Somewhere back in the recent mists of time, I wrote an entire stand-up comedy show devoted to the business of teaching, entitled ‘Not Appropriate’; so-called, because the term had become something of a cliché when it came to admonishing kids with regard to certain aspects of their language and/or behaviour. It doesn’t take much of an imagination to grasp the sort of language – predominantly – and behaviour we’re talking about here. Not that the show reflected that specifically. It was more of an attempt to take an honest and unabashed look at the day-to-day business of the profession.
So, in the interests of creating an immediate impact on the audience, I – like many a performer before me – was keen to get a great tune by way of an introduction, in the hope of grabbing them straight away, and presumably, not letting go thereafter. The obvious thing to do would be to choose a teacher or school-themed tune, in the hope of reflecting that which is contained within the show. Easier said than done. Not only were many of the tunes on offer lacking anything like the requisite sentiment… many of them were also – ahem – ‘not appropriate’. Here’s some that came in for consideration:
The Anti-Authoritarian Anthem
Schools Out – Alice Cooper (1972)
An absolute stone cold classic; and quite feasibly, the most compelling anti-school anthem in the entire historical existence of rock and pop music. I remember seeing Alice perform this on Top of the Pops when I was a child, and subsequently feeling quite disturbed by the whole experience. A bloke called Alice? Black eye-liner all over the place? What’s he doing with that rapier? (ok, to be fair, I would have said ‘sword’ at the time, given the naivety of my years)
Then you’ve got the sheer overwhelming quality of the song. Containing four different sections of theatrical overload, combined with a garage-rock sensibility, it’s so confident in its execution, at one point Alice declares he can’t even be bothered to write a suitable rhyme, as far as the second verse is concerned. Make no mistake, having four sections in any song – particular of this length – is a feat very few can pull off with this level of panache; Abba, believe it or not, are the only immediate contender when it comes to considering the competition.
So it’s an amazing piece of pop history, but it’s too obvious when it comes to an intro to the show isn’t it? It’s like sticking ‘Streets of London’ on a documentary about homelessness, or – alternatively – a newly single female, singing ‘I Will Survive’ with tearful gin-soaked abandonment, on a karaoke night out. The last thing one wants to do is create an immediate eye-rolling cynicism from the collective, before things even get going.
Still, it did give producer Bob Ezrin an idea with regard to the choice of backing singers on the track; an idea, he was happy to repeat seven years later in relation to another UK number one record about the business of school.
Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2) – Pink Floyd (1979)
Let’s face it, this is a dirge; a well-meaning dirge, but a dirge nonetheless. And I’m speaking as a Floyd fan. When I say I’m a Floyd fan, I’m not just talking about the Syd period that the tragically hip seem so keen to identify with… for the sake of some notion of their own desperate more-knowing-than-thou status. It’s just that when it comes to Pink Floyd MKII, there is a pretty inexhaustible list of much better material on offer than this, their most successful individual song.
Not only is it a dirge, Roger Waters didn’t even bother to write a whole second verse (unlike Alice Cooper who was struggling with the odd rhyme). Instead – encouraged by Bob Ezrin, as suggested – he gets a bunch of kids from the school round the corner from the studio, to repeat the first one in the hope that no one will notice. And that’s before we get to the pseudo-Orwellian guff about ‘thought control’, and the like; a sentiment with which I might ordinarily concur, were it contained within this clumsily expressed ode to insurrection. When it comes down to it, if the best bit of any song is the guitar solo, you’re in a spot of bother, number one record or not.
Whichever way you look at it, it’s not the kick start to any evening of upbeat stand-up comedy, school-themed or otherwise. It’s a funereal kick start to the end of most enduring part of the whole Pink Floyd story.
The Paean to the Pervy Teacher
Don’t Stand So Close To Me – The Police (1980)
Oh dear, this is just a wrong ‘un all around isn’t it? Having achieved a slew of massive hits already – repeating the same formula of quiet verse with a reggae-styled backbeat building towards the big rock chorus – the question in mind, as far as the more discerning punter was concerned was ‘do Sting and the boys have anything else they’d care to offer in the musical department?’. And that of course, is before we even get to the subject matter.
One can only assume that Sting was patently aware of what a good looking bloke he was, and although there’s – arguably – an ironic detachment to the whole thing, there’s little doubt that the idea of teenagers fancying him either as a poptastic heart throb or as a jobbing teacher was by this stage in the proceedings, pretty much a given. To be fair to Sting, we are talking about a time when the whole business of the sexy school girl was a cultural touchstone in terms of both film and TV, as well as the glamour business; to which end, we give him the benefit of the doubt… in terms of ironic contemplation rather that of any active engagement. But what dark times those days of such casual jailbait frippery turned out to be in retrospect? With that in mind, this comes off as something of a tacit endorsement, if nothing else. And from the point of view of the show, we don’t want that.
