100 songs that changed history

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

  • 100

    ‘Video Killed the Radio Star’ – Buggles (1979)

    Future super-producer Trevor Horn spent his prime as a jobbing sessions man and part of the house band at the Hammersmith Palais. He was 30 years old (which is like 99 in pop years) when he donned a pair of giant specs and wrote his Delphian masterpiece about how the rise of the pop video would spell doom for the less photogenic performer. It was, fittingly, the first video aired on the then new-fangled cable channel MTV, thereby fulfilling its own prophecy. Ironically, Horn had precisely the sort of radio-friendly look that would soon be edged out by the Milli Vanillis and New Kids On The Blocks of the new pop era. Although his colossal glasses would, these days, give him a chance at a comeback with a Shoreditch electropop outfit.

  • 99
    Miss Toni Fisher - The Big Hurt Miss Toni Fisher - The Big Hurt

    ‘The Big Hurt’ – Miss Toni Fisher (1959)

    Chosen by The Horrors' Faris Badwan

    Faris says: 'In 1959, Wayne Shanklin put out the first release on Signet Records, which was by his wife, Toni Fisher. "The Big Hurt" was recorded at Gold Star Studios (where Phil Spector developed his Wall of Sound technique) and was the first record to feature phasing. The record had been cut in mono with the vocals too low in the mix. To get around this the engineer made two tapes of the master and transferred them simultaneously onto a third recorder while altering the frequencies in an attempt to boost the vocal. As the two tracks were slightly out of sync, an accidental phasing effect was created, adding a swirling, ethereal twist to what had otherwise been a fairly ordinary pop track.'

  • 98

    ‘We Don't Have to Take Our Clothes Off’ – Jermaine Stewart (1986)

    First released in 1986, this soul-heavy, R&B/pop number, written by Narada Michael Walden and Preston Glass – was Stewart’s biggest hit and detailed a need for modesty and reservation, especially in a time when Aids was rife – a disease that Stewart suffered with and later died from in 1997. 'We Don’t Have to…' was the first pop song to raise awareness on the Aids issue and to present, Stewart noted in a TV interview in 1988 with US presenter Donnie Simpson, the realisation that there’s no need to drink and drive or take drugs.

  • 97
    Brian Eno Brian Eno - © Getty Images

    ‘1 /1’ – Brian Eno (1978)

    Chosen by Brett Anderson

    Brett says: ‘This single is from ‘Music for Airports’, the album that might not have invented ambient music (John Cage and even Erik Satie might have something to say about that), but one that definitely popularised it. Hugely influential across dance, rock, techno and indie... and even more fascinating to think that it was made at the same time as the punk maelstrom was happening. If I had to listen to just one piece of music for the rest of my life, it would be this.’

  • 96
    Pay As U Go Cartel Pay As U Go Cartel

    ‘Know We’ – Pay As U Go Cartel (2001)

    Chosen by Katy B

    Katy says: ‘This is the first song that took garage into grime. It made garage more of an MC-based genre. It completely changed the game. Before that, garage was all about champagne in the club, with lots of girls. Then after this, it turned into more of a vocal-led thing. It wasn’t a chart thing; it was more of an underground thing. Pay As U Go also had “Champagne Dance”, which did chart, but this was the one that started grime. It was a raw, real tune.’

  • 95

    ‘Things Can Only Get Better’ – D:Ream (1997)

    Never before and never since D:Ream’s ‘Things Can Only Get Better’ has one song launched the career of both a particle physicist and a former British Prime Minister. When frontman Peter Cunnah started out his dance-pop outfit in 1992, he had no idea that his part-time keys man, Brian Cox, who was studying for his physics PhD at the time, would become more of a household name than D:Ream, and that a year later he would pen a track that Tony Blair, Britain’s youngest prime minister in nearly two centuries, would utilise in his 1997 general election campaign. This was the song’s third release, and it didn’t get to number one again like it did after its re-release in 1993, but it did help send New Labour straight to victory and will forever be associated with that.

  • 94

    ‘Hip Hop’ – Dead Prez (1999)

    Chosen by Sam Duckworth, aka Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly.

    Sam says: 'There’s a real history of politics and hip hop going back to Gil Scott-Heron and Grandmaster Flash, but when this song came out, hip hop had lost its way big time. There was a lot of posturing, and this song was critical of that. There’s the lyric: “You would rather have a Lexus, some justice, a dream or some substance? /A beamer, a necklace or freedom?” This song woke people up. It tipped its hat to Public Enemy and Grandmaster Flash, and it re-established hip hop as being the language of the streets. You can’t go to a hip hop club or festival or a student dorm without hearing this tune. It’s very raw, and I think it inspired people to realise there’s more than cars and guns and money. That song ended up in mainstream media - it was the theme tune to “Chappelle’s Show”, which was one of the biggest shows in America at the time - and it re-engaged the political aspect of hip hop more than any song of the modern era has done.'

  • 93

    ‘San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)’ – Scott McKenzie (1967)

    Chosen by Howling Bells' Juanita Stein

    Juanita says: ‘This is one of those songs you intuitively equate with a profound sense of change and nostalgia. Perhaps it has to do with all those films, like “Forrest Gump”, playing it during scenes of great turmoil and upheaval throughout the ’60s. Written by John Phillips of The Mamas & Pappas for John McKenzie, it heralded something epic, and it played a crucial part in seeing the “mass exodus”, as such, of thousands of lost and desperate hippies to San Francisco to be united in their vision for peace and harmony. So potent was its message that across Central Europe, it apparently became an anthem for freedom.’

  • 92

    ‘Ceremony’ – New Order (1981)

    Chosen by Summer Camp's Jeremy Warmsley and Elizabeth Sankey

    Jeremy and Elizabeth say: 'After the death of Ian Curtis it would have been understandable for the remaining members of Joy Division to give up, or try to carry on without their singer. They locked themselves away in Manchester and set about finding a new sound, each taking turns on vocals before Bernard Sumner settled into the role. When 'Ceremony', which featured Curtis's lyrics, was released in 1981, it bridged the gap between what Joy Division had been and what New Order would become. It marked a new era for both the city and the band, ushering in the birth of rave, The Haçienda, and a triumphant career for a band who had once lost everything.'

  • 91
    John Lennon John Lennon - © T Redfern

    ‘God’ – John Lennon (1970)

    Chosen by Emmy the Great

    Emmy says: 'I consider 'God' John Lennon's freedom manifesto. He and Yoko had already performed the 1969 bed-in by the time it was released, and he'd already provided the anti-Vietnam War protestors with an anthem in 'Give Peace a Chance', but to me the lyrics “I don't believe in Beatles/ I just believe in me/ Yoko and me...I was the walrus/ But now I'm John” are the symbolic beginning of John Lennon the icon. After this he would move to New York, record “Imagine”, and, with Yoko, push the boundaries of art and protest. He'd become such a professional agitator that the US government would actively try to deport him from their country. The Beatles defined an era. This song encapsulates Lennon's decision to step away from his past and focus on his life with Yoko Ono, after which he defined another era in his own right.'