Inside the Deluxe Editions of Alice Cooper’s Killer and School’s Out 

A chat with liner notes co-author and former CREEM editor Bill Holdship 

Alice Cooper (Image: Wikipedia)

For the serious music fan and collector, reissues provide a way to go deeper into one’s affinity for a favorite album.

Especially when they are done right, as Rhino has done with these brand new deluxe editions of Alice Cooper’s Killer (1971) and School’s Out (1972). Not only do the remastered versions of both LPs sound revelatory, but both come packed with studio rarities and previously unreleased live recordings that accentuate the otherworldly chemistry of the original AC band: Frontman Alice Cooper, guitarist Glen Buxton, multi-instrumentalist Michael Bruce and one of the great rhythm sections of the 70s in bassist Dennis Dunaway and drummer Neal Smith. 

Killer features the band’s performance at Mar Y Sol Pop Festival in Puerto Rico on April 2, 1972. Recorded a few months before the band returned to the studio to make School’s Out, the group played most of Killer along with cuts from their 1971 album, Love It to Death, for live versions of “Is It My Body?,” “Long Way To Go,” and the smash hit “I’m Eighteen.” There’s also a little studio gold as well, with alternate takes of album cuts “You Drive Me Nervous,” “Under My Wheels” and “Dead Babies.”

The deluxe edition of School’s Out, meanwhile, contains rarities like the single versions of “School’s Out” and “Gutter Cat vs. The Jets.” Two previously unreleased tracks are also included, an alternate version of “Alma Mater” and an early demo for “Elected,” a song that would appear in 1973 on the band’s first #1 album, Billion Dollar Babies. You also get an Alice Cooper concert in Miami on May 27, 1972, highlighted by an epic version of “Halo Of Flies” and “Yeah, Yeah, Yeah,” a song that displays Cooper’s impressive harmonica skills.

Then, as you’re sitting there listening, you can get lost in the excellent liner notes from two CREEM alumni that really bring you into the record like never before. In the booklets for each title, you’ll find oral histories with the surviving band members that really put it all on the table in terms of the band’s mindset while putting together both albums and their concepts. For instance, it’s wild to surmise just how much jazz and musical theater played into the creation of School’s Out when you hear Dunaway, Smith, Bruce and Coop articulate it to the great Jaan Uhelszki. 

However, for me, it was Bill Holdship’s personal essays gracing the inside tri-fold of the reissues that really brings the music to the page through his tales of teenage angst in Detroit with Killer and School’s Out providing the soundtracks to his high school years. 

We got in touch with Mr. Holdship, a former CREEM editor and occasional contributor to MOJO Magazine, to get his thoughts on the new reissues and what may lie ahead for the Alice Cooper catalog in the coming months. 

 

How did you get involved in these deluxe editions of Killer and School’s Out?

Well, Toby Mamis, who is a manager at Shep Gordon’s Alive Enterprises and was Alice Cooper’s tour manager for many years, has been a friend of mine since my CREEM days. We never met in person until I did my Alice feature for the magazine in Detroit in 1986 but we became much tighter when I moved to Los Angeles the following year. So he knew about my love for the original band and my long history with them and when the deluxe editions were in the planning stages last year, he sent me an e-mail and asked if I would be interested in doing notes and if I wasn’t, if I had any suggestions.

I’m basically retired these days due to health issues but I will still occasionally accept an assignment if it’s something near and dear to my heart. Well, these definitely fit that criteria. I did tell him that I wasn’t interested in doing any annotation or interviews for the notes. But I would be more than  happy to do a fan’s notebook, so to speak, and he was thankfully down with that as was the rest of management. That’s why he got our mutual friend Jaan to do the interviews and the annotations with the band. I was lucky because he thought that a memoir of sorts of what it was like to be an Alice Cooper obsessive beginning at the age of 16 in 1971 would work.

