Top 11 Songs for Back-To-School Season

Frank MastropoloCategories:Latest NewsTop 11

Rock Cellar Magazine

School’s back in session — for many children around the United States, it began as early as mid-August, if not earlier — so with that in mind, here’s the latest Top 11 entry from writer Frank Mastropolo: Top 11 Back to School Songs.

“My school was so tough the school newspaper had an obituary column.”

— Norm Crosby

  1. “Hot for Teacher” by Van Halen

“Hot for Teacher” was the final single and video released by Van Halen during the band’s 1974–1985 era. The song’s highlights include Alex Van Halen’s double bass drum performance and often-copied guitar work by Eddie Van Halen. “I winged that one,” Eddie recalled in Guitar World. “If you listen to it, the timing changes in the middle of nowhere.

“We were in a room playing together and I kind of winked at the guys and said, ‘Okay, we’re changing now!’ Because I don’t count, I just follow my feelings. I tend to do a lot of things in threes and fives, instead of fours.

“My weird sense of time just drives my brother Alex nuts because he’s a drummer, so he has to count. But generally he’ll say, ‘Well, Ed, you did it in five again. If that’s the way you want it…’ But that’s not the way I want it, that’s just what feels right to me.”

An alternate, unreleased version of “Hot for Teacher” was found in the Warner Bros. archives by engineer Brian Kehew. “There’s different lyrics all the way through it,” said Kehew in a Sunset Sound Recorders video. “Dave’s original vocal had different words. That is a strange one, because Eddie plays bass on that one. And on the intro, which has that great guitar part, he actually doubled it on the bass. But probably, they couldn’t quite play it live, so they didn’t keep it on the record. But they did keep the rest of Ed’s bass track on the actual record.”

  1. “Be True to Your School” by the Beach Boys

When “Be True to Your School” was released in 1963 it was credited to Brian Wilson. Mike Love long maintained that he made a significant contribution to many Beach Boys songs. In 1994 Love won a lawsuit awarding him $6 million and writer’s credit on 35 Beach Boys songs, including “Be True to Your School.”

“I was the one who wrote the Chuck Berry-styled alliteration lyrics,” Love told Goldmine in 1992. “That’s my scene.”

On some songs, he said, Wilson “arbitrarily assigned me a percentage which was fairly nominal. Basically, when I wrote 100 percent of the words he’d give me like 30 percent of the tune, as opposed to a split. ‘Be True To Your School,’ I wrote a lot of words to that and wasn’t credited.”

Al Jardine and Brian, Carl and Dennis Wilson attended Hawthorne High School. Its fight song, “Scarlet and Gold,” was performed by the girl group the Honeys and included in the song.

  1. “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard” by Paul Simon

“Me and Julio” was the second single from Paul Simon‘s 1972 self-titled album (pick up here on CD and here on LP), his first solo album after the breakup of Simon & Garfunkel. The song tells the story of “mama pajama” seeing something illegal in the schoolyard but never gets around to explaining what it is. Simon has always been evasive about the lyric’s meaning.

“I have no idea what it is,” Simon said in Rolling Stone in 1972. “Something sexual is what I imagine, but when I say ‘something’, I never bothered to figure out what it was. Didn’t make any difference to me.”

Some think the radical priest who got the culprits released is Daniel Berrigan, an anti-war activist who was on the cover of Time magazine in early 1971, about the time the song was written.

“I like the line about the radical priest,” added Simon. “I think that’s funny to have in a song.”

  1. “The Logical Song” by Supertramp

Keyboardist Roger Hodgson was the principal writer of “The Logical Song,” Supertramp‘s biggest hit, reaching No. 6 on the Billboard chart in 1979 (and featured on the smash-hit album Breakfast in America). Hodgson told Creating the Classics that he reached back to his own childhood for the lyric.

“For many years I complained about being sent away to boarding school but I have to say that it spawned a lot of great songs and ‘The Logical Song’ was one of them.

“I do remember being very, very happy as a young kid, very happy and I see 8mm movies of me and I was just a joy bubble, I was very happy and then I see later 8mm movies after they sent me to school and I’ve got stress on my life and I’ve got stress lines on my face already, so something happened when I got sent away to school. I started getting confused and the joy kind of started leaving me.

“They left me with the question, ‘Please tell me who I am.’ I want to remember that joy-filled being that came into this world.”

