While I’ve alluded to it before, and indeed perhaps referenced it in the odd song in this series – now over fourteen years old, and 457 posts in – I’ve never explicitly written about school days, so this week, I change that – mainly after the realisation that this summer marks twenty-five years since I left school.
Conversations with partners and friends in the past across our scene come up with a mostly common thread – most of us didn’t really enjoy school particularly. Sure, we mostly came out with reasonable (or very good!) grades, we went on to do other things, but perhaps socially it was a bit of a struggle.
I certainly had that. I wasn’t one of the “cool” kids by any stretch, I was bullied at a young age, and perhaps never had the confidence to do more, to be better, until I was older. I rather coasted through my exams, that’s for sure – I could have done much better across the board, but did enough to do what I wanted for the most part. And, I was glad to leave, and move on, even if University turned out to be an insurmountable challenge for me.
This week’s post is about school, the after effects, and what happens when you move on, and is loosely set in a chronological fashion from the early days of school, until leaving for University and beyond. Thanks, as ever, to all that suggested songs. 89 suggestions were made, eight had been used before, and there were 70 unique songs, suggested by 41 different people.
A quick explanation for new readers (hi there!): my Tuesday Ten series has been running since March 2007, and each month features at least ten new songs you should hear – and in between those monthly posts, I feature songs on a variety of subjects, with some of the songs featured coming from suggestion threads on Facebook.
Feel free to get involved with these – the more the merrier, and the breadth of suggestions that I get continues to astound. Otherwise, as usual, if you’ve got something you want me to hear, something I should be writing about, or even a gig I should be attending, e-mail me, or drop me a line on Facebook (details below).
It’s not always easy to take things at face value with Faith No More. Once Mike Patton came into the fold, they took frequent abrupt turns stylistically and lyrically, and nothing quite felt like it fitted in. Angel Dust remains their masterwork – a densely-packed, chaotic rollercoaster ride of an album that is as happy sampling avant-garde quartets as it is covering classic film scores. The character sketches on this album, though, are fascinating (and Mike Patton puts himself in all kinds of positions, that’s for sure). Kindergarten – a song I for a while thought was the opening track, rather than the first track on Side B, thanks to my original tape copy being recorded Side B first by whomever gave it to me – is one of a number of songs on the album dealing with the failure to meet up to expectations, a feeling that absolutely seethes through most of the album. Here, the protagonist stumbles through a realm they’ve long outgrown, which may or may not actually be Kindergarten, but there is a spiteful fury that runs right through it.
XTC were a band that I so associate with the seventies and eighties (for the most part) that it is sometimes easy to forget that they continued, in one way or another, until 2006. As the outstanding documentary This Is Pop detailed a few years back, the relatively difficult childhood Andy Patridge had seems to be seared into his songs, from the anger in his earlier songs as a young man, to the perhaps more measured songs he wrote as an older man. This song – released on their last full album, but written a few years before – is another of those sweetly catchy rock songs that they settled into, but the lyrics have bite. The social heirachies of the playground rather reflect adult life. As a younger child, the playground for me wasn’t a particularly fun place. I took until my teenage years to even begin to fit in – partly down to moving, chopping and changing schools (by the age of nine, I was already attending my fourth school) – and I was bullied at school in Bar Hill that made my time particularly miserable there. The playground was also the place where, at the age of nine, an ill-advised and ill-timed snowball throw saw me sent to the Headmaster’s office for the first and only time…
/The Eyes of The Thief
/Cupid Is A Drunkard
I was a resolutely state school kid, even if as I moved around the country, I moved between different schooling systems (I still find it amazing that different local authorities are/were allowed variance – so Kent still has Grammar Schools, Cambridgeshire was primary school/high school, then Kirklees in West Yorkshire was First School/Middle School/High School…). Here, Jeays clearly attended boarding school, as he reminisces about the classmates he encountered, as rigid class barriers continued to be enforced and the same old people come out on top. Although, the final kicker is the revelation that that golden boy he mentions, is now in a dull day job, with a family and kids, while Jeays has had something of an interesting life. Remember Friends Reunited? There was something grimly fascinating about knowing what your former classmates were doing.
/The School Song
The bitter shock tactics of Child Psychology does mention a lacklustre time at school, but the lead track from the third album feels like a deliberately twee riposte to the controversy they had caused. Schoolkid chanting of the band name introduces the song, before pop-techno beats carry us forward, and vocalist Sarah Nixey becomes a stern schoolteacher, reciting many sentences that we may well have heard in our time at school, from entering the classroom, to assembly, to final words before we move on to life beyond school.
