Sitting back trying to recapture old days

It’s “lost classics” time again, as I take another deep dive into albums and singles from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s.

There was so much great music made back then, and only a fraction of it ever ended up on the radio or the top reaches of the sales charts.  The rest went under the radar of most record_collection_672_x_377_1024x1024folks.  Hack’s Back Pages is here to remedy that situation.

I find it a labor of love to listen to my LPs and CDs from days of yore, searching to find lost classic songs that you may have forgotten all about, or perhaps have never heard until I brought them out into the light to savor now for the first time.

As I customarily do, I have provided a playlist via Spotify so you can hear the songs as you read about them.  I hope you enjoy them!

Rock on!

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“The Nightfly,” Donald Fagen, 1982

Donald_Fagen_-_The_Nightfly-1Steely Dan went on hiatus after their seventh LP, 1980’s “Gaucho,” primarily because co-founder Walter Becker was struggling with personal issues.  His partner Donald Fagen stayed busy writing a cycle of songs that paid tribute to his recollections of growing up in New Jersey in the 1950s.  The album, “The Nightfly,” sounds every bit like a Steely Dan record, thanks to Fagen’s vocals and jazz-pop arrangements, and it earned a Grammy nomination for Album of the Year.  The single, “I.G.Y.,” reached #26.  I’ve always enjoyed the title track, which centers on Fagen’s memories of a hip disc jockey at an all-night jazz station he used to listen to when he found rock ‘n roll had become too repetitive:  “An independent station, WJAZ, with jazz and conversation from the foot of Mt. Belzoni, sweet music, tonight the night is mine, late line till the sun comes through the skylight…”

“Tenderness on the Block,” Warren Zevon, 1978

LLZevon was highly praised as a songwriter of strange, macabre pop songs with deadpan humorous lyrics, and when he teamed up with L.A. wonder boy Jackson Browne in 1978 on his major-label debut, “Excitable Boy,” the result was both commercial success and critical acclaim.  “Werewolves of London” and the title track may have received most of the airplay, but I found tracks like “Tenderness on the Block” (co-written by Browne) the most appealing.  Savvy lyrics about a teenage girl trying to find her way in a challenging world make it one of the standout tracks in Zevon’s catalog:  “She’s all grown up, she has a young man waiting, she was wide-eyed, now she’s street-wise to the lies and the jive talk, she’ll find true love and tenderness on the block …”

“Take It As It Comes,” The Doors, 1967

220px-TheDoorsTheDoorsalbumcoverThere are very few bands in the history of rock who came exploding out of the blocks with a masterpiece on their very first try, and The Doors are one of them.  In addition to the anthemic  “Light My Fire” and the ferocious “Break On Through (To The Other Side),” the album runneth over with one great song after another:  “The Crystal Ship,” “Back Door Man,” “20th Century Fox,” “Soul Kitchen” and the terrifying finale “The End.”  Easily overlooked is the penultimate track, “Take It As It Comes,” with Jim Morrison’s vocals alternately sweet on the verses and fierce on the choruses.  Keyboardist Ray Manzarek, guitarist Robby Krieger and drummer John Densmore (and an uncredited Larry Knechtel on bass) played like a tightly oiled machine on this and every track.

“Lovers’ Day,” ‘Til Tuesday, 1986

51x216Uff6L._SY355_One of the best songwriters of the ’80s/’90s was Aimee Mann, who spearheaded the alternative rock band ‘Til Tuesday through the 1985-1989 period before she went solo.  The band won Best New Artist at the MTV awards in 1986 on the strength of their #8 hit “Voices Carry.”  On the group’s second LP, the excellent “Welcome Home,” Mann wrote several songs that veered more toward mainstream pop (“Coming Up Close,” “Will She Just Fall Down”).  One track, the mesmerizing “Lovers’ Day,” harkened back to the New Wave-ish debut LP, with lyrics that drove home the reality that “there’s no way to betray and still be true.”

“Supertwister,” Camel, 1974

192562094198-cover-zoomThis British progressive rock group, which dabbled in rock, folk, jazz and classical, played largely instrumental songs written by guitarist Andrew Latimer and keyboardist Peter Bardens.  The group never caught on much in the US, but English fans loved them, putting six of Camel’s first eight LPs into the Top 40 on the UK album charts, beginning with 1975’s impressive “The Snow Goose.”  Just before that LP came “Mirage,” which was very popular on West Coast FM stations.  One lively track, “Supertwister,” offers some dazzling flute work by Latimer that’s reminiscent of mid-’70s-era Jethro Tull.

