16)Shine Your Love (Bruce, Marconi)(3:02)I Miss You (Bruce, Marconi, Smith)(3:22)Wasn't I The One (Bruce, Marconi)(4:22)Love Is Rather Blind (Bruce, Smith, Daye)(3:22)Rock And Roll Radio (Dunaway, Marconi, Smith, Jeffords, Douglas)(2:34)Dance With Me (Bruce, Marconi)(2:58)Rock Me Slowly (Bruce)(3:41)Ego Mania (Bruce, Dolin, Dunaway, Marconi, Smith)(2:23)
- Neal Smith - Drums, Percussion, Vocals
- Dennis Dunaway - Bass, Vocals
- Michael Bruce - Lead Vocals, Guitar
- Bob Dolin - Keyboards, Synths, Vocals
- Mike Marconi - Guitar, Vocals
Produced By Lee DeCarlo and Billion Dollar Babies
Engineered by Lee DeCarlo
Assistant Engineers: Bill Freesh, Gray Russell, Jay Krugman, Sam Ginsberg
Mastered by Bob Ludwig
Recorded at Record Plant, New York
Design and Illustration: Ernst Thormahlen
Photographs: Mark Platt
Billboard advert for the 'Battle Axe' album, April 1977.
After the 1974 'Muscle Of Love' album was finished the band agreed to take some time off to work on other projects or simple decompress from the years they had sent on the road before reuniting the following year to start work on the nest Alice Cooper album. While Dennis Dunaway and Glen Buxton were happy to spend their downtime relaxing, both Michael Bruce and Neal Smith wanted to record their own solo albums, against the advice of manager Shep Gordon who warned them that if they did Alice would likely want to do one as well. Of course this is exactly what happened. As Michael and Neal worked on their records Alice released 'Welcome To My Nightmare' with it's TV special and year long tour. It was hugley successful
1976 arrived and the band waited for the phone to ring while preparing ideas for the next album, but the phone didn't ring. The next thing they know Alice is talking about his next album 'Alice Cooper Goes To Hell'. It became obvious Alice wasn't coming back.
The original band felt angry and betrayed, but eventually Michael Bruce, Dennis Dunaway and Neal Smith regrouped under the name of their most successful album, 'Billion Dollar Babies', to try and rebuild. They brought in Bob Dolin, who had played keyboards with the band live for the last couple of tours, and as Glen Buxton wasn't interested they recruited a young guitarist called Mike Marconi, who they'd seen playing in 1973 and who had been doing some work with Neal on his 'Platinum God' album."I was playing with 'Whale' and we were playing at a club here in Rochester – 'Fantasy Swings' – we used to be a regular there. This was on a Sunday night, and they were in town because on Monday they were going to be at the Rochester War Memorial. They were on their 'Billion Dollar Babies' tour. They all came down that night, I mean the whole band, the roadies, security people… there had to be about 30 of them! They took the whole big line of tables in front of the band... and they got there at the start of our second set. It was after that that they introduced everybody, gave us tickets to the show, and gave VIP passes to the private party afterwards. It was at that party that their road manager came up to me and said "the guys really enjoyed your guitar playing. Would you ever be interested in doing any guitar work with us, any recording?" and I said "well, of course!". I didn't [hear] until about a year later when I got a call, and then went and met with Neal, and I met Dennis, and it was kind of like a whole 'whirlwind'. Thinking back on it – just being this guitar player in a band here in Rochester, and all of a sudden I'm in New York City and in that environment, it was very very exciting for me.
'I Miss You', that intro... I was just down in the studio and I was playing that, and that's when Michael Bruce comes down and says "what is that?", "is that original?', "Is that your own?", and said "yeah Michael, why?" , and he said "I like that!", and he took it from there. We both started going back and forth. I liked working Michael because if somebody comes down and tells you they like what you're doing, it's very inspirational, and you want to keep going on that, and now you've got this energy back, of Michael's "why don't we do this at this point" and "Ok, let's go back this", "do this", "introduce this…." And next thing you know …. It's the same thing with 'Shine Your Love', I was playing the riff and Michael really liked that. It wasn't a song, it was just a riff for me, and Michael – being Michael Bruce - can see things and hear things, and put it all together. And there was a lot of songs like that – 'Rock Me Slowly', 'Wasn't I The One', … And then of course working with Bob Dolin, he was a great keyboard player! I don't know what Bobby did afterwards, but Bobby would've been the world's best studio musician, because first of all – he's brilliant on the keyboard, he's got perfect pitch, and he's not the guy that wants to be in front, in the spotlight, ya know what I mean!? He's very happy just to do his thing. A great musician, easy to work with. I don't know what he's done since then, maybe he's in his own studio doing his own studio thing I hope, whatever he's doing – I hope he's happy because he's a really good guy. But he added a lot to the melody parts, you know – playing it on the keyboards with Michael, working out melodies. It was a lot of fun working with them. All of them were self-motivated; there wasn't anybody cracking the whip.