/Back To School (Mini Maggit)
Perhaps better-known thanks to being the radio-friendly remix (and considerably shorter) version of Pink Maggit that it is, it also makes the school elements of this much, much more overt. The lengthy original closed out White Pony, and unlike my wife, I was never really a fan of it. This is so much sharper, and snarls with the venom of someone who didn’t like school particularly, railing at the cliques, the cool kids and the snobbery that isolates people who might be different. Yeah, I was familiar with that, and here, as Chino Moreno moved on with his life (and became something of a public figure), he was able to raise a middle finger and be on top at last.
/High School Never Ends
/The Great Burrito Extortion Case
A popular song on rock music channels on cable for many years, mainly thanks to the entertaining, high-school reunion theme of the video. Musically it is simply catchy-as-all-hell pop punk, nothing challenging, sure, but the lyrical theme of the song resonates hard. Those cliques and snobbery at school? The harsh lesson once you get into the working life is that…nothing fucking changes. That kind of bullshit still happens in work, the press is still obsessed with beauty and sex… lessons we all learned a long time ago. Fun fact I never knew about this song – the late Adam Schlesinger of Fountains of Wayne was a co-writer of it.
There was an attempt at a high-school reunion – to mark twenty-five years (ish!) last year of our group being in sixth form and leaving, but needless to say, COVID lockdown threw any plans out of the window. I’m still in touch with a handful of people from school – people I would actually consider friends from that time! – but many, maybe I’m just morbidly curious around what’s happened to them.
/Hot for Teacher
Perhaps unsurprisingly, I got a number of songs that might also have been candidates for /259/Age of Consent (which was about relationships or lust for people younger than can consent legally), but this Van Halen hit from the mid-80s flips the narrative. Here, the schoolkid is the one lusting after the teacher, fantasising about the idea of, uh, extra-curricular…lessons. I remember comments about younger, attractive teachers from some of my schoolmates, sure, and indeed I also remember a few stories about a young (male) music teacher who was forced to leave after relevations about “relations” with a couple of sixth-form students. Times have changed, mind – with a lot more emphasis on safeguarding (as my wife, who works within that realm, well knows), and in modern times, the video for this song does lean into being, well, sexist trash.
Alice Cooper was well into his twenties when School’s Out became a big hit in 1972 – his “shock rock” persona basically developed by this point, too – but interestingly, the classic lineup of his band from this time had, aside from one, all been to the same school. Apparently the glorious exuberance of this song, particularly that enormous, unforgettable chorus, was all inspired by that last day of school, when you finally leave the rigidity of mainstream education behind and begin to find your way in the world. For many, that’s a point where there is almost overwhelming opportunity – but also, time for one last blow-out during that summer, before you and your friends go their separate ways to either University, a gap year, or even work. Weirdly I remember little of that summer – it certainly wasn’t documented in photos. It’s probably better that way.
This song – from a band I’m almost entirely unfamiliar with aside from Away – was suggested by a couple of friends, and it fits neatly into the loose narrative of this week’s post. Like the protagonist in this song, leaving home for University was a step I needed to make, although it was rather more mixed emotions for more in leaving my family behind (I moved from West Yorkshire to London for Uni). The black dog of depression hit me after I went to Uni (and indeed took me years and years to get under control), but the metaphorical shedding of skin that University allowed was the change I needed. It allowed me to become the person I wanted to be, perhaps, even if what followed wasn’t exactly what I had planned (failing at Uni, quitting and somewhat accidentally falling into a now twenty-year-plus career in telecoms).
/Palaces of Gold
/Palaces of Gold
I knew that Leon Rosselson was something of a British folk legend, but I didn’t realise some of his early work was satirical songs on That Was The Week That Was. Here, though, there is less satire and more outright fury, as he unloads his ire on the privileged, who went to good schools, were educated and prepared for power, and then ensured the people they knew accompanied them up the ladder. This song was apparently written in response to the aftermath of the horrific Aberfan Disaster, where a colliery spoil tip collapsed and buried part of a village, including a school, and killed 144 (including 116 children). Those at the top managed to avoid responsibility, blaming others below them, not to mention outrageous judgements of character of working class families that restricted the payments to them. Decades on, and the class system still applies, with, in 2019, two-thirds of the Cabinet having been public school educated – hardly representative of the general public (where the number is less than 10%).