You can tell it’s back-to-school time when stores stock binders and glue sticks where the barbecue tongs and beer koozies used to be. And when you observe the families roaming the aisles, you notice that the kids look vaguely worried and the parents look downright excited. But even if the closest you come to going back to class is slowing down in a school zone, you’ll still enjoy these seven righteous school-themed songs.
Dolly Parton: “Don’t Drop Out” (1966). Before she was the Barbie Doll-angel of country music, Parton took a shot at Shangri-La-dom with this ode to staying in school. Barely out of her teens herself, she enacts the classic “good-girl-loves-bad-boy” tale through slightly ragged production, with those distinctive Parton pipes drenched in reverb and multitracked into a one-woman girl group.
Nirvana: “School” (1989). A cut from the ostentatiously lo-fi Bleach album evokes the protracted malaise punctuated by brief fits of fury that plagues suburban teens everywhere. Kurt Cobain turns out a grinding guitar riff and slurred vocals reminiscent of Mudhoney at their “Touch Me I’m Sick” sludgiest. It’s exactly the sort of thing I would have played at top volume on my Sony Walkman while staring glumly out a window at the back of the bus. No recess indeed.
The Libertines: “Campaign of Hate” (2004). A bit like the Kinks jacked full of dope and whiskey, the Libertines make Britpop with a sneer. “Campaign of Hate” considers high school—its gossips and poseurs, its tedium and peer pressure—through the band’s usual sozzled and disdainful lens. Spiky, seesawing guitars and dynamic production from The Clash’s Mick Jones give a sharp edge to a poppy tune.
Deftones: “Back to School (Mini Maggit)” (2000). The epic account of teen nihilism looks back on high school without a shred of nostalgia. The abrupt shifts from semi-rapped verses to soaring choruses are something you can pump your fist and sing along to. And that was the intent: the band’s label, Maverick, wanted “a single” for their White Pony album, so the band took an existing song, “Pink Maggit,” shortened it, added the rap, and gave it to them—presumably while flipping them off with the other hand.
The Donnas: “New Kid in School” (2007). An old-school cock rock number by a bunch of chicks, this song carries a swagger that would do a homecoming queen (or football hero) proud. Definitely one to blast as you tear into the school parking lot: The big, shiny guitars, handclaps and “whoa-oh-oh”s will sound wicked cool booming out of your speakers, and will likely drown out that first period bell.
Dethklok: “Go Forth and Die” (2006). The Adult Swim cartoon about Metalocalypse chronicles the story of Dethklok, the world’s most successful death metal band. Dethklok’s shred-heavy death metal is better than a cartoon band should be, and the lyrics are truly brutal: “Move in with your parents/Back into the dark/Landed where you started/Bachelor of Arts.”
The Coup: “Strange Arithmetic” (2012). Most school songs are about puppy love and homework. The Coup’s is about how our educational system perpetuates inequality: “Physics is to school you on the science of force/’Cept for how to break the hell out of the ghetto of course/Home Ec can teach you how to make a few sauces/And accept low pay from your Walmart bosses.” The strong message comes with a hook that bobs your head and a beat that moves your feet.