100 songs that changed history

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.'


Users say

39 comments
truthteller
truthteller

None of these songs "changed history" in any way, shape or form. Muscians don't actually do anything to change history, they just write and perform songs about what Other People have done. For example, #100. This guy didn't change history, the people who created MTV changed history--at least temporarily, until they discovered reality TV would cause people to watch for a longer period, than short music videos. Musicians are geniuses in their own showers.

Seanathan
Seanathan

For all the people complaining that a rap song is number, actually listen to the song. I bet that everyone saying that rap has no place on this list iOS saying so without hearing what Chuck D and public enemy had to say. That song was created when rap music actually had a message and a point. Listen to it or at least google the lyrics and you will see why it deserves to be number 1.

Dave
Dave

What about the song that trail blazed through out the world in 1991?

Toni
Toni

I can see one important omission: "What's Going On" by Marvin Gaye. This song probably galvanized the social angst about the Vietnam War, particularly in the black community.

Jason
Jason

Re: the James Brown. Great choice but the vid clip to go for is perhaps the one on YouTube 'I Can't Stand It (Finale)'. That's the one where he talks down a riot single-handed. It's incredible. Of course with JB the performance is always involved and perhaps things are not quite as they seem but still, it's truly incredible. Cheers for an interesting list

ART GUMSHOE
ART GUMSHOE

Peace,World Love is One World........... visit www.reverbnation.com/johnnybonkers

ALECS
ALECS

I do hope at least someone will read the whoel thing.. it means so much to me.. if if it's one month old The chart sounds a bit like this -music can be labeled as: good music, heart touching music, bad example music (somebody needs to make a fool of himself averynow and then and music seems to be the right environment), revolutionary music(triggers or embodies revolutions - not necessarily good music).. ..at the same time revolutionary music has more impact on the world than the rest of labels, while good music seems to be one of the least important things that actually change the world (more obvious if one looks at the end of the chart.... towards the beggining of the chart we have more complex songs that combine the initial labels into things like verygood music and captivating message etc. although towards the final three positions the kind of correctness and rigor that could be felt throughout becomes extrem and no 2 is chosen (i'm not saying is good or bad) due to helping raise 160 mil "quid" whilst number 1 is somehow what i have expected- a rap song- and i think it has to do with the fact that rap was born as (not anymore) social-political music and it holds an implicit message of rebellion or uprising. now, what i draw out of all this is the fact that when listening to music people feel different things and out of those feelings some are more likely than other to push people to the streets or unite people into action – the visible revolution! but i'm also wondering about the song that spread through out the world, that lives in everyone mind and heart and is invisible in it's direct effects - nothing to be televised about it... the song we all now about, the one that embodies the idea of song- our internal notion of what a song is.... i think it's jingle bells... no just joking, i don't know what it is, but to go back to my analysis, due to this rigour of thought and criteria through out the top i was left with the feeling that this top was purely informative... this was not a good moment to make a top 100...i think there was another one last week, and I think there are tv stations specialized in this … and why make a top like this, what;s the use of it ???????? (this my true question) i didn't participate and no one will ever acknowledge this because it's not normal to acknowledge something like this and i think it a very strange way to look at music.! not to mention that maybe, who knows what crazy thing happened in this century that was done by one men who got a crazy idea (invading polland) while listening to his favourite ...oh by the way, i completly agree to puting biber in the chart - as I was saying i think it's very important for someone to give a face to contemporary eveil and allow as to candidly dipise a certain category of people… to be able to look the enemy in the eye!..if you know what I mean…. Kisses , Actually I would give Biber no 1, for his personal sacrifice. You little shit!

Rodolpho
Rodolpho

sorry time out, this was so unprofessional . is very clear, that you really dont know what changed the history, who did this article? a 20 years old kid? or a 17 years old girl ? How in this world, Justin bieber, and others of the same type, how they can change the history? is a joke right? please tell me it is. because If you want to talk about facts, real facts, this list would be very different. number 1 changed history? even number 2.. not that much. Iam sure that a lot of others songs, did a bid difference and a big change in the history. chuck berry, mick jaegger, axl? where are they? even bee gees, ray charles, Elvis is not in top 10? the king of rock n roll, who created the rock how can he be at 30,20's,...?? you should do this article again, more accurate next time please

