Area Resident’s Stylus Counsel: Hello Hooray, Eh?

Track 195 | How a Canadian pop-rocker penned one of Alice Cooper's biggest hits.

I am of a certain age where there aren’t many Alice Cooper tidbits which surprise me anymore. Oct. 30, 1978 was the day I became a fan. That’s when he appeared on The Muppet Show. I was transfixed. One of those moments. What the hell is this? OMG I love this.

In the ensuing years, all I wanted for birthdays and Christmas were Cooper albums. I kept clippings. Figured out what I liked and what I didn’t. Saw him in concert a bunch of times. Read and watched all sorts of stuff about him. Even met him.

But somehow, today, I just figured out that Hello Hooray — the opening track  from his 1973 hit album Billion Dollar Babies — is a cover. It’s like being told Aerosmith’s Dream On is a cover. It doesn’t compute. To me, the song always seemed specifically created for Alice’s live show:

“Hello! Hooray! Let the show begin
I’ve been ready
Hello! Hooray! Let the lights grow dim
I’ve been ready
Ready as this audience that’s coming here to dream
Loving every second, every moment, every scream.”

Rolf Kempf & Alice Cooper.

I don’t know how I never noticed the writing credit before — Rolf Kempf. It’s the only cover on the album. There are no covers on Pretties For You, Easy Action, Killer or School’s Out. Well, there’s an adaptation of West Side Story’s Jet Song. But really, prior to Billion Dollar Babies, there was one cover tune — Sun Arise on Love It To Death. That closing track was written by Rolf Harris. Another Rolf? What the hell? This dude was an Aussie, and the original 1961 single was produced by George Martin. I digress.

The way I figured out Hello Hooray wasn’t actually a Cooper original was by researching the session drum performances of Jim Gordon. One of the albums he played on was Judy Collins’ 1968 album Who Knows Where The Time Goes. I was looking through the titles; Hello Hooray jumped at me.

What are the odds? I looked up the lyrics. OMG. They’re the same. But this song is five years earlier. I checked it out. Judy’s version starts quietly, awkwardly, with quite different phrasing than the familiar Cooper one. It’s kinda dirgey. Until 40 seconds in, and whammo! It gets good. Quite great, actually. Both she and Cooper used the song as an album opener.

Judy’s version was the first recording of the song. It was written by a Canadian, it turns out. And while it might seem strange that the same song was covered by both Collins AND Cooper, let’s not forget The Loco-Motion. The Carole King composition was first recorded by her babysitter — “Little” Eva Boyd in 1962. But there was also a French version later that year, a rockin’ version by Grand Funk Railroad in 1974, a disco version by Ritz in 1979 and finally, Kylie Minogue’s 1987 pop version. King recorded her own version in 1980. But again, I digress.

So, who the heck is Kempf? Now in his mid-’70s and living in Vancouver, Kempf was a guitarist playing Hamilton-area coffeehouses in the ’60s. He was in a group called Colonel Popcorn’s Butter Band. The group, which sound a bit like The Lovin’ Spoonful, cut one 7″ in 1967 — Ship Ahoy, backed with Saturday Morning Sunday Eve. They headed to L.A. in search of a future making bubblegum pop. There, Kempf was staying with a groovy girl who was into Strange Days by The Doors, and the like. One fateful day, with this album’s mood in mind, Kempf rolled a joint, borrowed someone’s guitar and went out by the pool to see what he could come up with.

Something did indeed come together. He called it Hello Hurray. A short time later, Collins visited the house where he was staying. Kempf seized the opportunity to pitch her his songs. She didn’t care for them. She wanted something a bit more rock. He played her Hello Hurray. Judy dug it, wanted it, altered his lyrics slightly — and suddenly Kempf had hustled himself a publishing deal with Elektra Records.

It shouldn’t be surprising that Collins would turn to a Canadian for material. On the same album as Hello Hooray, you have tracks by Ian Tyson and Leonard Cohen. The flipside of the album’s single Pretty Polly is a cover of Joni Mitchell’s Chelsea Morning.

Cooper ended up with the song because his producer Bob Ezrin is also Canadian. Ezrin met Kempf at a party in Toronto, got an elevator pitch from Kempf and showed the song to Alice. The version Ezrin and Cooper fashioned is much shorter than Kempf’s original, and has the new “I feel so strong” bit added to the end.

Hello Hooray has been a nice little earner for Kempf over the years. Collins’ album Who Knows Where The Time Goes went gold within a year. Billion Dollar Babies was in the top-40 best-selling albums of 1973, and went platinum in Canada and gold in the States. As a single, Alice’s Hello Hooray didn’t chart in Canada, but went to No. 35 in the U.S. and No. 6 in the U.K. In 2014, the Cooper version was licensed for use in the blockbuster film X-Men: Days of Future Past.

The Kempf original was more than five minutes long. Collins’ version is 4:12, and Cooper’s is 4:15 on the LP — shortened to 3:01 for the single.

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Area Resident is an Ottawa-based journalist, recording artist, music collector and re-seller. Hear (and buy) his music on Bandcamp, email him HERE, follow him on Instagram and check him out on Discogs.