(Mike Marconi,Travellers In Time, 2012)
Personnal set, they headed into the Record Plant in New York to record what would turn out to be their only album. 'Battle Axe' was put together using ideas originally planned for the next Alice Cooper group record and while there's some traces of the sound that had taken them to #1 the album didn't really have that magic spark that made the original Alice Cooper so unique. It's impossible not to wonder what Alice and Bob Ezrin may have done with these songs. The album isn't bad, but it certainly isn't a match for the group albums.
The 'Battle Axe' stage show, 1977.
With the album recorded they signed a deal with Polydor Records and began preparing a new show based around the 'gladiator' concept of the title track and album cover. Clear perspex guitars were made in the shape of axes (before Gene Simmons), futuristic gladiator costumes for Michael Bruce and Mike Marconi, and a stage set up like a boxing ring. The general idea was that rock music was being threatened by other forms like pop and disco, and so there is a winner takes all final battle, which of course rock wins. It's not a particularly Cooper-esque concept, but the very fact they were using such theatrics in their new show refutes the often repeated claim that they had wanted to drop the theatrics in Alice Cooper, something Alice has often put forward as the reason the original band split up.
Dennis Dunaway describes the 'Battle Axe' show to Goldmine in 2018:"The Battle Axe Suite was the concept of the show. A boxing ring rose from underneath Neal's drum risers as the gladiators enter. Michael Bruce was the red gladiator and Mike Marconi was the green gladiator, battling with axe guitars. This was our concept for the next Alice Cooper concert tour, which didn't happen, as Alice went solo, so we used it for our show. "
A lot of people don't realise how far the whole 'Battle Axe' concept went. There is actually a 21 page screenplay for a 'Battle Axe' film, written by Leo Fenn, who had been around the Cooper organisation since the early 70s and who seems to have taken over the day to day management of the band (he's named manager in press releases). Fenn coincidently is the father of actress Sherilyn Fenn of 'Twin Peaks' fame.
As the release approached things really didn't go as planned. Firstly the album had to be remixed and remastered. The original mix by Lee DeCarlo was poor with too much high end, which caused the record to skip a lot when played, resulting it a large number of returns. Jack Richardson remixed it and later copies sounded far better and didn't skip. Unfortunately Richardson was not credited on the sleeve making it hard to tell the different pressings apart by sight (thanks Ingo for clarification on this).
Reviews were generally okay but more then anything else they had waited too long. Alice had already released two solo albums under the 'Alice Cooper' name and to the general public he WAS Alice Cooper. Only the fans really knew the rest of the group so it was very hard to get much interest in this new band, and Polydor didn't exactly push the boat out in the promotional department. Having said that both the album and single made the 'Hits of the week' list in Billboard magazine. Unfortunately that didn't translate to sales.
They were also having problems with their management. While Shep Gordon was still in charge of all Alice Cooper business he was too busy with Alice and his other clients to do much for the new band, so they had to rely on Leo Fenn to get things done. The details are hard to make out as even when talking about the period the people involved seem to be a little cagey about the details. For example there are unconfirmed rumours that Shep was trying to sue the band, or maybe just threatening to sue, to prevent them from using the 'Billion Dollar Babies' name (but what would he have to gain from doing that?). Mike Marconi also refers to things going on between the band and Alice which weren't pleasent but that he wasn't privy to. What is clear from interviews over the years is that the band laid a great deal of the blame for their lack of success on their management, who they eventually fired. Neal Smith in 1999:"After Michael Bruce's, ('In My Own Way'), Alice's ('Welcome To My Nightmare') and my ('Platinum God') solo projects the Alice Cooper Group was to reform and do a new album. Michael Bruce, Dennis Dunaway and I got together in Connecticut and started writing new songs for the next album, but it was never to happen. So we stayed together, called ourselves "The Billion Dollar Babies", got a record deal, and recorded "Battle Axe". We were professional and the band was very up and energetic for recording and touring. 'Billion Dollar Babies/Battle Axe' went on tour, but we were having problems with management, and shortly thereafter we broke up. As far as the B$B/Battle Axe show, to my knowledge there is no video of that great show."And Mike Marconi again:"..it was management problems, with getting the concerts lined up, getting the promotion lined up; the people that are supposed to be doing their jobs in a situation like this. When you have PR people and management and you have promoters that... it seemed like everybody was on a different page. There just wasn't a strong push to get this band backed, get them out there, "let's get these guys set up with a 10 week tour in all the major cities that Alice Cooper was strong in... I know Detroit" - that's why we played in Flint, Michigan, hitting all the cities that were big sales for the Alice Cooper Band. I mean that to me would have been the logical thing to start with. Hit those areas where the band was big, get them out there, let them hear this group…"
The album bombed and single, 'Too Young' barely dented the charts. Shows were booked but even here there was a problem. The stage show they had created was simply too big to use in a support slot with another band. They had to headline straight away, but with no hit single or album few promoters were prepared to take the risk, especially with Alice himself on the road at the same time playing arenas and stadiums. It was also very expensive to move everything around from show to show. In the end there were only four performances, and with no real support coming from anywhere the band spilt up soon after.