ART GUMSHOE
ART GUMSHOE

Number 101 A Call To All Loving Arms (Youtube)

Addy
Addy

yet again we get the cliched Elivis & his gyrations/rock'n'roll outraged the world and induced panic in the music business perspective : Charlie Parker and the be-boppers were causing moral concern 2 decades earlier when this style of jazz was seen as polluting young minds and was referred to as "devil's music" ( as were the songs of certain blues singers) well before the phrase was applied to R'nR and well before punks thought it was clever to wear Swastika t - shirts

Pauline
Pauline

I have to totally disagree with NUMBER ! but certainly NUMBER 2 changed the world - however its just a shame it did not change it permanently as we are still seeing the same poverty all over the world now!!!!!! I look forward to looking through all the other 98? Pauline

Jonny
Jonny

well i agree with most of the list, but you forgot a song that did make history and that's Livin' on a Prayer by Bon Jovi, that should of been in the top 70 at least

Mohamed
Mohamed

This list is beyond terrible...... I'm seriously offended, as a person with ears who's not tone deaf and is interested in the cultural history of things. Also, I was in Tahrir square the entire 18 days. Ramy Essam is a very nice guy and a very passionate singer, but by no means did his songs resonate across Egypt. They were important for one of the groups in the square (not even all of them). The song you specifically chose, is actually a combination of a few chants that we were all used to saying. These chants should be included in this list, and not the song. Ie, this song did not "drive" anything in the revolution, but was more of a transcription (one of many).

Mery
Mery

what the hell justin bieber is doing here?! and why even in 20 aren't ,,Zombie'' and ,,Wind of change'' ? ...

AmberB
AmberB

Bjork??? You must be joking

Sue Cole
Sue Cole

No Dylan in the top 20 - what utter tripel

Hema
Hema

This song has raised the enthusiasm of many people in tahrir square ... It is one of the sparks for the continuation of demanding the departure of regime

Muhammad
Muhammad

This song has raised the enthusiasm of many people in tahrir square ... It is one of the sparks for the continuation of demanding the departure of regime

Jon
Jon

I was alerted to this list by a friend ( I now live abroad and do not read Time Out anymore) There is a certain amount of arrogance implicit in the fact that these music journalists and panel of experts think that they can determine what goes into this kind of list and then invite the rest of us plebs to comment whilst at the same time stating that they stand by their choices - I've not actually heard of any of these people apart from the historians etc . . . TO journalists are not known beyond the sphere of London surely ? some of the comments suggest to me that we need to distinguish between music that changed the world, music that changed music and music that people like . . . Smells Like Teen Spirit is probably the favourite song of a lot of people and in itself it's very good but it did not change music & it did not change history likewise Woodstock : the event was historically significant to a small degree but the song did not change history nor musical history : it's not that good a piece of music out of it's particular nostalgic context

Matt
Matt

Don't know about "Tipper stickers" protecting "young, fragile minds" from Prince : have you heard Bessie Smith's Empty Bed Blues with it's references to "coffee grinders" & "deep sea divers" ? Never ceases to make me smile with it's outrageous innuendo - makes Prince look positively adolescent

terry
terry

I don't know who Michael Wood is but he clearly doesn't know that That's Alright Mama has absolutely nothing to do with Bo Diddley - it was written by Arthur Crudup

Jasper
Jasper

fully agree with this thread apart from " had", Chuck D still empowers ppl with his music and teachings and therefore he HAS.......

RobertWT
RobertWT

What about CSN&Y Teach Your Children Hendrix All Along the Watchtower?

Marc
Marc

GREENDAY IS NOT POP PUNK! And what about the people who's songs and styles changed music. Like WHERE THE HELL IS LES PAUL? This whole artical is crap. It's like a sixth grader who only used only the small knowledge of music they have wrote this, it sucks!

Heather
Heather

I called BS on this list the moment I saw Justin Bieber's name. When has he EVER changed the world? Never. That's when. He only convinced a large group of teenie-boppers to constantly spam the internet. This list is a complete joke.

Emily
Emily

I was honestly expecting Bohemian Rhapsody to be on here... how did Barney and friends get on here, but not that?

Camille
Camille

Bob is missing !!! WTF?

