Like a lot of people with caffeinated attention spans, I obsessively create themed Mix CD’s in my spare time as well as my non-spare time. This gives me the pleasurable authority of christening AON‘s newest series, MIXOLOGY, an exploratory and anal-retentive glimpse at Themed Mix CD Tracklisting. The last themed CD I so crispily burned was “Dead Jesse Helms’ Independence Day Mix” and featured, among others, The Clash’s “I’m So Bored With the USA,” Billy Bragg and Wilco’s “Christ For President,” Sparks’ “Barbecutie,” and the Descendents’ “‘merican.” The theme for this particular multi-part Mixology analysis? To spoil yer summer early, it’s “Back to School.” Let’s aim a critical eye at our first round of potentials. If I’m too quick to pigeonhole your favorite songs, keep in mind: time is a factor.
THE CANDIDATE: Be Your Own Pet, “Becky” (2008)
TRIVIA: The Nashville brat-rawkers’ tune about knifing up a classmate who “talked a lot of shit about me” and distributed friendship bracelets under false pretenses. Notoriously banned from the group’s last LP for its homicidal imagery (which is seemingly only a problem for record labels when the lyrics are coming from a pixieish teenage white girl). Jemima Pearl defended her lyrics in a recent Pitchfork piece as “funny”; of course, in the same article, Pearl talks about how awesome it is to set shit on fire.
BEST LYRIC: “If only what you wrote in my yearbook was true, then I wouldn’t be stuck in fuckin’ Cell Block Two.”
DOES IT BELONG ON THE “BACK TO SCHOOL” MIX?: Probably.
THE CANDIDATE: Nada Surf, “Popular” (1996)
TRIVIA: Surf frontman Matthew Caws works himself into a maniacal lather as he gives datin’ tips to the insensitive youth of America. A droning chorus counts off a list of enviable teen virtues, from “I got my own car” to “My mom says I’m a catch.” The adjoining video, filled with piranha-like cheerleaders, jugular gnawing, and homoerotic locker room pixelation, was out-aired during the summer of 1996 only by footage of Bob Dole toppling hilariously over a balcony.
The cheerleader at 3:09 is just as eerily committed to her role as I’d always remembered.
SAMPLE RANT: “I propose we support a one-month limit on going steady. I think it would keep people more able to deal with weird situations and get to know more people. I think if you’re ready to go out with Johnny, now is the time to tell him about your one-month limit. He won’t mind! He’ll appreciate your fresh look on dating! And once you’ve dated someone else, you can date him again!”
DOES IT BELONG ON THE “BACK TO SCHOOL” MIX?: “Popular” has sort of been lost in the ashes despite Nada Surf’s later resurgence, but songs most people haven’t thought about in 12 years are some of my favorites to drag into a specially themed iTunes folder.
THE CANDIDATE: Pearl Jam, “Jeremy” (1992)
TRIVIA: A breakout hit from Pearl Jam’s debut record “Ten,” and just like the rest of the album, the song has aged about as well as a pumpkin cheesecake. Based on the tale of a real-life Jeremy who shot himself in front of his English classmates in Richardson, Texas, in 1991; the tragedy is recreated in the music video with strobelights and stationary classmates pointing at Jeremy, mocking him with their creepy rictus-grins. Voted Best Music Video Of the Year at the 1993 MTV Video Awards; the video’s wounded, howling intensity defeated videos in which a bisected Steven Tyler cups his balls throughout an entire verse and En Vogue denounces racism in chromium bustiers.
KEY EXAMPLE OF RAMBLING LYRIC SCHEME: Eddie Vedder attempts to rhyme “bit the recess lady’s breast” with “how could I forget,” and his wheezy cries fool no one.
DOES IT BELONG ON THE “BACK TO SCHOOL” MIX?: No, it would just spoil the fun.
THE CANDIDATE: The Moldy Peaches, “D. 2. Boyfriend” (2001)
TRIVIA: In the cutesy, best-friend’s-awkward-older-sister tradition of the Moldy Peaches, Kimya Dawson chirps about jr. high school “popstar boyfriend” roulette, in which each of her friends claimed a member of Duran Duran as their soulmate. Dawson remains a pitiably single outsider when there are no Durans left for her to claim.
