317. ‘School’s Out’, by Alice Cooper

Aw, hell yeah! School heartthrob Donny Osmond finds himself elbowed out the way by school bad boy, and shock-rocker supreme, Alice Cooper. No more mister nice guy indeed!

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School’s Out, by Alice Cooper (their 1st and only #1)

3 weeks, from 6th – 27th August 1972

The charts of 1972 continue to swing wildly: acoustic ballad to glam to teeny bopper pap to this. Some anarchic hard rock. And it’s a great record, right from the start. The riff rings out, loud and clear, before the drums and the bass are added. (There are three songs that I cannot tell apart for the first five seconds or so: this, ‘Born to Be Wild’ by Steppenwolf, and Iggy Pop’s ‘The Passenger’. They don’t even sound that similar, so I’m not really sure why I have this problem…)

Vince Furnier said in an interview that in ‘School’s Out’ he was trying to capture the last three minutes of the school year which, along with Christmas morning, is the best moment of a child’s life: the nervous tension, the excitement, the sense that wonderful chaos is just around the corner. I’d say he managed it. Well we got no choice, All the girls and boys, Make all the noise, Cos they’ve found new toys…

There are famously no real punk-rock #1s… Is this, then, the first and only punk #1, several years before anyone knew what ‘punk’ was? It soon becomes clear that this isn’t just a song about two months of sun and no homework; it’s an anarchist’s manifesto. School’s out for summer… then it’s out for ever… then it’s been blown to pieces. The playground chants in between the verses move from No more pencils… To We might not come back at all…

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The best bit is the second verse, with its word-play: Well we got no class, And we principles… and the so dumb its actually pretty clever last line: We can’t even think of a word that rhymes! And then there’s the final verse – perhaps the heaviest moment in a #1 single so far – where the lead guitar squeals, and the drums beat out a pounding, tribal rhythm, as if the kids have rounded up all the teachers for a ritual sacrifice. Morality campaigner Mary Whitehouse managed to get it banned from featuring on ‘Top of the Pops’, an act for which Furnier sent her a bouquet of flowers in thanks for the free publicity.

‘School’s Out’ was the breakthrough hit for Alice Cooper, who had been seen as a bit of a novelty act until then with all their make-up and on stage pyrotechnics (they were friends of Arthur Brown). And actually, maybe ‘School’s Out’ still suffers from being seen as a novelty song, when in actual fact it’s a great hard rock track. The band would score a few more Top 10s off the back of this, before ‘Alice Cooper’ became Vince Furnier’s solo act. His biggest hit will arrive many years later: ‘Poison’ coming oh so close to the top in 1989.

In the end the bell rings, everybody cheers and then we all get sucked into a blackhole, a cool effect that caps off a startlingly fresh sounding #1 single. OK, in the end it might not quite be ‘punk’, but I’ll bet it felt amazing blasting this record out on the final day of 1972’s summer term. And speaking as a teacher, I have to say that this song speaks more to me now than it ever did as a kid…

12 thoughts on “317. ‘School’s Out’, by Alice Cooper

  1. Great write-up, and this was appropriately the first record that reached No. 1 just after I left school. I’d never thought of it as the first punk chart-topper but you are right (if shoulder-length hair doesn’t disqualify the band as glam hippies). Not sure about the Mary Whitehouse ban succeeding, though. She did protest strongly about it at the time, but as far as I recall, ‘Top of the Pops’ featured it every week it was at the summit, and Radio 1 certainly never filed it under ‘restricted’ or post-watershed airplay (unlike “God Save the Queen’, the nearly-No.1, and ‘Relax’ a few years on). But I hope she thanked Our Vince for the flowers…

    1. I read it in a couple of places… Did it prevent the BBC from having the band on the show, and so they showed a video or something? Either way she definitely kicked up enough of a fuss for the band to notice, and send her a bouquet. God bless her…

  2. badfinger20 (Max)

    Great song and great artist. I don’t want to see Donny elbowed out I want him and his suede jacket in the trashcan outside the cafeteria! Go Alice go!

  3. Alice and the guys were def on TOTP, the video is on youtube – they may have just repeated the one appearance (I don’t recall any alternative versions) or had dancers over the fade-out, but it was never banned, and yes school, being a bit of a nightmare for me in 1972, was indeed out with a sense of huge relief. Caught the mood!

    Mary Whitehouse was always blathering on about something, another chart-topper later in 1972 is the most-famous example, which led to the BBC hoisting in beloved wholesome family entertainer Rolf Harris to do some drawings on TOTP. Honest!

    1. Hmm… I’ve seen lots of references to it being ‘banned’, but a lot of the time they’re coming from Alice himself, which may be a bit of self-promotion. I think what happened was that they got on TOTP once, before the record exploded, and then they just repeated that performance in the following weeks.

      And actually, writing this made me look into Mary Whitehouse a little more… She’s now got this persona of a curmudgeonly grandma, peeking between her curtains and tutting, but actually she had some pretty horrible views and seems to have been a genuinely unpleasant woman!

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