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Jim DeRogatis

The Ultimate Back-to-School Soundtrack

This may be a little late for CPS students, but school started again at Columbia College for me today, and let me tell ya, going back never gets any easier. As with everything in life, however, a motivational soundtrack certainly helps. So here are my baker’s dozen favorite rock songs about school, working from the bottom up to number one.

13. “School's Out,” Alice Cooper (1972)

Summer always is too short, but it’s never too early to look forward to the next break, and no tune captures the sense of freedom on the last day of classes better than this vintage gem from Alice Cooper. (And sure, next summer may be forever from now, but Christmas break is a mere 14 weeks away!)

12. “Another Brick In The Wall (Part II),” Pink Floyd (1980)

I don’t really believe that “we don’t need no education.” (The double negative there is reason enough to think otherwise!) But I’ve loved this Pink Floyd classic since I first heard it as a high-school sophomore, and it never gets old.

11. “The Headmaster Ritual,” the Smiths (1985)

Similar in spirit to the Floyd track, this is the cut from Meat is Murder where Morrissey makes clear that his disdain for corporal punishment runs as deep as his spite for the carnivores among us. Pass me a cheesburger!

10. “School,” Nirvana (1989)

One of the more ferocious tracks from the Seattle trio’s debut Bleach, conveying a world of disgust in four simple lines (“Won’t you believe it?/It’s just my luck/No recess!/You’re in high school again”), delivered here live at Reading in ’92.


9. “Be True to Your School,” the Beach Boys (1963)

So far, we’ve been waxing negative, but there are some good things about school, like the admittedly cheesy but nonetheless rousing spirit Brian Wilson and the gang herald here.

8. “School Spirit,” Kanye West (2004)

On the other hand, we have Papa ’Ye’s take on school spirit from his debut The College Dropout, which I’ve always heard as Spike Lee’s 1988 film School Days condensed into a three-minute hip-hop jam (which, incidentally, is NSFW, given Kanye’s cussing).

7. “Don’t Be a Dropout,” James Brown (1966)

Written by Burt Jones, this was the King of Soul’s first socially conscious “message song,” and it wouldn’t be the last. “Hey, teens, stay in school,” the godfather is saying. “It’s nice to have options, even if the other one is being the hardest working man in show business!”

6. “F*** School,” the Replacements” (1982)

Then again, for balance, we have the simple message of this humble ditty from the ’Mats’ debut EP Stink.

5. “I Was a High School Psychopath,” Screeching Weasel (1993)

A classic confessional from suburban Chicago’s pop-punk greats circa Wiggle.

4. “Catholic Girls,” Frank Zappa (1979)

Alright, this one may resonate on a more personal level for me, as a boy (once upon a time) who was victim of 12 years of Catholic schooling, and it’s not strictly about school. In its skewering of what Frank called “the hypocrisy of the myth of the good Catholic girl,” it’s mean, it’s nasty, and its unapologetically sexist. It’s also very, very catchy (Joe’s Garage is the prolific musical genius’ catchiest album by far) and very, very funny.

3. “Teacher, Teacher,” Rockpile (1980)

This one from Nick Lowe and Dave Edmunds’ supergroup is such an instant classic that you’ll be hooked from the first few bars through your thousandth listen. And if you’ve never heard it before, you’ll instantly feel like you have.

2. “To Sir With Love,” Lulu (1967)

Go ahead, just try to listen to Lulu’s soaring vocals professing platonic love for the teacher who changed her life and try not to tear up. It just ain’t possible.

1. “Rock ’n’ Roll High School,” the Ramones (1979)

And finally: The Ramones. Rock, rock, rock, rock ’n’ roll. High school. What more needs to be said?

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