CLOCKWISE, ABOVE FROM LEFT. PHOTO: COURTESY OF WARNER BROS.; MEMPHIS INDUSTRIES; MOM + POP MUSIC; SONY.
Graduations are right up there with birth, deaths, and marriages. They change a young person’s life as few other things can, and whether we’re talking high school or college, the turning of the tassel and tossing of the cap symbolize growing up, moving on, and entering the next phase of life. It’s exciting and terrifying in equal measure, and at the inevitable celebratory bash, it’s important to play music that emphasizes hope and joy and other such illusions. Under no circumstances should you play any of the following nine songs.
“Road to Nowhere,” Talking Heads
The title is a bit misleading, as a close reading of the lyrics reveals a rather hopeful song about feeling your way toward a bright, if uncertain, future. But, after four years of high school or college, no one’s in the mood for a close reading. All anyone’s going to hear is that chorus — “We’re on a road to nowhere,” repeated over and over again — and taken alone, it’s not the kind of mantra you want for entering adulthood.
“Bills, Bills, Bills,” Destiny’s Child
Saying goodbye to school means saying hello to being a grown-ass person, and here’s the thing about grown-ass people: They pay bills. Lots of ‘em. There’s heat, hot water, electricity, car insurance, health insurance, food, rent, and oh yeah, student loans. What’s worse, if you want to land a smart and sexy partner like Beyoncé, Kelly Rowland, or Michelle Williams, you might have to earn enough scratch to cover monthly expenses for two. Any other time, this 1999 R&B smash is empowering. At a graduation party, it’ll kill the vibe faster than a dropped hot dog on Mom’s new carpet.
“Why Don’t You Get a Job?” The Offspring
There are two reasons never to play this at a graduation party. First, everyone in attendance is going to be asking the young man or woman of honor the very question posed in the title, so no one needs Offspring singer Dexter Holland adding his voice to the chorus. Second, it’s a pretty awful song — an unholy marriage of the Beatles‘ “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” and Simon & Garfunkel’s “Cecilia.”
“Straight A’s,” Sleigh Bells
Musically, this is just wrong. It’s like the JV pep squad decided to write a thrash-metal cheer and gave up after 1:05. Lyrically, the song’s one line, “Ain’t no sleep — we want straight A’s,” is a surefire way to freak out college-bound 18-year-olds already worrying about their GPAs.
“Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now,” The Smiths
As if the title weren’t bad enough, there’s this line in the first verse: “I was looking for a job, and then I found a job / and heaven knows I’m miserable now.” What Morrissey is saying is that even if you beat the odds — as of April 2014, unemployment in the U.S. stood at 6.3% — and use that diploma to land a paying job, you’ll almost certainly hate it. He’s right, of course, but there’s plenty of time to find that out later.
“I Need $,” Polica
“It’s taking me too long for this debt to drop,” sings electro songbird Channy Leaneagh, a young woman well acquainted with adult concerns, “and if it comes to it, I’ll be dancing down the table tops.” This might not be a song about student loans, but collegiate debt has led more than a few young men and women to take jobs involving the shaking of moneymakers, and that’s not the sort of thing moms and dads want to think about.
“No Future Part Three: Escape From No Future,” Titus Andronicus
Things worked out okay for Patrick Stickles. Among his many achievements, the Titus Andronicus front man has written The Monitor, a critically acclaimed 2010 concept album comparing his 20-something travails to the Civil War. But, as he reveals on track three of said opus, things could have turned out very differently. “Senior year here in Mahwah, a new world just around the corner,” he sings, “Leave me behind, let me stagnate, in a fortress of solitude.” It gets better — the song ends with a gang of wasted young New Jerseyans singing, “You will always be a loser.”
“College,” the Smoking Popes
This pop-punk power ballad is a definite no-no for high school graduation soirees, particularly if the 18-year-old you’re toasting is headed off to an institute of higher learning. “I don’t wanna go to college / I don’t wanna do things that require a degree / that seems like death to me.” It’s not much good for college graduations, either, though it might be slightly more uplifting than “I’ve Got Mono,” the song that comes next on the Popes’ killer This Is Only a Test album.
“Welcome to the Working Week,” Elvis Costello
This being an early Elvis Costello jam, it’s not purely about getting a job and joining the dreaded 9-to-5 crowd. It’s also an angry screed about some woman who’s wronged him, and that only adds to a sarcastic vitriol of a line that’s sure to ruin any graduation party: “Welcome to the working week / I know it don’t thrill you; I hope it don’t kill you.” In just 1:23, this little ditty can do a lot of demoralizing.