SAMPLE LYRIC: “I wasn’t dating Simon LeBon / I was sitting by myself with my collar up, a tear in my eye, and an aching in my heart / and my Converse on / and my Converse on / my glow-in-the-dark with pink fat laces, zebra-striped Converse on.”
DOES IT BELONG ON THE “BACK TO SCHOOL” MIX?: At one minute and 39 seconds, it’s an agreeable palate cleanser, and every mix CD needs at least a couple of those. I’m putting it between the Be Your Own Pet cut and the Pixies’ pottymouthed college memories of “U-Mass.”
THE CANDIDATE: Madness, “Baggy Trousers” (1980)
TRIVIA: It’s Cockney, it’s skait’s ska’kney! In the 1980 hit that reached #3 on the UK charts, Suggs and the lot sing about “naughty boys in nasty schools” to show the Yanks some barmy, arse-over-elbow hooliganism; the blinding result is the dog’s bollocks, so belt up, mate.
Also adapted into a Colgate Pump ditty that ran on an endless loop in Saturday mornings circa ’85:
SAMPLE LYRIC: “Lots of girls and lots of boys / Lots of smells and lots of noise / Playing football in the park / Kicking pushbikes after dark / Baggy trousers, dirty shirt / Pulling hair and eating dirt / Teacher comes to break it up, Back of the √¢‚Ç¨Àúead with a plastic cup.”
DOES IT BELONG ON THE “BACK TO SCHOOL” MIX?: More than any other song on this list.
THE CANDIDATE: The Black Lips, “Bad Kids” (2007)
TRIVIA: A 60′s-garagey rusted-amp Uggs-stomper off “Good Bad Not Evil,” and the contemporary American counterpart to “Baggy Trousers.” The Black Lips, those popular Georgian urine-drinkers, share tales of juvenile rebellion by “bad kids / product-of-no-dad kids.” Only tenuously related to school antics, but the class-disrupting memories can’t help but follow. And if that’s not enough of a connection, the rhyme scheme informs us that the bad kids, who are product-of-no-dad kids, additionally ain’t no college grad kids.
SAMPLE LYRIC: “(Toilet) paper on the yard, (Six F’s) on my report card, (Smoke cigs) in the bathroom stall, (Spray paint), penis on the wall.”
DOES IT BELONG ON THE “BACK TO SCHOOL” MIX?: If memories of elementary school pissbreaks don’t immediately summon the thought of crudely-scribbled penises on the wall, you were probably using the girls’ room. Either that or you see no point in reminiscing about elementary school pissbreaks, which is also acceptable. So you can leave that one off the mix if you wanna, but I won’t.
THE CANDIDATE: James Brown, “Don’t Be A Dropout” (1966)
TRIVIA: For four and a half breezy minutes, the Godfather of Soul emphatically repeats the sentiment “without an education, might as well be dead” over some funky horn-tootin’s. Brown attributes this harsh statement to a potential employer ostensibly named “Mr. Man,” but can’t bring himself to contradict Mr. Man for a second.
THE HARDEST WORKING MAN IN SHOW BUSINESS SEZ: “Well kids, stay in school, don’t be no drag / Let the fool advise you, and stay out of that bag.” (Which bag Brown is referring to remains ambiguous.)
DOES IT BELONG ON THE “BACK TO SCHOOL” MIX?: James Brown’s long-term-planning life advice belongs on just about any mix. If you can’t embrace Back-To-Schoolness despite his intervention, I can’t do anything for you anymore.
THE CANDIDATE: Pink Floyd, “Another Brick In the Wall Pt. 2″ (1979)
TRIVIA: A chorus of nasally UK schoolkids insist that they don’t need no education, although their ABHORRENT GRAMMAR AND USE OF DOUBLE-NEGATIVES would suggest otherwise, doggonnit.
KEY PASSAGE: (Endless narcoleptic guitar-noodlin’, then a return to the disco-stutter and a manic cry of “IF YEW DON’T FINISH YOUR MEAT, YEW CAHNT HAVE ANY PUDDING!”)
DOES IT BEL–: No.
MORE SONGS COMING UP IN “MIXOLOGY: BACK TO SCHOOL ROUND II!”