Song of the Day: Education in Music (Day Six). “School’s Out for Summer, School’s Out Forever, School’s Been Blown to Pieces”.

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.

Song of the Day: Education in Music (Day Five). “Oh What Fun We Had, But Did It Really Turn Out Bad?”

Today’s Song of the Day is a staple part of every school reunion and other school themed event in the UK.  Madness’ Baggy Trousers, from their 1980 album, Absolutely, is also the antithesis to yesterday’s Song of the Day, Pink Floyd’s Another Brick in the Wall Part 2, from the album The Wall (1979).

In an interview with Uncut magazine in 2008, Suggs said:

“Baggy Trousers was sort of an answer to Pink Floyd, even at that age I thought the line “teacher leave the kids, alone” was a bit strange, sinister – though I think Floyd are a great band.  It sounded self-indulgent to be going on how terrible school days had been; there was an inverted snobbery about it too. ‘You went to a posh school?  You wanna try going to my school’”.

Baggy Trousers was written by lead singer Graham ‘Suggs’ McPherson and guitarist Chris Foreman, and finds the band remembering their school days with a joy and abandon which has made the song such an enduring classic.  In an interview with The Daily Mirror on the 18th September 2009, Suggs said of the song’s title:

“The title refers to the high-waisted Oxford bags we used to wear with Kevin Keegan perms – the worst fashion known to humankind.  It became so popular with primary school kids that it resulted in us doing a matinee tour”.

Coming across like Grange Hill put to music, lyrical reminisces include “Naughty boys in nasty schools, Headmaster’s breaking all the rules, Having fun and playing fools, Smashing up the woodwork tools”.  The band began playing the song live in April 1980 and it was released as a single on the 5th September 1980, spending eleven weeks in the UK chart and reaching number three.  It became the eleventh best-selling single of the year in the UK.

On the BBC documentary Young Guns Go for It in 2000, Suggs said of the song writing process of Baggy Trousers:

“I was very specifically trying to write a song in the style of Ian Dury, especially the songs he was writing then, which [were] often catalogues of phrases in a constant stream”.

The promotional video for Baggy Trousers was shot at a school and a park in Kentish Town.  The video was Baggy Trousers was met with great critical response from the public and was popular with television shows such as Top of the Pops.  In the whacky style which the band had by this point become renowned for, saxophonist, Lee Thompson decided that he wanted to fly through the air for his solo, which was achieved with wires hanging from a crane.  Guitarist Chris Foreman spoke about Thompson’s flying moment in a 2008 Uncut interview:

“One night Lee and I had bunked into see Genesis at Drury Lane – at a point in the set there was an explosion and Peter Gabriel went flying through the air.  That’s why Lee went flying in the Baggy Trousers video – he always vowed that when he got the chance he’d do the same thing”.

The resulting shot is one of the most popular and well remembered of any Madness videos, so much so that the moment was recreated at the band’s 1992 reunion concert, Madstock!  It was also recreated during the band’s 2007 Christmas tour, at Glastonbury Festival in 2009 and on a 2011 television advert for Kronenbourg 1664, which features a slow version of Baggy Trousers.

The slow version was later released on the 3CD box set, A Guided Tour of Madness under the title Le Grand Pantalon.

In an interview with The Telegraph on the 1st June 2014, when asked “So is Baggy Trousers your pension plan?”, Suggs replied:

“Well in some strange way, yes.  That’s the great thing about a song.  You write a song on your own and come up with some funny old lyric, somebody puts music to it, and then it’s out there, doing its own thing.  It may keep resurfacing and it may not, it may keep you going, it may just wither and die.  But when they keep going, ironically, you have more chance of coming back because then they keep relating to different generations”.

Song of the Day: Education in Music (Day Four). “Hey Teacher, Leave Those Kids Alone”

The Wall is a 1979 rock opera by Pink Floyd exploring abandonment and isolation, symbolised by a metaphorical wall.  The songs which make up The Wall form an approximate storyline of events in the life of protagonist, Pink.  The character of Pink is based upon former Pink Floyd member Syd Barrett and Pink Floyd multi-instrumentalist Roger Waters, whose father was killed during the Second World War.  Pink is oppressed by his overprotective mother and tormented at school by tyrannical, abusive teachers.  These traumas become metaphorical “bricks in the wall”.  He eventually becomes a rock star and due to these past traumas, his relationships are impaired by infidelity, drug use and outbursts of violence.  His marriage begins to crumble and he finishes building his wall, thus completely cutting himself off from human contact.  Here, hidden behind his wall, Pink’s crisis escalates, culminating in an hallucinatory on-stage performance where he believes he is a fascist dictator performing at concerts similar to Neo-Nazi rallies, at which he sets brownshirts-like men on fans whom he considers to be unworthy.  He is tormented by guilt and places himself on trial with his inner judge ordering him to “tear down the wall”, thus opening himself up to the outside world.

