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Best Back to School Playlist

Kids head back to school as the summer winds down, or more and more often as summer peaks. Rock lyrics express plenty about classes, teachers, summers, and high school crushes over the years.

Here I rank a dozen songs from my "Back-to-School Spin Class" playlist, plus a few honorable mentions. From Britney Spears to Aerosmith to a certain Breakfast Club anthem, here are songs that might take you back to your own school days!

12. "Summer of '69"—Bryan Adams (1985)

Canadian rocker, Bryan Adams, co-wrote this hit single that has endured through the years as a true classic around much of the world. While not about school specifically, the lyrics tell the story of classmates that form a band in the summer describing those days as "the best days of my life." What kid wouldn't describe those summer days as the best?

Bowling for Soup Cover

Pop-punk band, Bowling for Soup, covered the song in 2000 on their Jive album. Their version adds some speed and edge. You can listen to this cover on the Amazon link here. No need to purchase but you'll find that Amazon has great prices for their mp3 downloads.

11. "No Such Thing"—John Mayer (2002)

Coming back to school, Mayer exclaims "I just can't wait 'til my ten-year reunion, I'm gonna bust down the double doors." The likely autobiographical lyrics talk about Mayer's desire to buck the advice of school guidance counselors and go his own way. The single was Mayer's breakthrough hit as an emerging artist.

10. "Rock ‘n’ Roll High School"—The Ramones (1979)

This fun and rebellious song, by the American punk band The Ramones, expresses disinterest in learning history and the disrespect for teachers and the principal. The singer would rather be rocking out and cruising around in his GTO. The music video is strewn with classroom antics and scenes.

The single from the comedy musical film soundtrack of the same name did not make the U.S. charts. It did hit success the UK Singles Chart, peaking at number 67.

9. "…Baby One More Time"—Britney Spears (1998)

A girl regrets a breakup in this song that became one of the best-selling singles of all time, topping the Billboard Hot 100. The music video was nominated for three MTV Video Music Awards and an online Jam! poll named it the best music video of the 1990s.

The music video features Spears as a daydreaming student sitting in class, impatiently awaiting the bell. When the bell rings, students dressed in school uniform jump up and join Spears dancing in the halls. Later on the basketball court, Spears spies the boy of her heartbreak. The bell rings once again and snaps Spears back to the classroom.

8. "Be Good Johnny"—Men At Work (1982)

Song lyrics tell the plight of a young boy, Johnny, who loves to daydream but is constantly told by his teacher and parents to cut that out and just be good.

Johnny is instructed and repeatedly told to be good. This Australian band's single was often heard on radio stations back in the '80s but failed to make it on the U.S. Billboard 100 chart. It did, however, peak at number three on the U.S. Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks chart.

Skip the skip up the road,

Off to school you go,

Don't be a bad boy.

7. "Smokin’ in the Boys Room"—Mötley Crüe (1985)

Mötley Crüe covered this single originally recorded by Brownsville Station in 1973. The single reached number three on the U.S. charts in 1973 and peaked at number 16 in 1985 when the Los Angeles heavy metal band released their cover.

The music video opens when an angry Doberman runs off with Jimmy's homework, putting him square in the principal's office. After the principal breaks out a paddle, a frustrated Jimmy heads to the boy's room and rocks out with the band inside the bathroom mirror.

6. "Walk This Way"—Aerosmith (1975)

This song explores a schoolboy’s crush on a high school girl using “filthy” lyrics, according to interviews with lead singer, Steven Tyler. The single peaked on the charts twice over two decades. The first time, peaking at number ten on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1977.

In 1986, rap band Run-D.M.C. covered the song in collaboration with Steven Tyler and Joe Perry. The wide success of this release placed the song at number four on the Billboard Hot 100. The music video features Tyler and Perry on the opposite side of a studio wall from Run-D.M.C., with Tyler breaking through the wall.

