There’s nothing like a good school chant to either rile up students, get a message across, or just share the nuances of school life. These selections not only tell a story, but they bind together a mass of students, current and former, who can relate.
The songs on this list come from a variety of genres, which will give you a multitude of perspectives on students. From elementary up through graduation, here are the best songs about school ever written.
1. Another Brick in the Wall – Pink Floyd
Since the 1979 release of Pink Floyd’s anti-school anthem, it’s hard to compare anything else to it. That’s because it forces the listener to hear from the mouths of actual children how they feel about being controlled in the classroom. Let’s just say, the symbolism and strong feelings tell you all you need to know. It clearly resonated with many in the decades following since it’s been covered several times.
2. What Did You Learn in School Today – Pete Seeger
There was a lot going on in the world back when Pete Seeger’s song about school came out. In 1964, there was a war going on in Vietnam, and this song points out the fact that school was just glossing over the gravity of the situation. Teachers are giving PG-rated versions of history as well as what’s going on in the world. Pete used this song to call them out.
3. School Day – Chuck Berry
This rock and roll song depicting life as a student was such a hit that it was covered in some way almost two dozen times. Upon release in 1957, it offered Chuck Berry’s entrance into the UK Singles Chart. Stateside, “School Day” hit number five on the Billboard Top 100 and number one on the R&B chart. This ended up being one of the top songs of Chuck’s career.
4. School’s Out – Alice Cooper
One of Alice Cooper’s most successful songs, “School’s Out” hit the charts during the band’s 5th studio release in 1972. The song got as high as number two on the charts and number one in Canada. The idea for the song came from the existential dread that follows after a student has graduated. Figuring out what to do with life is a heavy topic that not enough creativity is spent on.
5. Rock ‘n’ Roll High School – Ramones
To achieve the proper rock ‘n’ roll vibe for the video of this song, Ramones stayed patient for almost a month while the production team filmed. There were three locations around Los Angeles that were used in the making. It hit the big screen in the first half of 1979. That probably had a lot to do with the fact it was a soundtrack for a movie of the same name.
6. Beauty School Dropout – Frankie Avalon
One of the most famous movies that took place in high school produced one of the first songs people think of in relation to the subject. Grease is all about high school in the 50s, and this song specifically is about a character named Frenchy who dropped out. Her goal to be good at beauty school instead of high school has her movie star guardian angel try singing her into going back.
7. Be True to Your School – The Beach Boys
If you purchased the single back in 1963 without knowing better, you might have thought the song leaned towards inappropriate. Holding the record up, you’d see “Be True to Your School” and below it “In My Room.” Of course, these are two different songs, but who doesn’t love a little wordplay? Anyway, one version of the song has cheerleaders and is a tribute to a high school the Wilson brothers attended.
8. School Mam – The Stranglers
This punk hit from the late 70s came into fruition because of frontman Hugh Cornwell. He worked as a teacher ahead of the success of The Stranglers. Hugh channeled that experience in order to pump out one of the greatest songs about school.
9. What I Go to School For – Jonas Brothers
Back in 2006, a trio of brothers came together to explain what it feels like to have a school crush. In this song, the girl in question is out of reach from the freshman’s perspective. The guy is so obsessed that he actually becomes a peeping Tom, real Back to the Future vibes.
10. We Rule the School – Belle and Sebastian
Everyone has thoughts about random things they see written. Whether it be carved into a tree, at a bus stop, or even in a restroom stall, it’s not uncommon to create a story out of thin air as a way to build a narrative. That’s sort of what’s happening during this Belle and Sebastian selection.
11. Fifteen – Taylor Swift
Before T-Swift switched over to pop, she was known for her upbeat country hits. “Fifteen” was taken from that transition period and was inspired by the singer’s freshman year. From beginning to end, listeners tune in while she and her best friend develop a crush, then through to the breakup.
12. We’re Going to Be Friends – The White Stripes
If you want a sweet sample of school-age innocence, this is it. Recorded by The White Stripes in 2002, this track speaks about a guy and a girl meeting at the start of the year. They go on to grow a bond that extends off campus and continues on through June.
13. School Days – The Runaways
If you had any questions about whether or not this person likes school, this song leaves you with no doubt. From a former student’s perspective, many might call this a classic case of senioritis. Unfamiliar? That’s basically when you’re just ready to move on to the next phase since you’re a senior. This song is about someone who is 18 and ready to let loose.
14. (You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party) – Beastie Boys
Surely, The Beastie Boys had rebellious kids in mind when they put together this song. That spirit is a lot of what the group stood for in the first place. It’s no wonder that even though this ditty was released in the late 80s, it’s still quite the hit today. No doubt that it was probably used as validation when getting caught partying as well.
15. Mad World – Gary Jules
Gary Jules wasn’t the first person to put this song out. Tears for Fears released it as their own almost two decades prior to this 2001 version. However, the mood of Gary’s is a bit more somber than the more upbeat version of the 80s. Members of the original group have said they actually like this one better, that it fits more with the lyrics. You can easily see this as starting a new school from the eyes of an introvert.
16. School Spirit – Ye
Something Kanye West is good at is controversy, and that’s what he got with this song from his College Dropout album. The reason is he sampled Aretha Franklin and she did not want it on there unless there was no profanity, as she was not a fan. So, on the explicit Dropout album, the song is omitted.