Rhino still had to approve me, of course, but that wasn’t a problem since my friend Sheryl Farber is the editorial director and although I haven’t done any liner notes in quite a few years, we began working together in 2005 when she first hired me to do notes for a “Best of the Replacements” compilation and for two of the Replacements reissues they were releasing although the latter too got pushed back a bit. But after that, she hired me to do notes for some other projects – Marshall Crenshaw, Tommy James & Shondells and Love among them. She is always a joy to work with so I was happy to connect with her again. I was especially pleased after handing in the notes – because if you’re a conscientious writer, you’re never quite sure how what you wrote is going to be received – when she wrote back to me to let me know that she and management really didn’t change a word in my notes.

Killer ad (Image: Pinterest)

What do you think of the bonus material? Do the live discs capture the essence of seeing Alice live back then?

Oh, I’m always very happy when any new live material from that era is made available – especially since Toby had told me years ago that he didn’t think that much was available. I was thrilled when that deluxe edition of Billion Dollar Babies was released quite a few years ago with some live tracks from that tour. I do remember being a bit disappointed, however, that it ended with “I Love the Dead” and didn’t include the encore which, of course, was “Under My Wheels” which may be my favorite Alice Cooper song. I also have a bootleg cassette of a show from the Love It to Death tour which a friend of mine gave me back in the 1980s. So I know the recordings are out there. I guess it was just a process of tracking them down.

During my years of fandom for the original group, I was always hoping and praying that they would release a live album. I was disappointed that when they finally got around to it, it was in 1977 and was solo Alice with his then backing band. Don’t get me wrong. I am an immense fan of Steve Hunter and the late great Dick Wagner, who was a friend of mine — especially the stuff they did with Lou Reed — but that original Alice Cooper group was a fantastic live rock ‘n roll band. And I sometimes think that may have been lost to history. I keep hoping that they will get that original band back together before it’s too late – and it’s already too late for Glen Buxton – and do a reunion tour. That is something I would like to see and hear.

The only slight disappointment to me is that the live material on School’s Out is from very early in the tour. I saw them do that part of the tour early that summer in Flint. And it was basically a retread of the Killer show with the new hit single added to the set list. That show was great nevertheless and it featured Micky Dolenz joining them on stage for a surprise final encore of “Hey, Hey, We’re the Monkees.” I was a huge Monkees fan. Still am. In fact, that night was the first time I ever met Micky outside the venue. My very first rock ‘n roll concert – thank you, Mom! – was the Monkees at Olympia Stadium in Detroit in January of 1967.

But by the time the Alice Cooper band returned to Detroit that July, it was a completely new show and set list. They had added material from the new album. They opened that night with “Public Animal #9,” which was just as great of an opening number as “Be My Lover” had been on the Killer tour. I remember there was what you might call a medley of their  biggest “hits” towards the beginning of the show that kicked off with “Caught in a Dream” and concluded with an awesome rendition of  “I’m Eighteen.” And it was fantastic! Among the best of the many Alice Cooper shows I saw back in those days. So I wish they could have included material from that part of the tour. I’m not sure that any exists. But, hey, I’ll take what I can get.

The Miami show that is included – and I’m pretty sure it’s the entire show – is quite good. Interestingly, perhaps the greatest Alice Cooper show I ever saw was on the Billion Dollar Babies tour in Florida. I was on vacation for spring break with my parents in Miami and my brother and I discovered that Alice Cooper was appearing that same week in nearby Hollywood, Florida at an outside venue called Pirate’s World. And it was such a great show. In subsequent years, I would find that some of my future best friends, including Dave DiMartino, who I worked with him college and then at CREEM and drummer David Castello, were at that same show. So I think that perhaps much like Detroit, Florida was always a stronghold for that band.

