After School Special is another hidden treasure in the cove of Pop Punk! There’s not much information about them anywhere. As I’ve gathered they started in San Francisco in the mid 90’s. The band members were Charlie Bunce, David Jones and Ted Hunter. They released one self-titled album, and three 7 inches: “Wrong”, “The Existentialist Blues” and “Adam Baum”. I first came aware of the band in 2012. I checked out a few songs on YouTube and didn’t get it at all. Later, I heard more songs, mostly from the “Adam Baum” EP, and I really fell in love with “Teenage Crush” and “I Only Want to Be With You” (No relation to the Dusty Springfield song) and then there was no way back! Now I like most of their songs and wonder what songs I didn’t like in the beginning. The band has been a huge inspiration for bands like the Steinways. Singer and guitarist, David Jones, started the band Enemy You when the band broke up in 1997. Enemy You released three full-length albums, on three different labels: Panic Button (Where No One Knows My Name), Red Scare (Stories Never Told) and Nitro (Fade away). They also appeared on the Four On the Floor split alongside Screeching weasel, Teen idols and Moral crux! With among others the fantastic song “Boy in a Bubble”. March 3, 2015, David Jones tragically passed away. The cause of death was suicide. According to his obituary, he had a Bachelor’s degree in Cinema and worked the last thirteen years of his life in San Francisco Superior Court as a Court Clerk. The Steinways and House boat’s Grath Madden and Red Scare Records’ Toby Jeg both gave him memorial words.
After School Special was released in 1997 on the legendary Mutant Pop label. The album cover is a picture of the three band members with sort of frowny faces standing at a school campus(at least it looks that way to me), with the band name in pink. Musically, the album drifts in two directions: A really poppy direction, sounding like the most sugary Queers tracks, as well as the later Honest Don’s band Limp, and a faster direction that seems more inspired by bands like Bad religion and No use for a name. Lyrically, the album is mostly about girls and also drifts in two different directions. Either the protagonists are afraid of approaching the female characters and seem bummed that they don’t seem to feel the same way, or the protagonists get approached by female characters they aren’t interested in and feel uncomfortable about it. It has many similarities with last pick I don’t want to grow up, but without the blatant misogyny and with more focus on the insecure and innocent side. The album also masters to create interesting female characters, even if seen from a male point of view. Other than that, the album has the usual Pop Punk themes like parents, school (what a surprise!) and outsider characters feeling discontented with society.
1. “Kelly Burkett”: The opening track “Kelly Burkett” is a fast Ramones-y sounding song. The song is about a girl named Kelly Burkett being in love with the protagonist. He sings out “Kelly Burkett is a psycho! She said she’s in love with me”. Kelly Burkett is described as a creepy stalker that follows the protagonist around, even if she has a boyfriend. In the middle of the song, there’s a part where there only is a drum beat and a bass comes in. Later Jones sings “whoah oh oh’s” until “Kelly Burkett is a psycho” is repeated again. The vocal harmonies in the song are in the typical Mutant Pop style, and I find them quite enjoyable!
2 “The Generation Game”: A title with an alliteration! That’s always a treat! The song is about how generations change and how every new generation thinks they are special and the old one sucked. The message of the song is that this generation gap is just fake and how different generations aren’t that different at all. The song criticizes both the older and the newer generation for creating and buying into these fake and corrupted generation gaps. Musically, the song sounds like Bad Religion, more specifically the Suffer album, with more Pop Punk lyrics and vocals.
3. “Sarah, Plain and Tall”: The third song “Sarah, Plain and Tall” is a much more Pop Punk song than the two first. There’s a great tambourine in there and a nice little guitar lead. By end the of the song it’s complimented with handclaps. The song is about a girl named Sarah, seen through a, most likely male narrator. The song starts “She’s got her face buried in a book”. Sarah, from the point of view of this dude, is described as a nerdy, smart lady with glasses. The dude has fallen in love with her, when he saw her at the mall and he is upset that other dudes don’t find her attractive and he calls them out for being mean to her. He sees her as someone who doesn’t care much about how she looks and “she’s more concerned with world hunger/and maybe that’s, that’s why I love her”.
