Sunday, 23 June 2013

Opinion8: Songs about School

No need for a preamble – the title says it: my 8 favourite songs about school. As usual, links are in the song titles.

1 Adult Education – Hall and Oates (1984)
It’s easy to forget how vital, how exciting, how stirring some of those old Hall and Oates songs were. This grabs you immediately, has a great hook, a driving beat and interesting lyrics. Soul cum funk cum pop, just a perfect song. And you know what a sucker I am for the syncopated handclap.
It’s afternoon in the home room and they're about to let you go/And the lockers slam on the plan you had tonight/You’ve been messing around with a boyfriend maybe better left alone/There's a wise guy that you know could put you right/ … /And the long halls and the gray walls are gonna split apart/Believe it or not there's life after high school.

You forget how dramatic the Rats could be (like the brilliant Rat Trap) but this is a great reminder.
Bob Geldof wrote the song after reading a telex report on the shooting spree of sixteen-year-old Brenda Ann Spencer at Grover Cleveland Elementary School in San Diego on 29 January 1979. Spencer’s explanation for her actions was "I don't like Mondays. This livens up the day". Geldof:  I was thinking about it on the way back to the hotel and I just said 'Silicon chip inside her head had switched to overload'. I wrote that down. And the journalist interviewing her said, 'Tell me why?'
The silicon chip inside her head/Gets switched to overload/And nobody’s gonna go to school today/She’s gonna make them stay at home/And daddy doesn’t understand it/He always said she was good as gold/And he can see no reasons/'Cos there are no reasons/What reason do you need to be show-ow-ow-ow-own?

Joyful, irresistible, effervescent pop. A British group that sound American, Replacements-lite, ass not arse and so on. I forgot how much fun they were. So much energy.
Her voice is echoed in my mind/I count the days till she is mine/Can’t tell my friends cos they will laugh/I love a member of the staff/I fight my way to front of class/To get the best view of her ass/I drop a pencil on the floor/She bends down and shows me more …/That’s what I go to school for ...

[The Kinks have to feature because of the concept album, Schoolboys in Disgrace, which looks back at the Davies boys’ schooldays and Dave’s misdemeanours. The front cover was illustrated by Mickey Finn of T. Rex, later appearing on NME's list of the '50 worst covers of all time'. Ray Davies's take is typically conflicted. He hated his schooldays but they were happy days. I don't think Dave’s memory would be as rose-tinted.]

4 Headmaster – the Kinks
Gentle piano introduction accompanies Ray’s confessional verse to the headmaster before the guitar breaks through as he becomes more impassioned and somehow more distant-sounding in the chorus (as if he were singing loudly but holding the mike away from him). Dave says ‘The chorus after the guitar solo is pure magic’.
Of course, as mentioned in another blog, Ray’s usually typecast as the evil headmaster.
Headmaster don't beat me I beg you/I know that I've let you down/Headmaster please spare me I beg you/Don't make me take my trousers down.
Methinks he doth protest too much.

Revenge of the nerds in a song. Catchy chorus, identifiable characters, clever words and it tells a story even if it does have the requisite happy ending of a romcom.
Her boyfriend's a dick/He brings a gun to school/He'd simply kick my ass if he knew the truth/He lives on my block/And he drives an I-ROC/But he doesn't know who I am/And he doesn't give a damn about me.

This is from some teen show, Fame LA, that I’d never heard of. Only discovered it existed through my love of Christian Kane’s music. This wasn’t written by him (as far as I know) but it makes no difference as even in 19whatever, he sings it with total conviction. I just love the spirit with which he approaches things – if he does anything, he gives it his all. I love his voice and it doesn’t hurt that he’s cute. Great lyrics.
Well, the last one hurt like hell/Knocked the wind right out of my sail/and I'll heal up someday/But it's gonna leave a beauty of a scar/ … I'm tryin' to get myself an education/Cry one more tear towards graduation/'Cause every Sunday punch I've thrown/Has come back around to clean my clock/The bell is ringin' down at the school of hard knocks/They're gonna inscribe my name/At the bridge-burnin' hall of fame/As a fool who never learned/That there ain't no future in it … 

Cooper was inspired to write the song when answering the question, ‘What's the greatest three minutes of your life?’ His reply: ‘There's two times during the year. One is Christmas morning, when you're just getting ready to open the presents. … The next one is the last three minutes of the last day of school when you're sitting there and it's like a slow fuse burning. I said, “If we can catch that three minutes in a song, it's going to be so big”.’ And he did and it was.
School's out for summer school's out forever school's been blown to pieces/No more pencils no more books no more teacher's dirty looks yeah/Well we got no class and we got no principals …

Love the ominous-sounding beginning. This won the Grammy Award for Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal. In the UK, it was the biggest selling single of the year. Rhyming cough with Nabokov is surely worthy of Ray Davies himself.
Loose talk in the classroom/To hurt they try and try/Strong words in the staffroom/The accusations fly/It's no use, he sees her/He starts to shake and cough/Just like the old man in/That book by Nabokov ...

Bubbling under
I’m in Disgrace – the Kinks
Schooldays – the Kinks
Beauty School Dropout – Frankie Avalon
Another Brick in the Wall – Pink Floyd
To Sir, with Love – Lulu
Kiss Off – Violent Femmes
Thirteen – Big Star (can't believe I forgot this till now)


  1. Wonderful post---as usual, my Dear...Love, Chuck Berry ;-D

    1. Thanks, Chuck. It means a lot coming from you.

  2. Why this wasn't a huge alterna-hit I'll never understand:

    Also... had no idea that Christian Kane was a musician as well as an actor! I only know him from his adult roles in "Leverage" and "Into the West." I like this blog!

  3. Thanks. If you like Christian Kane’s voice, try Rattlesnake Smile or A Different Kind of Knight, on YouTube: brilliant songs he wrote himself and performs brilliantly.