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Five Educational Songs That Don't Suck

Iron Maiden at Cynthia Woods Pavilion in August 2012
Iron Maiden at Cynthia Woods Pavilion in August 2012
Photo by Groovehouse

Remember being in school and having to listen to all those awful educational songs? Our teachers would do anything to teach us, but most often they really have no idea what will appeal to anyone under the age of 40, so it gets hairy when something perceived as cool, like "that rapping stuff," gets incorporated into lessons.

You might think there hasn't been a good educational song written since Schoolhouse Rock, and you'd be mostly correct in that assessment. However, it hasn't been all bad, even if some educational songs might seem a bit preachy. Here's five of my picks for teacher's everywhere to combine music and education without embarrassing themselves.

Travis Morrison, Travistan Travistan is a weird record. The first solo album by former Dismemberment Plan front man, it single-handedly turned him from an indie-rock critical darling to a social pariah, something akin to an indie leper. All because Pitchfork Media gave it a 0.0 rating in its initial review, their worst possible assessment of a recording.

But around these parts, Travistan isn't nearly so reviled. It's a quirky, cute sort of record with a lot of silly songs and a strange amount of educational value. The series of "Get Me Off This Coin" tracks throughout the record serve to discuss the presidents on American money from their own point of view, while being genuinely funny. Then highlight "Song for the Orca" is essentially a list of dangerous animals you should stay away from, a good lesson for a preschooler.

Melissa Etheridge, "I Need to Wake Up" I'm not saying you live in a fantasy world if climate change isn't an extremely frightening reality to you, but it does fly in the face of all scientific evidence to ignore it. Not to get too political, but it's something future generations could do to know about so they make fewer mistakes than we did.

Even if climate change isn't man-made, it's still probably a good idea to do scale back a lot of our wastefulness when it comes to the Earth's resources. This song by Melissa Etheridge served as the theme for Al Gore's movie An Inconvenient Truth and won an Academy Award for it to boot. It would be the perfect introduction to Earth-friendly practices for schoolchildren.

3. Bob Dylan, "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll" Unsure how to teach kids about America's unfortunate past of segregation and institutional discrimination? Well, liven it up with some Bob Dylan action. Over the years Dylan has written many historical accounts and songs about social justice, but "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll" stands out as one that was not only a very recent event at the time of its writing, rather than a story of the wild west or some such, and but one where he didn't even have to change any details.

It's stirring in its truth and it perfectly illustrates the time and the difficulties. It stands as an important historical document and it serves as a pretty easy way to express the horrors without coming off as trite. In fact, can we just have Bob Dylan teach us about every historical subject? That would save a lot of time and energy.

 

2. Iced Earth, "Gettysburg (1863)" Well, even if we can't have Bob Dylan teach us the entirety of history, we have Iced Earth to provide a very power metal take on the Civil War. In a 31 minute song, they discuss the long battle in detail. But wait, there's more!

Yes, somehow Iced Earth's resident historian Jon Schaffer managed to wring an entire album out of America's storied history in war. Accompanying the "Gettysburg" suite was a full-length album called The Glorious Burden which explored the American Revolution through to September 11th, all set to a cheese-metal soundtrack that is undeniably entertaining at the very least.

1. Iron Maiden, "Rime of the Ancient Mariner" Meanwhile, in our fictional rock and roll high school, we have even more cheesy metal to teach kids about great works of literature. Iron Maiden has focused their attention on the classic works of legendary authors much throughout their career, but none has been so overt and bold as the thirteen minute epic "Rime of the Ancient Mariner."

It retells the saga of Samuel Taylor Coleridge's epic poem by the same name, in mostly the same words. Musically, it is perhaps one of Iron Maiden's greatest and most complex works. And lyrically, it's a hell of a lot more entertaining than listening to a teacher with a voice like Ben Stein's read the poem aloud.



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