As we near the end of August, it’s time for children to head back to school. My grandfather who adopted and raised me was born in 1892. About this time of year I fondly remember him singing an old song to me every year on the morning of the first day of school, but until now, I never knew what it was called or who sang it.
The lyrics went something like: “school days, school days, dear old golden rule days. Readin’ and writin’ and ‘rithmatic, done to the tune of a hickr’y stick…”
This morning as my wife Debra was getting ready to head back to work as a professor at Millersville University, I decided to sing the song to her. Of course, she looked at me like I was crazy! But at least my insanity led to this blog.
Through research I discovered the song is called “School Days” by Byron Harlan, and found a recording of the tune from 1908.
School Days by Byron Harlan
The Beach Boys dealt with the rivalry between schools in “Be True to Your School” in 1963 featuring cheerleading by The Honeys and the University of Wisconsin “fight” song “On Wisconsin”.
“Be True to Your School” by the Beach Boys
In 1980 Pink Floyd had a #1 hit with “Another Brick In The Wall (Part II)” that maintained the top spot for 4 weeks and stayed on the charts for 19 weeks. Here’s a VH1 Classic video that has had over 86 million views on YouTube.
Although it never charted in the Top 40, one of my favorite songs by the late Harry Chapin is called “Flowers Are Red”. Here’s a link to Chapin performing the song live along with the story of how popular the song was and why he wrote it.
I strongly believe in encouraging creativity in children, but this song is about the damage that can be done when a teacher (or anyone for that matter) discourages creative development.
Along with screaming guitars, pounding drums, and the awesome vocals of David Lee Roth, Van Halen catered to every schoolboy’s fantasies with “Hot for Teacher” from their album “1984”, which coincidentally was released in 1984. Not that the lyrics needed any help, the music video with a teacher in a bikini didn’t hurt the song’s appeal to young men. Regardless, the song didn’t chart in the Top 40.
In 1972 Paul Simon released “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard”. The video clip is pretty cool with the school kids and featuring cameos from Biz Markie, Kool Mo Dee, the late Mickey Mantle and John Madden.
My 40th year high school reunion is coming up in a few weeks, and other than an informal gathering for the 5th year reunion, I’ve been the entertainment for each of the last 35 years. Every reunion, the one song that comes to mind for me is the 1973 tune by Steely Dan, “My Old School”. The song came out when I was a sophomore in high school, but the lyrics seem to tell the story of my life. Naturally, at every reunion I make it a point to play the song. I was the student who almost didn’t graduate with my class, but somehow I changed my attitude and made it through, and now, despite the lyrics, I’m proud to go back to My Old School (reunions).
This is an interesting song that I’ve never heard before, but found it while researching “school” songs for this blog. Brenda Holloway was a recording artist for Motown Records during the 1960s. I never realized it, but Brenda Holloway co-wrote “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy”, one of my absolute favorite songs by Blood, Sweat & Tears. Brenda was one of the opening acts for The Beatles landmark Shea Stadium show on August 15, 1965. I don’t know if this song was created as a public service message or expected to be a hit record, but both the song and the message are inspiring.
Young M.C. (Marvin Young) is best known for his 1989 hit “Bust a Move”, but his follow-up song “Principal’s Office” which came out in 1990 is a fun song with a very entertaining video. Don’t let the title of the song fool you, Young graduated with an economics degree from the University of Southern California.
“(Remember the Days of the) Old Schoolyard” by Cat Stevens (now Yusuf Islam) was released in 1977 and was his last US top 40 chart hit for almost three decades. Other than simple videos of concert performances, this was one of the few music videos that Stevens made. The song was unique in that it utilized a polyphonic synthesizer.
For punk rockers, there was the classic “Rock ‘n’ Roll High School” by The Ramones. There were three versions of this song, the first produced by Ed Stasium and the last two by Phil Spector (and his “Wall of Sound” mixing technique).
“In the music video, drummer Marky Ramone plays the role of the teacher, dressed as a female. Also 3 of the band members girlfriends/wives can be seen; Dee Dee’s first wife Vera Boldis, Johnny’s then-girlfriend Roxy and Joey’s then-girlfriend (who later became involved with and married bandmate Johnny), Linda Ramone.”
The group Supertramp, formed in 1969 under the name Daddy, was a project financed by a Dutch millionaire. Their success is underlined by the songwriting talents of founders Rick Davies and Roger Hodgson. In September 1974 the band released the album “Crime of the Century” which included their first Top 40 hit “Bloody Well Right”. The album also produced a song titled “School” which is featured in the attached video. The video is a “live” performance by Roger Hodgson which is nice, but in order to fully appreciate the intensity of the song, you should listen to a studio version of it with a good pair of speakers or headphones.
Chuck Berry is such an American Rock ‘n’ Roll icon that the house he lived in during the 1950’s when he wrote the majority of the songs with which he is identified with, was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2008. The house, built in 1910, is located at 3137 Whittier Street in St. Louis, Missouri. It was while living there that Berry wrote his third highest charting record, “School Day” also known as “School Day (Ring! Ring! Goes the Bell)” which peaked at #3 on the charts. The only songs he had that rated higher were “Sweet Little Sixteen” which peaked a #2, and “My Ding-A-Ling” which was his only #1 hit record.
One of the bands who credit Chuck Berry as an early influence is Brownsville Station, formed in 1969 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Although the band only had two songs hit the Top 40, “Smokin’ In The Boy’s Room” which peaked at #3 in 1973 continues to influence musicians today. Motley Crue’s first big hit came with a cover version of the song in 1985. And today there’s a cd titled “Nashville Outlaws, A Tribute to Motley Crue” which features country musicians covering Motley Crue songs. On the disc, LeAnn Rimes does her own version of Motley Crue’s take on “Smokin’ in the Boys Room.”
The video attached features the original Brownsville Station version of the song, but the creative production of the video is put together by Keith McDonald.
Philadelphia native Robert Ridarelli was not only a singer, but an actor as well who appeared in the movies Bye Bye Birdie and The Lady From Peking. But it was from another movie the Bobby Rydell had a hit record with “Swingin’ School in 1960. The movie was “Because They’re Young” starring James Darren and Tuesday Weld. “Swingin’ School” spent 12 weeks on the Hot 100 chart, peaking at #5 in the U.S., while reaching #1 in Australia. I guess those cool kids down under enjoyed swingin’ in school!
A movie that I enjoyed, in part because of the music as well as the actors, is the 1984 film “Teachers”. The movie was shot in Columbus, Ohio and starred Nick Nolte, JoBeth Williams, Judd Hirsch (Taxi), Ralph Macchio (Karate Kid)and Richard Mulligan (Soap).
The soundtrack was exceptional with music by Bryan Adams, Freddie Mercury, The Motels, Bob Seger, and .38 Special. I am a big fan of Bob Seger and southern rock music, so the song “Teacher Teacher” was a natural fit for this list of back to school songs.
And finally, let’s wrap this list up with the biggest hit record for a Scottish lass who was once married to the late Robin Gibb (of the Bee Gees), Lulu. She not only had a #1 record that stayed on top of the charts for five weeks in 1967, but she appeared in the film with the same title, starring Sidney Poitier. On April 13, 2015 Lulu released her first new studio album in a decade, “Making Life Rhyme.”
“To Sir, with Love” by Lulu
(Scenes from video are from movie ”To sir with love”)
Okay students, the blog is over, now get back to your homework!