Songs that changed the world

I made a half-hearted attempt at clearing some cluttered shelves over the blissfully long weekend (hands up who thinks all weekends ought to consist of four days) and noticed an excellent book called 50 Facts That Should Change the World, by Jessica Williams.

It stopped me from wondering if, had Luis Suarez gone down in the penalty area like Ashley Young did against QPR on Sunday, a penalty would have been awarded (like hell it would have, he’d have been booked for diving) and made me question instead whether songs have, or indeed should, change the world.

Can a song change the world? Pretentious idea, that.

I thought, naturally, of the most obvious protest songs and charity songs; of the overtly political and often offensive messages purveyed through a well-written and -timed lyric; even visualised an array of impetuous rappers cursing various abuses of power and calling on the listener to get off their backsides (OK, their ‘asses’) and do something to elicit change.

Then I realised that Rolling Stone had already compiled a list of what they consider to be ‘world-changing’ tracks – to mark their 40th anniversary issue, in May 2007. Never mind. Their list just gives me more time to think of my own and, with your help, maybe create a better one.

This is their list, songs numbered chronologically (dates of release, not any order of preference) and showing typical bias for the baby boomer generation at whom so much disappointment continues to be directed for not changing the world nearly enough when they had the greatest opportunity to, but that’s another thing:

01. Elvis Presley, ‘That’s All Right’
02. Ray Charles, ‘I Got a Woman’
03. Chuck Berry, ‘Maybelline’
04. Bob Dylan, ‘A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall’
05. The Kingsmen, ‘Louie Louie’
06. The Ronettes, ‘Be My Baby’
07. The Beatles, ‘I Wanna Hold Your Hand’
08. Martha and the Vandellas, ‘Dancing In the Street’
09. The Rolling Stones, ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’
10. Bob Dylan, ‘Like a Rolling Stone’
11. The Beatles, ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’
12. The Velvet Underground, ‘Heroin’
13. Aretha Franklin, ‘Respect’
14. Jimi Hendrix, ‘Purple Haze’
15. Led Zeppelin, ‘Whole Lotta Love’
16. James Brown, ‘Get Up (I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine’
17. Marvin Gaye, ‘What’s Going On’
18. John Lennon, ‘Imagine’
19. David Bowie, ‘Ziggy Stardust’
20. Bob Marley, ‘I Shot the Sheriff’
21. Joni Mitchell, ‘Help Me’
22. Bruce Springsteen, ‘Born To Run’
23. Queen, ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’
24. The Ramones, ‘Blitzkrieg Bop’
25. The Sex Pistols, ‘Anarchy in the UK’
26. Donna Summer, ‘I Feel Love’
27. The Sugarhill Gang, ‘Rapper’s Delight’
28. Black Flag, ‘TV Party’
29. Michael Jackson, ‘Billie Jean’
30. Prince, ‘When Doves Cry’
31. U2, ‘Pride (In the Name Of Love)’
32. Madonna, ‘Like a Virgin’
33. Run DMC and Aerosmith, ‘Walk This Way’
34. The Cure, ‘Just Like Heaven’
35. Guns N Roses, ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’
36. Public Enemy, ‘Bring the Noise’
37. Dr. Dre, ‘Nuthin’ But a G Thang’
38. Nirvana, ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’
39. Britney Spears, ‘Baby One More Time’
40. The White Stripes, ‘Fell In Love With a Girl’

Now, I’m not averse to such lists; I actually quite like them (well, just look at the previous entries) and I positively revel in how contentious they can sometimes be, knowing that your reactive comments will be all the more enjoyable for the fusion of disagreement and disbelief, damn it. I don’t know about you, but I don’t see what two thirds of the above listed songs changed, or could ever hope to have changed in the wildest dreams of their creators, to tell you the truth. I don’t think many of those chosen by Rolling Stone can claim to have changed music, let alone the world.

Beyond the convenient, too often self-indulgent visualisation of music by way of the requisite promo video (that’s down to ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’), the mainstream acceptability, nay, popularisation/near-saturation of hip hop (‘Rapper’s Delight’ started it) and further undeniable proof of increasing studio production perfectionism (that’ll be ‘Billie Jean’) – I didn’t say the change necessarily had to be for the better – I’m stuck for things that these songs can claim to have changed. It is true that the Martha and the Vandellas number was David’s pick of his Desert Island Discs, and there was nothing quite like ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ or ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ before them. Jimi Hendrix frequently blows my mind now, so I dread to think what he’d have done to it in 1966/7. The world would likely end if ‘Imagine’ were ever omitted from any list of good things, we all know this. Madonna and James Brown might well have made an awful lot of people blush with their abandon, and Brian Wilson’s fondness for the sublime harmonies of The Ronettes is well documented, but did any of these change the world? Did they really?

‘Ohio’ by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young certainly changed something, I think you’ll agree, although I can’t say precisely what (well, not without resorting to an inexcusably dull ‘they raised awareness’, which of course they did) nor can I say for how long it lasted; the American counter-culture movement collapsed before Nixon’s presidency did, though. The song remains a brave and biting indictment on the National Guard for opening fire on students of Kent State University as they protested peacefully against President Nixon’s announced ground invasion of Cambodia. Four were killed.

