metal + hardcore
pop punk + alt-rock
indie spins


Tuesday Ten: (Throw)back To School Playlist

Let’s not beat around the bush here–learning is cool, but school is usually much less cool. Thankfully, your homework pile will never be taller than your stack of records, and the right song can help you get through the most impossible assignments. Even if that music is something you wouldn’t be caught dead listening to now, hearing those songs immediately transports you to the classrooms you were seeking an escape from back then. We asked our writers to share their favorite songs from their first year of college, high school, middle school, or elementary school for a special back to school playlist –  check out their choices below!

Ashley Tisdale – Headstrong
(middle school)


To start this article, I’d like to warn you that I’ve already written it once – when I was eleven and only recently acquainted with the structure of a paragraph. The first day of middle school found me at a desk in social studies class, completing an “About Me” assignment with strictly three to four sentences of description on the title track of Ashley Tisdale’s Headstrong. Back then, my reasoning was that Ashley Tisdale was the best singer in the world and I totally loved her. However, things have changed, and I won’t be spending the duration of this paragraph trying to convince you that “Headstrong” is a good song–because it’s not. It’s a crappy pop tune, with little thought and too much production. There was mock tensity, cheap liveliness, and an obnoxious cheerleading-esque chant embedded into the chorus. All signs point to the theory that Tisdale’s steady vocals were as much of an act as her role of Sharpay Evans in High School Musical. This being said…I’ll still belt the song every damn time I hear it play. The insistent “woo”’s during the ridiculously girl-pop chorus are a flawless accompaniment to its synthetic, tween-geared beat. The marketing genius behind the song is the truly spectacular part – it was created to be sung, or rather performed, by middle school students who thought they just might be the world’s next popstar, and Tisdale was the perfect medium to get it into their hands. (Emillie Marvel)

Britney Spears – Lucky
(elementary school)


Nowadays, I never listen to anything on repeat. Even if it’s my favorite album, I usually won’t listen to it more than once a day because I’m so afraid of getting sick of it. When I was 6 years old, however, it was completely the opposite. The only CD I owned at the time was Oops!… I Did It Again by Britney Spears; I have no idea who got it for me, or how I even found out about Britney Spears, but I listened to it constantly, over and over. She was the only celebrity that existed in my world at the time. Every time we got into the car, I would immediately ask to put the CD on, which my parents would usually begrudgingly agree to. I figured out how to use the sound system at home just so I could keep listening to it. Even my older brother was just as obsessed with it (even though he would never admit that now). The CD has since disappeared and I don’t even remember half the songs on it, but the one song in particular that always brings back those first grade memories is “Lucky,” the seventh track on the record. In my opinion, it’s the best Britney Spears song ever recorded, from the instantly identifiable opening riff that builds into the perfect emotional chorus missing from most pop music these days. I disconnected from the song during middle and high school, but coming into my first year of college, it was an incredible experience listening to it again with all my new friends and realizing everyone else loved the song in first grade just as much as me. (Catherine Yi)

Drive Like I Do (The 1975) – Robbers


The year was 2010 and I was moving from the midsized town of Sioux City, Iowa, five hours north to the cultural hub of Minneapolis, Minnesota to attend college–home of Prince, The Replacements, The Hold Steady, and too many craft breweries to count. I had a steady boyfriend at the time (and we’re still good friends to this day), and one thing that I’ll never be able to repay him for is introducing me to a band called Drive Like I Do, who would later be named The 1975. I was floating somewhere between realm of pop rock (i.e. This Century, You Me At Six, My Favorite Highway) and the vast world of indie (à la Delphic, Vampire Weekend, Sleigh Bells) when he turned me onto “Robbers”, and I was blown away. Not only did it have the emotional, heartwrenching lyrics that drew me to bands like You Me At Six, but the instrumentals were completely unlike anything I’d heard up to that point–it was catchy and polished but not too polished, anthemic in ways I’d never really known before, and had just enough of an edge to make you feel the intensity dripping from every note Matty Healy sings. I was sold. Fast forward five years later: I graduated from university and just recently watched the band performed the song to a massive Los Angeles crowd at the Weenie Roast, surrounded by a massive crowd all singing, “You look so cool.” (Tarynn Law)

Kelly Clarkson – Since U Been Gone
(British secondary school)