In regards to your second question, yeah, I think it probably captures the essence of seeing them live. Although they were, of course, so visual that actually having film footage probably captures it even better. I mean, words alone can’t capture what some of those shows were like to a 16 and 17-year-old kid just recently introduced to rock concerts, stoned on pot, and in love with that particular band. There were like a dozen groupies dressed to the hilt right in front of the stage for that aforementioned Pirate’s World concert. And it’s probably not appropriate for me to recall some of the things I saw happening in front of the stage that night. It was a different time. But, yeah, it was also the essence of rock ‘n roll at that particular time in history. I think it certainly prepared me for punk rock.

Alice Cooper Killer, Warner Bros. Records 1971

Why do you think Rhino kicked off this Alice Cooper deluxe series with these two rather than go chronologically?

I have no idea. You’d probably have to ask them. I do know that these were supposed to be 50th anniversary special editions. But in order for that to fit, they would have had to be released in 2022 – Killer was released in late 1971 but had most of its influence and popularity in ’72 – and they got held back for some reason unbeknownst to me. So now, they are simply just “Special Deluxe Editions” [laughs] and that’s fine with me. It’s pretty incredible that bands would release two and sometimes even more albums a year back in those days.

To be honest with you, I don’t think there are probably a lot of people out there eagerly awaiting special editions of the first two albums they did for Frank Zappa’s Straight label. I learned to appreciate both over the years but I remember not liking them very much back in my teen fan days and thinking that they were quite disappointing at the time. The arrival of [producer] Bob Ezrin, of course, changed everything for them!

I would love for them to do a deluxe edition of Love It to Death, which is my second favorite album by them and the first one that I owned, but both Toby and Sheryl have told me that there are no plans for it at the moment. But I asked them to please keep me at the top of the list for liner notes if that should suddenly end up on their schedule.

 

Beyond the notes, is there a memory or two you could share about getting these albums back then when they first came out and that initial experience of hearing this music for the first time?

Well, I could be a smartass and say that you need to read the liner notes. [Laughs] But as I explained in the liner notes, I actually met the band on November 27, 1971, the same day that the Killer album was released. And in many ways, it ended up changing my life.

The band was based in Detroit, of course, for quite some time. So I would see and hear about them appearing in various places around Michigan. They even played a high school gymnasium about an hour from where I grew up. But I really didn’t know anything about them at that point. And this was still before Love It to Death was released. If memory serves me, I think the very first time I ever read about them was in Walter Scott’s showbiz Q&A column Personality Parade that was in the front of Parade magazine, which came as part of Sunday editions of big-city newspapers back in those days.

I may have read about them before that in a paperback book that I owned – Flip’s Groovy Guide To The Groops — but I don’t remember if they were in there for sure. I also don’t recall if they were in Lillian Roxon’s Rock Encyclopedia, which I also owned. But that Walter Scott appearance is what I remember the most. In retrospect, I think most of the questions in that column came from press agents and publicists. Made up letters. But I do remember somebody asked about this group called Alice Cooper out of Detroit and the response was that it was fronted by a man who was believed to be a reincarnation of a witch named Alice Cooper who was burned at the stake. That part of the mythology didn’t last very long. But I’ll never forget it and how it intrigued my teenage mind.

School’s Out promo poster (Image: eBay)

It wasn’t long after that “I’m Eighteen” became a huge hit, first breaking out of Detroit via CKLW. Part of it was that it was just a great rock ‘n roll single, of course. But the band’s connection with Bob Ezrin played in their favor because back in those days, Canadian stations – and CKLW was just across the river in Windsor — had to play at least one record by a Canadian artist every hour. And since Ezrin was from Canada, that fit the bill.

Anyway, that record was huge in our high school, played at every school dance and by damn near every local garage band including my own. I first bought the single and I remember mining to it using a hairbrush as a microphone in my parents’ basement. It didn’t hurt at all that the drinking age in Michigan had just been lowered to 18 so I suppose that made it even more of an anthem of the times.