5. "Don’t You (Forget About Me"—Simple Minds (1985)

Straight from the fictional Sherman High School, this song has long been associated with the 80's movie The Breakfast Club featuring a group of high schoolers from different walks of life making the best of a day of detention. Who can forget Judd Nelson's fist pump on the football field as this song closes the movie!

The movie propelled this single to a number one hit in the United States. Simple Minds originally rejected recording the song, which was also passed up by several other musicians, including Billy Idol.

4. "Hollaback Girl"—Gwen Stefani (2005)

The story goes that when grunge rocker Courtney Love called Gwen Stefani a "cheerleader" in a Seventeen magazine interview, Stefani responded with her power hit, "Hollaback Girl". The single topped the charts in the U.S. and was nominated as Record of the Year at the Grammy Awards in 2006.

The music video brings cheerleaders and students to life, complete with stunts, tumbling action, and the high school band. Nominated for four MTV Music Video Awards, it won the award for Best Choreography.

3. "Another Brick In The Wall Part 2"—Pink Floyd (1979)

Part of a three-song set rock opera, Part 2 was named number 375 of Rolling Stone’s “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time”. It was the band’s only number one hit in the U.S. and the United Kingdom.

The song protested against rigid schools, mainly in the U.K. The second verse features a children's choir and in the song's ending, you hear children playing with a teacher yelling "Wrong!"

We don't need no education,

We don't need no thought control.

No dark sarcasm in the classroom,

Teachers leave them kids alone.

2. "Don’t Stand So Close to Me"—The Police (1980)

Lead singer Sting, who had once worked as a school teacher before becoming a rocker, wrote the lyrics about a school girls' crush on a teacher who feels quite anxious about the forbidden scenario. See the opening lyrics of this 1980 hit below.

Young teacher,

The subject,

Of schoolgirl fantasy.

She wants him,

So badly,

Knows what she wants to be.

The single peaked at number 10 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 and as number one on the U.K. charts. The song won the band Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal at the 1982 Grammy Awards.

The music video features lead singer Sting working in his former teaching profession. He alternates teaching duties with frolicking with his bandmates decked in caps and gowns.

1. Hot For Teacher"—Van Halen (1984)

The band released this single on its 1984 album, its best-selling album of all time. While it did not top the charts, VH1 later named this song the 36th best hard rock song of all time. Eddie Van Halen's guitar solo in the song earned a ranking by Guitar World magazine as the 46th best of all time.

The music video cast boys modeled after each band member in a classroom as their bikini-clad teacher struts down a classroom catwalk. The video got plenty of airtime on MTV and also caused plenty of controversy with attempts by the Parents Music Resource Center to have it pulled from television and radio.

Honorable Mentions

  • "Jack and Diane"—John Mellencamp (1982)
    A "little diddy" about a girl and her "football star" boyfriend growing up in middle America.
  • "School Boy Heart"—Jimmy Buffett (1996)
    Buffett's got a schoolboy's heart along with several other traits to get him through in this easy island tune.

More Music Playlists

© 2014 Marcelle Bell


Marcelle Bell (author) on September 11, 2014:

Ha ha, Ron! I do go back to the 70's for a few but there are a few I could add that are from a little earlier like "Be Good to Your School" (The Beach Boys) and I'm sure many more.

Ronald E Franklin from Mechanicsburg, PA on September 11, 2014:

You make me feel old! I've never heard any of these songs. You need to go back another 10 or 15 years before you'd catch me singing along. "Don't know much about history ..." Actually, I guess you need to go back by about 20 years.

Jackie Lynnley from the beautiful south on August 22, 2014:

Very entertaining; thanks for the memories.

FlourishAnyway from USA on August 16, 2014:

I had no idea Don't Stand Too Close To Me was about that. Thanks for the education. My favorites are Walk This Way and Jack and Diane. I love retrospectives.

Oyewole Folarin from Lagos on August 13, 2014:

Then I was addicted to the music of Britney Spears - baby one more time. The video was fantastic. Thanks for flashing back my memories.