By Randal Hill
Editor’s Note: Randal C. Hill, Brandon, Ore., is a retired English teacher with a master’s degree. While attending college in Long Beach, Calif., he worked as a DJ at two radio stations. Later, he taught language arts at Fairvalley High School in Covina, Calif., where he offered “The Rock and Roll Years,” an elective fine arts class that featured invited guest speakers: Jan and Dean, Bobby Vee, Freddy Cannon, to name a few. He has extensive writing credits including the first three editions of the House of Collectibles’ The Official Price Guide to Collectible Rock Records, which was reviewed on NBC’s “Today” show. He has done numerous personality profiles of rock and pop artist for the record-collector magazine Goldmine.
“I always said we were the band that drove the stake through the love generation.” — Alice Cooper.
As a boy, Vincent Furnier loved to watch old movies on one of Phoenix’s independent TV stations. The Bowery Boys comedy flicks were a special favorite. In one particular story, when one of the characters does something (typically) stupid, a buddy taunts him with, “Hey, school’s out!”
Furnier liked the way that phrase sounded when he rolled it around in his mind. Little did he know that years later it would fuel his first million-selling single as Alice Cooper when he co-wrote “School’s Out” with fellow musician Michael Bruce.
Picture a pre-fame Alice Cooper as a teenager. You might cast him as a nerd and the laughing stock of Phoenix’s Cortez High School. But in reality, Furnier was quite the big man on campus there. He set school records as a varsity cross-country runner. He wrote a popular column (“Get Outta My Hair!”) for the school newspaper.
He and some fellow track-and-field jocks formed a rock band called the Spiders. And when they cut a Furnier-led single — a punkish ditty called “Don’t Blow Your Mind” — on a tiny local label, it rocketed to No. 1 on Phoenix radio in 1966, Furnier’s senior year. “We owned that school. We owned everything about it,” he has boasted. “I had a great time in high school. I was Ferris Bueller!”
“School’s Out” became the seventh single release by Alice Cooper, at the time the name of both the lead singer and his backup band. It was the only 45 issued from Cooper’s fifth album, not surprisingly called “School’s Out.”
The obstreperous disc opens with a screechy, fingernails-on-the-blackboard lead guitar line. Then comes a loping bass guitar and a thumping drum that combine to drive the high-octane offering for three-and-a-half chaotic minutes.
Predictably, record-buying teens loved it. And why not? Who didn’t look forward to summer vacation, three sublime months shrilly announced by the rapid-fire clanging of a bell that promised endless possibilities of a school-free, sunshine-bathed season? Here in America, Cooper’s bratty, tongue-in-cheek single reached Billboard’s Top 10 and became a No. 1 winner in England.
Some of the song’s lyrics are, well, “different”:
“School’s out for summer, school’s out forever, school’s been blown to pieces”
Probably the most deft line, though, is:
“We’ve got no class, and we’ve got no principles”
Predictably, many adults railed against the irreverent record, and some radio stations refused to play it. Cooper’s song has now joined the ranks of such other anti-school classics as Chuck Berry’s “School Day” and Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall.”
Cooper’s action packed concerts — as much modern vaudeville as “shock rock” — are a mash-up of comedy, horror and music, and Cooper often ends his shows with “School’s Out.”
In an Esquire magazine interview, Cooper said, “When we did ‘School’s Out,’ I knew we had just done the national anthem, (that) I’ve become the Francis Scott Key of the last day of school!”