But wait, POP QUIZ! We also wanna hear from you! After you check out the editors' picks in blurb and YouTube form, give the Spotify playlist a spin and share your favorite school-centric tunes by adding to the list.
Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Graham Parker - "Back to Schooldays"
What do you do when real life proves to be a real horror show? You go "Back To Schooldays," because you now know that's the best you ever had it, or ever will have it. And that's the message of this, an unabashed rockabilly raver that's one of Graham Parker's very best songs. Dave Edmunds did a killer cover too, but this 1976 original showcases the Rumour at their loosest and liveliest.
Steely Dan - "My Old School"
If Graham Parker wanted to scurry back to the comfort of his schooldays, Donald Fagen and Walter Becker are positively giddy and vicious about never going back to their old school. Based loosely on real events that allegedly led Fagen to skipping his graduation, "My Old School" is the anthem for snotty post-grads and desperate seniors, ready to push their schooldays far into the past.
Smog - "Back in School"
"Back in School" might not be so much about hitting the books again as it is about realizing someone special is really, truly gone. However, in its own eloquently simple way, it captures the sense of change, and loss, that accompanies the leaves turning and campuses coming back to life after a sleepy summer. It’s also a master class on how to pack a novel’s worth of characterization into less than five minutes of music - something at which Bill Callahan excels, no matter which moniker he uses.
Gary "U.S." Bonds - "School Is In"
This song was a hit despite the rather square notion that the protagonist is glad to be back at school. His reasons for being gassed about hitting the books again? Hanging with his old classmates, buying school supplies, and the feeling of self-worth that comes with getting good grades. Two minutes of good-natured nonsense for sure, but it's got that unstoppable Bonds groove so it's kind of hard not to want to dance along. The only thing that rings true is that he's glad to be in a place where he won't have to do pointless chores like washing dishes, cutting grass, and teaching a baby how to count to four. Man, I hate teaching babies to count to four! I'd so rather be listening to some underpaid teacher droning on and on about macro-economic theory in post-WWII Europe.
Dizzy Gillespie - "School Days"
A reworking of Louis Jordan’s 1946 recording, itself loosely based off a 1907 Will Cobb and Gus Edward composition, the title track to jazz trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie’s 1951 album School Days is a bluesy, swinging R&B shouter featuring the ebullient vocals of Joe Carroll. Laden with a kind of irreverent humor that plays off nursery school rhymes and intended as a kind of satirical take on the then nascent and popular early '50s rock & roll sound, the song finds Carroll leading Dizzy’s small group through a series of blues verses that find him thinking back on his crazy grammar school days. Throw in a solo from Diz that rocks as hard as any Johnny "Guitar" Watson cut from the period and you've got one of the hippest back to school songs ever!
Nation of Ulysses - "A Kid Who Tells on Another Kid is a Dead Kid"
While The Nation of Ulysses talked the talk of radical youth rebellion, even they knew that the laws of the playground were just too fundamental to be ignored. With its combination of sing-along choruses and urgent tension, the song perfectly pulls off the feeling of a threat thinly disguised as friendly advice, and you can almost feel a crowd gathering around you as the song rolls into its unnerving schoolyard chant of a chorus.
Lifter Puller - "Secret Santa Cruz"
A musical version of the classic "how I spent my summer vacation" essay, "Secret Santa Cruz" finds a girl returning to campus and regaling her sorority sisters with stories of her summertime adventures, and the song captures those all-American summers spent interning, sunbathing, going to raves, witnessing murders, and buying drugs from crackheads. You know, regular college stuff.
Mighty Dougla – "Teacher, Teacher"
Long before Van Halen got "Hot For Teacher", '60s calypsonian the Mighty Dougla was swaggering his way toward the head of the class with "Teacher, Teacher". Double entendres fly as Dougla requests his "lessons privately" after asking a bathroom break, and by the end, literature and math classes have been dismissed, but biology has been - ahem - embraced. The nostalgic, naughty number is just too dated to give today's kids any ideas, but it is insanely catchy, so don't let those young ones near it.
Sister Nancy - "Gwan A School"
My second favorite Sister Nancy cut - the first being the massive classic "Bam Bam" - "Gwan A School" is a rhythmic call to the youth. Be no "plastic fool," because without smarts "everyone come and ride up on your back like donkey ass are you." Extra credit: search out Crumpers' bootleg edit on the web for a blissful jungle remix.
Gang of Four - "History's Bunk!"
Boogie Down Productions - "You Must Learn"
Simplistic, one-sided presentations of history are criticized in these songs, released eight years apart and written by artists from very different backgrounds. Three years after needling the Great Man Theory in "Not Great Men," Gang of Four shout a request: "What I'd like to hear: tales of people's history, not the styles of strategic combat." BDP's KRS-One, facing the other direction, opts to address the class: "When one doesn't know about the other one's culture, ignorance swoops down like a vulture." Admittedly, neither song is likely to be adapted into an effective bookmobile jingle.
Check out these picks in Spotify playlist form, and keep the music flowing by adding your favorite school-themed tunes to the list! Not a Spotify user? Share your track picks on the AllMusic Facebook page or the AllMusic Twitter stream with hashtag #schoolsongs.