4. “I Don’t Wanna Hold Your Hand”: A much punker sounding song. It actually sounds a bit like the Dwarves, before the singing comes in. It’s got a different guitar sound than the earlier songs, and might have been recorded in a different session. The title is probably a parody to the Beatles classic “I Want to Hold Your Hand”. As the title implies the song is about not wanting to hold someone’s hand. The message is clear: “Don’t touch me until I say it’s OK!”
5. “Lala Won’t Shut up”: The fifth song “Lala Won’t Shut up” starts up with a bass intro and goes into something that sounds like it could be on Love Songs for The Retarded. It goes back to the same theme of the first song, this time it’s not Kelly Burkett, but a girl named Lala that talks to him and he doesn’t want to talk to her. The melody reminds me a bit of Stiff little fingers. It’s catchy enough, but not the most standout track on the album.
6. “Somewhere Inside”: Another Pop Punk track! I often listen to next to the Barracudas’ “Somewhere Outside” because of the similar titles, but I don’t know if they are related in any way. The song seems to be about Telephobia (or Telephonophobia: the fear of telephones). The song is about a protagonist who wants to call someone, seemingly a crush, but can’t find a reason to call and is also afraid to do it. This results in just sitting for hours listening to the dial tone. The song seems really honest and has a self-degradation that is relatable if one struggles with this kind of thing, even the protagonist separates themselves from the audience (“If you like yourself, you’ll never understand”) the protagonist claims this problem is somewhere inside(hence the title) and all they can do it wonder why. Outside of the relatability and honesty in the song, another interesting part is that it’s one of those songs that are somewhat obsolete. The second verse starts with “There are fifteen holes in the receiver” and takes us back to the 90’s when people actually had landline phones and not just a cell phone. The song will probably never be dated though. Landline phones or cell phones or whatever phones they have in the future, will still be frightening as hell!
7. “Wrong: One of the singles from the album was “Wrong”. The song is pretty much classic Lookout style Pop Punk, but with a lead guitar that sounds more like Blink-182 or even early Sum 41, as well as Riverfenix, and goes in the direction Pop Punk was taking at the time. The song is catchy and one of the strongest on the album. The opening line and pretty much the central line is: “I was hoping that one day everything could turn out right, but now it’s wrong”. “Wrong” is one of the songs that sound like the cheeriest of Pop Punk ditties, but when you listen to the lyrics it’s kind of sad, the conclusion of the song is: “Everything is all wrong”.
8. “Adam Baum”: Another single from the album, the single was the band’s first release from 1995. The song is another of the straight up Punk Rock Bad religion inspired tunes. The song is about a boy named Adam who is just sixteen, and is a bully victim and ignored by his peers and classmates. The song bases on the punny name “Adam Baum” that is homophonic with “Atom Bomb”(at least in American English). The song predates tragedies like Columbine and Virginia Tech shootings, but the song seems to be about how Adam one day will become a school-shooter because of the way he is treated. I think this is the band’s finest work lyrically, and the song sounds great too. The line “He can’t be seen though he is right there in front of your face” is great! Adam has a gun in his backpack and the song predicts that he will use it one day: “One of these days he’s gonna go off”, this line is also related to his name! I think what makes the song great and filled with such pathos is how it’s predicting the future, we see it as an inevitable fact that Adam Baum will “go off”. This peak into the inevitable future is reserved for the listener of the song. No one else could foresee it: “You’re gonna say you never saw it coming”, which is something that is common to say when a tragedy like this happens. Overall the speed and the terrifying lyrics makes it one of their best, there’s an aggression and desperation, as well as a sense of social commentary, so it’s also one of their most memorable as well as most uncomfortable. It differs from Green day’s “Having a Blast” and Boom town rats’ “I Don’t Like Mondays”, as those songs are actually from the point of view of the shooter/bomber, it’s strange that we actually get a distance from the shooter in those songs. “Adam Baum”, however, describes a future and fictional event, but it still feels closer than the other two songs of the same subject. The other two songs makes you somehow feel sympathy with the shooters, but “Adam Baum” doesn’t necessarily give you sympathy with Adam, as much as it gives the listener a sense of guilt, asking oneself “Can we pretend stuff like this?”
9. “There She Goes”: One of the cool things about the album are the vocal harmonies, they are maybe not the best sung harmonies, but they are definitely charming and adding to Mutant Pop sound. “There She Goes” is the only song, as far as I can hear, that has female harmonies. It’s also the most “Pop” sounding song on the album, with a keyboard in the background. The lyrics are about a girl again. The song ends “She’s got something over on me”. The protagonist wonders: “Would she ever like a geek like me?” The chorus is a little depressing and shows what unrequited love can do: “She’s got me crying every day” and “She’s got me seeking therapy” and “She’s got me walking into walls”.
