May 07

ALICE COOPER – “School’s Out”

FT + Popular70 comments • 7,262 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. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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?

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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)

  8. 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.

  9. 69

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

  10. 70
    Gareth Parker on 5 May 2021 #

    I agree with Tom’s 8/10; still an exciting record, in my opinion.

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