May 07

ALICE COOPER – “School’s Out”

FT + Popular69 comments • 5,357 views

#317, 12th August 1972

Go ask Alice 

My first French teacher was a great heap of a man who I remember for his sweat patches and his bitterness and the way he changed the seating plan in the class around every few weeks, based on test results. If you came first, you got to sit front and center, and the rest of the class would zig-zag back behind you until the back row was filled with the worst half-dozen students, so he and they could ignore one another. This was a poor motivational tactic, as Monsieur M. smelt bad and if you did well you were best placed for a whiff of him. I was either too guileless or scared or proud to do badly, and so I ended up at the front, a lot, nose full of sweat while I glumly conjugated.

Monsieur M’s seating policy simply locked down the social divisions that exist in every school anyway. If I’d had free choice I might have tried to sink into the anonymity of the middle two rows, but I wouldn’t have chosen the back. As an illustration of why, the kids in the middle rows liked pop music, which I liked. The kids at the back liked hard rock and metal, which I didn’t.

This being 1983, pop music meant Duran Duran and hard rock didn’t mean Alice Cooper, it meant Maiden and Priest and especially AC/DC. The biggest tracks – the ones passed round on walkman headphones on class trips – were AC/DC’s “The Jack” and the one which goes “I’ve got big balls”. Even as a front-of-the-class guy, I heard those a lot. And when I heard “School’s Out” for the first time, years later, that was the world I fitted it into.

Of course, this was a boys’ school in the heart of Home Counties England, and we were all upper middle class kids, so the ones at the back of the class weren’t hoods or bullies – even if they aspired to be tough kids, and flirted with an idea of toughness that AC/DC was an access to. I wasn’t scared of them – didn’t like them either, but the overwhelming macro-system of social class was enough to jam most of the more tribal signals that might have been starting to reach our 10-11 year old brains, so there was never a sense of threat from the kids themselves. I projected the threat onto the music, a little: without ever actually listening to it I assumed hard rock would be something too savage for me, too aggressive, exclusionary and shrivelling and mocking. It wasn’t, mostly, which in a strange way explains to me why so much rock has been so disappointing to me. Why, I wondered, was it so easy to take?

Alice Cooper, like a lot of the music I would have assumed to be scary at 10, aren’t scary here: Alice is energetic, flamboyant, blazing with life, aggressive in a showy way but not really threatening, even to the school or the teachers. I don’t remotely mean that as a criticism: “School’s Out” is a glorious kid’s fantasy of the end of school, a playground brag, a smile at the days when “for Summer” and “forever” could happily smush together and when school’s summertime erasure was so complete that it might well have been blown to pieces. The rising glee on the “No more teachers” chant carries the real sting – mockery being a far more likely weapon for kids than explosives. But mostly this is rampaging boy exuberance, captured perfectly in that crunching, pealing opening riff. (Honestly, have guitars ever sounded as full and sweet as in the glam era?)

Maybe if I’d listened to more rock I wouldn’t have kept landing in the front row, or maybe I’d have found a way to balance liking it and landing there. Life is full of maybes and it doesn’t really matter, except that by not listening to Maiden or AC/DC in my teens I seem to have blocked a way to really loving them now. “School’s Out” dissolves my rock block, just like it offers a way to dissolve the front-row/back-row split by unimagining school completely: in the end I like it because it’s such an inclusive, generous record.




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  1. 51
    wichitalineman on 30 May 2014 #

    Re 50: So harsh! The first Guinness Book from ’77 lists Alice Cooper under A, as a band, but certainly the singer was known as Alice Cooper in 1972. Did people call him Vince in interviews?

    Pointless had a round on “eponymous” films the other day – correct answers included Silkwood, Erin Brockovitch… and Highlander. That Richard Osman – his gaff, his rules, but he doesn’t seem to know what eponymous means.

  2. 52
    punctum on 30 May 2014 #

    I realised only recently that Richard Osman is the brother of Mat Osman out of Suede. Now it makes perfect sense.

  3. 53
    Andrew Farrell on 30 May 2014 #

    On my initial exposure to Alice Cooper, I briefly considered them to be a song by the band Poison!

