School is officially back in session, and with it comes another year of classes, tests, annoying or great teachers, team sports, clubs, and of course the requisite number of personal embarrassments, crushes, triumphs and mistakes to learn from. It’s all a lot but luckily for all of the students out there, there is almost always a song for everything.
Below I’ve listed some of the best songs about school. These songs range from school-loving to school-hating, from pro-teacher to hot-for-teacher. A few are from the sides of parents and teachers, because the school year is a lot for them too. In general, this playlist (check out the Spotify playlist at the end!) attempts to encompass the wide swath of emotions brought about by school – and well, some of these are just for fun, because if school can’t be fun, songs about it certainly can be.
The White Stripes – “We’re Going To Be Friends”
This song captures the excitement of starting school at a young age. It sounds like the good old days when school was pretty much just about socialization and growing our little peanut brains through introductions to letters, numbers, and nature. This song, with its gentle sing-song nature, like a song kids might sing on the playground while jump-roping or skipping, evokes those rosy salad days of meeting other kids and exploring with them while sensing a lot of fun in the days ahead.
Paul Simon – “Me and Julio Down By The Schoolyard”
Speaking of fun in the days ahead, this song might as well be coming from the kids in “Friends” from a few months later. This song isn’t explicitly about school or kids, or anything really, but its spirit is equal to that of young kids running around, breathless and thrilled, through the playground, playing games, avoiding the chores and consequences of adults. Additionally the lyrics evoke the wistfulness of a young person who knows they’re growing up and are just happy to let things play out: “I’m on my way, I don’t know where I’m going, I’m taking my time but I don’t know where…” It’s a good reminder to let yourself enjoy your youthful days at school while you can.
Jeannie C. Riley – “Harper Valley P.T.A.”
This song is a savage delight, with more tea spilling in here than was ever in Boston Harbor. See, back-to-school isn’t just a trying time for the children, it also means a lot for the parents and this song is probably the best one to be found from their perspective. The story is simple: Mrs. Johnson, a young widow, has a daughter attending Harper Valley Junior High. Well, the P.T.A. has taken issue with Mrs. Johnson’s short skirts (and probably her general coolness) and so they send a note home with her daughter criticizing Mrs. Johnson’s alleged “runnin’ round with men and goin’ wild,” and they “don’t believe you oughta be a bringin’ up your little girl this way.” Well, at the next P.T.A. meeting, Mrs. Johnson arrives and tears them to shreds without breaking a sweat.
The Beach Boys – “Be True to Your School”
Probably one of the purest songs the Beach Boys ever recorded. There isn’t a hint of jadedness in here. The Boys advise us to “be true to your school, just like you would to your girl or guy…let your colors fly.” They then go on to explain the football game coming up and the prep that goes into it. It’s almost as if all of the gung-ho townies of Friday Night Lights wrote a pop song. Ultimately it’s so catchy and cute, though, you actually find yourself thinking “Hey, school spirit can be fun! And not at all overdone or annoying.”
Lulu – “To Sir, With Love”
Sometimes teachers really can make a difference. While this song bends a little toward the romantic sometimes in tone, and I don’t know if many people would call their teacher their “best friend,” the ultimate message is very sweet. The singer wants to thank “Sir” for teaching her “right from wrong and weak from strong,” among all the other necessary lessons a young person must learn before they’re ready to head towards adulthood. She wishes she had something as special to give in return, but she only has her love and gratitude.
Blackalicious – “Alphabet Aerobics”
This has got to be the best use of the alphabet since the Jackson Five, and they didn’t even use the whole thing! A tongue twister for the ages, the rap song goes through two lines for each letter of the alphabet where nearly every word starts with that letter (for instance: “Operation, opposition, off not optional/ Out of sight, out of mind, wide beaming opticals”). Amazingly, the lines mostly avoid being just word salad, and Blackalicious manages to construct actual thoughts from a wide array of words. The speed increases as the song progresses, and good luck to those who try it out themselves.
Four Tops – “Back to School Again”
Recorded for the Grease 2 soundtrack (an underrated movie, in my opinion; it’s delightfully weird), this song is from the perspective of someone who wants to be anywhere else besides school. He only decides not to play hooky when he spots an “angel boppin’ down the street,” who is heading towards school. Sometimes the only perk of going to school is that everyone else you know is there too.
