A Trilogy of Alice Cooper Songs About Domestic Abuse

Alice Cooper — the guy in greasepaint who regularly snuggles with a giant snake and decapitates himself onstage during live performances — has long been a champion of women. For starters, he was one of the founding fathers of androgyny in music. While Little Richard was in touch with his feminine side in the 1950s and David Bowie perfected gender bending in the ’70s, Vincent Furnier was the first to make androgyny his full-time schtick in 1968 when he changed his stage name to “Alice Cooper.”

Although the character of Alice Cooper has evolved to be less of an androgynous figure and more of a perennial juvenile delinquent — forever railing against societal conventions — his music is colored with many different shades of femininity.

Alice Cooper: Elevating Women Musicians

Through the years, Alice has shared the spotlight with a variety of talented ladies. In fact, he owes a debt of gratitude for his iconic look to his former girlfriend, Miss Christine of The GTOs ¹ — an all-girl performance art rock band discovered by Frank Zappa.

From a professional standpoint, Alice and Joan Jett, the Queen of Rock n’ Roll, have a long-standing mutual admiration. Joan co-wrote “House of Fire” with Alice and Desmond Child in 1989. In the decades since, she’s performed as part of Alice Cooper’s Solid Rock Foundation benefit concerts, and also shared the stage with him at a charity gig for the Greater Cleveland Rapid Response Fund during the pandemic.

Adding to the procession of female musicians that Alice has worked with, guitarist Orianthi was part of his touring band between 2011 and 2014. Since 2014, “Hurricane” Nita Strauss has been a linchpin of Coop’s trio of guitarists, taking her place alongside long-time Alice axemen Ryan Roxie and Tommy Henriksen.

By all accounts, Alice Cooper’s merry band of touring musicians are more like a family — further underscored by the fact that his wife of nearly 50 years, Sheryl, and the couple’s daughter, Calico, are part of the troupe, performing the roles of several of the colorful characters that stem from his songs.

Alice Cooper’s Trilogy of Tormented Women

Throughout his nearly 60-year career, Alice Cooper has penned a lot of tunes about women. A good chunk of his catalog centers around femme fatales — including “Nurse Rozetta,” “Poison,” and “Woman of Mass Distraction,” to name a few. However, several Alice Cooper songs underscore the struggles of being a woman, ranging from domestic abuse to broken dreams.

Although Alice himself has never explicitly stated that three particular songs are in fact a trilogy, astute listeners may hear a kinship between his 1975 hit “Only Women Bleed,” and two later, deeper cuts, “Take It Like a Woman” and “Every Woman Has a Name.” Let’s take a closer look at this trinity and how their stories thread together.

Only Women Bleed

“Only Women Bleed” appeared on Alice Cooper’s 1975 album, Welcome to My Nightmare. The ballad centered around domestic violence, but initially raised eyebrows for its title, which seemed like a nod to Alexander’s Rag Time Band playing their monthly gig at Snizz Stadium. Several radio stations refused to play it, due to what they had wrongly assumed the song was about. (These were probably the same DJs that didn’t realize Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” wasn’t a patriotic anthem or that German pop song “99 Luftballoons” was actually about nuclear holocaust. So much for actually listening to the lyrics, eh?)

“Only Women Bleed” was a risk in more ways than one. It marked a departure from the usual Alice Cooper sound. So much so that some people thought it was James Taylor singing. The risk paid off, however. “Only Women Bleed” charted at #1 on the Canadian RPM Top Singles list and at #12 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the US.

Apart from groundbreaking lyrical content, the song stood out for its mostly-orchestral arrangement. Strings and acoustic guitar dominate the first half, brimming with sensitive lyrics that tell the story of an abused housewife who continually walks on eggshells around her utter asshole of a husband:

He lies right at youYou know you hate this gameSlaps you once in a whileAnd you live and love in pain

The melody builds to a crescendo, finally kicking in with electric guitar that builds to what feels like a series of blows to the jaw. While Alice spoke to the woman throughout the song, in its final moments, he shifts gears from soft vocals to a full-on sneer, taking on the role of the abuser:

Black eyesAll of the timeDon’t spend a dimeClean up this grimeAnd you thereDown on your kneesBegging to pleaseCome watch me bleed
“Only Women Bleed” is a master class in moving musical theatrics. It tells a story that, in 1975, wasn’t really being told. Sure, you had songs like “Mother’s Little Helper” waxing about housewives gobbling pills to cope with a mundane existence. However, no artists at the time were talking about living in fear of physical abuse at the hands of someone who supposedly “loves” you. With “Only Women Bleed,” Alice Cooper tapped a raw nerve and put a topic typically swept under the carpet on full blast in a smart, sensitive way that did not diminish the impact of domestic violence with too-clever subtext.