“I think it was very relevant when I wrote it, and actually I think it’s even more relevant today,” Hodgson told Songfacts in 2012. “It’s very basically saying that what they teach us in schools is all very fine, but what about what they don’t teach us in schools that creates so much confusion in our being. 

“They don’t really prepare us for life in terms of teaching us who we are on the inside. They teach us how to function on the outside and to be very intellectual, but they don’t tell us how to act with our intuition or our heart or really give us a real plausible explanation of what life’s about.”

  1. “Charlie Brown” by the Coasters

“Charlie Brown” was written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller and recorded in 1959 by the Coasters. The No. 2 hit is known for the phrase “Why’s everybody always pickin’ on me?”

The Coasters recorded Leiber and Stoller classics like “Yakety Yak,” “Poison Ivy” and “Love Potion Number 9.” “After ‘Yakety Yak’ I thought we could write every Coasters song in ten minutes,” Leiber wrote in Hound Dog: The Leiber & Stoller Autobiography. “Man, was I wrong! When we tried to write a follow-up, Mike had lots of musical ideas, but I was stuck.

“After nearly a week of agonizing, a simple name came to mind. ‘Charlie Brown.’ Then, ‘He’s a clown, that Charlie Brown.'”

“We have a ‘Charlie Brown’ in every school in America, and he’s always the clown,” Coasters founding member Carl Gardner told WGBH. “‘Charlie Brown’ to me was like I was in school. And there was a ‘Charlie Brown’ in my school, in your school and everybody’s school.”

  1. Rock ‘n’ Roll High Schoolby Ramones

“Rock ‘n’ Roll High School” by Ramones was written by Joey and Dee Dee Ramone as the title track of the 1979 comedy film directed by Allan Arkush. The song was first recorded with producer Ed Stasium and was later remixed by Phil Spector.

(Click here to pick up Rock ‘n’ Roll High School on 40th anniversary Blu-ray from our Rock Cellar Store)

“I loved the girl groups, the Beatles stuff, and just about everything Phil Spector had anything to do with,” explained drummer Marky Ramone in his book Punk Rock Blitzkrieg: My Life as a Ramone. “Phil was remixing two songs for the movie soundtrack of Rock ‘n’ Roll High School

“The Ramones were getting scale for the movie, but there were big perks—free rooms, all we could eat and drink, and royalties on the soundtrack. For me, the biggest perk of all was working with and hanging out with a legend.”

Ramone recalled the night Spector came to his room. “The knock on my door came at nine sharp. It was Phil Spector, dressed flamboyantly as always. He had on a frilly shirt, a cape and Beatle boots.

“I saw his brand-new ’79 Cadillac Seville in the parking lot, and I knew his bodyguard, George Brand, was waiting in the driver’s seat. George was licensed to carry firearms. So was Phil Spector. He was carrying now. I could see the bulge under his jacket.”

  1. “Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2” by Pink Floyd

“Another Brick in the Wall,” written by bassist Roger Waters, is a three-part work from Pink Floyd’s 1979 rock opera The Wall. “Part 2” was released as a single, Waters’ indictment of corporal punishment at schools based on his experiences at Cambridgeshire School for Boys.

Click here to pick up The Wall (Sony Legacy Edition) CD from our Rock Cellar Store

“You couldn’t find anybody in the world more pro-education than me,” Waters told Mojo in 2009. “But the education I went through in boys’ grammar school in the ’50s was very controlling and demanded rebellion. The teachers were weak and therefore easy targets. The song is meant to be a rebellion against errant government, against people who have power over you, who are wrong. Then it absolutely demanded that you rebel against that.”

Producer Bob Ezrin suggested that children’s voices be added to the chorus. Children were recruited from Islington Green School to sing but the lyrics were hidden from the faculty beforehand.

“Really, the most important thing about that song is not the relationship with the school teacher,” added Waters. “It was the first little thing I wrote where I lyrically expressed the idea that you could make or build a wall out of a number of different bricks that when they fit together provided something impermeable, and so this was just one of them.

“When you hit puberty and start getting snotty, it’s good to have an adult around who will say, ‘Well hang on, let’s talk about that,’ rather than ‘be quiet.'”

  1. “The New Girl in School” by Jan & Dean

In an archival interview in Rock Cellar, Dean Torrence of surf rock’s Jan & Dean explained that he and Jan Berry originally wanted to be in a doo-wop group. “Jan and I wanted to be Dion & the Belmonts. We had no desire to be the Everly Brothers or any sort of duo. We wanted to be in a vocal group.

