Get Back to Class: Essential Vinyl Records for Back to School
It's a hot day, and you head to your favorite big box store for some barbecue supplies. You head over to the seasonal section only to be met with confusion. Where are the lounge chairs? The bug spray? The charcoal? What are these...notebooks? The late summer swoon has arrived, and with it comes the Back to School craze of waking up cranky teenagers and moving box after box into tiny college dorms. To make it a little more palatable, we've compiled a list of some essential listening for heading back to class.
In the early 2000s, pop-punk was starting to take hold as a major radio genre, and Simple Plan helped to lead the charge. Simple Plan combined an energetic style with themes of adolescent problems, helping them take hold with a new generation of students who heard their trials and tribulations reflected in music. The album contains their biggest hit, "I'm Just a Kid," an anthem for young teens in the early aughts.
After dominating the 1960s folk scene with musical partner Art Garfunkel, Paul Simon struck it solo with a self-titled record. Simon employed more of a folk-rock sound than was common with Simon & Garfunkel, jumpstarting the second phase of his still-successful career. He begins side two with "Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard," a song about youthful mischief on the streets of New York that remains one of his signature tracks.
Originally released in 2008, Fearless was Taylor Swift's sophomore album, the one that really began her journey on the road to becoming the biggest thing in the music industry. Fearless is when Taylor began to develop the twangy pop sound that would carry her through the early part of her career, dropping enduring tales of teen romance like "You Belong with Me." In 2021, Taylor took to the studio to re-record Fearless in its entirety, the first in the Taylor's Version series as she looks to reclaim ownership of her music.
For many, the most memorable parts of the back to school experience are the nights before. Those memories are what fun. managed to capture on Some Nights, particularly on the record's lead single, "We Are Young." Featuring vocals from Janelle Monáe, it is an anthemic track that's practically begging to be belted out at a beach bonfire the night before the back to school blues set in.
Khalid was just 19 when he dropped American Teen, giving him an inside track when it comes to the subject. Khalid smoothly blends R&B with a radio-friendly pop sound, making use of his impressive vocal talent to establish himself as one of the most exciting young singers in the industry. "Young Dumb & Broke" remains a radio staple, a carefree look at young love.
Lest we forget, kids aren't the only ones going back to school once late summer rolls around. My Chemical Romance has one for the teachers with "Teenagers," and how they "scare the living s**t" out of them. MCR were already a big name in the emo-pop genre that dominated the music industry in the mid 2000s, and The Black Parade only solidified their position. The rest of the album stands in ironic juxtaposition to "Teenagers," just dripping with teen angst; or is that eyeliner?
A piano virtuoso, brilliant songwriter, and breathtaking singer, Alicia Keys is one of the most uniquely talented individuals to grace the music industry over the last two decades. Her fifth record, Girl on Fire was a more stripped down entry into her catalog, featuring Keys blending elements of hip hop and rock with her typical piano-heavy R&B. The eponymous single is an anthem of empowerment, one that can certainly help you out on the ride to class.
It's not just high schoolers and grade schoolers going back, as college kids pack their cars and head off back to school. Vampire Weekend reminds us of the college days on their debut record, a fusion of indie rock with African and electronic elements. "Campus" is a wistful remembrance of the peculiarities of dorm life and a worthy listen for a student.
Teenage Dream speaks for itself, no? It's the ultimate pop album, featuring disco and synth-pop elements, vaulting Katy Perry to the forefront of the genre. The entire record is unabashedly fun, with hits like "California Gurls" and "Firework," but the title track warrants inclusion on this list. "Teenage Dream" is a modern pop classic, everything you want in a dance track, and conjures fond adolescent memories.
It may come as somewhat of a surprise that Pinkerton was not well-received when it was released, getting criticism for its darker, grungier tone. Now though, it's hailed as an alt-rock classic and one of Weezer's best albums. Time has allowed us to reexamine this record and consider what we may have missed the first time around. This is one of the standout tracks, "The Good Life," in a microcosm. The narrator longs to go back to his youth and the energy and vigor that came with it, a reminder not to take your youth and all the pains that come with it, like school, for granted.