Too much tertiary education... Former performer/wrestler...Former teacher... Scientist... Published author... Father... Want to be a writer if I grow up...
Published February 18th 2020
School fun in music
School has recently gone back for the year in Australia, and having had a weird conversation with a student already grumpy about their upcoming year, I though it might be good to look at songs about school.
For many years, schools were a weird little sub-genre of rock'n'roll and pop. But then the great anti-education anthem 'Another Brick In The Wall (Part 2)' by Pink Floyd hit us all in the late 70s, early 80s, and suddenly singing about school wasn't "cool" anymore unless you were going to put it down (e.g. Don Henley's great 'Johnny Can't Read'). So these songs are from the twentieth century, and I don't care that that's where they ended up from because they are all pretty cool.
Now, before I hit the list, I decided to only look at songs about school in general, nothing specific (like maths class). Some might seem odd, but all have a generally positive thing or two to say about their chosen school.
And if you have any students in your life, introduce them to these songs which were released before they were even thought of (because children currently at high school and younger were born in the twenty-first century with one or two exceptions, and just typing that is making me feel incredibly old) and see if we can't convert them to liking real music!
Oh, and while I love the songs, I didn't think 'Nude School' by Painters & Dockers or 'Bitch School' by Spinal Tap were entirely appropriate.
The list (chronologically)!
'School Days' by Chuck Berry (1957)
"Up in the morning and out to school…" And so begins one of the classic early rock and roll songs by one of the first rock and rollers. Yes, it is also about the fun had after school ("Ring, ring goes the bell…") but the whole song has such a sense of joy about the experience that you can't help but sing along once you know the lyrics. And it is amazingly easy to play the rhythm on guitar!
'High School Confidential' by Jerry Lee Lewis (1958)
Okay, a slight cheat, because this is about going to a high school dance, but this is catchy as all out and a damn fine song and I'm going to include it because it's my list. The fact of the matter is the phrase "high school" appears more than any other in the song, so, as far as I am concerned, it is a school song. Besides which – listen to it and tell me this isn't a great old tune.
'Swingin' School' by Bobby Rydell (1960)
Ahh, the joys of the early years of rock! Take the thing every kid knew – school – and combine it with what they wanted to do – swing – and you have a song that sounds so twee nowadays, and yet it is the sort of song you can imagine just dancing and singing along to at a 'School Hop' way back when. Remember, this is from the era of American music pre-British Invasion, and for the time, it was fine, and even now, it still has that sense of fun about it.
'Be True To Your School' by The Beach Boys (1963)
This is a very American (well, United Estatian) look at the school system, where some-one defends their school against people who put it down. There is even a cheer in the song! Having said it's American, I do remember defending my high school back in the 80s from students of other private schools in Adelaide. You might have a negative feeling or two about your school, but no-one puts your school down!
'(Remember The Days Of The) Old School Yard' by Cat Stevens (1977)
I really enjoy this song. While it is a nostalgic song at its core, the remembrances of school included are very positive. When I was a teacher of children in their last year of primary school, I would put together a video of the year's work with this as the soundtrack. It might harken back to a school day that modern students will be unable to relate to directly, but the sentiments still hold true all these years later. This is actually my favourite Cat Stevens song; I spent way too much money buying an original copy of the 45. A-a-and I think I'll leave that there…
'Schooldays' by The Kinks (1977)
A slightly depressing look back at school, from the album Schoolboys In Disgrace. It is a song about regrets, but it is so well written and sung, and the days the singer wants people to remember are the of being at school. "Schooldays were such happy days / Now they seem so far away…" Slightly downbeat, but the fact is that school is the central high spot of a life. Unfortunately, for too many people, that is the truth. But I really, really like this song, and have for years.
'Rock And Roll High School' by The Ramones (1979)
While they might not like the teachers, principal or the curriculum, they still like going to high school because it's fun and the girls are great there. That's essentially the song. This is The Ramones when they combined their pop sensibilities with their rock history and their punk aesthetic. I have heard a few covers of this song, and all of them fall in comparison to the complete awesomeness of this song. And then a film was made based on the song as well!
'Baggy Trousers' by Madness (1980)
On the surface, this might seem like a song about how terrible school was, and how even the teachers did not like it. However, then we have the line: "Oh what fun we had / But at the time it seemed so bad…" This means, with the value of hindsight, even the bad experiences were still fun. The schooling experience was still sort of okay, even if all they learnt "Was how to bend not break the rules…" I can relate. Unfortunately. But this is still a magnificent song.
'Back To School' by Jon And Vangelis (1981)
A guy has left school and realises the world outside is terrible he wants to return to school. Simple, and something I know I could relate to. This is full of 80s synth pop music, but with some of the prog sensibilities Jon Anderson brought along. Musically, it is such an interesting sounding track (mind you, the whole album Friends Of Mr. Cairo is singularly brilliant) and it even has that ubiquitous 80s sax solo in the middle. Great song, but I'm not sure how well it's aged.
'The Future's So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades' by Timbuk 3 (1986)
Not only is school going well for the singer, but there's a decent job waiting for him when it's all over. And even his teacher wears dark glasses! And yet, apparently, according to the band members, it's about an upcoming nuclear holocaust (because in the 80s we honestly did think Reagan and the Soviets would blow us up). But to those of us who sang it back then (and the cast of Head Of The Class, a sitcom about high achieving students from the 80s), this was about school opening up doors for us all. And that is what I choose to believe. Such a great song, even if it did end up being a one hit wonder.
Ten songs about school, ready to be listened to, evenly spread from the 50s through to the 80s. With the exception of the track I chose from The Kinks, they are all poppy danceable songs, but all of them portray school in a positive light. School does not have to be perceived as terrible (and I'm not just saying that as a former teacher). Realistically, for many people, the days of being at school are the last days when they felt free and had fun without the worries of having to "adult" in a world that increasingly seems to not care about people. Maybe this can help some student out there see that.
(Look, I know these days there has been an increase in cyber-bullying. I just wish that was not dominating the educational landscape. Social media has some positives, but negatives seem to outweigh them. Maybe students should be held more responsible for what they post online… and maybe relying on computers so much in the classroom is not a good thing. And maybe this is why there are very few recent songs about how good school can be…)
Still, from last century you cannot go wrong with these ten songs, and have fun at school!