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–ALICE COOPER: School’s Out (1972, Warner Bros.)

Alice-Cooper-Schools-Out-479591

–ALICE COOPER: School’s Out (1972, Warner Bros.)

“Well we got no class
And we got no principles
And we got no innocence
We can’t even think of a word that rhymes”

I can’t either. As an impressionable 15-year-old, listening to his new cassette copy of Alice Cooper’s Greatest Hits, the hit single “School’s Out” was as humorous and fun as it was rebellious. It was a revelation for this nascent hard rocker, who immediately fell in love with the Alice Cooper Group’s inimitable mix of witty lyrics, catchy riffs, and seamless song craftsmanship. Alice Cooper immediately became one of my favorite bands, and I quickly gobbled up masterpieces such as Love it to Death, Billion Dollar Babies, and the shock rock/horror thrill ride that is Killer. While it’s impossible for me to choose one favorite Cooper record, perhaps much like the old cliché of choosing a favorite child (though I have no children), School’s out – the album – always resonated with me in a particularly personal manner.

Repeat readers of this blog will recognize that I typically celebrate my favorite albums that I believe deserve extra recognition, usually because they are either obscure or oft-maligned by media or popular opinion. School’s Out falls into neither category, yet the phenomenal songs on the album as a whole tend to get overlooked in the annals of the hard rock canon. Yes, “School’s Out” undoubtedly is a brilliant and iconic single, and I can’t even argue that it doesn’t deserve more recognition than any other song on the record. But the glory of School’s Out is about so much more than its ubiquitous title track. On their fourth album, the band’s impeccable musicianship, and Bob Ezrin’s crisp and clear production, coalesced on this terse yet emotionally-resonant collection. These songs have heart, they have theatrical flair, and they have the drastic peaks and valleys that still ignite the passions of the disaffected teenager in all of us.

Unsurprisingly, Side One kicks off with the hit title track, which features one of the most well-known riffs in rock history. As familiar as this song has become, it’s impossible to deny the universal appeal of that monstrous riff and infectious chorus. It is no shock that Cooper still ends his concerts with this famous ode to the last day of school, sporting a top hat and popping the giant balloons that float high above the audience. Thankfully, “School’s Out” the song is only the beginning of this powerful and diverse roller coaster of an album.

Next, the band shoots right out of the gate with the driving and captivating rocker, “Luney Tune.” One of the album’s undeniable masterpieces, the song features a sleek and sinister main riff, intricate interplay between guitarists Glen Buxton and Michael Bruce, and some thought-provoking lyrics from Sir. Alice on one of his favorite themes: insanity and institutionalization. “Just a little insane/a couple shots I can’t feel no pain/Hey where have I been/and who are these scary men?” In retrospect, these lines feel a little like musical foreshadowing of Cooper’s own harrowing rehab experience as portrayed on his 1978 concept album, From the Inside.

Bassist Dennis Dunaway showcases his impressive chops in the rousing first half of “Gutter Cat Vs. The Jets.” Dunaway’s slowly descending bass line morphs into a raucous tour de force of infectious riffs and tongue-in-cheek, virile machismo. “She made my eyes bug out, my tail stand up, and I ain’t even in heat for a month.” Meanwhile, the ensuing retort by the rival Jets gang manifests itself in the familiar rallying cry of the “West Side Story” theme as performed masterfully on synthesizer by Bruce. Dunaway seizes the limelight once again with the frenetic ascending bass loop that comprises the brief instrumental interlude, “Street Fight.” Alice Cooper shifts down into second gear, and perhaps left field, with the mellow lounge jazz of “Blue Turk.” Featuring such un-rocker-like musical elements as walking bass lines, clean jazz guitar tones, saxophone and trombone solos, and understated vocal melodies, this beautiful song highlights the diversity and sheer musical proficiency of the Alice Cooper Group.

Side Two is where things really get interesting, so to speak. At the risk of committing unpardonable crimes of hyperbole, “My Stars” just may qualify as the greatest masterwork of the entire Cooper catalog. The tune is dramatic and emotive, a veritable sucker punch that leaves the listener seeing “stars” of his or her own. Riding its tidal wave of ascending chromatic runs and Alice’s scat-like vocal melodies, “My Stars” nearly steals the show on this last day of school. That’s not to diminish the impact of the tasty prison-confessional rocker “Public Animal #9,” or the plaintive and nostalgic semi-ballad, “Alma Mater,” which evokes the bittersweet remembrances of the end of a high-school career. The aptly-dubbed “Grande Finale” is the grandiose fireworks extravaganza School’s Out deserves. This bombastic symphonic instrumental is as melodically irresistible as it is overblown. Really, would there be a more appropriate way to end this record?

School may literally be out for most of us, but the curriculum on this class schedule is as balanced and satisfying as it gets. Crank it loud, and be sure to revisit this timeless hard-rock yearbook as much as possible.—Jonathan Kollnot

–Tracklisting: 1.) School’s Out 2.) Luney Tune 3.) Gutter Cat Vs. The Jets 4.) Street Fight 5.) Blue Turk 6.) My Stars 7.) Public Animal #9 8.) Alma Mater 9.) Grande Finale

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~ by jonnyboyrocker on December 7, 2014.

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