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No More Teachers, No More Books: The Complete School’s Out Playlist

Our picks for the best songs to celebrate the end of the school year

Jon Dolan Jun 13, 2011
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Kanye West, “School Spirit”
The classic I’m-way-too-smart-for-school jam. Every precocious kid in America thinks it at some point but it took Kanye to put a beat under the feeling, rapping, “They say, ‘Oh you graduated?’ / No, I decided I was finished.” Some of Kanye’s later decision-making suggests that sticking around for a few extra psych courses might’ve done him some good, but when you spit so hot that we all get tanned chasin’, then your dreams is the only plan. And for the dreamless, stay in school!

Undertones, “Here Comes The Summer”
Rock guys sure do get self-assured in the romance department as summer approaches. It’s like the high pollen count magically turns girls into complete pushovers  ”“ from Fifties crooner Jerry Keller’s “Here Comes Summer” to Sam Cooke’s “Summertime” to Mongo Jerry’s “In the Summertime,” scads of songs seem based in this scientifically unproven notion. Maybe the greatest of these comes from bouncy Belfast pop-punks the Undertones: “Keep looking for the girls with their faces all tanned / Lying on the beaches all covered in sand.” Really, the suntanned beach-girls of Northern Ireland? It’s a fantasy of escape from their hometown’s dreariness and strife, and the little tinge of realism is what makes it great.

Fiery Furnaces, “Here Comes The Summer”
For the feminist response to all this easy-summer-lovin’ beeswax, check out the Fiery Furnaces’ indie-pop nugget on the subject, also titled “Here Comes the Summer.”  Eleanor Friedberger flips the tradition with lyrics about making some poor sucker wait all school year to get some. She even adds insult to injury by poetically evoking all the changing seasons he’s had to endure ”“ the freezing winds of December, the dark nights of October, the cold rains of March: “You knew it wouldn’t be too soon / We’ll have to wait until it’s June.” The stately sass in her voice suggests he may even be waiting a little longer.

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Al Green, “School Days”
Not every song has to be about hating your school, dropping out of it, blowing it up, etc. On this lilting soul ballad from Al’s smartness-endorsing Explores Your Mind, he gives us a perfect expression of that “hey, we got along pretty well when we had to sit through biology class together now that it’s summer let’s hit it” feeling. The song’s mood of elegiac absence and regret suggests maybe he had the wrong read on the situation. “Wondering where they’ve gone / School days,” he sings, holding on to “schoooool” like those bygone hours in the bio-lab were Eden itself.

Steely Dan, “My Old School”
Most school songs don’t get specific about which school they’re mad at, the assumption being that all schooling is a universally hellish experience. But leave it to the boogie-rock brainiacs in Steely Dan to write a song that namedrops Bard College (where they met) and William and Mary (where the heroine in the song might have to go after a pot bust gets her kicked off campus). The venomous joy with which Donald Fagen promises never to go back up to his old school suggests the Bard Alumni Committee need not include him in future donor solicitation mailings.

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Nirvana, “School”
Every kid’s worst nightmare. You’ve soldiered through an arduous day of learning, you’re ready to get outside for a little dodgeball or four-square or, if you’re Kurt Cobain, forlorn cigarette smoking away from all the other kids. Then the announcement comes over the loudspeaker: “No Recess!” In this punk-metal maelstrom from Bleach, Nirvana turn those hot, excited final seconds before the bell in Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out” into a brick wall, as a mean, swirling guitar and circular rhythm pull Kurt into the sinkhole of fait accompli: eternal school! “Just my luck,” he sings in perfect, existentially screwed burnout voice.

Jonathan Richman, “That Summer Feeling”
This wonderful geek-folk reflection on lost youth is all about recapturing that idyllic moment from Big Star’s “Thirteen,” long after you’ve grown up and forgotten how simple life can be: “When even fourth grade starts lookin’ good.” In characteristic Richman fashion he lays on lush, fragrant images of summer’s impending arrival thicker than sunblock on a Swedish exchange student: the water fountain at the park, the cool of the pond, the smell of the lawn, the Oldsmobile with the top down on it, the flat of the land with the crop down it. “It’s gonna haunt you,” the 33-year-old Richman warns us in his eternal-boy croon over a slow, inviting strum and bonfire-bongos. And it can free you too.

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