17. Getting Better – The Beatles
Despite the productive-sounding title, this track actually deals with some pretty serious issues. Thought to have been significantly influenced by John Lennon, “Getting Better” addresses feelings about going off the hinges at school, aggression towards women, and anger in general. Even though it was released in 1967, the dramatic elements transcend time and can be helpful to hear in any decade.
18. Don’t Be a Dropout – James Brown
Perhaps this song should be played for students entering orientation on their first day of high school, heck, maybe even college. James Brown was trying to use his influence in 1966 to speak to his fans and make a difference with his art. The message here is for students to stay in school. It had such a positive effect that it gave James an opportunity to confer with Vice President Hubert Humphrey. Keeping teens in school was a big initiative of the politician, and this helped his cause.
19. School Days – Loudon Wainwright III
This guy is singing about his youth, which he clearly views as his glory days. He’s looking back at those times as if he was basically a gift to all the young ladies he came across. You get a sense that the singer really misses these times and sort of wishes he could reclaim them.
20. Little Things – Good Charlotte
Featured in the movie about two guys who don’t have their act together, Dude, Where’s My Car?, Good Charlotte released this track in 2000. It hit the Billboard chart at 23 under the Modern Rock category. The video for “Little Things” was one of their most popular because it featured another hot act at the time, teen pop singer Mandy Moore.
21. My Old School – Steely Dan
In an effort to raise his star power, an up-and-coming district attorney wanted to make a name for himself. So, he set up a raid for marijuana near the New York school, Bard College. It just so happened that Steely Dan, who was attending Bard, was arrested with his girlfriend and others during this raid. This crappy night turned into lyrical gold. There are lines in the song that pertain to that district attorney specifically.
22. Back to School – Deftones
This song was released in 2000 and went directly to the number one spot in Portugal. “Back to School” was also popular in the UK, coming in at number three on the Rock and Metal list. Here in the US, the highest place was at 27 on the alternative chart. Did that have something to do with how they regretted putting it on the rerelease of the album? Apparently, not. The band claims they compromised more than originally intended with their label.
23. Mark Me Absent – The Clash
If you ask a fan of The Clash about this track, they are likely not to know it. That’s because it was an unreleased tune. Made earlier in the band’s career, it was a musical representation of being against authority. It talks about being stuck in school and the weight that reality carries.
24. ABC – Jackson 5
The song to knock the Beatles’ hit “Let It Be” off the number one spot in 1970 was by the Jackson 5. “ABC” was the peppy song reminiscent of pre-school when kids were learning things like the alphabet and music. A massive hit for the group of brothers, “ABC” spent weeks at the top of the charts. It was also nominated for a Grammy. In 2016, it was added to the Grammy Hall of Fame.
25. School is Out – Regina Spektor
Ever been stuck after school waiting for a ride? That might have been part of what moved Regina Spektor to put together these lyrics. As she goes through each line, you can almost see her walking aimlessly around an empty school and noticing things she probably just walked by during the day. These little distractions are so much more noticeable when everything is quiet and the dust has settled after everyone has gone home.
26. Straight A’s – Dead Kennedys
This selection starts off sounding like something anyone in high school would feel compelled to sing about. There’s the pressure of staying on the honor roll, there are signs of puberty in full swing, and there’s even a common complaint about homework. Then, the song takes a dark turn, and you see this was more than pressure, it was deep-seated depression. The person probably didn’t feel like they could get help with those emotions. Certainly, a topic that many students could understand.
27. Smokin’ in the Boys Room – Mötley Crüe
Never was there a better way to get in serious trouble within the hallowed halls of high school than to smoke. Mötley Crüe decided to give the 70s hit a breath of fresh air in the late 80s, about 15 years after Brownsville Station released it on their album Yeah! Mötley Crüe’s version didn’t quite get as high on the charts as Brownsville Station’s, but it was still considered a hit for both bands.
28. High School – MC5
The overwhelming excitement of a middle schooler being promoted to high school is what is embodied in this song. Even in 1970, when it was released, MC5 knew how to put into words what it felt like to anticipate being the big man on campus. Sure, going to the new school will still have you in the bottom ranks. But who cares? The point is you’re basically an adult, right?
29. College Kids – Relient K
Growing up, a common theme in school and at home is the pressure to go on to higher learning. This was especially the case in 2003 when “College Kids” was released. Before going, many students look at the upcoming experience as something great to look forward to. What no one prepares them for is the possibility of being overwhelmed and struggling. Oh, and the massive debt afterward. Relient K expresses that here pretty well.
30. High School Confidential – Jerry Lee Lewis
In 1958, MGM tagged Jerry Lee Lewis and Ron Hargrave to write the title song for their movie. After it was recorded at the famous Sun Studios in Memphis, Jerry flew out to the movie set where they had him perform the song over a dozen times for extras. Not one of those takes was used. The version in the film wasn’t released on a soundtrack, but Jerry did put it on his own record where it hit as high as number five on the R&B chart.
31. I Hate My School – Necros
If you didn’t catch the implication of the song title, Necros is not a fan of high school. You know how it’s a thing to say you hate people? This song said it first. The perspective is that of someone who is clearly annoyed by everyone and everything, which is obviously a teenager. All they want to do is go home and hide away from the world. Not only is it relatable, but it’s great to jam out to. It’s emo but a 70s version.