  4. 54
    speedwell54 on 31 May 2014 #

    Re 50/51 – Harsh but fair. The same team (maybe the same guy) in the next episode had a question about musicals. Three characters from seven musicals were listed, name the musical. Mike Teevee, Violet Beauregarde and Veruca Salt. He said “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”.

    Wrong answer. Xander and Richard both apologised (why?)but “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” was the answer. The next team (Sharon And Tony – I know them!) got it right and only 4 people said it.

    The first team may have been better off with Family Fortunes, where they ask 100 people, and whatever they say is the answer, rightly or wrongly.

  5. 55
    wichitalineman on 31 May 2014 #

    Re 54: Why did they apologise? I dunno, probably because it’s a game show! Alice Cooper was harsher, but they could’ve allowed them Charlie & the Chocolate Factory as well. Call in the ombudsman!

  6. 56
    Ed on 31 May 2014 #

    Wikipedia, which I would trust on this, says 1975’s ‘Welcome to my Nightmare’ was the first solo Alice album: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Welcome_to_My_Nightmare

    In ‘School’s Out’ days they were definitely still a band.

    Rejecting ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ is a travesty, though. The 2005 Tim Burton version is ‘Charlie and…’, and that’s a musical too, albeit with deeply inferior Danny Elfman songs. They were robbed.

  7. 57
    Lonepilgrim on 31 May 2014 #

    As a teenage fan of Alice Cooper (the band) at this time I can confirm that singer and band shared the name and that ‘Welcome to my nightmare’ was the first album by Alice Cooper without the rest of the band

  8. 58
    hectorthebat on 23 Jun 2014 #

    Critic watch:

    1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die, and 10,001 You Must Download (2010)
    Blender (USA) – The Greatest Songs Ever, One Song Added Every Other Month
    Bruce Pollock (USA) – The 7,500 Most Important Songs of 1944-2000 (2005)
    Dave Marsh & Kevin Stein (USA) – The 40 Best of the Top 40 Singles by Year (1981) 27
    Dave Marsh (USA) – The 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made (1989) 937
    Michaelangelo Matos (USA) – Top 100 Singles of the 1970s (2001) 101
    Rolling Stone (USA) – The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time (2004) 319
    Rolling Stone (USA) – The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time (Updated 2010) 326
    Kerrang! (UK) – 100 Greatest Singles of All Time (2002) 97
    Paul Morley (UK) – Words and Music, 210 Greatest Pop Singles of All Time (2003)
    Q (UK) – The 1001 Best Songs Ever (2003) 748
    Q (UK) – The 1010 Songs You Must Own (2004)
    Q (UK) – The Ultimate Music Collection (2005)
    Sounds (UK) – The 100 Best Singles of All Time (1986) 20
    The Guardian (UK) – 1000 Songs Everyone Must Hear (2009)
    Panorama (Norway) – The 30 Best Singles of the Year 1970-98 (1999) 12
    Gilles Verlant and Thomas Caussé (France) – 3000 Rock Classics (2009)
    Les Inrockuptibles (France) – 1000 Indispensable Songs (2006)
    STM Entertainment (Australia) – The 50 Best Songs Ever (2007) 37
    Giannis Petridis (Greece) – 2004 of the Best Songs of the Century (2003)

  9. 59
    swanstep on 20 Dec 2014 #

    My nieces (8 and 10 respectively) just finished their school year down under, so I zapped them a copy of ‘School’s Out’. Their responses and having something like the experience of hearing it though their ears was illuminating: they hated it, describing it as ‘just noise’. Discussing the track with them, they thought the chorus and ‘No more pencils…’ reprise was OK (though nothing they’d ever choose to listen to), whereas the intro and verses were complete dealbreakers for them (left to their own devices they’d always run from the room and never make it as far as the chorus). Bottom line: hard-rocking guitars and snarled male vocals are completely alien to the (overwhelmingly female and electronic – Katy Perry is probably their median performer) pop world they’ve grown up in.

