100 songs that changed history

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Time Out explores the music that changed the course of world events

  • 60

    ‘Razom Nas Bahato’ – GreenJolly

    Chosen by Matthew Collin, journalist and author of ‘This is Serbia Calling’ and ‘Altered State’

    Matthew says: ‘In the early 1990s, a wave of democratic revolutions swept across eastern Europe again, but this time, savvy young activists were using the power of rock music to fuel movements aimed at overthrowing repressive governments. “Razom Nas Bahato” (“Together We are Many!”) was a rudimentary hip-hop stomp that became the theme tune of Ukraine’s Orange Revolution in 2004 – a piece of shouty propaganda that helped keep demonstrators dancing on the streets day and night amid subzero temperatures in the snowbound capital Kiev until they managed to overturn the results of faked elections.’

  • 59

    ‘American Skin (41 Shots)’ – Bruce Springsteen (2000)

    Previewed live in Atlanta in June 2000, this then-unreleased song makes specific and powerfully direct reference to the killing by four NYPD officers of an unarmed 23-year-old Guinean immigrant, Amadou Diallo, in 1999. The performance prefaced Springsteen’s ten-date run in Madison Square Garden, and before even hearing it, the head of the NYC Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association called on the city’s 27,000 cops to boycott the shows by refusing to work as security guards. NYC Police Commissioner Howard Safir supported the boycott, while Mayor Giuliani complained that ‘there are still people trying to create the impression that the police officers are guilty.’ Of course, Springsteen added the song to his MSG set.

  • 58
    Igor Stravinsky Igor Stravinsky - (C) Getty Images

    ‘The Rite of Spring’ – Igor Stravinsky (1913)

    Stravinsky wrote this piece of music for a ballet he helped compose with producer Sergei Diaghilev at the turn of the twentieth century. When it was premiered on May 29 1913 in Paris, it prompted one of the most famous classical music riots in history. The choreography was violent and the music complex – something that was vastly different to the elegance audiences were used to in ballets at the time. Members of the crowd began heckling, which caused fights between them and the fans and led to rioting in the aisles. It’s difficult to imagine that a piece of music can cause such distress, but something similar happened in 1973 during Steve Reich’s performance of ‘Four Organs’ at Carnegie Hall in New York, which caused such despair that one woman repeatedly banged her head on the stage requesting they stop.

  • 57

    ‘Stand Down Margaret’ – The Beat (1980)

    Of the seemingly endless reasons to find Margaret Thatcher loathsome, her decision to quote St. Francis of Assisi on the morning of her election in 1979 stands out. Handed the quote by her speechwriter in the early hours of the morning, she parroted 'The Prayer of St. Francis' outside Number Ten, pledging 'where there is discord, let us bring harmony'. Almost a year to the day later, Birmingham 2-Toners The Beat were the first band to call her out. They saw 'no chance of your bright new tomorrow' and knew 'love and unity' were 'the only way'. In doing so, The Beat blazed a trail for a generation of musicians who would all try and put dents in the Iron Lady.

  • 56

    ‘Glad To Be Gay’ – The Tom Robinson Band (1978)

    Eschewing camp, fabulousness and torch-song lament in favour of sheer, unadulterated bile, this singular gay anthem is an angry reflection of late '70s homophobia, shot through the prism of punk. Save for the rousing chorus, everything it depicts is murky and rotten – evoked perfectly by the downbeat, Kinks-ish melody. The police raid gay pubs for no reason. ‘Gay News’ gets prosecuted for obscenity while ‘Playboy’ and ‘The Sun’ don't. The papers are free to call gay men child molesters. As attitudes changed, Robinson adapted the song over time to address Aids and his own developing sexuality. But the chorus thankfully never changed.

  • 55
    The Byzantine Cross The Byzantine Cross - (C) Getty Images

    ‘The Byzantine Acclamation’ – Traditional (fifth century)

    Chosen by Bettany Hughes, research fellow at King’s College London, fellow Of the Historical Association, New York Times bestselling author and TV/radio broadcaster

    Bettany says: ‘Back in fifth century Byzantium – known as Istanbul today – you had the first combination of church and state. And in order for the crowning ceremony of the emperor and empress to be considered complete, there had to be this sung acclamation from all the Byzantine priests, which effectively said: “God has given you the right to have power over us.” It changed history because it was the first attempt by a monarch to claim that they had a divine right to rule. And for the next fifteen hundred years, virtually every other ruler followed suit. If you think about world history, it’s been the way it has because it was ruled by monarchs who said they had the right to rule because God gave it to them.’

  • 54

    ‘Under My Thumb’ – The Rolling Stones (1969)

    Mick Jagger had boasted that 1969's Altamont Free Concert would 'set an example to America as to how one can behave in large gatherings'. Fat chance. Altamont was the violent and chaotic inverse of Woodstock. On one hand, a low stage meant Hells Angels were paid in beer to sit and guard it all day. On the other, a flood of LSD and amphetamines passed among the 300,000-strong crowd, making them increasingly restless and aggressive. The two came together in the worst way when, during 'Under My Thumb', 18-year-old Meredith Hunter, high on methamphetamine, violently tried to rush the stage brandishing a gun, only to be met by Hells Angel Alan Passaro and his knife. Hunter died on the scene, and with him, history added a full stop to the hippie dream.

  • 53
    Napoleon Napoleon - (C) Getty Images

    ‘Bonny Bunch of Roses’ – Traditional (1815)

    History, they say, is written by the victors. But sometimes cultural fossils of Darwinism’s losers remain. Although the Battle Of Waterloo is generally considered to be a great British military victory, ‘Bonny Bunch of Roses’ suggests the news may not have been universally well-received in this country at the time. Indeed, this was just one of several subtly coded (‘bonny’ being a nickname for Bonaparte) pro-Napoleonic folk standards. It suggests that, as the nation’s political and military leaders were uniformly drawn from the ruling classes, many of the poor viewed Napoleon as a liberator who would free them from the misery of aristocratic oppression. Oh well.

  • 52
    Eugene McDaniels Eugene McDaniels - (C) Getty Images

    ‘Headless Heroes’ – Eugene McDaniels (1971)

    Although little known outside funk-nerd circles these days, in his ’60s pomp, righteously indignant psychedelic soul-jazz singer McDaniels had the ear of some very important people. One of these was Richard Nixon’s notoriously truculent Vice President, Spiro Agnew, who was so incensed by the overtly political lyrics of McDaniels’s second album, 'Headless Heroes of the Apocalypse', that he personally called the board of Atlantic records to demand it be withdrawn from sale. It was. McDaniels never released another record.

  • 51
    Kino Kino

    ‘Peremen!’ – Kino

    Chosen by Matthew Collin, journalist and author of ‘This is Serbia Calling’ and ‘Altered State’

    Matthew says: ‘Leningrad rocker Viktor Tsoi and his band Kino brought dissident spirit and lyrical invention to Soviet pop in the pre-glasnost era. Tsoi, who died in a car crash in 1990 at the age of 28, was an anti-establishment icon in a time and place where it was genuinely risky to be one. His song “Peremen!” (“Changes!”) was a post-punk anthem for disaffected Soviet youth that continues to have an impact long after his death: this year it was banned by the dictatorship in Belarus after being played regularly by pro-democracy protesters.’


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