In the canon of education inspired songs, Another Brick in the Wall is probably the best known.   Another Brick in the Wall is split into three parts on the album, with each section taking on a different part of the story.  With its catchy refrain of “Hey teacher, leave those kids alone” sung by the  Islington Green School Fourth Form Music Class, Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2) is the most widely recognised.  When released as a single, the song became a number one single in fifteen countries, including the band’s native United Kingdom.

On The Wall album, Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2) segues from previous song, The Happiest Days of Our Lives, with Roger Waters’ signature scream.

In the song, Waters speaks out against the cruel teachers from his childhood whom he blames for contributing to the bricks in the wall of his mental detachment.  Waters attended The Perse School in Cambridge.  Though he was a keen sportsman and highly regarded member of the high school’s cricket and rugby teams, he disliked his educational experience immensely.  In the 2008 book Comfortably Numb:  The Inside Story of Pink Floyd by Mark Blake, Waters recalls his school days, saying:

“I hated every second of it, apart from games.  The regime at school was a very oppressive one … the same kids who are susceptible to bullying by the other kids are also susceptible to bullying by the teachers”.

Lyrically, Another Brick in the Wall Part 2 begins with the rallying call of “We don’t need no education”.  Firstly, this statement is a double negative, with “don’t” and “no” cancelling” each other out, producing an affirmative, as in ‘We do need education’, perhaps suggesting that education can be a good thing in developing well-rounded individuals and also suggesting that education is needed to stop the bullying of pupils by teachers.  Additionally, the double negative acts as rhetorical litotes in this context, used especially to emphasise the point being made, therefore Waters is saying “We don’t need this type of education”.  Taken in this context, Another Brick in the Wall Part 2 is an anthem about reclaiming one’s individuality rather than being one of complete revolution.  Another Brick in the Wall is a criticism of teachers and systems that, as in Pink’s case, ridicule an imaginative child for writing poetry.

The second line of the song, “We don’t need no thought control” further bashes the oppressiveness of the teachers being criticised.  On the 21st June 2006, Waters spray-painted this line on the Israeli apartheid wall whilst visiting the West Bank City of Bethlehem, the day before he performed in the Arab / Israeli Peace Village.  The concert was originally scheduled for Hayarkon Park outside Tel Aviv.  However, it was moved after discussions with Palestinian artist and Israeli refuseniks about the Palestinian call for an international cultural boycott against Israel’s inhumane and illegal policies.  Two years prior to this incident, Waters had helped launch a campaign against the wall run by the social justice organisation War or Want.  The following line, “No dark sarcasm in the classroom”, refers to the ways in which bad teachers find to ridicule the weaknesses of their students in order to crush their souls and dreams.

Following this, we find the chorus of “Teachers leave them kids alone, Hey teachers leave them kids alone, All in all it’s just another brick in the wall, All in all you’re just another brick in the wall”.  On The Wall album, walls are a metaphor for the narrator, Pink’s isolation from the outside world and from other people.  The lines also refer to the fact that the bullying incurred in the school has contributed to Pink building up a metaphorical wall around himself.  The ‘bricks’ also refer to the other students.

In the final section of the song, “Wrong!  Do it Again!  If you don’t eat your meat, you can’t have any pudding, How can have any pudding if you don’t eat your meat?  You!  Yes!  You behind the bike sheds!  Stand still laddie!”, we find the teachers’ ritual humiliation of the students in full effect.  The teacher was portrayed by David Gilmour.

Musically, Another Brick in the Wall Part 2’s disco beat was an idea that came from producer Bob Ezrin.  Gilmour explained this in an interview with Guitar World in 2009:

“It wasn’t my idea to do disco music.  It was Bob’s.  He said to me, “Go to a couple of clubs and listen to what’s happening with disco music”, so I forced myself out and listened to loud, four-to-the bar bass drums and stuff and I thought, Gawd, awful!  Then we went back and tried to turn one of the [song’s] parts into one of those so it would be catchy”.

Ezrin immediately recognised the hit potential of Another Brick in the Wall Part 2.  It was Ezrin’s idea to use the school choir for the song, as he explained to Guitar World in 2009:

“The most important thing I did for the song was to insist that it be more than just one verse and one chorus long, which it was when Roger wrote it.  When we played it with a disco drumbeat I said:  “Man, this is a hit!  But it’s one minute 20.  We need two verses and two choruses”.  And they said, “Well, you’re not bloody getting them.  We don’t do singles, so fuck you”.  So I said, “Okay, fine”, and they left.  And because of our two [tape recorder] set up, while they weren’t around we were able to copy the first verse and chorus, take one of the drum fills, put them in between and extend the chorus.

Then the question is what do you do with the second verse, which is the same?  And having been the guy who made Alice Cooper’s School’s Out [album, 1972], I’ve got this thing about kids on record, and it is about kids after all.  So while we were in America, we sent [recording engineer] Nick Griffiths to a school near the Floyd Studios [in Islington, North London].  I said, “Give me 24 tracks of kids singing this thing.  I want cockney, I want posh, fill ‘em up”, and I put them on the song.  I called Roger into the room, and when the kids came in on the second verse, there was a total softening of his face, and you just knew that he knew it was going to be an important record”.