School Days: Revisiting college as a launching pad for musicians - WXPN | Vinyl At Heart

Before the term “indie” emerged in the 90s and evolved into “DIY” today, “college rock” served as a catch-all label for independent artists whose names and albums flooded the pages of Rolling Stone from the airways of college radio. What kind of bands or artists were played? Often times, it was college students who decided to launch their musical careers right on campus, looking to perform with and for their peers. But other times, it was artists with bigger dreams who used their college community as a launching pad to their ambitions.

Since the dawn of the rock era, college campuses have been hotbeds for creative minds, and produced a fair share of well-known musicians along the way. Here are ten artists you probably know and love who got their start in college.

The Doors, UCLA

Group members Jim Morrison and Ray Manzarek studied film from 1961 to 1965 at the Southern California university. The two formed The Doors during the summer of 1965.

The Commodores, Tuskegee University

Getting together in 1968, all members were students at the Tuskegee Institute. The funk group released their first LP, Machine Gun in 1974 and would go on to produce their hits like “Easy” and “Brick House.”

Liz Phair, Oberlin College

Though singer-songwriter Liz Phair made her name in the early-90s Chicago scene with her Girly-Sound tapes, a lot of her drive inspiration stemmed from attending college at Oberlin in Central Ohio, where she told the Washington Post that “almost everyone she knew was in a band” and “being a musician seemed approachable and not that hard.” She would drop her first LP, the classic Exile in Guyville, three years after graduating in 1990. Later, the track, “Why Can’t I?” from her 2003 self-titled album would go on to appear on multiple movie soundtracks in the early 2000s.

Lady Gaga, New York University

At 17, Lady Gaga received early admission to Tisch School of the Arts, and lived in NYU’s dorms, where she studied music and songwriting, and formed a group called SGBand with friends. Though she wasn’t at NYU for very long and dropped out to pursue her career; Gaga was only 22 when she released hits like “Poker Face” and “Just Dance.”

Pixies, University of Massachusetts

Founding members Joey Santiago and Black Francis met due to living in close proximity together during their time at UMass. The alt-rock band formed in 1986 and even released a track with their alma mater’s name in 1991.

Devo, Kent State University

Like The Doors and the Pixies, two founding members of the new wave band, Jerry Casale and Bob Lewis studied art together at college. The two graduated following the Kent State University shooting and would use the event as a catalyst for “Devolution”–– a concept the band was based in during its 1973 founding.

MGMT, Wesleyan University

Ben Goldwasser and Andrew VanWyngarden formed the group during their freshman year and soon recorded two demos under the name “The Management.” Shortly after, the band changed their name to MGMT and would release their popular album Oracular Spectacular in 2007.

Public Enemy, Adelphi University

Formed by Carlton Ridenhour (Chuck D) and William Drayton (Flavor Flav) in 1985, these hip-hop icons moved from studying art and graphic design at Long Island’s oldest university to producing anthems like “Fight the Power” — a song that is still relevant to this day.

Vampire Weekend, Columbia University

Members of this indie pop-rock band met in the early stages of their college careers and their self-titled debut album reflects the collegiate experience on songs like “Campus.” The band released their first album in six years with Father of the Bride in May 2019.

The Roots, Millersville University

Though The Roots are a Philly band through and through, founding MC’s Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter and the late Malik B actually met while attending Millersville University in Central Pennsylvania. Black Thought raps about the pair’s relationship in “Water” and mentions their school days on a few bars: “I met Slacks back in like ’91 rapping / We went to Millersville to get away from gun clappin’ / It ain’t last, I be in class dreaming ’bout / 50, 000 fans up in the stands screaming out.”

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