Jul. 11, 2022
‘We’re the kids in the back of the class’: An oral history of Alice Cooper’s ‘School’s Out’
“School’s Out” is, in many ways, the perfect Alice Cooper song.
From Glen Buxton’s iconic guitar riff to the point where they’re joined by a choir of actual schoolkids rhyming “No more pencils/ No more books” with “No more teachers’ dirty looks,” it’s everything you could want in a song that celebrates the highlight of most students’ formal education.
The chorus hook captures the joy of the last day of school with the youthful abandon required. And ending a verse with “We can’t even think of a word that rhymes?” That’s like acing the final in AP Class Clownery.
Even the timing was perfect.
Released on April 26, 1972, the single arrived just as kids were impatiently counting down the final days to freedom.
In late July, it peaked at No. 7 on the Billboard Hot 100, climbing six spots higher in the U.K. the following month.
By that point, the band had already made the most of that momentum, releasing an album also titled “School’s Out” on June 30, packaged in a picture of a school desk, complete with their names and initials carved into the wood.
It even opened like an old-school wooden desk to reveal a record wrapped in paper panties and a desk stuffed with the sort of items any self-respecting juvenile delinquent might have stashed inside — a comic book, a bad report card, a switchblade.
The theme carried over into other songs.
“Public Animal # 9” finds Cooper vowing, “Me and G.B., we ain’t never gonna confess/ We cheated at the math test/ We carved some dirty words in our desk/ Well now it’s time for recess.”
G.B. is Buxton.
He and Cooper first appeared onstage together singing Beatles parodies alongside future bassist Dennis Dunaway in the Cortez High School cafetorium in Phoenix as the Earwigs.
That was 1964.
Two years later, the Earwigs had become the Spiders and recruited North High football player Michael Bruce to play guitar. They charted a regional hit with the primal garage rock of “Don’t Blow Your Mind.”
They’d moved to California and become the Nazz by 1967, when Camelback High grad Neal Smith joined on drums, completing the lineup a year before one final name change set the stage for Alice Cooper to conquer the world.
This is the story of “School’s Out” — an album that mentions both Cortez and Camelback high schools in a bittersweet ballad that also references Miss Axelrod, a Cortez science teacher — as told by Cooper and his three surviving bandmates (Buxton died in 1997), manager Shep Gordon and their producer, Bob Ezrin.
‘School’s Out’ is the spiritual successor to ‘Eighteen’
They started work on “School’s Out” while touring on “Killer,” which had come out less than nine months after “Love It to Death,” the album that first suggested they could back up their outrageously theatrical performances with a three-minute single.
“Killer” exploded on impact with “Under My Wheels” and included classics “Be My Lover,” “Desperado” and “Halo of Flies.”
The only thing missing was a single that could speak to teens the way the band’s breakthrough, “I’m Eighteen,” did.
Dennis Dunaway: “School’s Out” came about because “I’m Eighteen” targeted that 18-year-old demographic that bought the most records. “Under My Wheels’ was a decent hit. And “Be My Lover.” But they didn’t draw in that crowd.
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