First off, I’m English, so I have no idea what a “middle school” is, and pop punk took a while to make its way across the pond and capture my attention. But let me cast you back to the year of 2004. The arrival of My Chemical Romance’s The Black Parade bringing the new generation of mainstream emo to the UK was two years away, and boy bands were fading fast–so something had to fill the gap as I started the British equivalent of secondary school. For those of you stateside, that’s sixth grade. My eleven-year-old self needed to be eased into the world of rock, and Kelly Clarkson’s “Since U Been Gone” was my transition jam. The track had everything an angsty pre-teen needed when entering the scary world of “big school”–a dark bass line, just enough pop to bounce to, and a huge chorus I could yell into my hairbrush while pretending I was rocking out onstage. Sure, I’d never had my heart broken at the age of eleven, but Clarkson sung with such passion I could imagine it with ease. And I know I wasn’t alone–if you’ve never acted out this song like you’re in a dramatic music video, you’re either lying, or you weren’t one of the cool kids. Here was a song about being free and moving on, which is something every kid wants to feel. This was an escape, a song to lose your mind to for a few minutes while having the added bonus of annoying your parents by playing it too loud. Clarkson had that badass edge to her that would soon see me wearing leather jackets and eyeliner, and she knew how to belt out an irresistible pop rock anthem. (Plus, any song with “you” spelt as “u” was instantly cool back then.) (Alex Bear)

Linkin Park – Crawling
(high school)


I like to consider 2001 a birthday of sorts. It was the year my eyes were opened to rock music, and the year I was set to leave eighth-grade homeschool and enter the treacherous world of public high school. More importantly, thanks to Napster and Limewire, I could download all the Linkin Park I could possibly need, and “Crawling” was my go-to jam during this time period–mainly because I thought listening to them made me seem badass. But, ultimately, I realized they were a rock powerhouse, and with an album as stacked with hits as Hybrid Theory, I knew they weren’t going anywhere anytime soon. Linkin Park were also the very first band I ever listened to that incorporated screaming vocals into their music, and they opened my ears to heavier, more aggressive music later on. I was probably called “weird” and “emo” more times than I can count over those four years because of my choice in music, and I know my mom had concerns when I demanded we listen to “Crawling” over and over again during the car ride to school over, but at that age I was all about it–Linkin Park, My Chemical Romance, Blink 182, the list goes on. And while I may have been the “emo” and “weird” kid then, because of music like this, at least now I’m the “weird” kid with good music taste. (Alyson Stokes)

New Found Glory – All Downhill From Here
(middle school)


I’ve been a fan of New Found Glory since I was young, but I fostered a particular love for their album Catalyst during my first year of middle school. It was one of those albums that I bought the day it came out and listened to over and over again in my bedroom, practically obsessed over the way the intro led into the single “All Downhill From Here.” This was a time in my life where I couldn’t yet identify genres and would likely have called the band rock instead of what I would now undoubtedly call pop punk. All I cared about was that it was good–I loved the lyrics and the way it made me want to jump around my room. Flash forward a few months to an announcement that there would be no DJ for the upcoming school dance; instead we were all encouraged to bring CDs (with our initials marked on them!), and our band teacher would play those songs. I immediately knew I would bring Catalyst, and I wrote a big “AD” on the front with a note that said to play the lead single. I waited and waited throughout the entire dance for New Found Glory to burst through the speakers, but hours passed and eventually we were all sent home in parent-organized carpools. While substantially upsetting at the time, I now laugh whenever I play the CD (which still has my initials on it), imagining how annoyed my classmates would have been at hearing “All Downhill From Here” instead of The Pussycat Doll’s “Don’t Cha.”

