100 songs that changed history

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

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    Daniel Auber Daniel Auber - (C) Getty Images

    ‘Amour Sacré de la Patrie’ – Daniel Auber (1828)

    So much for music soothing the savage breast. This duet – from the patriotic grand opera ‘La Muette de Portici’ – was the catalyst for the Belgian Revolution. It was seen as an alternative ‘La Marseillaise’ at the time, one of growing unrest due to King William I’s despotic rule. After the opera’s performance on August 25 1830, theatre-goers leaving Brussels’ La Monnaie poured into the streets, where riots had erupted and the crowds were looting shops, chanting political slogans and occupying government buildings. Insurrection spread throughout Belgium and the Ten-Day Campaign of 1831 – in which the Dutch army tried to regain control – failed. An independent Belgian state was eventually declared in 1839.

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    Bikini Kill Bikini Kill

    ‘Rebel Girl’ – Bikini Kill (1993)

    Chosen by Emmy the Great

    Emmy says: 'Riot Grrrl was a DIY youth movement associated with third-wave feminism. It transported ideas with the speed of sound, laying valuable foundations not only for the female musicians that followed, but also for any young woman interested in culture or identity. It helped create a generation of confident, politically engaged young women who would fully incorporate humour, sass and fun into that engagement. At the centre of the Riot Grrrl movement was Bikini Kill, led by Kathleen Hanna, and their iconic song was “Rebel Girl”, which opened with, "That girl thinks she's the queen of this neighbourhood… she is!" I owe the cool women of Riot Grrrl more than I even know.'

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    ‘Star Spangled Banner’ – Jimi Hendrix (Live at Woodstock 1969)

    Chosen by James Morrison

    James says: ‘This was a phenomenal two fingers to American political society on behalf of a new generation who wanted out of Vietnam and so much more. Hendrix ripped the heart out of the American dream, and then set fire to his instrument of torture. Pure rock magic and history in the making.’

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    Judas Priest Judas Priest - (C) Redferns

    ‘Better By You Better Than Me’ – Judas Priest (1978)

    It’s a pretty unremarkable song, a sped up, rock-riffed cover of Spooky Tooth’s 1969 tune, but in 1985 the Judas Priest version hit the headlines after a supposed subliminal message encouraged the inebriated, troubled 19-year-old Ray Belknap and 20-year-old James Vance to form a suicide pact in a churchyard in Nevada. Belknap died instantly, but Vance survived the shotgun wound to the face. He was severely disfigured. Incredibly, months later, Vance and his God-fearing parents filed a suit against Judas Priest claiming that when ‘Better By You Better Than Me’ is played backwards the message ‘do it’ is discernable, and this was the sole reason for the tragedy. It was eventually thrown out of court, but not before Judas Priest were hauled onto the stand to testify. Lead singer Rob Halford noted that if they were to insert any kind of message, it would probably be ‘buy more of our records’. Well put. It wasn’t the first time rock music has been blamed for senseless violence, and sadly it has not been the last.

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    Televizor Televizor

    ‘Byiyti Iz-Podd Kontrolya’ – Televizor (1986)

    Despite what Bono may tell you, rock’s heyday as a revolutionary force in the West has been all but exhausted. In regions with rather more censorious attitudes to freedom of expression, however, it can still be a genuinely dangerous occupation. As Kirby Lee of Chinese rap outfit Dragon Tongue Squad tells us, ‘You have to be careful how you say things, or the Chinese government will get your ass back.’ Televizor’s prog-toned blues-rock may not be considered revolutionary by your average Jethro Tull fan, but their lyrical content is distilled dissidence, voicing discontent with Russia’s Communist regime. The band’s shows provide a meeting point for like-minded antiestablishmentarians. They’re hardly a relic of the Cold War, either – Televizor’s recent anti-Putin anthems saw a 1,500-capacity concert being observed by 3,000 police.

