100 songs that changed history: how we did it



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Music editor Eddy Lawrence explains the thinking behind the list

The criteria for inclusion on the list were simple – either the song itself or the playing thereof at a crucial moment must have had an impact on real-world events, political, social or cultural. 

We assembled a panel of historians, musicians, critics and industry honchos  to tell us their favoured candidates. They were allowed to nominate up to three songs which they felt had made the biggest impact on the world. The votes were then tallied with the Time Out's team own recommendations and put in a semblance of order. In the event of a tie for any position – which was surprisingly often – we argued the case for each song's historical merits, revised the list and applied Savlon.

The vast majority of the tracks represented are pop, folk or traditional standards. However, we have stretched the definition of 'song' where a strong argument was made for a particular movement of a classical piece or even a national anthem. And, thanks to cheeky rule-bending historian Dan Snow, there's even a poem – which we did think of trying to bill as an early progenitor of rap, but we didn't think we'd get away with it.

The final list is by no means definitive, and we're interested to hear what you think of it, especially if there are any glaring omissions you think should be addressed. Tell us what you think in the comments below.

The Panel

  • Brett Anderson

    Suede frontman.

  • Faris Badwan

    The Horrors' frontman.

  • Matthew Collin

    Journalist and author of ‘This is Serbia Calling’ and ‘Altered State’.

  • Dan Cruickshank

    Art historian, honorary fellow of the Royal Institution of British Artists, author and TV/radio broadcaster. ‘The Country House Revealed’ is published by BBC Books at £25 and ‘The Secret History of Georgian London: How the Wages of Sin Shaped the Capital’, is published by Random House at £20.

  • Sam Duckworth

    Aka Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly.

  • Emmy the Great

  • Everything Everything

  • Harvey Goldsmith

    Concert promoter.

  • Bettany Hughes

    Research fellow at King’s College London, fellow Of the Historical Association, New York Times bestselling author and TV/radio broadcaster. ‘The Hemlock Cup: Socrates, Athens And The Search For The Good Life’, is published in paperback by Vintage at £9.99. For more details visit www.bettanyhughes.co.uk.

  • Juanita Stein

    Member of Howling Bells.

  • Katy B

  • James Morrison

  • Dan Snow

    Author, TV and radio broadcaster. Co-presented National Treasures Live on BBC ONE.

  • Jeremy Warmsley and Elizabeth Sankey

    Members of Summer Camp

  • Hayden Thorpe

    Member of Wild Beasts

Users say

Maria from Argentina
Maria from Argentina

I found your work very interesting, even if it obviously an English speaking/North of the World centered selection. With a few exceptions like the Marselleise, the list sounds as if English was the only language able to change history. With the exception of the Egiptian Spring song Ihral, it looks as if the South of the Planet has no history at all. Spain and Latin America should compile their own 100 songs, absent here.


I'm surprised that Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody isn't on the list, given that it is widely recognised to have launched the video as the primary marketing tool for a song. (As well as the fact that it was a ground-breaking song to top the charts for so long given its length and complexity, and Queen's general impact on live rock perfomance.)


Sam Duckworth, don't write about something your clueless about, the statement 'it was the first dub reggae' is clearly not true, ever heard of King Tubby or Lee 'Scratch' Perry? do your research properly!


Sam Duckworth, don't write about something your clueless about, the statement 'it was the first dub reggae' is clearly not true, ever heard of King Tubby or Lee 'Scratch' Perry? do your research properly!


I was surprised to see that Christina Aguilera's 2002/3 hit Beautiful was not on the list. I think that the song should have placed somewhere in the top 50. It's a song that everyone can connect with as its lyrics address everyone in some way. Surely it has some impact on this list.