September’s Sonic Satchel: 14 songs to ease your Back-to-School passage

Your search for the new soundtrack to September's highs and lows ends here.
Your search for the new soundtrack to September’s highs and lows ends here.
It is at about this time of the year when letters of a similar nature begin to drop onto my doormat like rectangular two-dimensional paper fish. On gutting them, and perusing their entrails, the general thrust of their collective contents form an entreaty that can be summarised thusly: ‘What, pray, Whats, will be the contents of your digital sound satchel for this coming September?’

Normally, I would reply to each letter separately. But, due to time pressures and a scarcity of Basildon Bond paper, I have resolved to go purely digital.

And so, this year, I have decided to step off my chopper, toss my porkpie hat onto the hat rack (right first time), crack open my Windows 10, 2-in-1 laptop [touches screen to prove it and accidentally deletes blog]

As I was saying, this year, I have decided (dare I say ‘deigned’) to share with you my pedagogical playlist for September: 14 songs that will soundtrack the highs and lows of acclimatising to another year of total teaching; another year of being outnumbered by children; another year of losing cups, finding cups and hiding cups; another year of listening to colleagues, of forgetting what they have said and sheepishly asking them to say it again; another year of school.

A pork pie hat
First up is ‘I Keep Falling in Love With You Again’ by The Boy Least Likely To.

Why I like it:

Because I’ve often wondered what an indie-band fronted by Sonic the Hedgehog would sound like. Now I know.

What it has to do with teaching:

It mentions September, a month in which teachers teach.

My second song is ‘Au Commencement’ by Etienne Daho.

Why I like it:

Daho is achingly cool, beloved by Saint Etienne (who themselves are achingly cool). The song is also in French – a language in which you could sing about white supremacy and still sound a bit cool. The song is not about white supremacy, I should add. Nor is it actually cool to sing about white supremacy or even possible to imagine a song that could be about white supremacy (at least the promotion thereof) and be cool. I really wish that I hadn’t chosen this hyperbole. Shit, why did I type this in ink?

What it has to do with teaching:

‘Au Commencement’ probably means ‘starter’.

The next song is called ‘The Angel’ by North Sea Radio Orchestra. (Unfortunately, the YouTube link appears not to work, but the song can be found on Spotify.)


NSRO’s Birds album. ‘The Angel’ is not readily available on the internet, but it is well worth seeking out on Spotify.
Why I like it:

It’s beautiful. It has lilting picked guitar work and harmonious vocals, combined with the lyrics of William Blake’s ‘The Angel’, in which he gloriously imagines himself to be ‘a maiden queen’.

What it has to do with teaching:

Well, you could probably play it to students and say ‘It’s based on a Romantic poem.’ Then you could talk a bit about Romantic poetry, making gestures with your hands and stuff. You might even want to walk up and down the aisles a bit.

The fourth song is ‘Dirty Paws’ by Of Monsters & Men.

Why I like it:

Well, it’s Icelandic, so I have to like it. Everybody knows that all Icelandic music, not matter how unlistenable or awkward it might be, is excellent. Except for Einar Einarsson. He’s rubbish.

What it has to do with teaching:

It is called ‘Dirty Paws’ and, at the end of most school days, my hands are dirty. So I wash them.

Next up is Pavement’s ‘Trigger Cut/Wounded-Kite At :17’.

Why I like it:

It immediately rhymes ‘Lies and betrayal’ with ‘fruit-covered nails’. Not many songs do that. It also has a wonderfully scuzzy guitar riff and a middle-eight that gets away with lots of ‘la la la lah’.

What it has to do with teaching:

I once cut myself with a guillotine.

The sixth song is ‘Das Absolute Gluck’ by Peterlicht.

Why I like it:

Mostly I like the idea of myself listening to German pop music and enjoying it. ‘Das Absolute Gluck’ means ‘the absolute joy’ – an expression that I find extremely appealing. You could call a song ‘Amazing’ or ‘Really Excellent’ and, as long as it’s in a foreign language, I’d really enjoy it. Says more about me than the song (a recurring theme in my blogs).

What it has to do with teaching:

Probably has some relevance to growth mindset. Or perhaps its endurance builds resilience. I don’t know.