“When we first started doing music we probably had at least six guys and then we had up to eight or nine or ten at any given time. We just wanted to do vocal records. We wanted to do doo wop.”

Their doo-wop singing style is on display in 1964’s “The New Girl in School,” the B-side of “Dead Man’s Curve.” The song was first written and recorded as “Gonna Hustle You,” but Liberty Records did not like the implication of the word “hustle” and demanded changes. Roger Christian was brought in to help rewrite the lyrics. 

Click here to pick up Jan & Dean’s All-Time Greatest Hits on LP from our Rock Cellar Store
Click here to pick up Jan & Dean’s All-Time Greatest Hits on CD from our Rock Cellar Store

“Gonna Hustle You” was released as a single in 1976.

“The New Girl in School” by Jan & Dean

“Gonna Hustle You” by Jan & Dean

  1. “Smokin’ in the Boys Room” by Brownsville Station

Brownsville Station was a Michigan band that had a No. 3 hit in 1973 with “Smokin’ in the Boys Room.” The song was written by guitarist Mike Lutz and singer-guitarist Cub Koda, who begins with a spoken-word intro.

“I confess that I personally never got into smoking in the boys room at school, but it seemed like a good topic to write about,” Lutz explained in Louder Sound. “It was fun and it was rebellious, and that was indicative of what Brownsville was about. But we didn’t think it was a hit. 

“The funny thing is, when we got done with the album, ‘Smokin” is the last cut on the second side because nobody was really sure about it. But there was a radio station in Bangor, Maine and they started spinning it, and the phones just lit up.

“We were making our reputation of being an energetic rock band. But after ‘Smokin” became a pop hit, people started to look at us as sorta bubblegum. It changed our career in that we became instantly popular to a lot of people, but it didn’t change the direction of the band.” 

Mötley Crüe covered the tune on their 1985 album Theater Of Pain.

Click here to pick up Theater of Pain: Remastered on CD from our Rock Cellar Store
Click here to pick up Theater of Pain: Remastered on LP from our Rock Cellar Store

“Smokin’ in the Boys Room” by Brownsville Station

“Smokin’ in the Boys Room” by Mötley Crüe

  1. “My Old School” by Steely Dan

Steely Dan‘s Donald Fagen and Walter Becker met at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, NY, the campus described in 1973’s “My Old School.” Its lyrics describe their arrest, along with Fagen’s girlfriend Dorothy White, in a marijuana raid.

“These were the days when there was a ‘war on longhairs,’ as they used to call it,” Fagen recalled in Entertainment Weekly, “and Bard’s in this kind of rural district. They picked up about 50 kids just at random. There were a few warrants, and one was for me, which was based totally on false testimony.”

Fagen and other longhairs had their heads shaved in a Dutchess County lockup. Bard College bailed Fagen out, but didn’t free Becker and White because they were not technically students at the time. “I asked them to bail my girlfriend out. She had nothing to do with this and was just visiting me. And they refused to do it. So when graduation time came I protested by not going.” The grudge continued with the recording of “My Old School.”

Despite their promise that they were never going back, Fagen returned to Bard in 1985 to receive an honorary doctorate. 

  1. “School’s Out” by Alice Cooper

In 1971, “I’m Eighteen” became Alice Cooper‘s first hit, topped the next year by “School’s Out.” In his book Alice Cooper, Golf Monster: A Rock ’n’ Roller’s Life and 12 Steps to Becoming a Golf Addict, Cooper explains how “School’s Out” was conceived.

Click here to pick up the School’s Out album on CD from our Rock Cellar Store

“While ‘I’m Eighteen’ was a strong hit, we still weren’t satisfied. We lacked the definitive Alice Cooper signature tune. So we set out to rectify the situation. Question: What are the two happiest moments in a young person’s life? Answer: Christmas morning and the last day of school.

“I thought back to my own school days, looking at the clock. Three minutes left before three months of summer vacation. I remembered that anticipation as the seconds ticked down. If we could only write a song capturing those final climatic three minutes of the last day of school.

“So we did. ‘School’s Out’ was pure punk but as catchy as pop. We added a rhythm at the bottom of the song that was a cross between Ravel’s Bolero and ‘Beck’s Bolero.’ The whole band wrote it together.”

Cooper said that when they heard the finished track, the group knew immediately they had a hit. They looked at each other and said, “This is gonna be a monster.”

Cooper told Esquire, “When we did ‘School’s Out,’ I knew we had just done the national anthem. I’ve become the Francis Scott Key of the last day of school.”

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