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May 07

ALICE COOPER – “School’s Out”

FT + Popular70 comments • 7,134 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.

{democracy:50}

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Comments

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  1. 1
    Richard B on 15 May 2007 #

    Thanks for a wonderfully evocative review. Reflects my own feelings about rock, about growing up in the 80s, and about this record, perfectly. Only now I’m all grown up can I appreciate how clever and charming it is – a fully grown man imagining himself as a schoolchild, in order to share a feeling with them.

    It’s the same reason why I’ve – slowly – come to love ‘Baggy Trousers’ by Madness, which pulls off the exact same trick. Contrast this with Pink Floyd’s horrible ‘Another Brick In The Wall’ which does the exact opposite – projecting very adult views and perspectives onto the school experience to make a clever-clever political point.

  2. 2
    Tom on 15 May 2007 #

    I loved “Baggy Trousers” when it came out (and ever since really) even though its description of the school experience had very little to do with mine – it was and is like a Bash Street Kids strip come to aural life.

  3. 3
    Marcello Carlin on 15 May 2007 #

    I was eight when “School’s Out” came out and AC went on TOTP and thereafter to number one. It scared the shit out of me, which I guess was the point.

    The older one gets, of course, the more visible the strings and the showbiz, so I’m rather ambivalent about it now in a “yes, Alice, very good, now away and play golf with Tony Danza” sense and much prefer “I’m Eighteen” and “Elected” as records and, particularly, performances – but it certainly worked at the time and outraged my headmaster at primary school so much that he spent ten minutes denouncing the record one morning at school assembly.

    The next step on from Arthur Brown and his Calor gas colander, I suppose.

  4. 4
    Billy Smart on 15 May 2007 #

    This recording is particularly well-deployed at the beginning of Richard Linklater’s ‘Dazed & Confused’, where it plays over scenes of classes disbanding at a Texas high school on the last days of Summer term 1976, as menacing bullies gather outside.

  5. 5
    Rosie on 15 May 2007 #

    Couldn’t have been more appropriate for me, I’d just left school, just passed my eighteenth birthday, just had my first legal drink (served with a wry grin by the guv’nor of the Waggoners, where I and my friends had been weekend regulars for ages), and was embarking on the long, anarchic summer before uni.

    And it caught the mood perfectly. I hear it now and I’m transported back to those days. I can feel the slightly clammy sunshine, smell new-mown grass (I was working as a skivvy in a rural management training centre for the summer), and feel the thrill of new-found liberation and irresponsibility.

    The track that catches the mood even more effectively was Argent’s Hold Your Head Up, which was a biggish hit but won’t be troubling us. Its shimmering organ just is the sound of summer for me.

    Eight’s a good call, I reckon.

  6. 6
    Erithian on 15 May 2007 #

    I’d recently seen a Granada programme showcasing Pentangle in concert, so when I saw the unfamiliar name “Alice Cooper” in the TV listings for that Thursday’s TOTP I remember thinking that she might be a Jacqui McShee-type folky light vocalist. Hmmm. Instead it was one of those classic moments you talk about in the playground the following morning, “blimey-did-you-see-THAT-it’s-gotta-be-number-one”.

    I was only ten and it was primary school, so to me and my friends it was pure end-of-term feelgood, and yes a fantastic guitar sound. None of the malevolence of Pink Floyd, as Richard points out – when I hear that “we don’t need no education”, I think “yes you do, you bunch of scruffs”, while School’s Out and Baggy Trousers make me think “yes, I’ve been there, felt that”.

    This was one of a couple of iconic late-’72 TOTP performances featuring people from the audience, as at that time they used to have dancers quite close to the performers. Remember the girl Alice pulls towards him for a dance, who doesn’t look fazed at all and has a good time doing the Bump? The other one is the geeky-looking lad in the sleeveless pullover who gets in shot between Bowie and Mick Ronson during “Starman”, watching himself in the monitor. I wonder if they cringe every time those clips get shown?

    Number 2 Watch – this could have been the hairiest 1-2 in chart history. Hawkwind’s “Silver Machine” stalled at 3 while Alice was number one, the pair being split by Terry Dactyl and the Dinosaurs (aka Jona Lewie) with “Seaside Shuffle”. What a great summer.

  7. 7
    intothefireuk on 15 May 2007 #

    AC was one of the acts that made TOTP compulsory viewing in ’72 & beyond. An outrageous performance guaranteed you were the talk of the playground for the next few weeks (see also Bowie, Glitter etc) and no doubt thrust you firmly in the direction of number one. AC were, at the time, seen as a glam act, it was only in later years they were placed back into the rock rack. I remember also finding AC a little unsettling but SO did sum up that sod school lets party feeling – personally I couldn’t wait for school to break for summer. It used to be said that school days are your best days – well mine never were and ACs one fingered salute feels about right to me.

  8. 8
    Pete on 15 May 2007 #

    A song must be really good when the Daphne & Celeste cover of it ISN’T better!

  9. 9
    jeff w on 15 May 2007 #

    I’ve not heard the D&C version, but I do own a cover of this by Emma ‘Wild Child’ Ridley. It’s not very good: the plays on words – “class”, “princip(les)/(als)”, etc – clearly go straight over her head.

  10. 10
    Rosie on 16 May 2007 #

    Where’s my response gone? I swear I posted it and when I tried to repost I was warned of a duplicate post…

  11. 11

    might have gone into the industrial-strength spam filter, rosie — it gobbles mine like nobody’s business and i’m on the management team!

