On June 19, 1972, newspapers across the United States reported on a unique promotion that the band Alice Cooper had been staging. Their latest album at the time, School’s Out had the image of an old wooden school desk on the front. The cover then flipped open – it lifted just like the wooden top of those old wooden desks – to reveal an image of the contents of a desk. Pencils, crayons, erasers, marbles, a School’s Out quiz, a slingshot, a pocketknife, and the obligatory image of the band. The album cover was designed by Craig Braun, the same guy who worked with Andy Warhol to design the Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers album, which was infamous for its image of a male model’s crotch clad in tight blue jeans and a real working zipper.
This unusual School’s Out album cover was quite creative, but that wasn’t what made it infamous. Lead singer Alice Cooper (real name Vincent Furnier) came up with the idea of doing away with the protective record sleeve. Instead, each record was wrapped in a pair of disposable paper panties.
The panties were manufactured in England and then shipped to the US, after which they were distributed to record manufacturing plants in California, Illinois, and New Jersey. Everything went well with the first 250,000 paper panties.
The album was a smash hit, so an additional 500,000 pairs of panties were ordered. That’s when US Customs got involved and stopped their shipment. It turns out that the panties failed to pass the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) Flammable Fabrics Test. Tests of five pairs determined that they all burst into flames within 3.5 seconds after being subjected to the heat of special ovens.
Ashley Pandel, an official at Alice Cooper’s management firm Alive Enterprises, argued that the paper panties were intended as packing material and were never intended to be worn. Therefore, they should never have been subjected to the test.
To counter that argument, FTC spokesman Edward B. Finch pointed out that the paper panties were imported as being women’s apparel and since there was no guarantee that they wouldn’t be worn as such, they couldn’t allow them to be imported.
The record company came up with a solution to the problem: they would spray all of the paper panties with a fire retardant.
Alice Cooper, the man, commented, “I know we’re hot right now but I never thought our panties would catch fire.”
The good news is that Friday Music recently reissued the vinyl album, paper panties, and all. The selling price is $34.98. There is a limited deluxe version that comes with a report card (the track listing with times), a hall pass, a tattoo, a couple of trading cards, and your choice of white or pink panties. That will set you back an additional $14.