“Trouble Man,” Marvin Gaye, 1972

marvingaye_troubleman12_89taWhen Marvin Gaye’s name comes up, many people gravitate to the many outstanding hits he churned out as a leader of Motown Records’ stable of recording artists in the 1960s, tracks like “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” “Ain’t That Peculiar,” and duets like “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and “It Takes Two.”  Others linger on Gaye’s brilliant early ’70s anthems like “What’s Going On” and “Mercy Mercy Me.”  Sometimes forgotten is a track like 1972’s “Trouble Man,” a dreamy piece written and recorded by Gaye for the somewhat cheesy crime drama film of the same name.  The song actually charted well, reaching #7 in early 1973, but you don’t hear it much anymore.  Until now.

“Train in the Distance,” Paul Simon, 1983

R-3188782-1319723769.jpegFollowing the unqualified success of the 1981 reunion event, “Simon & Garfunkel:  The Concert in Central Park,” the duo headed into the studio to collaborate on a new S&G studio LP, their first since 1970’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water.”  Garfunkel provided vocal harmonies to a handful of tracks before the duo had an acrimonious split (again), and Simon went on to develop ten songs as his next solo album, 1983’s “Hearts and Bones.”  A favorite from this mostly overlooked Simon project is “Train in the Distance,” one of three songs that delve into Simon’s short, stormy marriage to actress Carrie Fisher:  “Two disappointed believers, two people playing the game, negotiations and love songs are often mistaken for one in the same, everybody loves the sound of a train in the distance, everybody thinks it’s true…”

“King of Hollywood,” The Eagles, 1979

220px-The_Eagles_The_Long_RunComing up with a worthy follow-up to the mega-success of “Hotel California” proved an arduous task for The Eagles, particularly songwriters Don Henley and Glenn Frey.  They admitted that tour burnout and excessive coke use brought on a case of writer’s block that delayed recording sessions for many months.  Perhaps the best track that emerged on the final product, 1979’s “The Long Run,” was the Henley-Frey collaboration “King of Hollywood,” which criticized movie and record producers for their demands for sexual favors from struggling actresses and artists.  This one could’ve been about Harvey Weinstein:  “Now look at me and tell me, darlin’, how badly do you want this part?  Are you willing to sacrifice? And are you willing to be real nice? All your talent and my good taste, I’d hate to see it go to waste…”

“Fat Lip,” Robert Plant, 1982

1200x1200bbAll eyes were on Plant when he made his solo debut on the first post-Led Zeppelin album, “Pictures at Eleven,” in 1982.  Guitarist Robbie Blunt had big shoes to fill, and he contributed admirably with strong guitar riffs and helped Plant write the bulk of the songs.  The singles released from the album — “Burning Down One Side” and “Pledge Pin” — fared well on US Mainstream Rock stations but stiffed on the pop charts.  I think the better choice would’ve been “Fat Lip,” which offers an almost pop sensibility set against some Zep-like vocal acrobatics from Plant.

“Michelle’s Song,” Elton John, 1971

41LdDSwOU2LThe prolific songwriting team of lyricist Bernie Taupin and Elton John cranked out several dozen great songs in their early years together, most of which turned up on Elton’s debut LP (1969’s “Empty Sky”), the phenomenal “Elton John” album and the concept LP “Tumbleweed Connection,” both in 1970.  During that period, John and Taupin had also agreed to write songs for an obscure little French film called “Friends,” about a young pair of neglected teens who ran away to the French countryside, had a baby and attempted to start a life together.  The title song “Friends” was a minor hit with a wonderful sentiment (“If your friends are there, then everything’s all right”), but another tune from the film soundtrack I have always loved is “Michelle’s Song,” with a gorgeous melody line and a chorus that soars.

“The Lee Shore,” Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, 1971

913m0mfP6AL._SL1425_Following the March 1970 release of “Deja Vu,” Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young were pretty much the hottest band in the country, with hits like “Teach Your Children” and the ripped-from-the-headlines “Ohio” on the charts as they toured the land.  Sadly, their egos and jealousies proved to be insurmountable obstacles, and they broke up only three months later.  In the fall of 1971, Atlantic Records released “Four-Way Street,” a double live album of acoustic and electric performances culled from that shortened tour.  Some tracks exposed how ragged their harmonies could be in a concert setting, but others were true diamonds in the rough.  The best, I think, is Crosby’s stunning, previously unreleased “The Lee Shore,” with just Crosby and Nash weaving a delicate harmonic web.

“Light Shine,” Jesse Colin Young, 1974

R-9281118-1477867152-2367.jpegIn the late ’60s, Jesse Colin Young and Jerry Corbitt co-founded The Youngbloods, a folk rock act that had success with the Chet Powers song “Get Together” (“Come on people now, smile on your brother…”) which became a bellwether of the Woodstock generation.  Young soon went solo and established himself as a superior songwriter and arranger of light pop/jazz tunes like “Ridgetop,” “California Child” and “Songbird.”  The title song from Young’s 1974 LP “Light Shine” picks up where “Get Together” left off, radiating positive vibes with lyrics that encourage peace, kindness and love:  “We all got a light inside, people how can we survive if we don’t let it shine on all night and day, you know the world is dark with fear, people scared to let you near, they need you to shine on, shine on all day…”

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School’s out for summer, school’s out forever

“I got a letterman’s sweater with a letter in front I got for football and track, I‘m proud to wear it now, when I cruise around the other parts of the town, I got a decal in back, so be true to your school now…”  — “Be True to Your School,” The Beach Boys, 1963

“We don’t need no education, we don’t need no thought control, no dark sarcasm in the classroom, teacher! Leave them kids alone!…”“Another Brick in the Wall,” Pink Floyd, 1979

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These two lyrics, written 16 years apart, offer polar-opposite examples of rock songs about life in high school, from rah-rah school spirit to “school sucks.”

0630aab5-a4e0-5c1d-a5ba-c50609cd71ed.imageAfter love and romance, and cars and driving, few subjects have been covered more often in rock music lyrics than the pros and cons of the high school experience.

Early on, it was the universal feelings of Chuck Berry’s “School Days” and the carefree fun of Jerry Lee Lewis’s “High School Confidential.”  That evolved into the infatuations and crushes of Lulu’s “To Sir With Love” and Elton John’s “Teacher I Need You.”  Later came the more lustful emotions of Van Halen’s “Hot for Teacher” and the rules-breaking of Brownsville Station’s “Smoking in the Boys Room.”  There was even the militant rebellion of The Replacements’ “F–k School.”

Some tunes that focus on other subjects still manage to make observations about school.  Take Paul Simon’s 1973 hit “Kodachrome”:  “When I think back on all the crap I learned in high school, it’s a wonder I can think at all…”  In 1984, Bruce Springsteen’s “No Surrender,” about not breaking promises and not giving up, included this line:  “We busted out of class, had to get away from those fools, we learned more from a three-minute record than we ever learned in school…”  Reminiscing about childhood in general brought out this school memory in Stevie Wonder’s 1977 hit “I Wish”: “Smokin’ cigarettes and writing something nasty on the wall, teacher sends you to the principal’s office down the hall, you grow up and learn that kinda thing ain’t right, but while you were doing it, it sure felt outta sight…”  

They’re still writing great tunes about school in the new millennium.  Check out John Mayer’s 2001 single, “No Such Thing”:   “I wanna run through the halls of my high school, I wanna scream at the top of my lungs, I just found out there’s no such thing as the real world, just a lie you’ve got to rise above, I just can’t wait til my ten-year reunion,
I’m gonna bust down the double doors…”

It’s been great fun sifting through the many dozens of rock tracks from the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s and ’80s that describe what it was like to deal with homework and exams, raging hormones and school rules, cute teachers and mean girls.  I’ve selected 15 tracks to highlight, plus a list of honorable mentions.  They’re all included on the Spotify playlist at the end.

Rock on, students!

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220px-Chuck_Berry_1957-1“School Day (Ring! Ring! Goes the Bell),” Chuck Berry, 1957

Not surprisingly, it was rock pioneer Berry who was the first to have a hit song about high school.  (It’s interesting to note that Berry took the same music, wrote new lyrics about driving, and had another hit with “No Particular Place to Go” in 1964.)  “School Day” went on to become a featured number in the 1987 Chuck Berry biopic “Hail!  Hail!  Rock and Roll” as well:  “Up in the morning and out to school, the teacher is teaching the Golden Rule, American history and practical math, you study ’em hard and hopin’ to pass, workin’ your fingers right down to the bone, and the guy behind you won’t leave you alone…”

To_sir_with_love_SLEM2292“To Sir With Love,” Lulu, 1967

Sidney Poitier starred in the coming-of-age film about a black teacher assigned to a high school in a rough British neighborhood.  Singer/actress Lulu played the student who was infatuated with the handsome teacher, and the title song from the soundtrack reached #1 in the US in the autumn of 1967:  “Those schoolgirl days of telling tales and biting nails are gone, but in my mind, I know they will still live on and on, but how do you thank someone who has taken you from crayons to perfume?…”

crime-of-the-century-albums-photo-u1“School,” Supertramp, 1974

British art rockers Supertramp kicked off their critically praised 1974 LP “Crime of the Century” with “School,” a great rock record that features intermittent sounds of school kids on the playground:  “I can see you in the morning when you go to school, don’t forget your books, you know you’ve got to learn the golden rule, teacher tells you, ‘Stop your play and get on with your work, and be like Johnnie-too-good’…”

eltondontshoot1“Teacher I Need You,” Elton John, 1972

The #1 LP “Don’t Shoot Me, I’m Only the Piano Player” included several ’50s throwback songs such as “Crocodile Rock” and this tune with Bernie Taupin lyrics about a schoolboy’s infatuation with his pretty teacher:  “It’s a natural achievement, conquering my homework with her image pounding in my brain, she’s an inspiration for my graduation, and she helps to keep the classroom sane, oh teacher I need you like a little child, you got something in you to drive a schoolboy wild…”

6132206192_c1dbebcd1b“When I Kissed the Teacher,” ABBA, 1976

ABBA’s fourth LP “Arrival,” which included the international #1 smash “Dancing Queen,” also featured the amusing song “When I Kissed the Teacher,” about a schoolgirl’s crush on her good-looking instructor:   “All my friends at school, they had never seen the teacher blush, he looked like a fool, nearly petrified ’cause he was taken by surprise, when I kissed the teacher, couldn’t quite believe his eyes, when I kissed the teacher, my whole class went wild…”

R-8352920-1474671919-2712.jpeg“(What A) Wonderful World,” Sam Cooke, 1960

Record industry stalwarts Lou Adler and Herb Alpert worked as a songwriting team in the early ’60s and came up with this catchy tune.  Sam Cooke modified the lyrics to make it more about school subjects, and made it into a #12 hit single.  A version by Herman’s Hermits reached #4 in 1965, and a third version featuring Art Garfunkel, Paul Simon and James Taylor peaked at #17 in 1978.  Cooke’s version was featured in the soundtrack to “Animal House” that same year:  “Don’t know much about history, don’t know much biology, don’t know much about a science book, don’t know much about the French I took…  Don’t know much about geography, don’t know much trigonometry, don’t know much about algebra, don’t know what a slide rule is for…”

R-1429440-1218998317.jpeg“Teacher,” Jethro Tull, 1970

One of Tull’s earliest singles in England was 1970’s “Teacher,” which was omitted from the British version of the “Benefit” album that year but included on the US version.  The lyrics are concerned with a teacher of life lessons rather than a school teacher, but the song is a huge favorite of mine and simply had to be included here:  “I have a lesson that I must impart to you, it’s an old expression but I must insist it’s true, jump up, look around, find yourself some fun, no sense in sitting there hating everyone…”

R-7048386-1449812871-1527.jpeg“School is Out,” Gary U.S. Bonds, 1963

R&B singer Bonds had a huge #1 hit in 1961 with “Quarter to Three,” and then followed it up with the similar sounding “School is Out” later that year:  “No more books and studies, and I can stay out late with my buddies, I can do the things that I want to do, ’cause all my exams are through, I can root for the Yankees from the bleachers, and don’t have to worry ’bout teachers, I’m so glad that school is out…”

7225179210_12c072a21d_b“Don’t Stand So Close to Me,” The Police, 1980

“I wanted to write a song about sexuality in the classroom,” said Sting about this tune, which covers mutual lust, guilt and consequences.  “I’d taught at secondary schools and been through the business of having 15-year-old girls fancying me – and me really fancying them!  How I ever kept my hands off them, I don’t know.”  The Police turned it into a ridiculously catchy #10 hit (#1 in England):  “Young teacher, the subject of schoolgirl fantasy… Sometimes it’s not so easy to be the teacher’s pet… Strong words in the staffroom, the accusations fly…”

jerry-lee-lewis-high-school-confidential-1958“High School Confidential,” Jerry Lee Lewis, 1958