That said, by far the bigger crime with regard to this particular offering is Sting’s desperate need to let all and sundry know that, despite his working class roots, he was quite the literate fellow. In so doing, he created quite possibly one of the worst rhyming couplets in the whole entirety of pop and rock history, crowbarring in a reference to the old man in the book by Nabakov, in the process. Unforgiveable.
School Mam – The Stranglers (1977)
You’d think having just critiqued Sting and his anguish when it came to batting the teens away with a shitty stick, I’d have stayed well clear of this dark little ditty: a dark little ditty, which goes even further lyrically than Sting, by graphically illustrating all of the stuff that the onetime spiky haired Geordie only hints at, in passing. But I did use it once, and once only. I used it, in the spirit that you might when referring nostalgically to a band who occupied a significant part of one’s youth. I used it the very first time I performed the show and having realised immediately thereafter, that the music alone had completely wrong footed the audience, didn’t do so again.
Bless the Stranglers. They did devote an awful of time to winding up people on the left, despite seemingly espousing left-wing ideas themselves. The fact that a lot of what they had to say came wrapped up in a sense of humour so nihilistic, so misanthropic… a lot of people of people clearly missed the joke at the time.
To be fair, looking back, there are Stranglers’ songs content-wise that don’t date well. Whether or not, this is one of them, does depends upon how receptive you are to the idea of a voyeuristic female head principal watching the whole business of an unfortunate affair via the seemingly futuristic medium of CCTV in the classroom; and deriving a certain amount of pleasure, in the process. Still, there’s no doubting the hilarity of the mathematically-inspired coda. The 1970s eh? So much to answer for.
The Song of Celebration
Rock ‘n’ Roll High School – The Ramones (1979)
Nonetheless, it is with the 1970s we stay, and a rousing refrain to indolence courtesy of the hugely dysfunctional ‘brothers’ from the Queens neighbourhood in New York; with Tommy’s replacement Marky occupying the drum seat, by this stage in the proceedings.
On any given day, anything by the Ramones is guaranteed to lift the spirits on the basis of the inherent musical vitality alone. The fact that the bigger part of their earlier output also couches hilariously bleak subject matter wedded to a buzz saw bubble-gum backing track seemed to have eluded them on this occasion, and this seems positively life-affirming by comparison.
Unfortunately, as far as the show was concerned, I just couldn’t get past the idea of the ‘getting some kicks’, getting some chicks’ approach to the lyrics; not because there was anything inherently wrong with them, it’s just that it sounds so damned American, and my take on my own experience of both schooling and teaching was ultimately so terribly English. I tried it once but as a result, and once again, it felt like another classic case of audience misdirection.
Madness – Baggy Trousers (1980)
Although, The Ramones offering is arguably anti-authority as well, the tone rather like this Madness classic is more of a celebration of the extent of the mischief to be had at a time when the rules were – to some degree – a great deal more lax; contrasted with the punishments which a great deal more formidable. In much the same way that the likes of Dennis the Menace used to get up to much greater degree of off-colour behaviour and then end up getting slippered for his trouble.
I suppose the bit that really gets me is the business of the teachers going down the pub on lunchtime, and having a drink and a smoke with utter impunity. That really did used to happen, and I know as much because I happened to find myself in the same environment on more than one occasion. Not without consequences of course but perhaps we’ll save that tale for another time.
In the end, I went with this. It is after all a classic take on British schooling from a certain period, with a music hall sensibility entirely in keeping with the notion of a stand-up comedy show; if not, a tad predictable, admittedly.
Having said all that, the Madness tune didn’t last that long either. As suggested, I wasn’t entirely happy with it, and I abandoned the whole idea of attempting to match a teacher-themed tune to a teacher-themed show. The fact is it’s equally possible to employ something seemingly abstract in relation to the subject matter, and create an excellent atmosphere regardless of the lack of comparable content contained therein.
And in a similar sort of way, it’s typical of the sort of experience one has as a teacher: creating hugely ornate lesson plans, agonising over every detail, only to find that despite the level of effort involved, nothing really works, and a much more spontaneous approach to the whole business produces a far greater interest and input from the students; providing there is at least some structure to the proceedings. Yet more ways to interpret the term ‘not appropriate’ then?
Of course, if anyone’s got any suggestions with regard to possible ‘Teacher Show’ themed intro tunes, feel free to comment below.