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The Classic Rocker: BACK TO SCHOOL

It doesn’t matter what generation you fit into on the pop culture chart, even if you’ve reached the status of “Can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”

The end of summer means one thing:

Back to school.

Okay, I’m not using that as an incentive to quit your job, pack up your vinyl album collection and move into a dorm. I’m only giving reason to the memories swirling through your mind after you’ve realized it’s too quiet around the house. Another younger generation of kids or grandkids is heading off to the halls of higher learning which was once our domain.  Our former turf where togas were considered formal wear and empty beer kegs served as coffee tables.

For many of us college was our first real taste of freedom. Also, for many of us, it goes down in the mental bank as the final four years of freedom until these same kids and eventually grandkids punched our admittance tickets into the real world.

Yeah, we all have something to remember about school when we hit this time of year. Grade school, junior high, high school or college – we’ve been there and done that. Some of these memories are great while others recall pure embarrassment. You might be dreaming of your old dorm room and wishing you could do it again knowing what you know now, or simply glad it’s all over.

Either way, like any memory, it should have a soundtrack. And since I’m not writing these ramblings for the incoming freshmen who will be glorifying Lady Gaga or Justin Bieber behind their memories decades from now… Wait. I take that back.

Will anyone even remember Lady Gaga or Justin Bieber decades from now?

Sorry, guess I was stirring up the feeling of “been there, done that” while staring at my vinyl album collection. And since most of them date back to my college daze, it gives me an idea.

Using these historical grooved references tucked in designer cardboard sleeves as inspiration and to pay respect to Hollywood’s favorite college freshman, Rodney Dangerfield, here are my selections for the top three Back To School Classic Rock Songs. But keep in mind these are more than just songs about the topic. That’s not the main point. I’m going for the feeling, attitude and just flat-out fun that were important memory-makers prior to our admittance into the real world.

It was – and still is – called college.

You may not agree with these choices because they may not even mention the word “school” or be associated with the end of summer. But if it’s been a few decades since you called your roommate a jerk, slept through a test because the Student Union had dollar drafts the night before, or know more about Leave It To Beaver than you do about Justin Bieber, you’ll find a reason to relate.

3.  Student Demonstration Time by The Beach Boys

What’s a list about songs connected with summer that doesn’t have at least one connected to The Beach Boys? Except this choice has nothing to do with daddy’s T-Bird, surfin’ girls, California girls, or even staying true to your school. It’s all about the attitude of America’s college students in the early 1970’s from a group of college dropouts later revered as America’s Band.

College students in the 60’s and 70’s didn’t Tweet or Instagram their complaints about not trusting anyone over the age of thirty. They took over administration buildings, protested, and basically did whatever they could to make it clear they weren’t happy with what was handed down to them.

In this case, we’re not talking about tacky furniture and smelly closets left by graduating seniors for incoming frosh. Student Demonstration Time is about protesting an older generation’s policies in Southeast Asia that made college campuses more popular than a government job for males over the age of eighteen, thanks to student military deferments.

Too heavy for you? Okay, let’s skip the bullets and free speech references in the song and soften the blow for our list…”

College students will protest just about anything because that’s what they’re good at. It’s like the old Burger King “have it your way” commercials. When we were enjoying our first taste of freedom, we wanted it our way – or no way.

  • Bad food in the cafeteria? Food fight.
  • Conduct codes? Co-ed dorms.
  • Dress codes? Streaking.

When this song closed side one of the classic Surf’s Up album in 1971, The Beach Boys were developing a social conscious despite resident genius Brian Wilson being zonked out in his bed for three years.

His heir apparent and brother Carl fuzzed up his guitar and followed cousin Mike Love’s lyrical makeover of the classic Leiber and Stoller jailhouse rocker, Riot In Cell Block Nine, to put a hard edge on student protest songs. You can put this one on the next time the government screws you over or when the mashed potatoes are too soggy.

Warning: Repeated listening might awaken your inner Howard Beale (Peter Finch) attitude made famous in the 1976 film Network, “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not gonna take it anymore.”  Just do us all a favor if it involves streaking and keep your shorts on.”

No. 2 – Hot For Teacher by Van Halen

Oh man… This one is just wrong. At least that’s what the Parents Music Resource Center said when they tried to have the song and (especially) the video pulled from the airwaves in 1984. But when it comes to combining feelings of your nerve-wracking first day of school with a crush on your teacher, this one brings back both.

The song is powered by testosterone and a rapid-fire guitar and drum onslaught from the Van Halen brothers, Eddie and Alex, along with the trademark backing vocal from bassist Michael Anthony. But as always in the band’s pre-Van Hagar days (a quick nod to Sammy), Diamond David Lee Roth is the sleazy guy hanging around the schoolhouse that your parents warned you to stay away from, but will have the best stories to tell at future class reunions.

Whether you were a Waldo, the kid in the video being fast-tracked to a nervous breakdown on the first day of school, one of the mini-me Van Halen clones encouraging a show-and-tell with their playmate-worthy teacher, or somewhere in the middle, Hot For Teacher is like many of the stories we reminisce about with our old school buddies. An exaggerated fantasy. 

No. 1 – Shout by Otis Day and the Knights

Hey, cut me a break. Don’t you think I know the original Shout was by The Isley Brothers in 1959? And there was also a shortened version by The Beatles from their 1964 television special, Around The Beatles, and included on Anthology Vol. 1. But when it comes to pure back to school fun, National Lampoon’s Animal House put Otis Day and the Knights on The Campus Wall of Fame.

The film is set in 1962 which means the Isley’s original was one of the newer party songs played by every cover band that set foot in a beer soaked frat house.

The entire setting was an extreme lampoon (okay, maybe not for everyone) of college life, but after the film’s release in 1978 it would’ve been hard to find anyone on academic probation that hadn’t wrapped a sheet around themselves at one time or another and shouted, “To-ga! To-ga! To-ga!”

Otis Day and the Knights were originally cast as actors with DeWayne Jessie as Otis and a young Robert Cray as the bass player. But after the soundtrack’s huge success (including Shama Lama Ding Dong), the group became a real band and toured the country.

Shout is a time proven rocker that gives every former college student the opportunity to embarrass themselves by demonstrating dance moves they’ve had no reason to update since graduation. With a gospel flavor that could’ve been James Brown’s follow-up sermon in The Blues Brothers had Jake and Elwood had gone back the next Sunday, it’s an arm waving, gator-inducing mind eraser that makes memories of going back to school a lot more fun than thoughts of returning to real life.

It’s no wonder Bluto (John Belushi) spent seven years in the Delta House gaining valuable partying experience for his future career as Senator Blutarsky.

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