10. “The Lottery”: The tenth track “The Lottery” as a more punker Queers sound to it and lyrically echoes “The Generation Game”, even if it is about the opposite. The Opening line is: “Just because your parents did it doesn’t mean that it’s right”. The message of the song seems to be that we should distance ourselves from the shitty things we inherit from history and how we have some traditions, we could do without. The song touches on religion, growing up and privilege. Where “The Generation Game” sees the relation between past and future generation as a phony game, “The Lottery” sees it as a lottery, where the privileged win and others lose.
11. “I’m a Loner”: One of the more Pop Punk songs on the album, it’s also slower than most of the other songs. It has the same production as “I Don’t Wanna Hold Your Hand”, so they might have come from the same session, there’s a chance “There She Goes” is from the same one as well. “I’m a Loner” is pretty straight forward, the protagonist feels like a loner and wants people who like him to stand up and say “hey”, happily, someone does! Even if it’s a silly Pop Punk song, it comes from the voice of the outsider, both from a friend perspective and from a love perspective. The chorus goes “I wonder if love will ever come my way, my parents has started wonder if I’m gay” and ends with “I’m just a loner with an expired box of my gum”.
12 “Not Gonna Take It”: One of the shorter songs on the album. It’s also another of the Bad religion sounding tunes, I also think it sounds a bit like early No use for a name at times. The song is about fighting back against people trying to tell you what to do. “You can keep trying to change me/by telling me I’m lazy, but I’m not gonna take it anymore!”
13 “School Sucks”: Another, short Punk track, maybe the fastest song on the album. It also has the Fat Wreck sound. Also this song has a Sum 41 and Fenix TX(Riverfenix after they changed their name)reminiscent, so even those MTV darlings sound like they’re inspired by After school special, no matter if they’ve heard of them or not. The song is about how school sucks, obviously, there’s something Queers-esque about the lyrics. My favorite line in the song is “The girl I love just punched me in the nose”.
14 “Kitty Corner”: This is one of the albums that ends on its best note. A straight up Pop Punk number. The song is about a protagonist who is in love with a lady, that he only sees from his window, as he never seems to leave his room. There are plenty of ways to analyze the song and discuss why the protagonist doesn’t leave his room. I guess we can exclude laziness(“it’s not that I’m lazy”), it seems like he doesn’t leave his room or hang out with his friends because that could result in him missing her walking by his house. I guess the song also could be seen as sort of creepy and voyeuristic, but there’s an innocence and soulfulness in it that makes that part of it seem absent. His whole world seems to evolve around seeing this girl walking by his house, and the opening line “for my convenience the places I go are never too far apart/Taco Bell is right next to the Dairy Mart”, even this seems to be because there’s a chance she’ll walk by and he doesn’t want to blink and miss it. A small detail that makes the song really cool is how the drums build up before the last chorus, and this song also has awesome harmonies.
Even if he never really talks to her, he seems to want to do anything for her: “To be with you I think I would have walked on hot coals/But since they were never near aero hobbies I never got to know” and “at least I have ambition, direction in my life/to make whats-her-face from down the road my wife” are two lines confirming this. Since this is a Pop Punk song, it’s not hard to guess that in the end he sees the girl hand in hand with another dude. Aside from the isolation and somewhat innocent voyeurism, there’s also an almost obsessive compulsive attitude towards things being in the correct or appropriate distance from each other (“If you only had lived a little closer to the arcade” “The places I go are never too far apart” “). A “kitty-corner is defined by Merrian Webster as”: “used to describe two things that are located across from each other on opposite corners»” When realizing that this love of his dreams will not come true, he consoles himself with the fact that it never would work anyway, because of the distance between his heart and her soul. “I guess for now I’ll have to be satisfied knowing: My heart’s kitty-corner to your soul”. Another contestant in the non-existent “What is the most Pop Punk song ever?” contest.
There’s not much to find or read about when it comes to After school special, the band at least. And I’m not sure if this album will ever get the appreciation or recognition it deserves, but who knows?! Rest in peace, David Jones! Next Pop Punk pick is Show Business Is My Life by Dr. Frank.