In 1977, Bill Arning was a 16-year-old music fan who went to see John Cale play at CBGB when he made friends with two other teenagers checking out the show, David Scharff and Philip Shelley. The three shared an interest in New York's burgeoning underground music scene, and when one of them hit on the idea that they could get into shows for free if they were in a band, the Student Teachers were born. From 1978 to 1980, the Student Teachers gigged regularly on the New York punk/new wave circuit, playing clubs like CBGB, Max's Kansas City, and Hurrah, and opening for the likes of Iggy Pop, Blondie, and Teenage Jesus & the Jerks. During their lifetime, the Student Teachers released a single and a four-song EP, as well as appearing on the sampler album Marty Thau Presents 2x5 (which also featured the Fleshtones and Brian Setzer's pre-Stray Cats new wave combo the Bloodless Pharaohs), and the group's full recorded output appears on Invitation To...The Student Teachers 1978-1980: The Complete Syllabus. While an unreleased track from the 2x5 sessions is included here (like the group's debut single, it was produced by Jimmy Destri of Blondie, an early champion of the band), this still features just nine tunes and clocks in at under 26 minutes, giving us a picture of the group that's clear but brief. It doesn't help that most of these tracks were rescued from vinyl and not much appears to have been done to clean up the audio, but this is still a lively and entertaining snapshot of a band who embraced the angular end of the new wave pop sound of the day, but with a fresh-faced confidence that comes from being teenagers not yet aware of their limitations. If Scharff's vocals are a bit mannered, he has a good voice and the right instincts (for the most part), and guitarists Shelley and Joe Katz make for a crisp, muscular-sounding team. Arning's lo-fi keyboards give the music a sound that recalls what the B-52s were doing around the same time, though with less outward camp, and bassist Lori Reese and drummer Laura Davis (later replaced by Hayden Brasseur) were a tight enough rhythm section that they didn't have to get by on the novelty of being women in an otherwise male band. Add some cool, catchy tunes like "Christmas Weather," "Looks," and "Past Tense," and you get a pretty fine career for a bunch of kids who couldn't even order their own drinks when they started. For aging hipsters, Invitation To... is fine new wave nostalgia; for youngsters, theirs is an example worth following.
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AllMusic Review by Mark Deming