A chopper
Next song: ‘Holmo Rakkaus’ by Scandinavian Music Group.

Why I like it:

It’s in Finnish, which I don’t understand, so I get to trot out my analogy about white supremacy again. It’s probably about fish or Nokia, or Father Christmas. Or maybe Moomins.

What it has to do with teaching:

Probably ticks some MFL box. Somewhere. Pasi Sahlberg would approve.

The eighth song is ‘Turn On Me’ by The Shins.

Why I like it:

James Mercer, the lead vocalist of The Shins, has the widest vocal range of any singer this side of Mariah Carey. I love listening to him sing as his lyrics meander, perfectly matched to the emotional expression of the music. An extremely literate song, this.

What it has to do with teaching:

If you sang it to Nicky Morgan, she’d probably gawp at you and then beckon her security over. That would make it relevant to teaching, wouldn’t it?

Next up with ‘Feels Like We Only Go Backwards’ by Tame Impala.

Why I like it:

I don’t like it. It makes me feel queasy, rather like listening to music from another room whilst you’re languishing in bed with the flu.

What it has to do with teaching:

It is definitely how every teacher feels. All. The. Time.

Song number ten is ‘The Kissing Song’ by William D. Drake.

Why I like it:

William used to play keyboards in my favourite group, Cardiacs. ‘The Kissing Song’ is plaintive, plinky and playful, with bits that make you ache and bits that make you tingle a little. It is a very ticklish song.

What it has to do with teaching:

You might get away with using it for tidy-up time music. However, your students may end up whirling around the classroom like eurhythmic dervishes. As may you.

The next song is ‘Red Eyes’ by The War On Drugs.

Why I like it:

It has a driving beat that trips over itself as the vocalist (whose name escapes me) nasally whines a la Bob Dylan about stuff that concerns him. It is an important sounding song that combines Bruce Springsteen with an Instagram nostalgia. It was probably written for tiny stadiums.

What it has to do with teaching:

It does encapsulate that ‘through the barrier’, adrenaline-bleeding overdrive that characterises the NQT year. Perhaps it might help NQTs through. Perhaps it may soundtrack their Secret Teacher column-writing. How would we ever know?

The twelfth song is ‘Thorn’ by My Bloody Valentine.

Why I like it:

I love a bit of detuned guitar. And there’s nothing like a wall of sound to wake you up in the morning. Kevin Shield is patently a sonic genius, and this song is relatively accessible and tuneful with just enough discord to satisfy the arch-hipster in you.

What it has to do with teaching:

You could sing ‘walk all over to me’ to Nicky Morgan, and this time she might kind of understand what you’re getting at. But she’d still beckon her security (probably by arching an eyebrow).

Thirteenth song, unlucky for some and penultimate for me, is Matt Berry’s ‘Take My Hand’.

Why I like it:

It perfectly evokes a bygone era of sheepskin coats, cartridge stereos, walnut dashboards and prog-folk. That happens to be an evocation that – although unlooked for – I rather like. Additionally, the album cover depicts Berry, gauntleted, with a (presumably stuffed) pheasant. The outro is horrific.


Matt Berry and his pheasant. Note how, whilst Berry looks off camera, the pheasant is looking at you.
What it has to do with teaching:

People taught in the seventies. Plenty of science teachers have a penchant for prog rock.

My final song has remained my favourite song for the past three years (surpassed only by ‘Is This The Life?’ by Cardiacs, which has been my favourite song for the past 24 years, but is not included on this list because it is not Septembery enough). It is called ‘Midnight City’ by M83 (who is a French bloke).

Why I like it:

It has an explosive drum solo into the chorus. Once you’ve listened to the first solo, you are then gleefully anticipating the next. Every time it comes, the hairs rise on the back of your neck. And that sensation never diminishes with each successive listen. It is the most replayable song I have ever come across.

What it has to do with teaching:

Teaching is an emotionally intense job. Emotionally intense job meet emotionally intense song.

Shake hands.


I hope that you have enjoyed this playlist. And even listened to some of the songs. Of course, musical taste is relative. Inasmuch as my musical taste is excellent relative to yours.

[Dons, then doffs, porkpie hat, and pedals chopper into a neon sunset.]

A neon sunset

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