I bought the album not long after that — I was able to score one of the original uncensored covers; I wish I still had it. And much as I say of Killer, I still think that Love It to Death is a perfect rock ‘n roll album. I love it to this day. I read about the band in CREEM, which I also had just recently discovered, most of it written by some guy named Lester Bangs.

In November of the following year, my friends and I discovered that Alice Cooper was playing a show at the old relatively small-ish Saginaw Auditorium on a Saturday night right after Thanksgiving. Those were, of course, the pre-Internet days and the only way you really heard about such things in those days was in newspaper ads or word-of-mouth. I remember we had to purchase the tickets at a nearby “head” shop. I do believe it was the first time that any of us had been in such an establishment but we sure thought it was cool.

Anyway, right after that, we went to a taco restaurant that was near the venue for dinner. And when we walked into the ordering area, the entire Alice Cooper group was standing there waiting for their order. No mistaking who they were, especially in 1971! We were in awe.

We asked the guy who was with them who was paying for the order – who we would later discover was Shep Gordon – if he would go out to the car and get their autographs for us. He told us that we should go out and talk to them. And I said that we were afraid. And he insisted that we go out and talk to them and said that they are very nice. And they were! So nice. I’ve always thought that it did nothing to ruin the illusion for us. In fact, it made us like them all the more. They chatted with us for several minutes and asked if we were coming to the show and I can’t tell you what a thrill that all was for 16-year-olds like us.

It was the premiere performance of the Killer show that night. So we hadn’t even heard any of the material they performed that night, except for the stuff from Love It to Death and Under My Wheels, which was currently a radio hit in Michigan. And it all sounded wonderful upon first listen which is pretty telling. It was a fabulous show. And you surely an excellent place to start as far as rock concerts are concerned following that first Monkees concert I’d seen years before.

After the show, we actually hung out with the band for about half an hour again. We just simply walked backstage. Nobody stopped us! We didn’t know any better and I guess it was just easier to do that back in those days before a band were legitimate superstars and probably in a venue that small. Or maybe because we didn’t know any better, we looked like we belong and everybody just ignored us. 

They gave us a beer even though none of us were 18 at the time. But I figured it’s OK to admit that now since the statute of limitations on that probably ran out a long time ago. [Laughs] As I said, that was also the same day that the Killer album was released. I bought it at the local record store that following Monday and the rest, as they say, is history. Alice Cooper became my second favorite band, right after the Beatles, for the rest of my high school years. I was such a huge fan that when we graduated, my prophecy in our high school yearbook was: “Bill Holdship will someday own a concert hall with a lifetime permanent booking for Alice Cooper.”

 

What would you like to see them do next and why?

Love It to Death. For all the reasons previously noted. 

Actually, I believe that Billion Dollar Babies is being released as a 50th Anniversary Special Deluxe Edition later this year. I was asked if I wanted to do the liner notes for those as well but I unfortunately and sadly was way too sick to do them at the time. I was a little disappointed. And I certainly would have done them if I could have. That was my senior year of high school and, as I said about that Florida show, featured some great performances that I saw. But as much as I love that album, Killer and Love It to Death are my two favorites. And School’s Out just never fails to immediately transform me back to a wonderful time in my life. In some ways, I think that the Billion Dollar Babies album somewhat foreshadowed what was coming down the line for Alice Cooper.

 

Is there a particular Alice album you have a soft spot for in terms of his later works? Which one and why?

Not really. I have to admit that I have never been a huge fan of Alice as a solo artist. I appreciate and respect everything he has done. I thought the Muscle of Love album was not bad and I saw one of their final shows with that lineup in Ann Arbor in December of 1973 during my first year of college. But that was kind of the end for me. I never even purchased Welcome to My Nightmare and didn’t go to the show. In fact, I didn’t see another Alice Cooper show until I did my own CREEM story on him in 1986. That was the album he did with Kane Roberts, who was a really nice guy, by the way. Constrictor. But it was at a particular time when heavy metal was huge and Alice was trying to go in that direction and jump on that bandwagon. I found it disappointing and thought the show I saw that night was equally so.