Thomas
Thomas

So let me get this straight. Justin Bieber, The Spice Girls, and Barney and Friends are on the list, but U2 isn't? Have you ever heard of Sunday Bloody Sunday? Where the Streets Have no Name? Walk On? Look up how these songs ACTUALLY changed the world.

Terry
Terry

I agree with the comment left by "Chris" on one of the other pages of comments : where on earth is Paul Robeson ? I was listening to Ole Man River just the other night and some of his other more overtly "political" songs and he deserves to be on the list if only because of the activist & musical risks he took in that whole Cold War period - he makes Lennon look like a lightweight poseur it saddens me that there is a whole generation who think Bieber is talented and who have never heard of, let alone heard, Robeson, Mario Lanza or Richard Tauber sing & who have never heard of, let alone heard, Fritz Kreisler play Chanson Hindoue on violin : the very definition of sadness

Olivier
Olivier

where are "where the streets have no name", "I still haven't found..." and "with or without you" of U2 ?

bill
bill

Not a fan.............but it was my impression that Elvis changed the way we all listen to music..........how on earth he like many of the GREATS has not even made the top ten. I can only assume that those that took part in the pool are tone death or teeny boppers.

Sharon
Sharon

Where is Smells Like Teen Spirit?

Hugh B
Hugh B

Great though this version is the original by Bob Marley is vastly superior and is based on a speech made by the Emperor Haile Selassie to the League of Nations in 1936.

Richard
Richard

not sure I would describe some of the contributors ( Katy B ? ) as "experts" - I still have the Vox booklets mentioned by "Terry" and they had some real heavyweight contributors to them, not here-today-gone-tomorrow-forgotten next-week types and I'm ambivalent about a music section that constantly refers to itself as "we" ! however, interesting reading none the less and plenty to debate . . . . . my personal choices would have included : Beach Boys God Only Knows (for it's production) Miles Davis Bitches Brew (boundary stretching) South Wales Striking Miners Stout Hearted Men on Test Dept's Shoulder To Shoulder ( captures the significant miner's strike perfectly) Moondog Stamping Ground (captures the mood of a personally significant year) I guess it's in the nature of these things that we could all come up with our own Top 100 so I'll leave it at those 3 !

Danny G
Danny G

Attributing the birth of the acid house scene to the boom in football's success as a business is more than a little tenuous T.O? Yes, it may have had an effect on reducing football violence, but there were thousands more catalysts that fired football's resurgence, Sky being the largest. And you can't blame Danny Rampling for spawning Three Lions either. I think the birth of acid/house music, and in particular the emergence of tracks such as 'Phuture' are responsible for much more. Most notably, it influenced a generation who adopted a certain attitude - by creating a movement that exemplified freedom of choice combined with a certain kinship. It laid the foundations that enabled a thousand dance sub-genres to proliferate. No taste is left undernourished - garage, dubstep, grime, trance, gabba, ambient, you name it - literally. It nurtured a change in approach to clubbing - dancing was at the heart and rarely was there a dress code, any code for that matter. It led to the emergence of the Superclub and Superstar DJ, the sought after producer with that magic touch that can turn an album filler into a floor-filler (Oakenfold/Orbit/Cooke). Clubbers became walking (or dancing) advocates for the brand and the sound. Dance festivals and street parties now stand alongside the traditional rock events and in most cases, infiltrate them with a dance tent or silent disco. Let's broaden our horizons a little and credit 'Phuture' for more than the Premier League.

Dave
Dave

Pretentious ? moi ?

Terry
Terry

As I recall Vox Magazine did something like this in the late 80s or early 90s in the form of 2 booklets issued with the magazine (although I think it included LPs as well as individual songs) ? Interesting list, pleased to see "classical" music get some acknowledgement but I don't see any jazz (specifically Coltrane's Love Supreme) nor blues (given the huge influence of some of it's exponents) but was very pleased to see Sam Cooke there along with some folk songs such as Woody Guthrie : so, good to see lots if items that would possibly have been overlooked by younger readers who think that a lot of the "45 second attention span music" as I call it has any lasting influence the song on this list that has the most resonance for me is God Save The Queen, purely because I saw them on Xmas Day 1977 at Huddersfield Ivanhoes : their last UK gig if I could choose one song to add to the list it would be Robert Wyatt Shipbuilding (can't see it there & apologies if it is & I've missed it)