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"School's Out"
Alice Cooper
Warner Bros. 7596
Jun. 1972
Billboard: #7    Lyrics Icon Videos Icon

Alice Cooper

Uncorrected personality traits that seem whimsical in a child may prove to be ugly in a fully grown adult...
The spoiled baby grows into... the escapist teenager who's... the adult alcoholic who's... the middle-aged suicide. Oy!

he above is an excerpt from a bizarrely comic a capella song written by English musician Robyn Hitchcock. Needless to say, very often there is a substantial amount of truth in humor.

I didn't choose the above quote for its relevance to Alice Cooper (aka Vincent Furnier), but rather for its relevance to the life of rock and roll. In the '50s, rock and roll was the spoiled baby. Rebellious mannerisms and adolescent desires to show off were packaged for mass consumption and resulted in seemingly limitless fame. The whimsical personality traits of "rock and roll" not only went uncorrected, they were handsomely rewarded. Every rebellious teenager leapt at the opportunity to become a rock and roll star -- and many did become stars.

After a few years of incredible creativity and growth, reality began to set in. Disaffection and dissatisfaction once again became common themes in rock and roll, only this time they contained the morbid underpinnings of a mid-life crisis. The faces of our most well-known rock-and-roll stars were becoming plump and lined with age. Rock music was similarly transformed (such a self-delusional state of paranoia ensued that it could no longer be referred to as "rock and roll"). The whimsical traits of "rock" certainly did prove to be ugly in the fully grown adult. Alice Cooper was poised and ready to take full advantage of destiny. Rock had entered its decadent adult phase, with nihilism and hedonism as its only valid options.

School's Out
Released in the summer of 1972, School's Out was Alice Cooper's commercial breakthrough, reaching number two on the US album charts and selling over a million copies. The title track cracked the Top 10 in the US and hit number one in the UK.
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Cooper was both. He was also a phony, a poser, a schlocky shock-master, an unapologetic show-off, a manipulative prestidigitator, a destroyer of preconceptions, and he was fantastic. His outrageousness captivated an audience that had come of age during a time when cynicism was rampant. In retrospect, it wasn't his eye makeup that was outrageous. Even his androgyny, both in name and dress, was conventional for the times. It was his stage antics that forced people to pay attention while his deliberately controversial lyrics kept them tuned in. His records could hardly have been more indicative of the corrupt state of affairs. The Tubes, Kiss, Black Sabbath, et al. eventually capitalized on what would become the "rock-and-roll circus," but Cooper arrived early and pushed himself into the center ring.

His first album Pretties for You, dates from 1969-70 and is tied for first place, along with the Shaggs' Philosophy of the World, for the most sublimely naive album ever recorded. The second, Easy Action, was neither as definitively horrible as its predecessor, nor did it show any promise of what was to come. It wasn't until his third album, Love It to Death, that Cooper found his stride, mostly because of the intuitive production genius of Bob Ezrin. Ezrin's attention to detail helped Cooper record some of the best straightforward rock of the early '70s while simultaneously defining the grotesque image that would make him a star. Besides the ultimate anthem to teenage confusion, called "I'm Eighteen," Love It to Death also contained a disturbing ode to insanity and another to black magic. Cooper's next album, Killer, raised the stakes further. Ezrin's production was sharpened to perfection while Cooper sang about "Dead Babies" and malicious manslaughter. The stage was set, and the identity of the players was now clearly defined.

Without a doubt, School's Out was the cast's crowning achievement. First of all, the album jacket, which was designed to unfold like a schoolroom desk, opened to reveal a record encased in a pair of pink panties. If you were twelve or thirteen years old, then you probably can remember just how embarrassing and difficult this was to explain to anybody who didn't get it -- namely, your parents. Parents may have been questioning the sanity of their children, but the record more than justified the gimmickry. If you liked either of Cooper's previous albums, then you loved School's Out. The title song was the rockingest song on the Top 40. The lyrics are both funny and mildly outrageous: "Well, we got no class, and we got no principles..." Not "principals" -- get it? But what rhymes with 'principles'? Oh hell, forget it; "We can't even think up a word that rhymes." Ezrin, meanwhile, made certain that the album would retain its appeal by formulating it into a trendy masterpiece that legitimized the hokum. Despite the record's theme of juvenile delinquency and teenage violence, he sheared the rough edges and polished it until it shined. Cooper became a superstar.

By their next record, Cooper had become too famous for his own good. Billion Dollar Babies used his excessive fame as its overriding theme, and it became a stratospheric success, but the controversial edge had become blunted. His themes veered from the predictably outrageous ("I Love the Dead," about necrophilia) to numbingly dumb ("Unfinished Sweet," about a trip to the dentist), but Ezrin's production kept the proceedings lively and professional. Billion Dollar Babies became Cooper's best-selling record and yielded three Top 40 singles ("Hello Hurray," "Elected," and "No More Mr. Nice Guy"). These songs eventually proved to have a limited shelf life, but "School's Out" retains its relevance. It's funny to think that the adolescent kids who listened to "School's Out" and "I'm Eighteen" are now fully grown and have kids of their own. The rock-and-roll fountain of youth has kept the genre as twisted and rebellious as ever while the rest of us continue to age. Perhaps we ought to break out our Alice Cooper records and play them for our kids. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em, right? Chances are good they'll like it, too, but it's still going to be embarrassing as hell when they ask you why the album is wrapped in a pair of pink panties.

- Thomas Ryan, American Hit Radio, Prima Entertainment, 1996.

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