Introducing Listen Here, a monthly playlist picked and curated by members of the Deadshirt staff around a certain theme. This month’s theme is Back To School with a playlist selected by Sam Paxton.
When we were kids, Back To School Month was September, and summer vacation was the infinite possibility of mid-May to Labor Day. I don’t know how it happened, but now it seems like kids are getting out of school in June and going back in August. That’s barely a break! Celebrate and/or protest the ringing in of the new academic year with this special playlist, and don’t forget to give your teacher a shiny apple on the first day.
“Be True To Your School” – The Beach Boys
Leave it to
Beaver the equally-wholesome Beach Boys to write the ultimate spirit week anthem, short of a full-on fight song. “Be True To Your School” is a time capsule for a simpler age, when school pride meant grabbing your letterman’s jacket and your best girl and cruising around town, maybe to grab a malt or something before the big game. My classmates used to just throw batteries at the opposing team. Whatever works, I guess.
“College” – Rogue Wave
Zach Rogue has a habit of writing utterly indecipherable lyrics, most often about some cryptic form of discovering oneself, and “College” is no exception. Combined with his peculiar pronunciation style, it’s hard to parse meaning from the otherwise catchy song. That is, except for the chorus: “You can have the knowledge / all the things you learned in college”. Wise words, man.
“The Headmaster Ritual” – The Smiths
“The Headmaster Ritual” is but one in a long line of Smiths songs concerned with British ghoul-elect Morrissey’s radical belief that corporal punishment is bad, actually. For a song about kids getting their asses beat by schoolteachers, though, it’s a surprisingly upbeat track, marked by a great vocal melody and some of Johnny Marr’s all-time best guitar work with the band.
“Got An F” – Jaill
Sure, the titular “F” is in terms of the test of a relationship, not calculus or sociology. Still, not all education comes from a classroom.
“Only the Good Die Young” – Billy Joel
Writing an ode to your high school sweetheart—trying to convince her to spit in God’s face for a night of earthly pleasures—is a level of horny I’ve thankfully never reached. Bonus points to Billy Joel for appealing to Virginia’s natural teenage sense of rebellion by calling out her mom. The track’s double entendres about stained glass curtains and white dresses were too much for religious groups, who petitioned radio stations to remove the song; unfortunately for them, their efforts made the song way more popular, and it ultimately peaked at #24 on the Billboard charts.
“Reunion” – Stars
Going back to school doesn’t always mean showing up to class. Sometimes, like in “Reunion,” it means reliving junior-year debauchery, puffing out your chest in front of the former cool kids, or a chance at making it with the hottie you’ve harbored a crush on for the last ten years.
“Teacher I Need You” – Elton John
Yes, I (and every other boy in class) had a big crush on Miss Eely in fourth grade. No, I never felt the need to write a song about it. Sir Elton John (or lyricist Bernie Taupin) needs to just chill out and think about this a little bit. With all due respect, it doesn’t matter if you’ve got “John Wayne stances” or “Errol Flynn advances,” you don’t have what she really needs, like an ID that could get you into a bar—or her pants.
“Campus” – Vampire Weekend
Vampire Weekend’s debut album is steeped in the blue-blood aesthetic of Columbia University, where the members of the band met in 2006. As a result, the self-titled LP is the musical equivalent of a starched rugby shirt—charmingly rugged around the edges. “Campus” tells the inverse story of “Teacher I Need You,” as our narrator keeps running into the “cruel” professor with whom he had a fling. Somehow I don’t doubt that dreamy Ezra Koenig would have been popular with his teachers.
“Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard” – Paul Simon
An upbeat, nonsensical track from the better half of Simon and Garfunkle about boys misbehaving (or buying drugs?) at the local school, “Me And Julio” also prominently features the Cuica—a rarity in modern pop music.
“We Rule The School” – Belle & Sebastian
Belle & Sebastian’s Stuart Murdoch is a master of walking the line between too precious and too dour, meaning that his songs generally nestle in softly at JUST the right level of bittersweet. “We Rule The School” does just that, combining the well-worn Pachelbel’s Canon in D chord progression with a meandering story of unrequited schoolyard love. Also, “do something pretty while you can” is a lovely, poignant sentiment, when it’s not being tattooed on the wrist of a college sophomore in lowercase Courier New.
“Another Brick In The Wall, Pt. 2” – Pink Floyd
Pink Floyd is inextricably tangled with high school for me; they were one of the first bands I really latched onto as I started to find my own musical style. That being said, the sprawling concept of The Wall never quite clicked with me, but the album still spawned some of the band’s most enduring singles. Roger Waters’ dark mirror take on the disco-stomp of “Stayin’ Alive” or “Another One Bites The Dust,” “Another Brick In The Wall, Pt. 2” employs a creepy child chorus to make its anti-education point. The track is also home to another great solo from guitar legend David Gilmour, as well as a snippet oft-quoted by my father: “how can you have any pudding if you don’t eat your meat!?”
“Homework Sucks” – Catscan!
If you threw They Might Be Giants, DEVO, and a dash of “Weird Al” Yankovic in a blender, the resulting concoction might resemble Catscan! The Baltimore-based duo has mastered the art of the style parody, and their songwriting chops imbue each of their tracks with laugh-out-loud witticism and surprisingly cutting social commentary. Take, for example, “Homework Sucks,” a homage to aging pop-punksters like blink-182 and Green Day, who keep up their “fuck the man” high school attitude because it sells records. “No reason left to be alive / when you’re pushing 45 / and no one wants to be with you / when your life is halfway through” the singer deadpans, before seemingly remembering who the song is for, shouting “life is fucked, and homework sucks!” Extra credit for nailing the extremely Californian Mark Hoppus/Tom DeLonge accent.
“ABC” – Jackson 5
This song is handy if you can’t remember what letter comes right after A, or grammatical rules like “i before e,” or if you just want to hear one of the best R&B groups of all time at the height of their powers.