Popular Music Perspectives: Ideas, Themes, and Patterns in Contemporary Lyrics

By B. Lee Cooper | Go to book overview

Chapter One

Education (I)

Teenagers have always had some distaste for school, and their defiant spirit has frequently been captured in the lyrics of rock 'n' roll songs. In the mid-1970s, Alice Cooper's "School's Out (Forever)" topped the charts; in the 1960s it was Gary U.S. Bonds' "School's Out (At Last)." Anti-education sentiments in rock run back to the very earliest days of the music when Chuck Berry frequently compared the frustrations of the classroom to the satisfaction of fast cars and music.

—William Sievert
"The New Youth Anthem"
Boston Sunday Globe
July 20, 1980

Music plays a highly visible role in American public education. Every secondary school has an athletic fight song and an alma mater, a choral director or a music teacher, a marching band and glee club, and usually several other organized vocal or instrumental musical activities. In addition, lunch-time record hops, piped-in cafeteria music, post-game sock hops, disc jockey dances, proms, and homecoming or spring formal big band extravaganzas are common elements at most high schools. What is particularly intriguing to the student of popular culture, though, is the focus on the nature of American public education which abounds in the lyrics of rock era songs. Not only are specific attitudes about schools, teaching, and peer relations frequently depicted in contemporary tunes, but a great deal of critical commentary surfaces regularly in the lyrics about the means and ends of all formal learning activities.


I.

"School days, school days,
Dear old golden rule days,
Readin' and writin' and 'rithmatic,
Taught to the tune of a hickory stick."

The sentiments of good times, firm discipline, and the inculcation of basic communication and computation skills contained in the traditional tune "School Days" represent perceptions of an earlier era of learning. Whether accurate or inaccurate, realistic or idealistic, this song symbolized public education during the first half of the twentieth century. But as Bob Dylan observed early in the 1960s, the times they are a-changin'. In 1954 the Supreme Court ordered that American education cease to be a racially segregated, "separate but equal" learning area. But the integration of public schools, a concept yet to be fully realized

-9-

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Popular Music Perspectives: Ideas, Themes, and Patterns in Contemporary Lyrics
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Popular Music Perspectives - Ideas, Themes, and Patterns in Contemporary Lyrics *
  • Contents *
  • Acknowledgments 1
  • Introduction 4
  • Ideas *
  • Chapter One - Education (i) 9
  • Chapter Two - Railroads 25
  • Chapter Three - Rebels and Outsiders 37
  • Chapter Four - Education (ii) 48
  • Themes *
  • Chapter Five - Automobiles 59
  • Chapter Six - Christmas 68
  • Chapter Seven - Death 82
  • Chapter Eight - Food and Drink 94
  • Chapter Nine - Telephones 111
  • Patterns *
  • Chapter Ten - Answer Songs and Sequel Recordings 121
  • Chapter Eleven - Cover Records and Song Revivals 140
  • Chapter Twelve - Nursery Rhymes and Fairy Tales 155
  • Chapter Thirteen - Social Trends and Audio Chronology 172
  • Selected Bibliography 193
  • Index 210
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