If there’s one thing rock & rollers love it’s summer. And if there’s one thing rock and rollers love almost as much as summer it’s hating school. So as the clock winds down on another year of useless learning, it’s the perfect time to enjoy the many great songs rooted in both of these loves – and even better, songs that celebrate both at once. Here’s our playlist of the best end of school/beginning of summer jams of all time.
Listen to the School’s Out playlist:
Alice Cooper, “School’s Out”
In 2004, Alice Cooper received an honorary degree from Phoenix’s Grand Canyon University, so his anti-school credentials have been somewhat compromised. But back in 1972, this hard-rock distillation of the last three minutes before summer starts gave us the anthem against which all homework-hating vacation-lovers must measure their work. Thanks to the end-of-school scene in Dazed and Confused, it’s impossible to hear this without wanting to rip up a hastily written, mostly plagiarized final exam paper on the reasons for the Watergate crisis, throw it into the air and run out into the eternal sunshine of pools and parks department jobs and deep woods kegger freedom.
Big Star, “Thirteen”
“Won’t you let me walk you home from school / Won’t you let me meet you at the pool,” Alex Chilton sings in one of the sweetest, gentlest ballads of all time. No song better evokes the itchy angst of that period after Memorial Day, when the fact that they’re still making you go to school – even though it’s already hot as balls and light until 8:30 – seems like some sort of crime against humanity.
This time of year there’s nothing more infectious than a little anti-institutional rock & roll venting – Chuck Berry’s “School Days,” Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick In the Wall,” the Beasties’ “(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party),” with its classic opening lines: “You wake up for school / Man, you don’t want to go / You asked your mom ‘please’ but she still says ‘no!'” (definitive proof that saying ‘please’ is a total crock). A band that laid down filigreed instrumental explorations as silly as Supertramp’s had to be avidly pro-free expression, and they summed up that position nicely in this jazzy 1974 rant against the oppressive forces keeping young people down (an obvious sop to the Oppressed Young People market). “I can see you in the morning when you go to school / Don’t forget your books, you know you’ve got to learn the golden rule,” Roger Hodgson observes sarcastically. Later, when he repeatedly sings “don’t do this!/ And don’t do that!” he nails one of the great droning-education-bureaucrat imitations of all time, like the Seymour Skinner of soft-rock.
Pink Floyd, “Another Brick in the Wall”
The ‘Tramp weren’t done thumbing their noses at the education system. Their next hit, “Bloody Well Right,” contained a probing critique of the class biases inherent in the college admission process with the line, “So you think your schooling’s phoney / I guess it’s hard not to agree / You say it all depends on money / And who is in your family tree.” Yet, while Supertramp railed staunchly against the evils of schooling, their jazzy sophistication and occasional use of large words often betrayed a little too much of it. Not so with “Another Brick In the Wall,” a simple, snotty disavowel of pedagogy that puts its pro-dumbness money where its drooping mouth is – from the grammatically incorrect chorus, “We don’t need no education,” to the butt-simple disco groove to the fact that it’s barely even a real song (producer Bob Ezrin built it out of Roger Waters’ original minute-long fragment). Ezrin’s image looms large in the history of school-hate rock. He first used a chorus of kids on Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out” and perfected the gimmick here, bringing in a couple dozen students from a school near the recording studio and multi-tracking their voices until they sounded like hundreds. Those youngsters must’ve been coming from an especially rough afternoon studying the Corn Laws or the axiomatic frameworks for geometry or whatever it is they cram into English childrens’ heads all day, because they nailed the droning Orwellian malaise that makes this song burn deeper than a wedgie from the meanest kid in class.
Radiohead, “Bishop’s Robes”
Britain really has excelled in the field of teacher bashing. And it’s no wonder: The English have their own special set of reasons to hate school. For one, their schools are actually good, which makes them even lamer than ours. Secondly, they seem to ship all their future rock geniuses off to oppressive private boarding academies where they endure routine physical abuse at the hands of their instructors and bizarre hazing rituals at the hands of their fellow students. Who better than Thom Yorke to write an austerely creepy song about this austerely creepy tradition? “Dressed in bishop’s robes bastard headmaster / I am not going back,” he sings over a molasses-paced melody, looking back on the end of a still-haunting experience. Most end-of-school songs surge with the promise of fun in the sun. This one forecasts a lifetime of expensive shame therapy sessions.
Britny Fox, “Girlschool”
But let’s return for a moment to that whole go to school/golden rule line. Whoever invented language was really looking out for future generations of lazy rock songwriters when they made “school” rhyme with not only “rule,” but “fool” and “cool” as well. How fitting that just about any moron can come up with a serviceable anti-school song. Morons like Britny Fox, for instance. These Eighties poodle-metal fluff’tards probably wrote “Girlschool” for the sole purpose of stocking the video with tower-haired vixens in Catholic school outfits, but they also managed to knock out a pretty great glam-rock banger in the process. Singer Tommy Paris shrieks like a Hyena who just got burned by a crimping iron as he salutes his parochially educated baby – she broke all the rules, acting real cool, at the girls’ school! Let’s hope for the sake of her future, she’ll stop shakin’ her ass in the back of the class and go off to college and get a little knowledge.
