Musical Space: Back To School

Aug 29, 2017

It’s August, and chances are either you or your kids are back at school. I think a lot about school, too, because of the bearing it has on music.

School was where you learned what music you liked. Research tells us it suddenly became important to you at around age ten or eleven, and that by fourteen your musical taste was pretty much solidified. Emotions and hormones ran high back then - your musical soundtrack is connected to some heady memories. You were also making your way in the world socially - you knew in middle school that you had to be armed with a style and persona by the time you got to high school. You wanted desperately to make friends. Learning to dance became important. Science says that whether you ended up liking country, hip hop, or rock depended mostly on who you hung out with. Music was crucial for social bonding; what you listened to was even more important than what you wore.

School is also where we formed our relationship with authority; music reflects this, too. There are thousands of songs about school; most tend to be negative about the whole thing, or at least irreverent. It was natural for you to rebel. You didn’t want to be associated with the music of your teachers - who would? So you listened to stuff from your own generation, hopefully that which would put off your elders at least a little. Think “School’s Out” by Alice Cooper and “Rock and Roll High School” by The Ramones.

Whether you were a jock, a freak, or a frock, your school days were when you helped change music.

(Music: Chuck Berry, “School Days,” (1957)

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Listening list - songs about school:

Sonny Boy Williamson I, “Good Morning, School Girl,” (1937),

There are a billion covers of this tune. John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, Mississippi Fred McDowell, The Yardbirds, etc.

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Steely Dan, “My Old School,” Countdown to Ecstacy, (1973),

Becker and Fagan easily adapted to the beatnik lifestyle while at Bard College. Great word painting: “California tumbles into the sea. That’ll be the day I go back to Annandale.”

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Stanley Clarke, “School Days,” School Days, 1976,

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White Stripes, “We Are Going To Be Friends,” White Blood Cells, 2001

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Old 97’s, “Friends Forever,” Drag It Up, (2004)

Alt country. “I was in the chess club…”

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Atmosphere, “To All My Friends,” To All My Friends, 2010

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