Whether or not you believe that music can change the world, there is no denying that it can change the way we see the world. Which is really the same thing anyway.
Strange Fruit – Billie Holiday
This eerie, chilling song started out as a poem before Billie recorded it in the 1930s. The haunting lyrics bring home the horrors of racism and racially motivated lynchings. If it sounds so powerful and moving in the 21st century I can only imagine how it felt to listen to Strange Fruit over half a century ago. What an incredible song to learn about some of the worst crimes ever committed by man. It’s not easy to listen to but if you give it a try you will feel as though the world has changed by the time it ends.
Redemption Song – Bob Marley
I had always been aware that a singer called Bob Marley existed but I never paid him any attention at all. Then, I listened to one of his albums one day and the world never looked the same again. The lyrics in Redemption Song are about slavery and the struggle to be and feel free. It is a subject I had never thought about before but Bob’s powerful lyrics and amazing voice made me do so for the first time. The song has this incredible combination of social justice, personal liberty, positive thinking and downright funky vibes that means you can’t forget it and its message.
Do They Know It’s Christmas?– Band Aid
As a kid growing up in the UK one of my strongest memories is of Band Aid forming and of seeing terrible images of the famine disaster in Africa. It’s a song that proved to us all that it is possible to work together and contribute in a small way to help others. I have little recollection of fund raising campaigns before this song but experts say that it was revolutionary and changed the way these campaigns are run. If I listen to it today I can still see those TV news reports and feel the same desire to do something about it.
Blowing in the Wind – Bob Dylan
We could probably include any one of a number of Zimmerman classics on here. Blowing in the Wind is one of those songs that had always existed in the background of my mind until the day I listened to a Bob album in the car. I had never realized that it was so inspirational, life affirming and generally positive until I paid attention to it. The lyrics are simple and can be interpreted in a number of ways but for me they opened up my mind to ideas I had never considered before. Thanks Bob.
Smells Like Teen Spirit – Nirvana
One of the few times I have been left speechless when watching a music video was when I first saw Smells Like Teen Spirit on the TV. I was amazed by the music, the images and the whole idea. This was nothing like the fancy, packaged pop or poodle rock that had been strangling the music industry for years. Kurt and the boys made it seem as though anything was possible. I don’t know quite why the song had such a positive effect on me but plenty of other people have said the same sort of thing to me over the years.