'School's Out': Alice Cooper's 'National Anthem'

Frank Mastropolo

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Warner Bros. Records

The Alice Cooper band’s ghoulish makeup and wild stage antics earned the group a lot of attention when they debuted in 1968. Lead singer Vincent Furnier — who later adopted the Alice Cooper name for himself — has said he dreamed the name up based on the idea of “a cute, sweet little girl with a hatchet behind her back.”

The group’s original lineup was Furnier, Glen Buxton (lead guitar), Michael Bruce (rhythm guitar), Dennis Dunaway (bass) and drummer Neal Smith, who told New Canaan, CT Patch, “When we had a successful album, we wanted to throw it back. We had a bad attitude — which is good for rock n’ roll. If another band had long hair — we had longer hair. We wanted to look more outrageous than anyone out there. We were really pushing the limits with our image. I loved it.”

In 1971, “I’m Eighteen” became their first hit, topped the next year by “School’s Out.”

"School's Out" (Live) by Alice Cooper

In his book Alice Cooper, Golf Monster: A Rock ’n’ Roller’s Life and 12 Steps to Becoming a Golf Addict,” Cooper explains how “School’s Out” was conceived.

“While ‘I’m Eighteen’ was a strong hit, we still weren’t satisfied. We lacked the definitive Alice Cooper signature tune. So we set out to rectify the situation.

“Question: What are the two happiest moments in a young person’s life? Answer: Christmas morning and the last day of school.

“I thought back to my own school days, looking at the clock. Three minutes left before three months of summer vacation. I remembered that anticipation, as the seconds ticked down. If we could only write a song capturing those final climatic three minutes of the last day of school.

“So we did. ‘School’s Out’ was pure punk, but as catchy as pop. We added a rhythm at the bottom of the song that was a cross between Ravel’s Bolero and ‘Beck’s Bolero.’ The whole band wrote it together.”

Cooper told the Metro Times how he came up with one of the classic lyrics.

“You know the line, ‘I can’t even think of a word that rhymes’? It was one of those moments recording in the studio where everybody looked at each other and went, ‘Brilliant.’

“The line was prewritten, sort of. When I was writing it, ‘We got no class…’ I go to myself, I can’t even think of a word that rhymes for that [laughs]. Then I thought, ‘That’s exactly who this guy is; he painted himself into a corner. Let’s just be honest.”

Cooper added that when the heard the finished track, the group knew immediately they had a hit. They looked at each other and said, “This is gonna be a monster.”

Cooper told Esquire, “When we did ‘School’s Out,’ I knew we had just done the national anthem. I’ve become the Francis Scott Key of the last day of school.”

Mastropolo is the author of New York Groove: An Inside Look at the Stars, Shows, and Songs That Make NYC Rock and Fillmore East: The Venue That Changed Rock Music Forever.

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Frank Mastropolo is the author of Fillmore East: The Venue That Changed Rock Music Forever, one of Best Classic Bands' Best Music Books of 2021; New York Groove: An Inside Look at the Stars, Shows, and Songs That Make NYC Rock; the What's Your Rock IQ? Trivia Quiz Book series; Ghost Signs: Clues to Downtown New York's Past, winner of the 2021 Independent Publishers Book Award; and Ghost Signs 2: Clues to Uptown New York's Past. Mastropolo is a journalist, photographer, and former ABC News 20/20 producer, winner of the Alfred I. DuPont–Columbia University silver baton. His photography is featured in the Bill Graham Rock & Roll Revolution exhibition.

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