Similarly, although more than a decade after the events in Derry, Northern Ireland (fourteen unarmed protesters, thirteen of them teenagers, shot dead by British soldiers) and 63 years after the original Bloody Sunday in Dublin, Ireland (which claimed 31 lives): U2’s ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’ (1983), on which Bono despaired, ‘How long, how long must we sing this song?’ It would be sung throughout the decade and well into the next, sadly.

‘Mississippi Goddam’, Nina Simone’s contemporary account of Klan killings and specifically the racist murder of four young children at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama – as mentioned recently – stirred deep feelings within the black community and, importantly, beyond it. Yet Rage Against the Machine’s ‘Killing in the Name’ spoke once more of white supremacy and bigotry, as well as police brutality – in 1992. (As a separate point of note, the song was also propelled to the top of the UK charts on downloads alone, in 2009, to spite whichever talent show flash-in-the-pan it was from claiming the prestigious Christmas No. 1 spot – a protest started on Facebook against Simon Cowell’s stranglehold over the charts. A small, short-lived change, but a nice one nonetheless.)

No one stressed the need for black empowerment more clearly and successfully than James Brown did in 1968 with ‘Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud (Part 1)’, most powerfully in the striking line, ‘We’d rather die on our feet than keep livin’ on our knees’. Yet some twenty-odd years and countless records later, Public Enemy were observing – in 1989, on ‘Fight the Power’ – that their heroes still don’t appear on postage stamps 400 years down the line (which is not strictly true, as there has been a ‘Black Heritage USA Series’ of stamps since 1978, starting with the abolitionist Harriet Tubman). The world’s only remaining superpower now has a black president, at least for the time being, yet how disappointing his reluctance to make changes has been for many.

Depressed yet?

Music has championed human rights, too. Peter Gabriel’s haunting 1980 tribute to Stephen Bantu Biko, the anti-apartheid activist imprisoned without charge in 1977, during which time he was beaten by police in his cell resulting in his death from a brain haemorrhage (not, as police claimed, self-inflicted injuries), helped bring awareness – sorry, but it did – of apartheid. ‘Free Nelson Mandela’ by The Special A.K.A. was a hit single in the UK in 1984 and its success helped paved the way towards a Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday Tribute Concert at London’s Wembley Stadium in 1988. Mandela was released in 1990, buoyed by tremendous public support around the world which its leaders could not ignore.

The release of Nelson Mandela was in the interests of the wider world, as was the USA joining the fight against fascism in Europe in 1941. Who is to say how influential Woody Guthrie was, through ‘The Sinking of the Reuben James’, in galvanising the natural pacifists within the American public into supporting military intervention in the Second World War? It would surely be as difficult a task as successfully prosecuting Marilyn Manson for indirectly causing the massacre at Columbine High School in 1999 via his angry songs.

Few songs contain the anger of those by Eminem, who certainly, to his credit, played his part in trying to oust George W. Bush in 2004 with ‘Mosh’, urging the disaffected and apathetic to sign up to vote. Green Day’s ‘American Idiot’ also sent an important message to a mainstream and youthful audience with the power to influence at a crucial time. Alas…

Elvis Costello’s ‘Tramp the Dirt Down’, released in 1989, was one of several fierce songs about Margaret Thatcher (and contains one of my favourite rhymes: ‘When England was the whore of the world, Margaret was her madam, and the future looked as bright and as clear as the black tarmacadam’). She resigned the following year, a consequence of rioting, mass unemployment and factions within her party, but this is not to ignore the fact that many creative individuals used whichever platforms were available to them to stir up animosity, which appears always to be worthwhile if not always ‘world-changing’.

Music is a useful and extremely effective tool for arousing emotion. Bruce Springsteen and ‘Streets of Philadelphia’ helped the 1993 film Philadelphia pose important questions about society’s attitudes to homosexuality, HIV and AIDS. Not dissimilarly, I wonder how influential Michael Jackson’s ‘Heal the World’ has been on those whom for so long preferred to dismiss environmental concerns as not being of relevance to their distinct way of life, rather somebody else’s problem, and how many activists Joni Mitchell has potentially inspired to defend paradise from parking lots through ‘Big Yellow Taxi’.

There are so many more, but did any of them change the world?

I’m more inclined to believe, albeit still with a curl of the lip, that if any songs have changed the world, then it could only be those released with great fanfare for a charitable cause. That’s because only money appears to change things and even then not always permanently. The biggest-selling charity singles, ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas’ and ‘We Are the World’, changed attitudes too, yet more importantly they made ordinary people donate to a cause that many had been able to turn a blind eye to previously; those who did not watch the news or read the newspapers were, through a catchy song played lots on TV, forced to witness the harrowing images of Ethiopia’s merciless famine by way of accompanying video footage, the involvement of their favourite music celebrities enough to spark interest in current events – as fickle as that may be.

So do these songs need to be commercially successful, well-known globally, bolstered by an impressive register of current talent, loosely ‘popular’ and ideally sing-along material in order to change the world, even if only for the shortest time? Yes, probably. How sad that is.

I’m still sure we can do better than Rolling Stone in finding songs that have had a greater cultural and social impact, even on tiny parts of the world and even if only fleetingly, than Britney Spears’ ‘Baby One More Time’, though.

Author: FEd

Features Editor of David Gilmour’s official blog, The Blog (‘Features’ previously being its rather naff title), affectionately – or lazily – shortened to ‘FEd’.

79 thoughts on “Songs that changed the world”

  1. Hmmm, so now we will all go for our own list of songs that have changed the world. I like this exercise, it is a nice effort of memory and a chance to travel back to the past.

    I will resist the temptation to list French songs although “La vie en rose” from our dear Edith or even better “Je t’aime moi non plus” from Serge Gainsbourg deserve to be in the list for their contribution to the evolution of our habits.

    I’d just like to see listed “Hurricane” because even 40 years later Bob Dylan’s voice and guitar are more than ever actual and can keep on changing mentalities and behaviours. I also think that “talking about a revolution” has marked my generation, I was 16, and is still very actual.

    Thanks for the funny exercise.

  2. Some are okay. I really can’t stand lists from others, especially in this case #34 to 40. What the?

    I’ll just add Like A Rolling Stone , for you Fed, of course.

    Something from DSOTM indeed, such as Money.

    Something churlish to the mix, not my fave though, Deep Purple’s Smoke On The Water. Baa Baa Baa, Baa Baa Daa Daa.

    This is a great topic, the response will be interesting.

  3. As I appear to have woken in a Zen-like state of philosophical calm, it occurs to me that each and every “event” changes the World in some small way (we all know about the flapping of the Butterfly’s wing, don’t we) and so each and every song has had some impact on somebody, somewhere.

    On a more practical level I think it is certainly true that some songs have had a significant impact on culture, awareness and attitude, just as have some pictures, articles, novels, speeches because they strike a particular chord (not always A minor but it’s often a good place to start) and, whisper it gently, make people think.

    Popular music since the 50’s has had an all pervasive impact that by now has become mainstream. It is both a reflection and an engine of changing attitudes, self-expression, social mobility and a sort of democratisation of popular culture with an unprecedented reach. As a form, and as particular songs within that form it has undeniable reach.

    I share your scepticism about what particular impact some of the songs on that list are supposed to have had, good as they might be. Probably if truth be told, the whole explosion of British Rock Music owes a lot to a relatively few discs of American Blues, Elvis Presley pre-Burger King and Bill Haley and so those songs really did have a big impact.

    A lot of those protest songs you astutely pick out had an impact but of course there is a difference between “changing the World” and “solving the problem”. No single event of any kind is going to solve the problem but songs can be part of a process of change and I’m sure have been. Who is to say what impact small changes in awareness and attitude can bring, but I’m sure it’s better than none and so I don’t think it’s a cause for depression that problems persist. I happen to belong to the camp that says things gradually get better as history unfolds and significant moments in popular culture can be a part of that.

    We should also be grateful that some of the really nasty regimes have failed to harness the power of music (so it really doesn’t belong to the devil does it). Imagine the awesome power of Hitler’s storming rendition of “Slap my Putsch up”, or Pol Pot and his merry band inspiring Cambodian Youth with “Working in a chain gang” … no I think we should be grateful for small mercies after all.

  4. I would have to say that Billie Holiday’s song Strange Fruit revolutionized America when the Civil Rights Movement first started. It’s just a great song with a strong message.

    Take Care,

  5. Hi Fed,

    long time since I’ve posted but this instantly came to mind:

    This song and video may have changed the world, for a short while any way – The Cars, “Who’s gonna drive you home” and the accompanying video shown at Wembley during Live Aid.


    1. This is so sad. I had to watch Dire Straits afterwards to see a miracle repeated in 85′ along with Heroes from Bowie. Thanks Graham.

      To the anniversary of Titanic, what can I say?

  6. I think you have to add Right Said Fred and “I’m Too Sexy” to the list.

    O wait, you said songs that changed the world not songs that made you change your shirt.



  7. Thinking about it, the only music that really changed the world was unfortunately military music (marches played before battles)…

    Any of the songs above may have changed a few individuals, but the world? No… At least IMHO.