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    Cecil Sharp Cecil Sharp

    ‘The Seeds Of Love’ – Traditional (1903)

    Chosen by Rob Young, former editor of ‘The Wire’ magazine and contributor to ‘Uncut’, ‘Sight And Sound’, ‘Frieze’ and ‘Art Review’

    Rob says: ‘This song started off the idea of professionally collecting music. No one knows exactly when it dates from – it may have been written in the late 1600s – but it was sung on one morning in 1903 in the Somerset village of Hambridge by a gardener called John England. Cecil Sharpe happened to be wandering past, heard John England singing this song, and it sparked off some sort of reverence in Sharpe. It made him take out a notebook and write down the words this guy was singing. That day he wrote a piano accompaniment, and it was performed that night at the vicarage in the local village by a local woman. That was the first time Cecil Sharpe had been inspired to collect a song, which then became his career.’

    He then started collecting folk songs – mainly in the south of England, but later went to America to find the ones which had been preserved and taken across the Atlantic. Sharpe wasn’t the first collector of folk songs but up until then it had largely been an amateur pursuit, more a kind of hobby like collecting antiques. He was the first one to see it as an opportunity to publish books of these songs. He pushed to have folk music taught in schools across the country, and a lot of folk singers like Shirley Collins and Martin Carthy do remember having to stand up and sing songs in the class room during the 1940s, so it did have an effect. And all because that song was sung at that particular time. It really was a defining moment.’

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    ‘Universal Soldier’ – Buffy Sainte-Marie (1964)

    A new frontier in the war between musicians and The Man emerged with the release of 'Universal Soldier' in 1964. A Canadian Cree who frequently sang about the injustices meted out to Native Americans, Sainte-Marie wrote a coffee house protest song which appeared to have been sabotaged by the very top of the US government. Though her records were being shipped in the US, a scarce few made it to shops or radio stations. Years later, she claims to have discovered letters from Lyndon Johnson's White House thanking TV networks, radio stations and distributors for suppressing and censoring what was seen as dangerously radical material. As a further insult, Donovan (at the time, a tepid and slightly desperate Dylan clone) covered 'Universal Soldier' without any hitch whatsoever. The Kennedy era of optimism and liberalism was over.

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    William Blake William Blake - (C) Getty Images

    ‘Jerusalem’ – Sir Hubert Parry/William Blake (1916/1804)

    If any song can be said to have crystallised our intensely patriotic, deeply romanticised notion of Englishness, it’s ‘Jerusalem’. First called ‘And Did Those Feet in Ancient Time’, it was changed around the time it was performed the Suffrage Demonstration Concert at Queens Hall in March 1918. After the concert, suffragette Millicent Garrett Fawcett asked Parry if he’d allow it to be used as the Women Voters’ Hymn, and he agreed, assigning copyright to the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies, who took it up as their anthem. Later that same year, parliament passed the Representation of the People Act, granting women the vote.

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    ‘Rapper’s Delight’ – Sugarhill Gang (1979)

    The American Civil Rights movement might have achieved their successes in the late ‘60s, but in the late ‘70s, African American culture was still far from widespread popular acceptance. Until ‘Rapper’s Delight’, that is. Whilst The Fatback Band’s ‘King Tim III (Personality Jock)’ and Blondie’s ‘Rapture’ lay claim to be some of the earliest recorded examples of hip hop, the Sugarhill Gang brought the genre its first mainstream chart success. Recorded in the days before sampling became hip hop’s lingua franca, its lifting of the bassline from Chic’s ‘Good Times’ had to be recorded as a 15-minute, faultless performance. From then on, b-boys were breaking on lino from Bangor to Bombay.

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    ‘Panama’ – Van Halen (1984)

    Considering the shaggy-haired frontman David Lee Roth admitted that ‘Panama’ was written about a car, it’s surprising that it has become synonymous with the Panamanian military dictator Manuel Noriega. In 1989, five years after the song’s release, the US army went about ‘Operation Just Cause’ to depose Noriega, during which they invaded Panama and blasted a barrage of abrasive music at Noriega’s hideout in the Vatican embassy. ‘Panama’ was among the songs they repeatedly played until Noriega finally surrendered.


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