This is a blog post where I babble a lot about sheet music, and eventually show the details of my attempt at making a semi professional-looking copy of the transcription to Alice Cooper's song "Pain" (1980). Skip or skim as you like.
I still like the album version of this song the most, but he's also performed it in the move Roadie (see below), had an official music video, and even played it at some of his 2017 shows.
About My Sheet Music Hunting
In recent years I've been collecting a lot of sheet music. The reason for this has been two-fold. The less obvious reason is that sheet music can be very aesthetically pleasing to me, whether it's the artwork or just the phenomenon of seeing sound laid out in this visual way that humans have invented. The more obvious reason of course is the practical one: I like learning and playing songs as a musician, and sometimes getting an officially transcribed source is the way to go. Earlier this year I researched, uncovered, learned, and performed a long lost 19th century song in honor of the 200th anniversary of Mary Shelly's Frankenstein:
Granted, you can search on-line and sometimes find "free" transcriptions of chord charts or guitar tablature for many songs. But you may not find one for the song you want. And even when you find it, the transcription can be pretty poorly done or just plain wrong.
The Library of Congress website has been a fun source of music that's old enough to be in the public domain, which means their copyrights have expired. I've found many fun songs from the era of World War One that I've learned and performed. And there are music stores, of course. But anyway, let's get to the topic in the headline here.
Amassing the other Alice Cooper Songbooks
In recent years I set out to obtain the various 1970s song books from Alice Cooper. Years ago my father gave me a pristine copy he had saved of a sheet music book of various artists who played the ABC "In Concert" series in the 1970s, including Alice Cooper along with other acts like Billy Preston. Some years later I stumbled across a copy of the sheet music to Alice's Lace and Whiskey album in a store. So what else was there?
Sickthings, an AC fan site, has a compiled list which was really handy. So using that guide and starting from the beginning:
- "Alice Cooper Complete". Well it wasn't really complete, but it sure had a lot of stuff from the original Alice Cooper band. I found this on eBay, sold together with a set of other 1970s rock songbooks. There are two versions under this title, but I bought the one with more songs. Still absolutely nothing from the first two albums, and nothing but the title track from the beloved School's Out album, but a lot of songs none the less. But for the rest of the 1970s, there was a songbook for each entire album. Beginning with...
- "Welcome To My Nightmare". This was my absolute favorite album in high school, and is still one of my "desert island" albums. I was happy to get this in the same lot as the "Alice Cooper Complete".
- "Alice Cooper Goes to Hell". This took me a while to hunt down on eBay and Amazon stores until I got lucky. And it wasn't cheap. But so worth it.
- "Lace and Whiskey". As mentioned, I lucked out and found this in a store earlier.
- "From the Inside". Purchased earlier this month, thanks to eBay. This was another one that I found no listings for, but after checking and checking I finally got it.
Unfortunately, there's not much beyond that. You can find some "best of" books for guitar with songs taken from these albums, one more song book (1989's Trash album), and a few individual song sheets not included in any of the above, but not a lot else.
Cleaning up Pain
In my search for more Alice sheet music, I decided to look at the album that came out after From the Inside, which was the 1980 album Flush the Fashion. The first time I ever even learned of this album's existence was sometime around 1990, when I stumbled across the vinyl in a new & used record store. I bought it, transferred it to cassette tape for convenient listening, and years later bought the CD import.
Apparently there was sheet music printed for the big single from this album, "Clones (We're All)". Copies of this show up on eBay now and then.
However, after doing some more searching, I found an old, expired auction for a hand-written copy of his 1980 song "Pain":
Here's what I noticed about this:
- The "handwriting" at first looked like some sort of digital font, not real writing. But comparing some of the letters, I've since concluded that no, somebody seemingly wrote this by hand. And very neatly, too.
- I suspect that the person who did the writing wasn't anybody special, like Alice Cooper himself or one of the other collaborators. My guess is somebody just transcribed the song and was trying to make money by passing it off as an artifact. But who knows. Maybe it really was used in the studio. I have no idea.
- All three pages of the song were scanned in full like this, and available on the site! Not the best resolution, but certainly readable. (PRO TIP: Don't do this with items you're trying to sell. It gives the goods away. :) )
- Unfortunately, as you can see, there was a lot of bleed-through from the other side of the page. I guess either the paper was really thin, or the ink was think, or it was pretty bad photocopying or scanning job.
And now, here's what I did to make my own cleaned-up copy.
First, there was the task of cleaning up the original sheets:
- I opened up my trusty, free image editor of choice, Gimp.
- I didn't like that styling of the song title at the top. So with all of that space available, I looked though my fonts to find a fun, obnoxiously 1980s-looking font to replace it with.
- The biggest challenge of course was removing that bleed over from the back pages. I had to use a combination of contrast settings, brightness settings, level/threshold stuff, making a separate masked layer of just the music, redrawing some of the staff lines to correct for the lightening, and so on. But I managed to get something I was pleased with.
- The original scans had pages 2 and 3 together in the same image, so I had to do some cropping to separate those. They needed some different cleaning up anyway.
Also, I wanted to have a front cover for the music:
- Originally, I tried looking for a font that was close to the one shown on the album title. Eventually though I gave up and just got a scan of the album cover, grabbed the original letters, and cleaned them up.
- Taking the scratched word "FASHION" from the front cover, I took the "F" along with the "A", "I", and "N", squashed them together, used some cloning (Ha! Song reference!) to alter the "F" into a "P". and voila: "PAIN".
- I remembered how the album came with two photos of Alice, from the same photo session. One was on the back cover, one was inside the record sleeve. I used the latter. I cleaned up the photo a little too, giving it a slight sepia tint.
You can see the resulting cover at the top of this blog post.
Finally, I wanted to put it all together into a nice PDF. Most individual songs you see printed are a single large sheet folded into a booklet to make four "pages": a cover on the front, two pages of sheet music inside, and finally the third page of the music printed on the back cover.
A wonderful free site I've used for this sort of thing before is https://png2pdf.com. So that's what I did. It was just a matter of uploading the PNG images, and pressing a button to create a single PDF out of them. Click on the link below for the final PDF: