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The Ultimate Back-to-School Mixtape

"I hate to tell you, but it's time for school." -- Sally Brown, Peanuts

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    In honor of another year of pencils, books, and teachers’ dirty looks, Editor-in-Chief Michael Roffman revisits his ultimate back-to-school mixtape. So, dust off those Yikes pencils and grab an apple, because it’s time to hit the stacks, folks.

    I was born in late August and attended schools in South Florida, which meant two things. One, I was doomed from the beginning, considering the public school systems there are garbage. And two, I was always going to celebrate my birthday on the first day of school, which kind of sucked because nobody ever remembered it, and everyone was too busy to even bring cupcakes to class. Now, I wouldn’t have cared so much if not for the fact that everyone else in the class — from kindergarten to third grade, really — had special afternoons dedicated to their entrance into this world.

    So, I wasn’t always thrilled about school. In fact, whenever I turned the page on my annual Peanuts calendar to see August, I groaned and sunk my head like the comic strip’s cardinal character. To me, the idea of going “back to school” was always a mixed-emotional thing. I hated to see the youthful summer days end, but I also looked forward to the holidays, especially Halloween, which always conjured up some sort of school-related party, dance, or after-school parade. Whenever my mother would insist upon getting new school supplies, I tried to put it off, for fear that it really meant that I was back in the classroom, staring at the chalkboard, and waxing nostalgic about the “better” days at the beach, wheeling around the neighborhood, or eating pizza late at night while playing video games. I’m talking about my college days — clearly.

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    Anyway, all that is behind me now. I don’t even own a Peanuts calendar anymore. But a couple of days ago, as I was walking through Walgreens looking for sugary cereal (so much has changed, har har), I passed an advertisement for school supplies and felt that jolt again. It had me laughing — but also thinking. As I walked home, I went through my long, storied history with school and thought about the assortment of lessons and stories that have stuck with me. Then I started sympathizing with those who still have to go back to school. The end result of that sympathy is a 22-track mixtape that captures all the mixed emotions tied to the institution we slave through for an average of 22 years. These choices, however, didn’t come without reason. In other words, consider this your late summer reading.

    –Michael Roffman
    Editor-in-Chief

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    01. The Beach Boys – “Be True to Your School”

    Memorable Lesson: “So be true to your school now/ Just like you would to your girl or guy”

    Reading Comprehension: It’s a timeless idea, no? Look beyond the dickhead teachers in the past, and instead think back to the times where you scored through the atmosphere on something you slaved over for days and nights, or frame the fragile moments in between: The love-fueled paper planes to the head of your all-time crush, the downright rotten concoctions at the lunch table that your best friend was paid five quarters to eat, or the two or three minutes you spent talking to your teacher when everyone else already cleared out of the classroom. Okay, so school’s something worth championing.

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    Take Notes: The song’s rallying cheer is an ode to Hawthorne High School in California, where Al Jardine and the Wilson brothers attended.


    02. Paul Simon – “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard”

    Memorable Lesson: “I’m on my way, I’m taking my time/ But I don’t know where”

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    Reading Comprehension: It’s unreal how much we take advantage of time as a youngster. Yet, in hindsight, there’s something comforting and enviable about not knowing what’s going on and leaving that up to the elders — no matter how insane or chaotic or untrustworthy they may actually be.

    Take Notes: Not even Simon knows what “Mama saw,” as he told Rolling Stone’s Jon Landau in 1972: “I have no idea what it is… Something sexual is what I imagine, but when I say ‘something,’ I never bothered to figure out what it was. Didn’t make any difference to me.”


    03. Al Green – “School Days”

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    Memorable Lesson: “How I wish for school days/ How we used to run and play, oh baby”

    Reading Comprehension: “You can’t truly appreciate something until it’s gone.” I think that goes for just about everything as a budding adolescent. Those slower, carefree days on the playground are probably one of the few times in life where you’re actually supposed to do nothing but have fun. Don’t even get me started on how some days included both P.E. and recess. Who’s feeling nostalgic now?

    Take Notes: Originally on Green’s 1974 semi-flop, Al Green Explores Your Mind, this particular track found some life by sharing a 45″ with the album’s only hit: “Sha-La-La (Make Me Happy)”.


    04. Kanye West – “School Spirit”

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    Memorable Lesson: “Back to school and I hate it there/ Everything I want I gotta wait a year”

    Reading Comprehension: Summer used to hold so much weight in our lives. It still does, but it’s just not the same. Those three months used to mean one thing: freedom. Now, they’re just three months where we sweat in our business attire and occasionally take a “cabin trip with old college friends.” Try and think back to the slow burn of your first day of school, how you almost felt like welling up with tears once August died down. In hindsight, it’s quite possible our excitement for school waned following our first experience with summer. That’s a real bummer for first grade teachers everywhere.

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    Take Notes: Yeezy samples Aretha Franklin’s “Spirit in the Dark” here.


    05. Nazareth – “Love Hurts”

    Memorable Lesson: “Love is like a flame/ It burns you when it’s hot”

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    Reading Comprehension: Heartbreak starts young, and it’s that first crack that stings the most — even if it’s a “stupid crush” on a “stupid girl” or a “stupid boy.” Nothing mends the wounds, and it’s something that sticks with you forever. But it’s one of the more important lessons in life to experience, learn, and move on from.

    Take Notes: Nazareth took this one to the top of the charts, but it was The Everly Brothers who first recorded it. Other artists who’ve made it their own: Roy Orbison, Emmylou Harris, and Jim Capaldi.


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