Lewis wrote this dance tune expressly for the 1958 film of the same name, which was actually a crime drama about a young narcotics detective who goes undercover at a high school to break up a drug ring.  Lewis’s record reached #21 on US charts (#9 on country charts), and the tune was later covered by Sha Na Na, Brian Setzer and The Blasters, and in concert by Bruce Springsteen:  “We’re just a-movin’ and a-groovin’ at the high school hop, well, everybody boppin’, everybody’s hoppin’, boppin’ at the high school hop…”

R-834317-1173404222.jpeg“Rock ‘n’ Roll High School,” The Ramones, 1979

The Ramones were commissioned to write this mindless song as the title track to the film “Rock and Roll High School,” a 1979 musical comedy where several school principals have nervous breakdowns because the students prefer rock and roll to education.  The soundtrack included a few other songs discussed here, including “School’s Out” and “Smokin’ in the Boys Room”:   “Well I don’t care about history, rock, rock, rock ‘n’ roll high school, ’cause that’s not where I wanna be, rock, rock, rock ‘n’ roll high school, I hate the teachers and the principal, don’t wanna be thought to be no fool, rock, rock, rock, rock, rock ‘n’ roll high school…”

220px-KinksSchoolboysinDisgrace“Schooldays,” The Kinks, 1975

In 1975, Ray Davies put together a delightful song cycle of Kinks pop tunes called “Schoolboys in Disgrace” in 1975, including tracks like “Education,” “Headmaster” and the marvelous “Schooldays.”  Davies’ lyrics painted a picture that showed both the pros and cons of life in school:  “Schooldays were the happiest days, though at the time they filled me with dismay, we only remember what we choose to remember, when I was a schoolboy I loathed regulations and rules, I hated my textbooks and my school uniform ’cause it made me conform, and teachers were always disobeyed, but I’d go back if I could only find a way…”

R-6240159-1523125110-7916.jpeg“My Old School,” Steely Dan, 1973

In this rollicking track from “Countdown to Ecstasy,” Donald Fagen and Walter Becker were actually writing about their unpleasant experiences in college rather than high school.  But the emotions are similar, and again, this is one of my favorite tracks of all time, so it made the list:  “I was smoking with the boys upstairs when I heard about the whole affair, I said ‘Whoa no, William and Mary won’t do,’ well I did not think the girl could be so cruel, and I’m never going back to my old school…”

R-2190966-1456150467-1385.jpeg“Teacher Teacher,” Rockpile, 1980

Brit rocker Dave Edmunds had scored a Top 10 hit in 1970 with “I Hear You Knocking,” while Nick Lowe went Top 20 in the US in 1979 with “Cruel to Be Kind.”  They teamed up on the road and in the studio for a while as Rockpile, and released one LP, “Seconds of Pleasure,” in 1980, which included the minor hit “Teacher Teacher,” in which the student is hoping for some extracurricular learning:  “School’s out, bells’ll ring, now’s the time to teach me everything, teacher teacher, teach me love, I can’t learn it fast enough, teacher teacher, teach me more, I’ve got to learn to love for sure…”

schools-out-768x768“School’s Out,” Alice Cooper, 1972

When Cooper was asked, “What’s the greatest three minutes of your life?”, he replied, “The last three minutes of the last day of school, when you’re sitting there and it’s like a slow fuse burning.  I thought, ‘If we can catch that three minutes in a song, it’s going to be so big.'”  Sure enough, “School’s Out” was #7 in the US and #1 in the UK in 1972 and has enjoyed classic rock airplay at the end of every school year ever since:  “School’s out for summer, school’s out forever, school’s been blown to pieces, no more pencils, no more books, no more teacher’s dirty looks, out for summer, out ’til fall, we may not go back at all…”

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Honorable mention:

Bitch School,” Spinal Tap, 1992;  “Adult Education,” Hall and Oates, 19??;  “School Days,” Joe Walsh, 1991;  “Teacher Teacher,” .38 Special, 1984;  “Graduation Day,” Chris Isaak, 1993; “Waitin’ in School,” Ricky Nelson, 1958;  “Catholic School Girls Rule,” Red Hot Chili Peppers; “The New Girl in School,” Jan and Dean, 1964;  “Alma Mater,” Alice Cooper, 1972.