'The Complete Battle Axe'
Disc 1 - Battle Axe
- Too Young (Bruce, Marconi, Smith)(3:16)Shine Your Love (Bruce, Marconi)(3:02)I Miss You (Bruce, Marconi, Smith)(3:22)Wasn't I The One (Bruce, Marconi)(4:22)Love Is Rather Blind (Bruce, Smith, Daye)(3:22)Rock And Roll Radio (Dunaway, Marconi, Smith, Jeffords, Douglas)(2:34)Dance With Me (Bruce, Marconi)(2:58)Rock Me Slowly (Bruce)(3:41)Ego Mania (Bruce, Dolin, Dunaway, Marconi, Smith)(2:23)Battle Axe (Bruce, Dolin, Dunaway)(4:01)Sudden Death (Dolan)(0:42)Winner (Bruce, Dunaway)(4:32)
Disc 2 - Original Demos
- Shine Your Love (demo)(2:59)
- I Miss You (demo)(2:52)
- Wasn't I The One (demo)(4:36)
- Dance With Me (demo)(3:07)
- Won't Go Home (demo)(4:46)
- Love Is Rather Blind (demo)(3:17)
- Rock Me Slowly (demo)(4:15)
- Battle Axe/Sudden Death/Winner (demo)(8:32)
- Rock'n'Roll Prison (demo)(3:08)
- Runaway (instrumental)(3:08)
- Wallow Through This Madhouse (demo)(4:25)
- Unlisted Track (demo)(4:22)
Disc 3 - Live in Flint, MI 1977
- I Miss You (Live)(3:40)
- Rock 'n' Roll Radio (Live)(3:04)
- Love Is Rather Blind (Live)(3:14)
- Rock Me Slowly (Live)(3:28)
- Alice Cooper Medley (Live)style="float:right;">(8:52))
- No More Mr Nice Guy
- Neal Smith Solo
- I'm Eighteen
- School's Out
- Battle Axe Suite (Live)(19:34)
- Ego Mania
- Battle Axe
- Nights In Cracked Leather
- Sudden Death
- Too Young (Live)(3:40)
- Billion Dollar Babies (Live)(4:29)
The original 'Battle Axe' album was deleted from catalogs relatively quickly and hadn't been available for around 25 years when out of the blue in Spetember 2001 a new edition appeared. This new expanded edition included not only the original album on CD for the first time, but also a disc of demos and a recording of the bands first live show in Flint,MI. The demos had never been heard before but a tape of the live material had been circulating for some time. In fact the version of the show including here is slightly incomplete It misses 'Dance With Me' and 'Wasn't I The One'. These are incomplete on the original tape so their omission is understandable.
2018 Gonzo Media versions of the 'Complete Battle Axe'.
The set came in a double jewel case with a booklet containing an esay about the band and a few photos that had rarely been seen before. On the whole the whole thing was nicely done and after so many years it was nice to get a good copy of the album on CD. However there was one big problem, the copnay releasing it didn't have permission to do so. The original album had been released on Polydor records and was now owned by Universal Music who presumably had the master tapes. That begged the question as to the source of the recordings used on this release. Listening to it revealed the source was an old vinyl copy of the original album whihc, to be fair, is mentioned in the liner notes. Unfortunatly no attempt had been made to remove the clicks and pops inherit on vinyl.
Next was the disc of demoes, which Neal Smith claimed were his property and stated they didn't have permisson to release those either. And lastly there was the live recording, a audience recording which would also presumably now be owned by Universal.
Neal Smith posted the following message on October 16th 2001:
"Urgent Notice!!! October 16, 2001
The "Complete Battle Axe (3-CD Set) Limited Edition", is an unauthorized release of recordings by the group known as "The Billion Dollar Babies". It is very likely that Disc #1, the "Battle Axe" album is being released without permission from the owner of the master recordings, Universal Music.
Disc #2 "Bonus Original Demos CD", is being released without permission from the owner of the master recordings, Neal Smith.
This unauthorized "Complete Battle Axe (3-CD Set) Limited Edition", is being released without permission from Neal Smith and Dennis Dunaway.
The album was eventually withdrawn but not before a substantial number were sold, so you can still find it on second-hand sites like Ebay.
The story hasn't ended yet though. in November 2017 Gonzo Media reissued the live disc as 'First Ever Live Show', strangely advertising it as "first time on CD" which it obviously wasn't. In fact the new disc even uses slightly changed version of the original CD cover art! The contents are exactly the same as disc 3 listed above.
And then a few months later in 2018 Gonzo announced they were releasing a new version of Michael Bruce's autobiography 'No More Mr Nice Guy' as well as a new version of the original 'Battle Axe' album expanded to two discs with disc 2 featuring.. you guessed it, Neal's Demos. So they have basically taken the illegally produced 3CD set and split it into two, still without the permission of Neal Smith or Dennis Dunaway.
This is obviously not a complete list of every known variant release, but it's a reasonable starting point.
There are two versions although thediffeence is minor.
On the record label one has the band name before the album title, the other has it reversed.
If anyone can confirm whether this sigifies a different mix it would be appriciated.
A white label promo also exists with the same catalogue number.
Unauthorised Triple CD - withdrawn.
Unauthorised 2xCD. Partial reissiue of 2001 3xCD release.
The third live disc was issued seperately.
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