Odd Couples: The Beach Boys’ “Be True to Your School” vs. Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out”

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In North America, the beginning of September has long been synonymous with the beginning of school. Whether they are elementary, high school or post-secondary students, thousands and thousands across the continent will say goodbye to their not-so-endless summer and wearily trudge back to one of the many approved hallowed halls of institutional learning found all across the land.

As it is every year, each student’s greatest hope will be this: Maybe something will happen that will give inspiration, direction and meaning to their lives.

Once upon a time, that was easy enough. The Beach Boys summed it up in their 1963 Top 10 hit “Be True to Your School.” The key lines are: “Ain’t you heard of my school; it’s No. 1 in the state” and the backing vocal track “Rah rah rah rah sis boom bah.” There’s more of this sort of fluff, but who cares?

The LP version makes an out-of-place appearance on a record otherwise comprised of car-driving songs — does that make Little Deuce Coupe the first rock ‘n’ roll concept album? — and the hit single has the added feature of the Honeys doing cheerleader cheers at random points throughout the song.

Frankly, it’s pretty weak; at least Brian Wilson gets to share the blame for this with that other songwriting dynamo Mike Love. Simple enough to the point of being simple minded. But then again, it was a simpler time.

Less than a decade later, Alice Cooper would storm into the Top 10 with 1972’s “School’s Out,” the title track from the album that eventually went to No. 2 on the album charts. I remember that summer clearly. As an aspiring young teenage metal head, I scoffed at the notion of how some little blondie prefab pop sensation had made it near the top of the charts with some sappy vacuous ballad about her sappy vacuous life. At the time I was thinking this, I hadn’t actually yet heard the song, but I was sure I would hate “School’s Out” by little goldilocks Alice Cooper the moment I heard it.

Yeah, I was surprised. That was the point. This was another variation of the “Tune In, Turn On, Drop Out” mantra left over from the late ’60s, but with less politics and a lot more visceral edge. There’s an immediacy to a chorus with lines like, “School’s out — forever!” and “School’s out — completely!” At the end of the second verse, Alice shows his contempt for English teachers everywhere when he snarls, “We can’t even think of a word that rhymes,” and it doesn’t.

However, now that both of these songs are musical generations in the past, there are a couple of key questions to consider. Did Mr. Clean Cut Brian Wilson really go on to become the genius musical architect of “Good Vibrations,” or was he the deranged drug-crazed recluse who played his grand piano in a sandbox — or both?

And didn’t the former Mr. Vince Furnier go on to become a legendary chicken killer, alcoholic, born-again Christian and Bob Hope’s golf buddy? Or was it all just a theater piece?

The answers are found in the obvious clues. First, the band nicked the childhood rhyme that starts out “No more pencils, no more books …” and used it for a bridge. Second, the album itself really was a concept album about school (including the school-desk artwork). At the end, Alice seems sad to be graduating and moving on (“Remember the Coop … goodbye” are his last words). Finally, Alice always said his whole schtick was not to be taken seriously.

I think Brian Wilson might have felt the same lack of gravitas about his own school song, but as far as anyone knows, he’s never fessed up about it. So, maybe he really did believe in its stated ideals.

As such, the winner is Alice “The Coop” Cooper by KO, taking out Brian Wilson and Mike Love as well — probably sometime before Alice went into rehab. No rematch.

JC Mosquito

JC Mosquito

JC Mosquito spends most of his day keeping the wolves from the door. When he's not occupied with this pastime, he's interested in all things rock and roll -- which may or may not have died back in the late 1950s, the late 1970s, or the early '90s, depending on who you believe. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
JC Mosquito
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