Hole – “Rock Star”
This song is not technically about school, even though it sounds like it based on the lyrics, but it is Courtney Love’s dig at the riot grrl movement and the sameness of its participants. That said, that same irritation is not hard to find in many high school students. This song paired with the next highlight the students on the margins who either don’t want to fit in with everyone else, or can’t. During high school and adolescence, fitting in and getting by can be more difficult than most classes, and if you’re feeling that way now, I suggest getting into Hole and screaming about it for a bit…
Belle & Sebastian – “Expectations”
…Or you could listen to Belle & Sebastian and join art club. Belle & Sebastian excel at lyrics that pick apart the daily grind, and this song is one of their bests. It paints a picture of a school-age artist who “for careers [she says she wants to] be remembered for [her] art [and makes] life-size models of the Velvet Underground in clay.” The rest of the song highlights how this girl sticks out for being different, and is bothered by students, teachers and co-workers alike. The singer works to uplift her, like a voice from her future, comforting her by saying: “Write a song, I’ll sing along, soon you will know that you are sane… You’re on top of the world again.” This song works to remind you that if you are an outsider in high school, you will eventually find a place in the world where that won’t be true.
Frankie Avalon – “Beauty School Dropout”
Despite its swoony sound, this song is actually quite self-flagellating (If we are to believe that Frenchie is imagining this song – which I hope we are, but this is Grease ). Frankie Avalon basically tells the girl that she was the worst student in beauty school, they couldn’t teach her anything, and if she had her high school diploma at least she could be a secretary somewhere. But at the end of the day it does carry an important message: stay in high school if you can, especially if you’ve already started your senior year. Get that diploma, and don’t place all your bets on beauty school.
The Ramones – “Rock ‘N’ Roll High School”
Imagine if the singer from “Back to School Again” lightened up a little and joined a band to impress that girl who got him into school, and that is this song. No one goes to the Ramones for lyrics, but this song can get by on its energy and ability to make you bop around. “I just wanna have some kicks, I just want to get some chicks” they wish, as they imagine the “fun, fun” to be had at a rock high school. It does sound appealing….
Van Halen – “Hot for Teacher”
Like most Van Halen songs, this song distills the essence of adolescent boy into a few minutes of energetic rock. What’s most amusing is that while the singer realizes his playtime with teacher is depriving him of an actual education, he doesn’t mind because his “homework was never quite like this.” If anyone is ever actually attracted to their teacher to this degree, I suggest they listen to this song to get it out of their system.
The Police – “Don’t Stand So Close To Me”
An excellent chaser for “Hot for Teacher,” this song is from the nervous teacher’s perspective. However, this song is about a male teacher who has become the “schoolgirl fantasy” of his students. But then of course, the song still becomes about a guy lusting after a girl as the singer (kind of hilariously) wrestles with his feelings while having his own little fantasies: “temptation, frustration, so bad it makes him cry/ Wet bus stop, she’s waiting, his car is warm and dry.” It is a bit slimier, though, knowing that Sting really was once a school teacher facing a bunch of adoring schoolgirls. Though, if he went to school in that sweater and glasses combo he sports in the music video, I understand where the girls were coming from.
Pink Floyd – “Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2)”
Garnering bonus points for using actual children’s vocals, this song by Pink Floyd succinctly and chillingly (see: children’s vocals) points out and mocks the subtle or sometimes not-so-subtle indoctrination in the classroom, as well as the system created to churn out more same-thinking cogs in the machine (there might be another metaphor available for that). This might be the most cynical song on this list, but sometimes a healthy dose of cynicism is good for you when you’re a part of an institution.
Alice Cooper – “School’s Out”
The last track is, of course, the most cathartic expression of the relief and triumph that comes at the end of a school year. Cooper spells it out perfectly in a few lines: “Well we got no class/ And we got no principals/ And we got no innocence/ We can’t even think of a word that rhymes.” Cleverly using both meanings of class and principal (or principle), he relishes his lack of knowledge in this moment and even more so his lack of a need to think of a word that rhymes. Who cares? School’s out till fall! And we might not come back at all!