  8. Nice list, I would add The Clash – London Calling, Slayer – Raining Blood and Deep Purple – Smoke on the Water.

  9. Birmingham Sunday ~ Joan Baez (Written by Richard Farina about the church bombing in Alabama on September 15, 1963.) A song sung so softly but with such a powerful message.
    Biko ~ Peter Gabriel
    Redemption Song ~ Bob Marley
    Chicago and Ohio ~ Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young
    There But For Fortune, I’m Not Fighting Anymore, Outside A Small Circle of Friends, Here’s to the State of Mississippi, The Crucifixion, Santo Domingo, Canons of Christianity ~ Phil Ochs (FEd, you know I could list many more. 😉 )
    Michael, Andrew, and James ~ Mimi and Richard Farina (An account of the murders of three young civil rights workers on June 21, 1964.)
    Sunday, Bloody Sunday ~ U2
    The Needle and the Damage Done ~ Neil Young
    The Needle of Death ~ Bert Jansch
    Before the Deluge ~ Jackson Browne
    Fortunate Son ~ Creedence Clearwater Revival
    Jeremy ~ Pearl Jam
    Luka ~ Suzanne Vega
    Bangladesh ~ George Harrison
    Strange Fruit ~ Billie Holiday
    Big Brother ~ Stevie Wonder
    Imagine, God, Gimme Some Truth, Mother, Give Peace A Chance, Instant Karma ~ John Lennon
    That Smell ~ Lynyrd Skynyrd
    Polly, Smells Like Teen Spirit ~ Nirvana
    One ~ Metallica
    Mosh ~ Eminem
    War ~ Edwin Starr
    Sympathy for the Devil ~ The Rolling Stones
    Say It Loud: I’m Black and I’m Proud ~ James Brown
    My Country Tis of Thy People You’re Dying, Now That the Buffalo’s Gone ~ Buffy Sainte-Marie
    Universal Soldier ~ Donovan
    The Band Played Waltzing Matilda ~ The Pogues
    Paths of Victory ~ Odetta
    Respect ~ Aretha Franklin
    Streets of Philadelphia ~ Bruce Springsteen
    Hold On ~ Sarah McLachlan
    The Last Song ~ Elton John
    If This Is Goodbye ~ Mark Knopfler and Emmylou Harris
    Hallelujah ~ Jeff Buckley

    Rolling Stone’s list may reflect songs that changed music but, with the exception of a few, I agree that they wouldn’t be songs that I’d describe as ‘world changing.’ It’s more often the case that songs are written in response to the actions or inactions of members of the human race (using the term “human” very loosely in many instances). Some songs are beautifully poetic in telling their story, while others are harshly accusing and somewhat journalistic (*case in point: Phil Ochs).

    I purposefully omitted any Bob Dylan because, as you know, I could come up with a list way too long that would have to include all sorts of lyrics, back story, etc. I think I’ve already done that more than once, haven’t I?

    Now, having said that, I feel I have to mention Dylan’s The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll if for no other reason than to give Bob a little poke on Phil Ochs’ behalf for having told Phil *”you’re not a folksinger, you’re a journalist” after Phil had criticized on of Dylan’s songs! You know I love ’em both, right? 😉

    I hope my list isn’t too glass-half-empty feeling. You know I don’t do much happy-smiley-people-holding-hands music — too cynical, possibly? Or just too realistic?

    Sarah McLachlan is now singing Answer for me — sad but hopeful, right? Just what I need for what’s coming up in the next week, truth be told.

    Peace ‘n’ love to you all!

    1. I hope my list isn’t too glass-half-empty feeling. You know I don’t do much happy-smiley-people-holding-hands music — too cynical, possibly? Or just too realistic?

      Hey, whatever it is, I’m with you. 🙂

  10. Can a song change the world?

    I was thinking of this song ‘Beds Are Burning’, the world’s first global music petition, involving over 50 artists, in support of the ‘tck tck tck – Time for Climate Justice’ campaign that was released before the Coppenhagen climate summit (in 2009, I think).

    “By downloading ‘Beds Are Burning’ for free from major music download platforms on the internet, people from around the world will be adding their names to this growing global petition — joining the campaign for climate justice and becoming a climate ally.”, Kofi Annan said.

    I don’t know if this had a real impact,probably not, but in these days where the internet invades our homes, maybe it could be another small step one can take to draw attention to the urgency of crucial world climate change. Sort of Live Aid for the internet generation. Why not?

    Not saying that I like this version, though.

    1. I think that’s a fair point. After all, how can anything change if people aren’t aware of the need to change and compelled to play a small part in calling for change?

      I’m also thinking of another song, re-recorded in recent years, that nobody has mentioned yet. One that David was involved in and a change that I certainly wish to see.

    2. Yes, this one, in support of Gary McKinnon? We could download it too to show our support. I like it.

      I think David and Janis Sharp supplied their own lyrics:

      So your brother’s bound and gagged
      And they’ve chained him to a chair
      Won’t you please come from Chicago just to sing
      In a land that’s known as freedom how can such a thing be fair
      Won’t you please come from Chicago for the help that you can bring

      We can change the world, rearrange the world
      It’s dying – to get better

      Politicians sit yourselves down, there’s something for you here
      Won’t you please stand up in London for our Lives
      Don’t ask Jack to help you cause he’ll turn the other ear
      Won’t you please stand up in London and join us side by side

      We can change the world, rearrange the world
      It’s dying – if you believe in justice
      Dying – and if you believe in freedom
      Dying – Stand Up For Autistic Rights
      Dying – and a world we can believe in, open up the door

      Somehow people must be free, so help the day comes soon
      Won’t you please come from Chicago show your face
      From the bottom of the ocean to the mountains of the moon
      Won’t you please stand up in London no one else can take your place

      You can change the world rearrange the world
      It’s dying – if you believe in justice
      Dying – and if you believe in freedom
      Dying – Give Gary back his life
      Dying – make a world we can believe in, open up the door.

      BTW, what’s the latest news on Gary McKinnon?

      1. He is still waiting for the gutless hypocrites in government to ‘grow a pair,’ I believe is the expression.

        Details of the latest report from the Home Affairs Committee are found here. Gary’s mother, Janis Sharp, is appealing for anyone who wants to help to e-mail the Home Office, which only takes a click or two.