Take It Like a Woman

The second entry in this trilogy, “Take It Like a Womanappeared on Alice’s 2000 album, Brutal Planet — picking up where “Only Women Bleed” left off 25 years earlier. Like it’s predecessor, “Take It Like a Woman” has a title that initially sounds derogatory, but pulls no punches with its brutally honest depiction of spousal abuse.

The piano-forward track is a sonic and thematic cousin to “Only Women Bleed.” It’s got its orchestral elements courtesy of some synthed-out strings, but “Take It Like a Woman” is a faster, heavier ballad, fitting within the industrial-tinged landscape of Brutal Planet — arguably one of Alice’s heaviest albums.

Speaking directly to the woman as an objective observer, Alice acknowledges the abuse endured throughout her toxic relationship:

Ya thought you’d found your Mr. Right
But he was really Mr. Hyde…
You’ve been beaten down
Kicked around, On the ground
But you took it like a woman

Although not explicitly stated, the lyrics seem to imply that woman Alice is speaking to is dead and buried herself:

And so its over now
Your fantasy life is finally at an end
And the world above is still a brutal place

Unlike many Alice Cooper songs where the underdog gets retribution, there isn’t a happy ending for the lady in question in “Take It Like a Woman.” Sadly, that’s life — and death. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) reports that 1 out of every 4 women experience severe violence at the hands of an intimate partner, while approximately 4,000 women die every year in the US as a result of domestic violence.

Every Woman Has a Name

Rounding out Alice’s trilogy of songs about tormented women, “Every Woman Has a Name” appeared on 2001’s Dragontown, the sequel to Brutal Planet. The song seems to begin directly where “Take It Like a Woman” ended, embracing many of the same thematic elements. String arrangement? Check. Slower tempo ballad? Check. Alice speaking directly to a singular woman who suffered at the hands of a lover. Check!

Musically, the song melds the stripped-down feel of “Only Women Bleed” with a few more flourishes of electric bombast, as heard on “Take It Like a Woman.” While the string arrangement is prominent, “Every Woman Has a Name” is built around a beautiful arpeggio that repeats throughout the track.

Although not explicitly stated, Alice seems to be speaking to the same character found in “Take It Like a Woman.” While that song didn’t officially confirm she had died, “Every Woman Has a Name” seals the deal, speaking to her and about her in the past tense:

And even when your world was shaken
Even when your breath was taken
Even when your blue eyes turned to grey

Whereas the other songs in this unofficial trilogy focus on the visceral violence of spousal abuse, “Every Woman Has a Name” speaks to the emotional highs and lows of being a woman. In addition to having a conversation with the female character in the song, Alice ruminates on the many roles of women in the world — from “cocktail waitresses with dreams” to “housewives crying on the phone” and “sacred sisters all alone.”

“Every Woman Has a Name” features some of Alice Cooper’s most poignant lyrics. Thankfully, not every woman will experience domestic abuse. However, every woman (and human) will experience the pain of a broken heart, disappointment, or uncertainty about the road ahead or what could have been had you only taken a different path.

On a personal level, I’ll admit that I tear up listening to this song. There’s a particular verse that brings forth the waterworks to the same degree as Anya’s “fruit punch” speech in “The Body” episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer:

And even on the coldest day
When the kids are gone, and moved away
It’s lonely now, there’s no one there
To hold your hand and play

That verse encompasses the isolation and yearning to experience joy and connection, but instead coming up short with what feels like an unintentional rejection once you’ve moved beyond a particular era of your life. It’s a human longing that’s relatable to everyone.

While there is a level of irony that Alice is speaking to an unnamed woman throughout the course of the song, he both acknowledges it and lends even more gravity to the tune in its final words:

See it written on the grave / Every woman has a name.

Alice Cooper: An Unexpected Feminist

When you think of feminist figures, a few names may spring to mind: Gloria Steinem. Angela Davis. Simone de Beauvoir. You can also add Alice Cooper, the Godfather of Shock Rock, to that list. From embracing androgyny, enhancing the visibility of women in rock music, and raising awareness around domestic violence and the many shades of womanhood, Alice Cooper is the unexpected feminist we didn’t know we needed.


Footnotes:

¹ This fact around Alice’s connection to The GTOs was surfaced to me by my good friend, DJ and music historian, Agent M. Go check out her show, Postcards From the Wasteland over on AKA Radio, airing Saturdays at 4pm EST!

Photo: Author’s own, featuring her stuffed Alice Cooper panda, Mr. Alistair Bear.

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