    Anyhow, I think it’s fair to say that there’s a genuinely loud and ragged quality to the way ‘School’s Out’ begins (possibly Arthur Brown is a model here as someone mentioned above, but also Stooges and the MC5). Compared to SO, the hits and semi-hits of this time from Bolan and Bowie and even Led Zep. and Sabbath do feel smoother, more produced and polished, more ready to fit on playlist radio in perpetuity. Cooper’s proudly primitive I suppose, and evidently still scary if you’re the right age! For me a:

  10. 60
    flahr on 20 Dec 2014 #

    they hated it, describing it as ‘just noise’

    This is just utterly wonderful. It’s like there’s some sort of pop Kondratiev cycles or something.

  11. 61
    Phil on 2 Oct 2015 #

    This was #1 just before my 12th birthday – and yes, lots of people (including my maths teacher, memorably) made the natural assumption that Alice Cooper was a girl’s name; even when you knew it was an itchily transgressive bit of knowledge, something like how it must have been for kids finding out that Marilyn Manson was (a) a he & (b) named after Charlie.

    I identified with Bowie, idolised Marc Bolan, regarded the entirety of Slade with nothing more than disdain and thought Roy Wood was a very good thing (and Actually Quite An Accomplished Musician Actually). But Alice Cooper scared me. The cudgelling simplicity of the chords, the volume, the black leather, the black eye makeup, the oh my God is that an actual sword? he’s got a sword! It felt like this was the real thing, and you were a bit afraid to ask what that thing was.

  12. 62
    Erithian on 29 Dec 2015 #

    Since this was number one when Hawkwind were number three, here seems an appropriate place to mark the passing of the one and only Lemmy. RIP.

  13. 63
    Cumbrian on 29 Dec 2015 #

    You know Lemmy once rode a motorbike out of his own grave, right?


    Saw Motorhead live a couple of times. Awesome is an overused word but they actually were awesome, in that I was in awe of how they were creating that sound. Also with Just Cos You Got The Power, Lemmy was 21 years ahead of the financial crash in taking casino bankers to task.

  14. 64
    Jimmy the Swede on 30 Dec 2015 #

    I too caught the Motorhead bug back in the day and like Cumbrian saw them a couple of times, Bomber and Ace of Spade tours. Wonderful times. And let us not forget that Philthy Animal Taylor also left us last month. Lemmy though was a one -off. Awesome indeed.

    Cumbrian – Have you been affected by the floods, btw?

  15. 65
    Cumbrian on 30 Dec 2015 #

    Thanks for asking Jimmy. Not personally – I am an exile now, living in London – but Mum and Dad had a very narrow escape. Their house is set a little back off the pavement and up two steps – the flood water lapped over the bottom step at its highest point. They need to do some looking at the house to make sure that there hasn’t been any major unseen ingress but they’re a lot better off than many of their neighbours (they live about 200 yards from the football ground as the crow flies, so the area was pretty heavily flooded – they’ve taken someone in as a lodger for a bit).

    The obvious issue at the moment is how to prevent it happening again – both in the immediate and long term. More rain is going to fall on already saturated ground, so the next month or so, at minimum, is likely to be pretty stressful.

  16. 66
    Jimmy the Swede on 31 Dec 2015 #

    Thanks, Cumbrian. Glad your folks are okay. Extraordinary rainfall up there and, as you say, it looks set to continue. I’m sure everybody here on Popular will be sparing a thought for the people affected as we turn into a New Year.

  17. 67

    yes, good popular thoughts to any readers whose neighbours or loved ones are in peril or distress, from floods or anything else :(

    (i grew up in shrewsbury and am familiar with floods i fear)

  18. 68
    Jimmy the Swede on 31 Dec 2015 #

    I think the Swede and His Lordship have discussed this in another part of the Popular world but the photo he put on the link above puts one in mind of Shrewsbury Town FC when they used to play at the wonderfully named Gay Meadow on the very banks of the Severn. The club employed an old lag in a boat to patrol up and down on match days with the singular task of retrieving balls whumped out of the ground and into the river. I actually based a character from my first novel on him. The Shrewsbury boatman was a magnificent salty old bugger and I wouldn’t mind betting he never left Shropshire apart from the time when he was inconvenienced by Hitler.

  19. 69

    not even a boat: it was a CORACLE! i think it is now in a local museum

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