The brilliance of School's Out


At my posh secondary school they always finished the final assembly with a rather earnest song titled `God Be With You Till We Meet Again` which seemed like a little warning that the big G would always be watching you even in the holidays! Imagine how brilliant it would have been had the end of term song been  `Schools Out`instead! This was such a good single especially if you were actually at school at the time, to love it was almost like an act of rebellion and even in a year full of stardust and metal gurus, Alice Cooper was something else. I think he was the first American pop star I became aware of and he looked like a very dangerous man indeed with his dark eye make up and sneering performance though ironically  he turned out to be quite a decent bloke. `

As everyone now knows- but few realised in 1972- Alice Cooper is a band not just the singer himself and all the members are credited with writing this song. Born Vince Furnier he inhabited the darker side of glam rock where he really was rock and on stage toyed with real snakes. `Schools Out` was released in April 1972 and was from his fifth album though I don’t think anyone over in the UK had heard of him till this moment.

Produced by Bob Ezrin, it opens with a killer riff from guitarist Glenn Buxton and I recall back then getting shivers down my spine whenever it came on the radio because as a piece of music is was/ is undeniably thrilling. It also takes on a nursery rhyme quality with its refrain “No more pencils, no more books..” lines. Alice sings it with power and there’s something of a Pied Piper about his persuasive delivery of its rebellious sounding lines. Ezrin adds children's backing vocals and even their laughter to add an authentic school vibe to proceedings. I wonder if this influenced Pink Floyd's `Another Brick in the Wall` which he also produced?  

The song is a typical example of how rock and pop were quite interchangeable fifty years ago even though social history tells us you were either on one side or the other. If you think of some of the year's other classic singles like T. Rex's hits (especially the crunching `Children of the Revolution`), Slade's bangers, The Faces or Argent there was plenty of guitar led rock invading the singles charts. `Schools Out` includes a guitar solo of which I’d heard very few at that point.

While `Schools Out` has come to be seen as a rebel song its singer has said it was inspired by nothing more anticipatory than the last few minutes at the end of term at school when the holidays are tantalisingly within reach and school can be forgotten.  However there is a hint of rebellion at the end when after Alice declares that school is “out till Fall” but adds “We might not come back at all.” “Schools been blown to pieces!” it concludes. Yet you suspect it’s not to be taken too seriously as the lyric also admits at one point “we can’t even think of a word that rhymes” which I used to think was "we just think up a lot of rhymes" when it came on the radio. It's lyrically eloquent in its subject matter so you get the point and I'm sure it irritated teachers!

Sir Alice of Cooper in 1972

The ending was the subject of much speculation; unlike many pop hits of the day which simply faded out on repeat it does crash to a conclusion before finishing with what at first sounds like loads of children screaming though this seems to morph into an electronic sound as it goes on. Like a lot of classic hits there is no video, however they did appear on Top of the Pops with some of the longest hair even for this long hair era. People tried to dance to it as TOTP audiences are wont to do and Alice indulges them while growling the lyrics. He's seen initially holding a red balloon and looking nearly as disturbing as Pennywise and then a rapier which he points at the camera. One of the BBC’s beloved visual effects is also employed which makes it look like he’s having a celestial nosebleed!

The song reached number one in this country and number seven on the US Billboard charts making a massive impact that year. In the States some radio stations banned the song which as we all know only makes it more attractive to the record buying public. In the UK it topped the charts. Alice Cooper never enjoyed quite the moment again despite the follow up `Elected` also being a hit.

When this single came out I didn’t really have any money so if i wanted to hear `School's Out` I had to listen to the radio and it sounded mighty even coming through the tinny speakers of a portable. A few years later I bought a second hand copy at the school fete, same place I also picked up `Life On Mars` and `Children of the Revolution`. Funny how people were giving these away back then when they are now rightly revered as stone cold classics.


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