  11. I’d have to say “Dark Side of the Moon” – the album and song has gone a long way in changing/helping direct people in their lives. I was able to meet a few astronauts at my brothers’ retirement and they were all saying that as a young adult listening to that album encouraged them to follow their dreams into a career in space. It was not mentioned in the list.

  12. Hi Fed and all

    Don’t know if you caught the programme on BBC4 last night re Southern Rock featuring mainly the Allman Brothers and Lynard Skynard…and Jimmy Carter!!! Sweet Home Alabama didn’t do him any harm! Sad stories, so many getting killed, but like phoenix rising from the ashes both bands reformed and are still touring! I don’t recommend going to bed with Freebird bouncing round the head though!

    Another documentary some time back featured Neil Young on tour and the pro America audience were not happy that he came out with an anti government, anti war song re either Iraq or Afghanistan. When asked why he did it he replied that he was waiting for Bob Dylan to write one and when he didn’t thought he’d better do one himself!

    Best Wishes

    1. I’m glad that he did. I do love Neil Young’s Living With War album and I’m glad that you mentioned it. Here’s one of its tracks.

      I didn’t see the programme, but will make sure that I do.

      (Just how did we manage before interactive TV and on-demand services such as BBC’s iPlayer? Can you remember having just five television channels received through an aerial: BBC1, BBC2, ITV, Channel 4 (and S4C in Wales), then Channel 5? I don’t know how we managed.)

    2. I’ve got a fairly clear memory of the day Channel 4 first broadcast. (Can’t say I reserved a place on the sofa for Channel 5, mind.)

      I also seem to recall we did just fine in the (now passed) British tradition of making the best of what little we had!

    3. How did we manage Fed? I remember!

      We went to music shops and begged to listen to something someone had suggested. We went out with friends to clubs that played the sort of music we liked. We arranged meeting places instead of relying on mobile phone contact at a minute past the appointed hour. :))

      I remember seeing snooker on the TV and talking about it next day at work, the colour of the balls played, and some jealous wit piped up, “Oh, show off just because you’ve got colour TV”. Well, if he’d been a fan following the match he’d have been following the balls and known which was which. Anyway. We did have a colour TV but I was a fan before colour. (Can you tell I feel indignant about being embarrassed by him? :)) )
      Better than that I remember a commentator saying something like, “and for those of you not watching in colour, the brown ball is the one behind the green ” :))

      Hello again Fed 🙂 and everyone. 🙂 I’ve missed you all.


      1. Welcome back, Ash. We missed you.

        Yes, you’re right; we managed rather well back then. At the risk of bursting into song, those were the days… I’d go back. Would you?

    4. I would go back. I think life was great back then. New music, fashion, new thinking, kicking off the shackles of previous generations, for women in particular, free university education (and a subsistence grant!).

      Those were the days, indeed, (though I wasn’t a huge fan of Mary Hopkin back then, I am now of course because she’s Welsh and I love all Welsh people 😉 ). I would quote from “I Think I’m Going Back”, (made famous by Dusty Sprinfield) but it’s a bit sad, so the title says all that needs to be said. Could move on to “Get Back” or “Come Right Back”. Do you/anyone remember who performed them? :))


  13. ‘The Internationale’? The powerful and emotional left-wing anthem, which has been sung in hundreds of languages around the world as a song of hope and change, representing both freedom and oppression, perpetually relevant throughout history.

    1. I think this is the best genuine contender.

      The British National Anthem has of course had a major influence, not least in making everyone else even more proud of their own (tuneful) one.

  14. Does a song really change the world or is the artist just capitalizing on an event?

    As mentioned above, “Ohio” by CSNY is a great song but the song didn’t change the world. The event at Kent State certainly was a culmination and event changing. The band just took the event, turned it to music and released it – making them famous (or more famous) and lined their pockets. The band did memorialize the event and may have raised some awareness. But history classes will focus on what transpired on that day – not on the fact that CSNY wrote a song about it.

    “Smoke on the Water” is kinda the same story except that without Smoke what would be the first lick learned by all those kids learning to play guitar? That may be the only perspective you can take in that the song changed the world and it has nothing to do with the event. In fact, I wonder how many of the younger generation even know about Frank Zappa and the Mothers.

    I actually think that the only song mentioned so far that did change the world was “Do They Know Its Christmas?” Certainly you can argue that the issue existed before Bob Geldoff went on his mission and all he did was bring it to the forefront. But the fact is that Sir Bob took the issue and made it a worldwide event. First by gathering musicians to give their time, write a song, record a song, release a song, donate proceeds from the song and make a statement. Then he didn’t give up and staged a worldwide concert and raised tons of money. We can forever debate what happened with all that food and aid that was given to Africa and if it was truly a success but for a short period of time he did change the world. Live Aid was a worldwide event and it all started with a song that was a call to action.



  15. I can’t think of one song that has made change on its own. However, events that included music have certainly been associated with change. I’m thinking Live Aid, Woodstock and other such music events.

