May 07

ALICE COOPER – “School’s Out”

FT + Popular70 comments • 7,375 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. 31
    Marcello Carlin on 23 May 2007 #

    The first record by a British artist since Vera Lynn.

    The fact is that the disc peaked at Number Two in one chart as I clearly stated above. The Record Retailer lists were by no means the definitive or official ones prior to the BMRB’s standardisation of the chart in February 1969; the NME chart carried far more credibility in the industry and it is a shame that copyright issues prevented it from being used as the official record for Guinness, as it should have been.

  2. 32
    Erithian on 23 May 2007 #

    Marcello, I meant to address this subject in a few entries’ time, apropos of singles going straight in at number one – only “Get Back” had done so in over a decade, and it happened four times in 1973 – but since you’ve moved onto it now, let me ask (as you seem to be well informed on this). How did the Record Retailer chart come to be the “accepted” one? You hint at copyright issues preventing the NME chart being used for the Guinness Book of British Hit Singles – but the Guinness book first came out in 1976, and the previous “authoritative” book I had, Tony Jasper’s “20 Years of British Record Charts” from 1975, used the same chart as Guinness.

    I heard someone say once that before the BMRB there were three or four versions of the chart which were no more definitive than a variety of pre-election opinion polls, but I guess, given the NME’s circulation, its chart was, as you say, more credible than the rest. So in the eyes of most people at the time, “Please Please Me” was a number one and the Beatles habitually went straight in at one afterwards? Whatever, the Record Retailer list is the “accepted” canon now, which you no doubt see as Orwellian rewriting of history – but how exactly did it come about?

  3. 33
    Tom on 23 May 2007 #

    The Ackerphant in the room!

  4. 34
    Marcello Carlin on 23 May 2007 #

    I’ve still got that Tony Jasper book somewhere with its green cover (75p IIRC)! But II also RC that was a Record Mirror publication so it used Record Mirror charts, and since RM was published by the same publishers as Record Retailer/Music Week that presumably answers the question.

    Since Record Retailer was the principal industry magazine its Top 50 was, strictly speaking, the official industry chart but the chart was never widely circulated outside the industry and was not used for practical purposes in the media, or indeed most of the industry itself – George Martin and the Beatles, for instance, have always regarded “Please Please Me” as their legitimate first number one.

    In the sixties there were four main singles charts – the NME, Melody Maker, Record Retailer and the BBC. The BBC one tended to be a compilation or reckoning of the other three – based on points IIRC, so you might not want to trust them too much – but the NME one was generally regarded as the definitive list since it had the greatest number of chart return shops and a weekly Friday-Thursday compilation schedule which corresponded with record release dates of the time, since singles in those days were released on Fridays rather than Mondays. This for instance is why Beatles singles didn’t tend to enter at number one in the Record Retailer list since they based their chart on a Monday-to-Saturday schedule – i.e. only two days’ sales for new releases. Also, the NME chart allowed EPs, so several of their number ones (e.g. 1965’s Kinda Kinks, lead track “Well Respected Man” which reportedly outsold everything else that year bar “Tears”) do not register in Guinness at all.

    Intriguingly, “Strawberry Fields Forever/Penny Lane” did make number one in NME but everywhere else stayed second to Engelbert and thus that has passed into historical lore.

    By 1968 there was pressure, largely from the BBC as well as certain quarters of the industry, for the chart to be standardised, and the contract was won by BMRB with effect from February 1969. Most of the 350 chart return shops in Britain registered with BMRB, with the consequence that, although NME and MM continued with their own charts, they suffered a steep decrease in sources and so became less authoritative.

  5. 35
    Erithian on 23 May 2007 #

    Marcello – that’s brilliant, answers something I’ve long wondered about – thanks.

  6. 36
    DavidM on 24 May 2007 #

    I was introduced to this in the mid-eighties when Rik sang an excerpt from it (“Schoools OUT for… EVAHHH!”) in an episode of The Young Ones. From then on I would always do the same whenever we would break for half term or anything.
    I’m not to keen on the actual track, however.

  7. 37
    wichita lineman on 22 May 2008 #

    Thanks for that Marcello, but I’m confused by the 40 Years Of NME Charts book I’ve got that has Strawberry Fields stop at 2 and no best-selling claims for Kwyet Kinks (which does turn up a lot but not toooo often).

  8. 38
    Matt DC on 23 May 2008 #

    I’ve never been able to separate this record from its essential cartoonishness, it’s always been associated with the Bash Street Kids in my mind. Still love it though.

  9. 39
    DJ Punctum on 23 May 2008 #

    I double checked my copy of said NME publication and you’re right – both might have been number one on Melody Maker.

