I personally attended very few parties in high school. For my friend group and I, it was mostly the age of bookmarked Tumblr pages and cool girl Doc Martens. But I was glad we had good music. No eardrum-busting EDM or tonally repetitive rap music, neither of which my friends nor I could fully appreciate. There were kids around us who worshiped Talking Heads and donned buttons of a young Morrissey. We were sad, creative and relishing in impossibly intimate friendships, the kind that are much harder to come by in college.
“Till I Get My Way” by the Black Keys
Every Black Keys song immediately sounds familiar — its grungy blues and Dan Auerbach’s voice are unmistakable. Before it smoothed out its sound and crossed into radio-friendly territory, the Black Keys’ songs were fuzzy and aggressive. If El Camino and Brothers were stylish enough to produce singles heard on television shows and commercials, then the Keys’ earlier work was fit enough for shoddy high school garage parties and beer pong. (Well, soda pong, in my case.)
“Badonkadonkey” by Born Ruffians
Born Ruffians deserves more love: The band’s songs are frenetic, bouncing, sometimes unintelligible. It’s the ideal cocktail for a first concert, but you’ll end up finding yourself ever dissatisfied with any other band that doesn’t match their youthful energy. “Badonkadonkey” must have been an early code name for this song — we’re not sure you’ll find it in the dictionary. Listen to the song and somehow it’ll all make sense.
“Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now” by the Smiths
The Smiths on a playlist about high school? What a cliché. It’s hard (and embarrassing) to admit, but “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” just might have spoken more truth than fiction.
This particular Smiths tune popped up on Tumblr a ton because we truly were all in varying degrees of misery — rough classes, misunderstanding parents, unrequited love. Morrissey sings, “Why do I give valuable time / To people who don’t care if I live or die?” It’s a little melodramatic in retrospect. Still, listening to songs that express that level of loneliness and exclusion was — and still is — a formative experience for many high schoolers. They capture the teen experience like few can.
“Piledriver Waltz” by Arctic Monkeys
Ah, pre-slick-haired Alex Turner. The Suck It and See era, to many Arctic Monkeys fans, marked the end of the band’s relative obscurity in America. After all, it was the last tour before new tween fans in pleather jackets began filling arenas to scream and blow kisses at frontman Turner, Beatlemania style.
Though the solo version of “Piledriver Waltz” featured on the “Submarine” soundtrack just might be the superior one, both versions build to a beautiful blend of soft, dreamy rock and a wavering waltz. Plus, any listener should get an award if they’re able to make any sense of Turner’s pure poetry, which is too damn exquisite to call “song lyrics.”
“Mary” by Kings of Leon
It can take a while to warm up to lead singer Caleb Followill’s voice. Heck, it can take a while to warm up to Kings of Leon, as much of its song catalogue comprises overly simplistic rock tunes. (It was my least favorite band to appear on the high school hangout playlist.) But when King of Leon gets it right, you get songs such as “Mary” — a booming piece that doesn’t need frills or needlessly complicated lines. It lets the bliss of romance stand alone.