    Artists like Peter, Paul & Mary and Crosby, Stills & Nash have made change by bringing awareness of important issues. Pete Seeger has done more than anyone to clean up my beloved Hudson River, via his Clearwater festivals that raise awareness. We must never underestimate the power of music to raise awareness of issues, a call to action. It is my opinion that if the Occupy movement is to have any further impact, it must start with a song.

    Great songs are those that either reflect their times (“The Times, They Are A-Changin”), make an important statement (“This land is your land”) or tell an important story (“Born in the USA”). I don’t think one song can bring change just by itself. I think that music serves as a call to action that can make people imagine a change. And nothing changes until we imagine things differently.

  16. It would be so nice if the world could be changed by a song.

    One song that would be ideal would have to be John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ (already mentioned) or Pink Floyd’s ‘Gunner’s Dream’.

    ‘Where you can speak out loud about your doubts and fears
    and what’s more,
    no-one ever disappears you never hear that standard issue
    kicking in your door.
    You can relax on both sides of the tracks
    and maniacs
    don’t blow holes in bandsmen by remote control
    And everyone has recourse to the law


    ‘A doctor in Manhattan saves a dying man for FREE.’

    If those wise words were heeded then indeed the world would be changed.

    1. Beautiful words indeed. I do like ‘It’s a Miracle’ (from Amused to Death, Roger Waters’ finest solo album?).

      Another lyric, from the same song, which makes me think:

      ‘We’ve got warehouses of butter
      We’ve got oceans of wine
      We’ve got famine when we need it’

    2. Undoubtedly Rog’s best solo album – by a country mile.

      Unfortunately not enough people seem to have taken notice of it for it to change the World but that can be said for many many songs.

      That song is a classic. You could just as well proceed with …

      We’ve got Mercedes
      We’ve got Porsche
      Ferrari and Rolls Royce
      We’ve got choice

      Rarely has Roger’s sardonic / sarcastic style worked better …

  17. Never been convinced if songs have actually changed the world. I think that they change individuals or, some, make you re think things sometimes.

    More convinced that certain songwriters and music related events have. John Lennon, for example, immediately comes to mind. I would say that the governments of the day were quite worried about him.

    I think things like Woodstock and the Isle of Wight festivals bothered some at the time as well.

  18. Being in full blown sentimental, wishful-thinking and naivety mode, I’d like to think that this and this would change the world.

    It’s a travesty that neither feature in the 40.

    1. I’d like to think that these could change the world, too. They make two beautifully optimistic musical bookends to, let’s say, John Lennon’s Imagine. These would fit nicely on one’s glass-half-full list of songs. As long as people can see, understand, and feel love/compassion for Mother Earth herself and every creature living within and without Her, making this a more “wonderful world” is possible. I think Pink Floyd’s On The Turning Away says it best. It always fills me with hope, no matter how low I’m feeling! 🙂

      Peace ‘n’ love!

  19. just a thought, but could auld lang syne be classed as a song that changed the world? almost everyone has heard/sung it, they may not understand it and robert burns might not agree with it being “the new year song” but i’m sure he would appreciate that it has gone worldwide.

    1. … what came into my mind today:

      Would they have ever thought being Sirs later in their lives? I’m sure not…

      @Michèle: nice one, too! Thanks for sharing it.

  20. Beautiful words indeed. I do like ‘It’s a Miracle’ (from Amused to Death, Roger Waters’ finest solo album?).

    I’ll give Roger credit for Radio Waves and my fave The Tide Is Turning. I wish to this day that David would add a lead to that one as a personal favour. Who knows?

    I just can’t wait to see the opening day of the Olympics Fed. The musical guests will be the best Gold Medal ever! They must be planning it to perfection by now.

    P.S. Any 3 Stooges fans out there. I love em. Knuk, knuk, knuk!!!!

  21. I suspect I’m thinking about it too much which is why I am having a bit of difficulty with the topic. I don’t know quite how to define changing the world with there being so very many inter-related elements that make up just one tiny bit of change (Tim’s reference to the butterfly effect) … does music change the way we think or does our way of thinking define the music. And what exactly is defined by change … how many stories were told musically about a topic near and dear and how often that story was told and how far-reaching the message was? Then by virtue of this, does that make it universal and in turn world-changing and do we all hear the same message? I know I’m not making any sense at all, sorry …

    Amazing Grace (as we know it) kept making its presence known while I was pondering what I would add to a list of world-changing songs. It’s probably one of the most recognizable secular songs in Western culture. I don’t know what it means to everyone individually although I tend to associate it with funerals.

    I think of Scorpions’ Winds of Change celebrating the ‘end’ of the so-called Cold War which was, for many, a world-changing song (it’s not my ‘go-to’ Scorpions track but I must admit even I was moved).

    Shosholoza, an Ndebele folk song that was a popular High School Choir song in South Africa, was brought out, dusted, and spruced up for the 1995 Rugby World Cup – which South Africa won :). It may not have changed the whole world but in light of the events of the previous year, it sure as hell changed South Africa (if only for a short time). It was also featured in the soundtrack of The Gods Must be Crazy (a cover by Peter Gabriel).

    I would add Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker to the list (not sure how to justify it though other than to say that everyone needs a little Tchaikovsky in their life and The Nutcracker is recognized by millions).

