Released: November 1971
Label: Warner Bros.
Cover art: Alice Cooper
Told by John Premac
As I grew up in the 1960s, TV was my first and biggest music conduit. I listened to The Monkees, Glen Campbell, Johnny Cash, musical guests on The Ed Sullivan Show, a handful of my parents’ 45s, including Elvis. Later, I’d sit in front of the TV with a Montgomery Ward cassette tape recorder, recording songs by the Archies, Josie and the Pussycats and the Partridge Family. Lots of great pop written by some of the era’s best.
The Beatles were everywhere and I appreciated their early work. But I had no stomach for Sgt. Pepper and the long-haired hippie BS of the late 60’s. Hendrix or The Who or Woodstock, no thanks. Couldn’t comprehend the peace, love, dope thing; show me fun and screaming girls. In time I did learn to like Jimi and the Who, for sure.
I had a cheap plastic record player with a drill bit for a needle. Probably could have played both sides of the vinyl at once then blow the dust off the album after the needle scraped its way through the grooves. Occasionally I’d go to the library to check out albums from artists I’d never spend my hard-earned allowance on. $2.99 took about a month to save up for. Bob Dylan, not much fun happening there. Simon and Garfunkel, no reason to ever play these songs a second time. Jethro Tull…you mean Dull? The Moody Blues, some stuff OK but the poetry and general malaise of hippie-dom wasn’t enough to get me reaching for the piggy bank.
Gradually AM radio came into play. I had a few of those mini-speaker radios over the years that blurted out more sugar-coated hits. Remember those oval shaped circular radios that would twist in the middle? Yeah: I had a yellow one. But like the last handful of candy at the bottom of the Halloween bag, I’m starting to feel a little queasy about my sugar fix.
Thankfully the 1970s arrived, and in 1971 my 13-year-old head exploded. The song was “Under My Wheels.” It delivered a knockout punch that sent me running to the phone to call the station.
“What was that you just played?” I asked the deejay with all my naïve teen enthusiasm. The rest of the call went something like this:
“It’s called ‘Under My Wheels.’”
“Who is it by?”
“What did you say?”
“Sorry, can you spell that?”
How can this be, I thought? That was a guy singing. I know it. That song is about girls or something to do with them. The power and heavy beat could only be performed by guys. What’s going on?!!! I couldn’t tell you about the genius of the key changes. I couldn’t describe the attack of the dual guitars. I wasn’t sure what all the lyrics were. All I knew was that I had never heard anything like it before. Never felt that kind of energy in a song before. And I loved it. It was a new world that began unfolding.
Within minutes I’m on my bicycle headed down to the local shopping center, which was nothing more than an ALCO Duckwall’s store and a pharmacy that sold albums. I rummaged quickly through the alphabetically arranged bins. There it was: COOPER, ALICE.
That’s when the wiring in my brain forever changed. I’m staring at the album cover of “Love It to Death.” These are guys dressed in shiny and silky girly clothes. And they had long hair, real long hair, like girls. But they looked deranged and likely to steal my bicycle. I was so stunned and unsettled by the photo that I set it down as quickly as I had picked it. I stood back and contemplated my world; looked over my shoulder to make sure no one in the store had spotted me holding it. All I knew was that I wanted more of it. I stepped in for a second look. As a safeguard I stood in front of the “B” bin in case anyone was watching, while secretively conducting my reconnaissance of this band of degenerates from the left side bin. I read the back of the album cover in its entirety. I was relieved to see “Under My Wheels” wasn’t on this album, which spared me the embarrassment of being compelled to walk to the register and hand it over before the judgmental eyes of a cashier who surely would be sitting behind me in church the following Sunday morning.
Besides: How would I get home with it while trying to steer my bike? Where would I hide it once I got it home? What if I wiped out on the dirt piles and potholes in the parking lot? I’d be hauled off in an ambulance with Alice Cooper resting by head. The doctor and nurses would eye me with unbridled disgust. Is a neck brace worth this risk? I certainly can’t buy it with my mom present. What would she think of me? (Luckily I never had to face up to that particular basket of anxiety.)
Instead, I spent the next few weeks calling the radio station almost daily, begging them to play “Under My Wheels.” It didn’t even dawn on me that this song probably could be found on another album. Eventually, though, everything came full circle: I discovered the album “Killer,” with “Under My Wheels” launching side one, at a friend’s house a few months later. The following year, with record collecting fast becoming a hobby, “Schools Out” was released. At Christmastime my brother and I bought each other an album we’d pre-selected. He got Led Zeppelin II. “School’s Out” was my choice. We unwrapped our presents thoughtfully, one at a time, showing off each to our parents. My mom would politely ask if I’d gotten what I wanted. I showed off the album cover, a photograph of an old-fashioned, well-worn schoolboy’s desk. “Yes,” I told her. “This is what I really want.” As that last confident syllable was rolling off my tongue I opened the album cover, exposing to my great surprise a black vinyl record tucked inside a pair of white women’s panties. My basket of anxiety was back in full force.
John Premac is a real-estate title executive who doubles as guitarist and songwriter for the Orange County, Calif. alternative rock band Killer Zen. He shared his musical memory from Newport Beach, Calif. in January, 2018.