By Teachers, For Teachers
With school being a nearly universal rite-of-passage for youth, it’s little wonder that so many artists for so many decades have written about songs about school. The topics vary – from teachers, to pride, to girls, to academics, to emotions about education – but what stays the same is how each generation finds its ways of highlighting its experiences and memories of this cherished institution. Here are ten of the top songs about school – which are your favorites?
What could be more exciting than declaring “School’s out for summer!” alongside killer guitar riffs? Nothing, except perhaps for the even more thrilling lines “School’s out forever!” and “School’s been blown to pieces!” The energy and idealism about school ending contained in one of Alice Cooper’s greatest hits has easily made it one of the population’s favorite songs about school.
If you’re looking for a punk’s perspective on high school, look no further than the iconic punk rock band The Ramones’ “Rock ‘n’ Roll High School. They don’t hold back their feelings on high school, where they’d rather “have my kicks” and “get some chicks” than be “taught to be a fool.” This song actually has three versions, but the original version featuring a lengthy drum intro was originally written for a movie by the same name featuring the same punk perspective on school.
It seems like school has a bad rap when it comes to how bands sing about it, but few songs reach the point of despair and skepticism about education than Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall.” Education comes up in Part II in this song is equated to “thought control,” and teachers are commanded to “leave them kids alone!” The title phrase describes how lead singer and bassist Roger Waters sees teachers as another barrier between children, isolating them from anything positive. And the track is made even more chilling as the voices of children join the band and bring more presence and reality to the lyrics.
Did you know that Sting was a teacher? It’s possible that he drew on his two years of experience at Saint Paul’s First School in Cramlington when drafting this hit. In fact, Sting claims in a 1981 interview that, “I’d been through the business of having 15-year-old girls fancying me – and me really fancying them!” The song is perhaps the best-loved of the “student-has-a-crush-on-the-teacher” genre of school songs, as it features a protagonist who tells a schoolgirl “don’t stand so close,” but ultimately gives into desire. It’s a rather creepy and suggestive song that, and if it wasn’t for its catchy chorus, might otherwise have been largely dismissed by the public. And that statement about some “book by Nabakov” at the end – that’s a reference to the novel “Lolita,” which involves sexual encounters with an underaged girl.
This classic was originally released as a single, but then headlined an album called “After School Session” released two months later. Few songs about school create an accurate picture of a student’s perspective of the school day as successfully, lingering between the student’s desire to “study ‘em hard and hopin’ to pass” while “the guy behind you won’t leave you alone.” Although the first half of the song focuses on the burdens of the school day, the second half is a tribute to how you can “lay your burden down” and unwind with some great music. Jukebox music, of course.
The woeful student in this song claims to not know much about history, biology, science, French, trigonometry, geography, algebra … or really any academic subject in school. But all the charm in this 1960 classic arises from the claim that despite his academic shortcomings, he knows that he’s in love. And even though he hasn’t mastered school, the world will still be a wonderful place if his love is reciprocated. Sweet, isn’t it?
No list of songs about school would be complete without at least one song declaring the virtues of school pride, and few songs so eloquently put it as “Be True To Your School.” The lyrics equate being “true” to one’s school to being faithful in a dating relationship and give multiple illustrations, such as how they’re proud to wear their school’s letter on their jacket and proclaim how their school is number one in state. The song isn’t about academics so much as it is about home, identity, and community.
This touching song alludes to a variety of areas a young man may come into conflict with, but the first verse focuses entirely on the school experience. Even though “I used to get mad at my school / The teachers who taught me weren’t cool / You’re holding me down” kicks off the song, the refrain “It’s getting better all the time” coupled with the countermelody falsetto “I can’t complain” suggests that this is a song about growing up and changing perspectives as much as it is complaining about school.
There’s a curious crush-on-the-teacher subset of songs that have arisen in our culture, from The Police’s “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” to Rockpile’s “Teacher Teacher.” But perhaps none has become more controversial than Van Halen’s 1984 release of “Hot for Teacher.” The song is perhaps just as cherished for its rocking motorcycle-engine-transition-to-drumbeat intro as it is for its questionable lyrics about a male student’s infatuation for his female teacher.
If you haven’t seen the movie “School of Rock” yet, you’re missing some fantastic music, one of Jack Black’s best performances, and an overall enthusiastic story. Featured at the end of the film is the cast’s performance of their original “School of Rock” song that heroically calls upon the one of the film’s themes of rock music as a way out of the conformist student mentality the kids were deeply engrained in. With lyrics like “and if you wanna be a teachers pet / well baby you just better forget it / rock got no reason, rock got no rhyme / You betta get me to school on time” you can see what the students were really learning while Jack Black was in charge.
It’s interesting to note here that with little exception, there are not many positives sung about school. Unless you’re singing about chasing girls or attractive teachers, the predominant themes center around oppression, anxiety, rules, failure, and disappointment. I wonder what the songs on school of the future will sound like. What changes need to take place before bands start singing about how much they learned, how impactful their teachers were, and how valuable their time spent at school was?
What other songs should be on our list? What will songs of the future sing about school?
Jordan Catapano is a high school English teacher in a Chicago suburb. In addition to being National Board Certificated, he also has worked with the Illinois Association of Teachers of English and has experience as a school board member for a private school. You can follow him on Twitter at @BuffEnglish, or visit his website www.jordancatapano.us.