    I’d like to think Midnight Oil’s Mountains of Burma was world-changing but would wager it didn’t get much airplay — it’s really quite brilliant.

    “By the grace of God Almighty
    And the pressures of the marketplace
    The human race has civilized itself”

    Brilliant lyrics, amazing song but alas, we still have a long, long way to go before “…it’s a miracle”.

  22. RIP Greg Ham. I’d all but forgotten Men at Work … Down Under was a lot of fun.

  23. Erm cannot think here.

    God Save the Queen. Sex Pistols changed the music scene.


  24. Gary’s mother, Janis Sharp, is appealing for anyone who wants to help to e-mail the Home Office, which only takes a click or two.

    I just signed and sent the email with regards to Gary’s so called extradition order to the States. And before anyone says I did it because David supports this, then you’re wrong. I have always believed the UK has an unhealthy relationship with the states and very one-sided, although I agree it is good to have some kind of relationship with the states but on a level playing field.

    Regards as ever

  25. I am not sure that any song (or music in general) could ever change ‘THE’ world, but music can certainly help people to cope with bad situations, both physically and mentally. It has been proven that a single specific tone or note can have a powerful effect on the body and can help a patient improve emotional, psychological or even physiological health.

    In particular, I think that music therapy is one of the most effective and helpful ways of treating and helping autistic children, because, perhaps, music is “a non-verbal form of communication, not perceived to be threatening by children with autism”.

    Oh and re-FEd’s “simple tweet in support of the brave and beautiful @RubyOwen_x”, how I wish there was a song that could cure cancer! 5 years old, how sad and unfair. And in the meanwhile a moron (right?) called Anders Breivik defies his judges with a far-right “clenched-fist salute”, claiming that he would massacre 77 people all over again… “What A Wonderful World”? – Uh? …

    1. Heck of a tune, Pavlov. Thanks for that, I don’t think I’d heard it before and really like it.

      I have actually started writing about the songs that make up the soundtrack to our lives, or the songs that changed our lives (which sounds better, do you think?), but I’m feeling rotten at the moment. This is my first afternoon spent out of bed in more than a week and all I could write about if I had the energy to try would be the need for hotter lemons and softer tissues, and possibly a reasonably-priced home delivery service providing soup around the clock, but it will be here soon. (The blog post, I mean, not the soup. That would never catch on.)

      Here’s one of mine, special in that it instantly transports me back to a certain time and place neither of which was remarkable so I can only assume that the song must be: Neil Young – Down By the River (not this version particularly, but if anyone deserves to be featured in a post about songs with the potential to be world-changing, surely it has to be Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young).

    2. Perhaps Soundtrack to Our Lives – only because not all we heard was life-changing.

      Sorry to hear you’ve been laid up. 🙁 Wish I could send a hot-toddy and boatloads of chicken soup with lemon and you’d be right as rain in no time at all.

      Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young deserve the most honorable mention especially, in my mind, Déjà Vu — it made such an enormous impression on me personally.

      And thanks for tweeting Toxic Shadows … 🙂 – too good not to share.

    3. Great song! Thanks Pavlov!

      I did know that this quite German band even existed, but after hearing what your link produced, I bought that album right away…



    4. Taki,

      Glad you enjoyed. It was purely by chance that I heard the self-titled album (and truth be told, I should probably have been listening to something more ‘age appropriate’ at the time). The individuals who shared it with me were John Lawton fans (he went on to join Uriah Heep but also did time with the Les Humphries Singers). Another track that’s quite good is Ride in the Sky … you may think you’re listening to elements from Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song or was it the other way around?

      Sometimes one goes through life vaguely remembering certain things: an album cover, a specific progression of chords or a melody, a painting, a smell, but you cannot place or identify it. Then many years later, a simple inquiry about a completely unrelated topic uncovers things deeply buried but not quite forgotten. The joys of the internet, this AMAZING, AMAZING blog and the love of music!

  26. Hi all friends and bloggers,

    More than songs I’d like choosing the bands.

    Every song since 1963, since “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “Love Me Do” made a little change in the world little by little.

    Two of the best are DSOTM and WYWH without doubts, but every single year since 1963 to 1980 was a masterpiece remarking the differences today.

    With love

  27. I would like to think Beethoven’s 9th Symphony changed the world. Unquestionably his magnum opus, its message of solidarity has never ceased to represent and inspire various causes and events, both good and bad. It certainly changed music, being the longest and most radical symphony at its point of release, requiring the largest orchestra and choir and being the first choral symphony by a significant composer. Beethoven conceived the idea of setting Schiller’s Ode to Joy to music over 30 years before the completion of his symphony.

    Other than that, There’s No One Quite Like Grandma by St Winifred’s School Choir.

  28. How about Happy Birthday to You and For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow?

    Jimmy Cliff – The Harder They Come and Many Rivers to Cross
    The Who – My Generation
    Don McLean – Vincent
    Queen – We Will Rock You and We Are the Champions
    Simon & Garfunkel – The Sound of Silence and Bridge Over Troubled Water

  29. Hey there: How could I have possible forgotten the song “On the Turning Away”? Thank you Gabrielle for mentioning it. Heard it recently on the radio Nights with Alice Cooper.