Middle school sucks, New Found Glory rules – go write that on your binders in math class. (Alyssa Dempsey)

Taking Back Sunday – MakeDamnSure
(high school)


Dear diary: mood, apathetic. We all remember being freshmen in high school. The only consolation for surviving the school day was doing your homework after school while watching Steven’s Untitled Rock Show on Fuse as your mom made you dinner. You tuned into channel 60-whatever and discovered your new favorite song of the week; my freshman jam was Taking Back Sunday’s “MakeDamnSure.” By the end of 8th grade I already had my TBS discog up to date, with the mentality that no songs could ever trump Tell All Your Friends classics like “You’re So Last Summer” or “Cute Without the E”–that is, until Fuse premiered the official music video for “Makedamnsure.” Adam Lazaara lets out a deep inhale as he limps his wrist, precariously swings his microphone, and screams his little emo heart out. The chorus is what got me hooked: “I just wanna break you down so badly / Well I trip over everything you say / I just wanna break you down so badly / In the worst way.” Something about the call and response between Adam Lazarra and Fred Mascherino spoke to the angst-ridden woes of high school life, because whether I understood the actual context of that chorus or not, those lyrics applied to almost any situation in which I felt like I was going to break down emotionally or when I wanted to break someone down because they just didn’t understand me. Taking Back Sunday just gets me, okay Mom? (Ethan Rose)

twenty one pilots – Trees


When I was taking really hard general education classes in my first year of college, music helped keep me focused on my homework – especially when going through a stressful week. My spring semester, I vividly remember struggling through calculus. To be clear, I am a journalism major; math and I do not mix well. Fortunately for me, twenty one pilots put out their debut album Vessel right at the beginning of the year, and I became obsessed with “Trees” (one of the album’s calmer songs) because it helped me clear my mind and relax. While it didn’t actually make my homework any easier, the song made me willing to keep trying until I got it right. From the synth melodies to Josh Dun’s rapid drum sequence to Tyler Joseph’s vocals that transition from delicate tremble to confident scream, “Trees” and the rest of Vessel helped get me through to nightmare that was my calculus class and the anxiety of my freshman year. I just have to say thank you to my roommate that year who (thankfully) liked the band too and let me listen to the same song a hundred times a night. I’m now in my junior year and while I don’t have to take math anymore, I still kept twenty one pilots on hand for particularly stressful days. (Hannah Pierangelo)

We The Kings – Check Yes Juliet
(middle school)


Ah, middle school. What a time to be–when the absence of elementary school recess was the toughest thing to get over, and the concept of “cooties” didn’t apply anymore. And just in time for 7th grade, too; we read the infamous Romeo & Juliet (to put it simply, those with a “cooties-phobia” probably should not read it). Coincidentally, it was the same year We The Kings came out with their hit single “Check Yes Juliet” off their self-titled debut record. It’s one of those songs that sticks with you for a lifetime. Maybe it’s lead singer Travis Clark’s crooning voice, or maybe it’s the guitar riffs that fall in time with the beat that alternate between heavier nuances to softer ones, but it keeps you dancing and/or lipsyncing along for the entire three and a half minutes. The supporting vocals are subtle “ohhhs” and “ahhhs” that blend right into the instrumentals and give depth to the dramatic ballad. And I think “Check Yes Juliet” sums up 7th grade pretty well: carefree, hopeful, and even impulsive, much like Romeo and Juliet themselves. Whether you think the Shakespearean play is a tragic love story or an outdated cliché, there’s no denying that We The Kings have given Romeo and Juliet’s tale a modern twist with an infectious beat you’d be hard-pressed to resist. (Emily Yee)

The Wonder Years – Hoodie Weather


“No one knows where they’re going, they just know they want out of here badly” was the mantra of my summer in 2011. I was going to college in my hometown while watching everyone else move away to different areas of the country. I felt like I had become stagnant. College freshmen are always waiting for this existential revelation that will make everything click and fall in line, but sadly most of the time the bridge between kid to adult is passed while you have a blind eye to it. After spinning The Wonder Years’ The Upsides until the tires fell off, I anxiously awaited the days until their follow up album Suburbia: I’ve Given You All And Now I’m Nothing, and with its release, the song “Hoodie Weather” outlined every thought racing through my mind. Throughout my freshman year I had constant internal battles debating if I ever would get to accomplish the things that my romanticized mind had filled my thoughts with or if all my prior mistakes had built an insurmountable wall that I couldn’t break through. The bridge of the song had a glaring anthemic line: “As fucked as this place got, it made me me”. Throughout all the terrors, I knew that if I was meant to do what my heart had yearned for, I would have to use all my prior experiences and draw as much wisdom I could from them for dreams to be accomplished. “Hoodie Weather” helped me put everything in perspective and move forward during that overwhelming first year of college. (Joseph Britton)

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