School is a perennial theme of rock and roll that, on the whole, doesn’t fare too well. Sure, the Beach Boys have that cheery “Be True to Your School” vibe going but they’re an outlier. More typically school appears as a burden, as something to escape from, preferably as soon as possible. The traditional sentiments were ably established in Chuck Berry’s classic “School Days” back in 1957. More recently Australian indie poprockers Starky summed things up with “Theme from High School” from their 2004 debut LP Mirror, Signal, Manoeuvre.
Ok, so high school sucks. What about higher education? Is there musical love for technical college or university? Our mix of tunes offers a range of views, as is only appropriate for academe. Rogue Wave conjure up the uncertainty that is the uni experience for many on “College” from 2013’s Nightingale Floors. Things are less cerebral for 2 Wheeled Tricycle’s “College.” Here the issue is more about whether to go or not to, egged on by some nice edgy synth riffs. Gentle Hen vibe some Hayden on “College Town,” a song with a sunny, good times feel and just a hint of darkness. Timmy Sean spares a moment during his concept album A Tale From the Other Side for his protagonist to reflect on “The College Year” and how decisions taken then impact what comes later, delivered with Sean’s larger than life theatrical pop hooks. The Incredible Casuals are all about the party experience. On “College Girls” the band execute their unerring rock and roll chops with shimmery guitars and some seriously melodic humming.
Advancing up the academic ladder, Toronto’s hHead bash out a great melodic rock and roll tribute to higher education on “University.” A more indie Grapes of Wrath or Northern Pikes is what I hear here. Former The Trend songwriter John McMullan has put out a few great solo tunes, like his tell-all expose of legal education on “Law School.” I love the Springsteen organ and the hooky guitar lines all over this song. And McMullan actually did become a lawyer. Winnipeg music veteran John K. Samson knows academe as well as the music biz and captures every grad student’s dilemma on “When I Write My Masters’ Thesis.” Then he updated his musical academic CV in 2016 with “Postdoc Blues.” I guess he got that MA thesis written after all.
Forget enrolling in some school of rock, you can learn about great music just about anywhere. Like here. Right on this blog. Just scroll back through the posts for your own do-it-yourself degree in poprock.
Bobby Fuller’s untimely death in 1966, just as his career was taking off, deprived popular music of his unique Buddy Holly-meets-British Invasion sound and clear songwriting promise. Case in point: “Let Her Dance,” an ear-wormy, hook-rich masterpiece. The song contains a brilliant juxtaposition of musical tensions that pull between the beat, lead guitar line, vocal melody, and some inspired background- vocal counterpoint. No wonder it’s been covered by countless bands, each choosing to balance the competing elements in somewhat different and intriguing ways. Today’s post explores that variety with a “Let Her Dance”-a-thon. Get your dancing shoes ready!
Where to start? With The Bobby Fuller Four, of course. Though here fans may not know that “Let Her Dance” was actually a rewrite of an earlier Fuller release, “Keep On Dancing.” IMHO the rewrite improves things considerably but compare for yourself below. Now, confession time: the first version of LHD I heard was actually by Marshall Crenshaw from his 1989 Warner’s swan song album, Good Evening. Marshall is a huge Fuller fan, describing him as his “favourite rock star ever to be murdered by gangsters.” More seriously though, at a South by Southwest Bobby Fuller panel session, Crenshaw called the group “…one of the great rock ‘n’ roll bands,” insisting “[t]hey did what they did with so much conviction and energy. Those guys really knew what Fender guitars were for.” In addition to LHD, Crenshaw has covered Fuller’s “Julia,” “My True Love,” and “Never To Be Forgotten.” And Crenshaw’s LHD is a loving homage, fattening up the opening guitar, spacing out the vocal parts, and adding a nice echo-y bit to the bridge. Compared to the original, all that’s missing is Fuller’s heavenly wall-of-background-vocals.
Bobby Fuller Four – Let Her DanceBobby Fuller – Keep On DancingMarshall Crenshaw – Let Her Dance
Crenshaw’s wasn’t the first cover of LHD, not by a long shot. The first I could find was from Eddy Grant’s 1960s interracial British band, The Equals, from their 1967 album, Explosion. Grant changed lyrics and tempo, smoothing out Fuller’s frenetic pacing, giving the tune a more laid back vibe. The seventies would also put its stamp on LHD when The Spitballs, a Beserkley label house band consisting of various members of the Modern Lovers, Greg Kihn Band, Earth Quake and the Rubinoos, gave it a refreshing ‘spirit of 1978’ back-to-rock-and-roll-basics treatment. The eighties saw a host of LHD covers see the light of day, starting with Phil Seymour from his killer debut album, the self-titled Phil Seymour. Released as a follow up single to the poprock smash, “Precious to Me,” Seymour’s cover of LHD showcased his uncanny ability to add something new to other people’s songs. His version had jaunty guitar, pumping piano, handclaps and, of course, his own special vocal stylings in what amounted to a new wave, powerpop reinvention of the song. Taking things in a punkier direction, Teenage Head indie-fied LHD with their rockier take from their 1986 album Trouble in the Jungle. Linda Rondstad’s 1960s backing band, Swampwater, produced a cool southern fried rock cover of LHD in the late 1970s but the group’s Reunion album didn’t see release until 1987.
The EqualsThe SpitballsTeenage HeadSwampwater
The 1990s were a less fertile LHD-cover terrain – I couldn’t find a single version! But all that changed with the new millennium. Changes in recording technology and music delivery costs meant that artists could experiment a bit more, offering up more covers. The Incredible Casuals, Bill Lloyd and The Terrible Noises all offered up great poprock treatments of the song while others strayed into related genres, with Los Super Seven adding latin touches to Fuller’s texas rockabilly sound, Joe Goldmark and Keta Bill provided a straight up retro country treatment, and The Vikings barrelled through in classic Ramones-revivalist style. Meanwhile, others pushed the boundaries of LHD conventions. Musical iconoclast George Elliott took a very creative approach, almost sounding like The Folkmen from The Mighty Wind mockumentary while The Very Most messed with the traditional instrumentation and background vocals in a most enjoyable way.
The Incredible CasualsBill LloydThe Terrible NoisesLos Super SevenJoe Goldmark and Keta BillThe VikingsGeorge ElliottThe Very Most
Of course, why limit yourself to this one great song, albeit delivered in 17 fabulous flavours? There’s plenty more Bobby Fuller to go around. Keep the Fuller poprock legacy alive and check out his impressive back catalogue today.