    The CD that the song was on “Momentary Lapse of Reason” is good but kind of sad CD… I can never get enough of DJ Gilmour… I often have thought about what Fed mentioned in regards to how wonderful our communication is now compared to just a few decades ago. The four stations on TV. Very limited. With the expansion of being able to communicate together without borders and censorship will hopefully bring the human race together to help one another and help keep the planet, we all call home, a liveable place for our future generations. At least it is a positive hope…

  30. My thoughts are with you Fed, now’t worse than flu. Bet you wouldn’t bend down to pick a 20 pound note up just now. Get well lots of Lucozade, lots of fluids, as if you don’t already know. And Nurofen capsules are very good.

    1. Bet you wouldn’t bend down to pick a 20 pound note up just now.

      Oh, I would. :))

      Thanks, mate.

  31. “we are the champions” is the song that millions of people hope to sing every year, hard to find somebody that doesn’t know that song.

  32. Adamski – Killer (featuring Seal)

    I know this track did not change the world. But it holds very fond memories for me, being in Ibiza with my brother. We stayed out there for 6 weeks. I think a great tune.


    1. Yes, I had it on cassette. It featured a little white dog on the cover, I seem to recall.

  33. After some thought regarding the current topic – songs that change the world would be each country’s national anthem. It keeps each country for themselves. It is good to find beauty where you are from or live and try to make things better. But by having each country with its own song is what it is – it is not bad. But I can not help but wonder about how it changes the world.

    I saw that it has been mentioned already about Beethoven and Bach and their importance to the world. I can not relocate who blogged it in the above blogs. When Beethoven and Bach arrived on the scene they did much to change how music was presented. It is such a huge topic: Elvis worried older people with his moves and now moving as such is accepted. Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young have many moving songs. “Teach Your Children Well” is one of many, Frank Zappa with “Trouble in the Streets”, Buffalo Springfield with “For What it’s Worth”, U2 has many moving songs, there is so many that I could go on and on. There are blues, jazz, western, etc. way too many talented artist to list. “Imagine” is also mind provoking.

    But it always comes back to D.J. Gilmour and Pink Floyd to really hit home the reality. For me – it has changed my world.

  34. Also just one more –

    Steve Miller – “Fly Like an Eagle” is a positive song.

  35. ‘Lo All. Fed. Haven’t posted for a while, I have been suffering from a bout of “lazy finger.” Read this Blog weeks ago, it got me thinking: Would Paul Hardcastle’s “19” fit on the list? After all, “sad to say” the average age of a soldier to die in combat is now 23 or higher.

    Still fighting the tide with a small paddle. Have fun.

  36. Congratulations to Kate Bush who scooped the South Bank award.

    How’s the flu Fed? Hope you’re feeling better.


  37. Stranger on the Shore. Acker Bilk.
    Telstar. The Tornados.
    Albatross. Fleetwood Mac.

    Acker for being the first from the UK to top the Billboard charts and The Tornadoes whom I think followed him. Not sure if Albatross by Fleetwood Mac reached No 1 in the UK, I think it did. Another great instrumental track from the 60s.

    1. Albatross by Fleetwood Mac… Another great instrumental track from the 60s.

      This reminds me of David’s beautiful rendition of ‘Albatross’ (with Jools Holland on piano, on 10 November 2008).

      There was a Blog post on this topic and someone commented:

      “If I remember rightly ‘Albatross’ was the song David chose when asked, at the RTN Premiere Q&A session, to name a song which he wished he had written.” 🙂

  38. Hi,

    happy birthday to Polly: you are more and more beautiful and “fresh”!!!!

    I think yes, a song cannot change the world but is a symbol of the life in the world, so welcome to Dark Side of the Moon, to Born in the USA, to My Generation, We Shall Overcome, White Rabbit, Blowin’ In the Wind, Yesterday, Ruby Tuesday, Good Vibrations, Layla and many other wonderful witnesses of life.

    A great hug from Rome

  39. For me, it was Time, Money, Us and Them, Shine on you Crazy Diamond and Comfortably Numb.

    Thank you David!

  40. The Fendermen played Fender guitars (a Telecaster and a Stratocaster), and they connected them both to the same amplifier. Interestingly, these guitars were the only two instruments used in the Fendermen’s recording of Mule Skinner Blues (1960); they were played with such skill and precision that the inclusion of a bassist and drummer, typical of most groups of the period, was not necessary.

  41. While agreeing with lots of the above, and maybe it didn’t change the world as such but Paul Simon’s Graceland should be considered. OK, I know there is some controversy about Apartheid and such, but that album really brought African music into the mainstream and was, to me, the catalyst for the emergence of of what is now called “World Music”. Would it have happened without that, who knows, but as well as bringing some exceptional music to the ears of the world it also provided musicians from throughout Africa a means of living that has been taken up by others. From this has developed a whole world appreciation of music that comes from Asia; Eastern Europe and so on and so on. Whatever the motives and negatives that there might have been in this exercise, the outcome was hugely important for those that had little recognition or ability to move out of their own region, I am so grateful.

    For me Billie Holiday – Fruit Tree wins it hands down.

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