Because I never ever thought of Alice Cooper as a metal band! If anything, I think they were closer to a proto-punk band. And definitely a pop-rock band. Hell, I always thought that “Caught in a Dream” was a pop song that could have competed with the Beatles at their best. “Under My Wheels,” I’ve always said, could be played right next to something from Exile on Main Street and it wouldn’t sound at all out of place.

I read that great Bob Greene book, Billion Dollar Baby, when it was published — and I still don’t understand why it has remained out of print to this day because it’s one of the great rock books – so anybody who read between the lines of that book could see what was coming. But it was still disappointing when they broke up. I later interviewed Greene for a sidebar that we included with my CREEM story.

But that was basically the end of my Alice Cooper super-fandom. The next and last time I saw him was in Detroit in, I think, 2010 or so. It was a much better show than the metal show in 1986. But it still didn’t have the magic for me that all those earlier Alice Cooper band shows did.

I know it was always his goal but I was also a little disappointed when he went so “showbiz.” I guess being on Hollywood Squares as a regular was OK. And even playing golf with all of those old-time celebrities. But when I saw him on the old Johnny Carson Tonight show one night, dressed like a 1920s gangster with a machine gun and dancing with a bunch of human-sized chickens, that was kind of it for me. I was like: What the fuck, man? [Laughs]

There were tracks and even albums I liked here and there over the years. I remember liking “How You Gonna See Me Now” quite a bit, even more than “Only Women Bleed.” And I remember giving that album a pretty good review in my college newspaper. I liked the Love cover he did a few years later quite a bit. But after losing interest, I didn’t pay a lot of attention to some of the stuff.

But please don’t get me wrong! I think that Alice Cooper/Vince remains one of the all-time nice guys in all of rock ‘n’ roll. He was super-nice when I did that CREEM feature. And much like when I interviewed Joe Strummer under similar somewhat negative circumstances, he had just split with Mick Jones, I was asking him some tough questions that afternoon. I don’t mean to criticize him too much. Obviously, millions love what he has done in the years since.

Alice Cooper School’s Out, Warner Bros. Records 1972

And if I can add one final moment/ memory. Not long before my mom passed away, I spent an Easter Sunday with her in the facility where she was then living. We had bonded when I was a teenager over “Herod’s Song” from the original Jesus Christ Superstar album. My mom loved that song, as did I. 

So on that Easter, we watched that television production of JCS together on her TV. And, of course, we both loved seeing Alice, who was playing Herod, perform that song on live TV. He was very good, by the way. Nobody could ever convince me that the man isn’t talented and, believe me, many people tried especially in high school. I would often just play them “Blue Turk” from the School’s Out album. Afterwards, she said to me: “That was good. I remember how much you loved him when you were in high school. Your dad and I weren’t quite sure about him, though. We thought you were going to see a woman the first time you said you were going to see him.” I’ll save her reaction to David Bowie when she watched him on the 1984 Floor Show on Midnight Special one night with my aunt for another time. [Laughs]

And she laughed. So I’m glad that one of my last fond memories with my mom involved Alice Cooper.

 

Why do you think reissues and deluxe editions such as these are important

History, babe. History. It really was a great time in rock ‘n’ roll. And also a time when – as Blondie was later also advertised  – Alice Cooper was a band. And a great rock ‘n roll band at that. I’m guessing that mine wasn’t the only life that they changed. Ask John Lydon if you don’t believe me.

 

 

Ron Hart
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Ron Hart

Ron Hart is the Editor-in-Chief of Rock and Roll Globe. Reach him on Twitter @MisterTribune.

One thought on “Inside the Deluxe Editions of Alice Cooper’s Killer and School’s Out 

  • July 4, 2023 at 12:08 am
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    That School’s Out promo poster is a fake

    Reply

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