Mogwai, “I Love You, I’m Going to Blow Up Your School”
And what better way to show that special someone how much you care? For seven minutes the Scottish noise-rock monks of Mogwai ride a slow fuse from somber restraint to explosive chaos, adding their own unique contribution to rock’s rich canon of school-as-murderous-hellhole songs – from Hüsker Dü’s “Guns At My School” to the Dead Milkman’s “Violent School” to the Boomtown Rats’ school-shooting lament “I Don’t Like Mondays.”
Kanye West, “School Spirit”
The classic I’m-way-too-smart-for-school jam. Every precocious kid in America thinks it at some point but it took Kanye to put a beat under the feeling, rapping, “They say, ‘Oh you graduated?’ / No, I decided I was finished.” Some of Kanye’s later decision-making suggests that sticking around for a few extra psych courses might’ve done him some good, but when you spit so hot that we all get tanned chasin’, then your dreams is the only plan. And for the dreamless, stay in school!
Undertones, “Here Comes The Summer”
Rock guys sure do get self-assured in the romance department as summer approaches. It’s like the high pollen count magically turns girls into complete pushovers – from Fifties crooner Jerry Keller’s “Here Comes Summer” to Sam Cooke’s “Summertime” to Mongo Jerry’s “In the Summertime,” scads of songs seem based in this scientifically unproven notion. Maybe the greatest of these comes from bouncy Belfast pop-punks the Undertones: “Keep looking for the girls with their faces all tanned / Lying on the beaches all covered in sand.” Really, the suntanned beach-girls of Northern Ireland? It’s a fantasy of escape from their hometown’s dreariness and strife, and the little tinge of realism is what makes it great.
Fiery Furnaces, “Here Comes The Summer”
For the feminist response to all this easy-summer-lovin’ beeswax, check out the Fiery Furnaces’ indie-pop nugget on the subject, also titled “Here Comes the Summer.” Eleanor Friedberger flips the tradition with lyrics about making some poor sucker wait all school year to get some. She even adds insult to injury by poetically evoking all the changing seasons he’s had to endure – the freezing winds of December, the dark nights of October, the cold rains of March: “You knew it wouldn’t be too soon / We’ll have to wait until it’s June.” The stately sass in her voice suggests he may even be waiting a little longer.
Al Green, “School Days”
Not every song has to be about hating your school, dropping out of it, blowing it up, etc. On this lilting soul ballad from Al’s smartness-endorsing Explores Your Mind, he gives us a perfect expression of that “hey, we got along pretty well when we had to sit through biology class together now that it’s summer let’s hit it” feeling. The song’s mood of elegiac absence and regret suggests maybe he had the wrong read on the situation. “Wondering where they’ve gone / School days,” he sings, holding on to “schoooool” like those bygone hours in the bio-lab were Eden itself.
Steely Dan, “My Old School”
Most school songs don’t get specific about which school they’re mad at, the assumption being that all schooling is a universally hellish experience. But leave it to the boogie-rock brainiacs in Steely Dan to write a song that namedrops Bard College (where they met) and William and Mary (where the heroine in the song might have to go after a pot bust gets her kicked off campus). The venomous joy with which Donald Fagen promises never to go back up to his old school suggests the Bard Alumni Committee need not include him in future donor solicitation mailings.
Every kid’s worst nightmare. You’ve soldiered through an arduous day of learning, you’re ready to get outside for a little dodgeball or four-square or, if you’re Kurt Cobain, forlorn cigarette smoking away from all the other kids. Then the announcement comes over the loudspeaker: “No Recess!” In this punk-metal maelstrom from Bleach, Nirvana turn those hot, excited final seconds before the bell in Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out” into a brick wall, as a mean, swirling guitar and circular rhythm pull Kurt into the sinkhole of fait accompli: eternal school! “Just my luck,” he sings in perfect, existentially screwed burnout voice.
Jonathan Richman, “That Summer Feeling”
This wonderful geek-folk reflection on lost youth is all about recapturing that idyllic moment from Big Star’s “Thirteen,” long after you’ve grown up and forgotten how simple life can be: “When even fourth grade starts lookin’ good.” In characteristic Richman fashion he lays on lush, fragrant images of summer’s impending arrival thicker than sunblock on a Swedish exchange student: the water fountain at the park, the cool of the pond, the smell of the lawn, the Oldsmobile with the top down on it, the flat of the land with the crop down it. “It’s gonna haunt you,” the 33-year-old Richman warns us in his eternal-boy croon over a slow, inviting strum and bonfire-bongos. And it can free you too.