School’s Out, from Alice Cooper’s 1972 album of the same name, became the singer’s breakthrough hit. The song became Alice Cooper’s first major hit single, reaching number seven on the Billboard Hot 100 pop singles chart and number one on the UK singles chart for three weeks. The single marked the first time that Alice Cooper was seen as more than just a theatrical novelty act. Due to the huge success of the single, its parent album also became highly successful, reaching number two on the Billboard 200 chart. On his radio show, Nights With Alice Cooper in 2008, Cooper explained the inspiration behind the song when he was asked “What’s the greatest three minutes of your life?”:
“There’s two times during the year. One is Christmas morning, when you’re just getting ready to open the presents. The greed factor is right there. The next one is the last three minutes of the last day of school when you’re sitting there and it’s like a slow fuse burning. I said, ‘If we can catch that three minutes in a song, it’s going to be so big’.”
Additionally, Cooper went on to joke that the main riff of the song, written by Glen Buxton, was inspired by Miles Davis. Cooper has also explained on various occasions that School’s Out was also inspired by a warning often said in Bowery Boys movies in which one of the characters declares to another, “School is out”, meaning ‘to wise up’. The Bowery Boys were trouble-making New York City tough guy characters featured in 48 movies which ran from 1946 to 1958. The movies were often shown on American television throughout the ‘60s and ‘70s, eating up a lot of air time on independent stations.
Lyrically, Schools Out discusses the students’ disdain for school life to the extreme with its chorus stating that “School’s out for summer, School’s out forever, School’s been blown to pieces”. Additionally, on the last chorus, Cooper plays on the idea of being absent from the school with the line, “School’s out with fever”, before bringing the song to a climax with the line, The song also incorporates part of the childhood rhyme, Pencils and Books in the lines “No more pencils, no more books, No more teachers’ dirty looks”. This part of the song includes children singing, an idea by producer Bob Ezrin. Ezrin would later use this effect when he produced another school-themed song, Pink Floyd’s Another Brick in the Wall Part 2, from the album The Wall (1979).
In later live performances of School’s Out, Cooper has been known to incorporate parts of the first verse of Another Brick in the Wall Part 2.
For the album version of the song, Ezrin also used a “turn off” effect on the school bell and sound effects at the end of the song. This effect is not present on the single version, with the school bell and effects simply fading out.
On the single’s release, some US and UK radio stations banned the song, deeming that it gave the students a negative impression of rebelliousness against childhood education. The song was also shunned by teachers, parents, principles, counsellors and psychologists who demanded that it be removed from radio playlists. In the UK, Mary Whitehouse, as part of her Clean Up TV Campaign, attempted to have School’s Out banned by the BBC, where it was receiving heavy play on their flagship music entertainment show, Top of the Pops. In August 1972, Whitehouse wrote to the BBC’s head of light entertainment, Bill Cotton, complaining of the “gratuitous publicity” given to the song. She continued to say: “Because of this, millions of young people are imbibing a philosophy of violence and anarchy … It is our view that if there is increasing violence in the schools during the coming term, the BBC will not be able to evade their share of the blame”. Alice Cooper famously sent Whitehouse a bunch of flowers to thank her for helping to publicise the song in a manner that they couldn’t have imagined and helping the song to the top spot on the UK singles chart.