  10. 40
    lonepilgrim on 2 Jul 2008 #

    I spent a large part of the summer break of 1972 on holiday in Denmark so I was a bit detached from the charts. I think ‘School’s out’ had already got to number 1 by the time I got back but I had no hesitation about buying it – probably the third or fourth single I owned. It introduced the idea of pop/rock as provocation in a form that I could claim as my own. It coincided with me moving from a ‘Middle School’ to a Secondary School in what would now be Year 8 and there was the added sense of subversion in that both my parents were teachers.
    The first album I owned was ‘School’s Out’ which I must have got for Christmas and I went on to get ‘Billion Dollar Babies’ and ‘Muscle of Love’ as well before my tastes/allegiances changed.

  11. 41
    ian mccolm on 11 Jul 2008 #

    Actually, this record stands the test of time in the sense of bringing back INSTANTLY all the sights/smells/feelings etc that I had on (some of) the occassions I heard it.

    I was 20 at the time (which oddly feels a little old for this record, I don’t know why), but to me it was like the pop equivalent of the first track on Led Zeppelin’s first LP, Communication Breakdown : you’re hooked within about half a second. (Like many others, that was the first half second I ever heard of LZ…clever layout on LP).

    It doesn’t get any better than that first half-second, but in fairness neither does it get worse.

    Think this rates a 9.

  12. 42
    henry s on 11 Jul 2008 #

    a classic riff, the chords of which are eternally displayed on Glen Buxton’s gravestone…


  13. 43
    Chris Brown on 11 Jul 2008 #

    Just in case anybody was on tenterhooks, Mark Lewisohn’s Beatles Chronicle confirms ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ as a Melody Maker Number 1, but Number 2 on NME, Disc, the BBC and of course Record Retailer.

  14. 44
    wichita lineman on 12 Jul 2008 #

    DJP, this again begs the question…. do you have all the Melody Maker charts in lever arch files? Somebody will print them, and I can’t be the only person obsessed with these wiggy details.

    Too late in the day, but it’s quite odd that Guinness didn’t persist with the NME chart (it was the first, after all) until the BBC/BMRB one was introduced in ’69. Would’ve seemed tidier as well as causing less grief. No Bachelors on Popular either!

  15. 45
    DJ Punctum on 12 Jul 2008 #

    Yes indeed, I have them in lever arch files (how did you guess?); the only problem being is that they are currently in long term residence in the extensive attic of the Carlin family home up in Lanarkshire and every time I go up there to visit my mum I keep telling myself that I’ll climb up the ladder with my Woolworth’s pocket battery torch and sort everything out but it’s a big job…

    I got a major telling off from my dad when the first Guinness Hit Singles book came out (1978?) since he reckoned I could have done it with a few weekends of research in the archives of the Mitchell Library…those dusty, pre-internet days of Proper Research, eh?…

  16. 46
    punctum on 5 Jun 2011 #

    Then Play Long gets to Alice.

  17. 47
    lonepilgrim on 19 Oct 2011 #

    Alice did a version of this last month live at the Whisky-a-Go-Go with Ke$ha – with a bit of Another Brick in the Wall thrown in for good measure.
    You can currently listen to it or download it here:

  18. 48
    Lena on 4 Dec 2012 #

    A summer hit at long last: http://musicsoundsbetterwithtwo.blogspot.co.uk/2012/12/prophetprofit-t-rex-children-of.html Merci for reading, everyone!

  19. 49
    Ed on 6 Dec 2012 #

    @20 It was similar at my school, with the front listening to prog and its derivatives: Queen, Floyd, Zeppelin and Rush, with the (ugh) Zappa fans right under the teachers’ nose. The middle rows’ middle-brow taste was Maiden, Sabbath and especially AC/DC. And the kids at the back – figuratively rather than literally: they were usually at the front so the teacher could keep an eye on them – listened to Chic, Michael Jackson, Lionel Richie and the Human League.

  20. 50
    Lazarus on 29 May 2014 #

    Did anyone see ‘Pointless’ earlier? The first round was ‘solo artists who had a UK Number One hit in the 1970s’ and the young Scot who confidently offered up Alice Cooper looked shocked when it was disallowed. I know it was more than 40 years ago – years before the contestant in question was born – but I wonder how many of the British public who were there at the time would consider ‘Alice Cooper’ to be the name of a band.

    Kudos to the man who scored a pointless answer with JJ Barrie though!

  21. 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.

  22. 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.

  23. 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!

  24. 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.

  25. 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!

  26. 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.

  27. 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

  28. 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)

  29. 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:

  30. 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.

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