  12. 12

    there you go!

  13. 13
    Erithian on 16 May 2007 #

    P-nk Lord – you have a filter and the word “gobbles” gets through?!!

    Rosie – Argent, yeahh, lovely song. There were some great underrated singles in ’72 which won’t be troubling us, by not-many-hit wonders: Lindisfarne’s “Meet Me on the Corner” and Blackfoot Sue’s “Standing in the Road” come swiftly to mind.

  14. 14
    Alan on 16 May 2007 #

    I very much hope that when logged in you should no longer be getting marked as spam.

    plz?

  15. 15
    jeff w on 16 May 2007 #

    “Standing in the Road” would be perfect for the poptimism podcast. I shall try and locate an mp3.

  16. 16
    Mark Grout on 16 May 2007 #

    Emma Ridley’s version!

    I have this on VHS cassette taped off “Night Network” being reviewed by Mark E Smith!

    God, “Night Network” had loads of golden nuggets like that!

  17. 17
    doofuus2003 on 17 May 2007 #

    This is a great No.1, and so was Elected (if it got there)My favourite remains No More Mr Nice Guy (I opened doors for little old ladies, indeed)
    Sorry not a dynamic entry, but felt I should remark on the return of Popular updates – I missed them

  18. 18
    Waldo on 17 May 2007 #

    The first time I heard “School’s Out” was when Tony Blackburn (for it was he) went totally out of character (and then some) and choose it as his record of the week when it was first released. I was eleven and about to start secondary school at a hellish South London comprehensive. The track took my young head off and the follow up “Elected” was just as good with a cracking arrangement. Teachers and politicians. Don’t you just want to hug ’em?

    Erithian – Good tracks. Might I also add “Sylvia” by Focus and “Say You Don’t Mind” by Colin Blunstone?

  19. 19
    Johnney B on 17 May 2007 #

    LOL at Alice Cooper@the Muppet show!
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nA2UF1xwGP4

  20. 20
    fivelongdays on 17 May 2007 #

    See, what you have to say is something I can identify with…except I was in the mid 90s and I was one of the kids who would’ve been towards the front – and I was into metal.

    If that made sense.

  21. 21
    Tom on 17 May 2007 #

    What were the kids at the back into then?

  22. 22
    Doctor Casino on 19 May 2007 #

    As usual, I’m indebted to the mentions of obscure British singles that made not a dent over here – I’m listening to “Hold Your Head Up” right now and it’s totally great. One of the liquidiest organ sounds I’ve ever heard.

    As for “School’s Out,” it’s impossible to dislike but it stirs no particular associations for me except maybe the “History of Rock and Roll” special that used to run on PBS. It’s never been a major classic-rock staple; I’m surprised to discover how unfamiliar I am with it upon hearing it now. It’s good stuff though! Gotta love “We got no class, and we got no principals” (principles). That’s good, that.

  23. 23
    Marcello Carlin on 20 May 2007 #

    But the best line has to be – “We can’t even think of a word that rhymes!”

  24. 24
    richard hillman on 21 May 2007 #

    I left school after O levels that summer; what a great LP for the time. Remember the original sleeve with the paper knickers (I think i gave them to Felicity Markham). John Topping vomited in the plastic sleeve at a party.

    I have my ‘play this at my funeral’ CD all prepared, and ‘Alma Mater’ is the penultimate track thereon: brilliant, chilling, sad……..it would have been the final track as i go to my resting place, but frankly couldn’t resist Roxy’s ‘Both ends burning’ for the cremation.

  25. 25
    Erithian on 22 May 2007 #

    Back to Tony Blackburn for a moment – it was around this time that Tone had a two-week feature on his show where he played the top 100 best-selling number one singles of the past ten years, i.e. 1962-72. It was a good primer in music history, as in many cases it was the first time I’d heard the songs. And the fact that five of the top six were Beatles songs – the exception being “Tears” at number 3 – emphasised their importance. Anyone else on here remember that top 100?

  26. 26
    Marcello Carlin on 22 May 2007 #

    Can’t say that I do. Personally I would have thought “Stranger On The Shore” would have walked it.

  27. 27
    Erithian on 22 May 2007 #

    Would have walked a list of the best selling number two singles of the period!

  28. 28
    Marcello Carlin on 22 May 2007 #

    It was number one on both the NME and BBC charts – as usual (“Please Please Me,” nearly all subsequent Beatles singles straight in at number one first week, etc.) Record Retailer just had to be different.

    I’m assuming that “She Loves You” came top.

  29. 29
    Erithian on 22 May 2007 #

    That’s right – “I Want To Hold Your Hand” no 2, “Can’t Buy Me Love”, “I Feel Fine” and “Day Tripper” at 4 to 6. When Channel 4 did a definitive Top 100 of the chart era in 2002, the period covered by Blackburn’s chart occupied 16 of the 100 places.

  30. 30
    Waldo on 22 May 2007 #

    Yes, I too claerly remember Blackburn’s Top 100 and “She Loves You” was indeed top. I’m so tragic that I actually recall John Noakes being on air when Tony revealed which record had won the thing after just having played “Back Off Boogaloo” by Ringo Starr – I should really be sectioned for holding this in my memory.

    The “Stranger On The Shore” debate has always been a mute point but the fact is that the disc peaked at Number Two, as Erithian says, although it stayed in the the chart for months. It also has the distinction of being the first record by a British artist to top the charts in The United States. The first group/band were The Tornados not long after.

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