The Best Songs That Changed The World Forever

Happy Birthday, Stevie Wonder

We all know that there’s a national holiday commemorating the great Martin Luther King Jr. But do you actually know the sequence of events that led to Ronald Reagan signing the legislation in 1983?

The lobby of influential figures was a key factor. One of them was Stevie Wonder, and his tool was the song named _Happy Birthday_. The single definitely helped to make the cause known.

We Are The World, U.S.

Yes, Bob Dylan’s awkward performance during a rehearsal of _We Are The World_ has become a hilarious meme-worthy moment, but that shouldn’t overshadow the fact that this song was probably the most significant collaboration in music’s history.

The song was written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie, and the guest appearances ranged from Bruce Springsteen to Stevie Wonder. The goal was to raise funds for famine victims in Ethiopia, and they gathered around $64 million. Now that’s how you change the world!

Hey Ya!, OutKast

With the huge success of Donald Glover’s series _Atlanta_, and the constant stars coming from the thriving rap scene of that city, young music fans may be led to think that the country’s South Coast was always a dominant force in the pop and hip hop fields.

However, the old days saw a strong confrontation between the West and East Coast, which was the case until OutKast broke through. The charismatic duo from Atlanta helped to propel the South side’s rap scene into the mainstream, with worldwide hits like _Hey Ya!_

Smells Like Teen Spirit, Nirvana

Can a mere amount of four chords change the whole world? Well, that was certainly the case with Nirvana’s _Smells Like Teen Spirit_. This single became so popular that the whole world discovered what grunge music was, turning it into a gigantic counterculture movement.

But it wasn’t only that; the song (and the rest of the album, _Nevermind_), turned Kurt Cobain into a Generation X icon. Though he wasn’t comfortable with the “voice of a generation” tag, the band symbolized teenagers' strong stance against chauvinism and homophobia in rock.

Sunday Bloody Sunday, U2

Just look at the picture for a couple of seconds, and the song’s power will be crystal-clear. If you still haven’t had the chance to attend a U2 concert, the fans’ frenzied expressions and raised fists in this photograph might let you imagine what a significant experience it is.

_Sunday Bloody Sunday_ is regarded as one of the band’s most political tunes. The lyrics refer to a tragic incident in Northern Ireland in 1972 when 13 citizens were killed by British troops at a protest. The song went to represent a pledge for peace.

Concrete Jungle, Bob Marley & The Wailers

It was given that Bob Marley would soon appear on this list. This young Jamaican man became the most notorious icon of reggae. He was known for cleverly combining strong messages against social and political injustices with sweet and catchy melodies.

His album with The Wailers called _Catch A Fire_, released in 1973, was the one that attracted global attention to the genre. In the opening song _Concrete Jungle_, Bob reminisces over his childhood in Jamaica, describing the harsh reality of urban life.

Revolution, The Beatles

_Revolution_ was released in the tumultuous year of 1968\. The heated protests against the Vietnam War were transforming into a massive movement in America, and students were occupying the streets and protesting against the establishment in Paris, Prague, and Mexico City.

Therefore, John Lennon thought it was about time that The Beatles took a public stance regarding the war. In the lyrics, he agrees with the urgent need for change while also manifesting his doubts with some of the tactics, thus affirming the band’s pacifist ethos.

For What It’s Worth, Buffalo Springfield

The band Buffalo Springfield was only active for three years. Despite that, they were highly influential, and some of its members went on to have remarkable careers. However, if there’s one song they’re known for, it’s definitely _For What It’s Worth._

In 1966, Stills arrived at a show on Hollywood’s Sunset Strip, when he encountered hundreds of kids protesting against the club's closing and a new curfew. Stills was left deeply impressed with the intimidating image of the policemen, and he depicted the situation in this legendary song.

Free Nelson Mandela, The Specials

_Free Nelson Mandela_ is the clearest example of how music can shed light on some of the most complex and deeply rooted injustices. With their 1984 single, The Specials’ aim was exactly what the song title announces.

The British band desperately wanted the whole world to be alerted of the atrocities of the _Apartheid,_ and the song certainly cooperated in starting a powerful international movement against the racial injustices which were taking place in South Africa.

Times They Are A-Changin, Bob Dylan

Releasing a song later covered by legends of the size of Nina Simone and Bruce Springsteen is already an outstanding feat. But the main reason that makes Bob Dylan proud of having written this song is probably that it has remained an anthem for change for every generation.

Sometimes called the archetypical protest song, it turned out to be a huge hit, reaching the British top ten in no time. _“This was definitely a song with a purpose(…). I wanted to write a big song, with short, concise verses that piled up on each other in a hypnotic way.”_ Bob Dylan told _Rolling Stone_.

Get Up Stand Up, Bob Marley.

Influencing rock and roll, hip hop, and numerous civil rights movements, Bob Marley proved that music could be a crucial world-changing motor on each of his albums. It’s no surprise that everyone loves reggae’s most famous legend, and this song is one of his best.

_Get Up Stand Up_ was written with Peter Tosh, and the main idea was to motivate listeners to avoid oppression actively. Marley and Tosh had to fight for respect for their Rastafarian religion, and their struggle obviously motivated the creation of this epic anthem.

Same Love, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis Ft. Mary Lambert

Most people know the Seattle rapper duo Macklemore & Ryan Lewis for their biggest hits, like _Thrift Shop_ and _Can’t Hold Us_. While those were the most catchy tunes from their debut album, there’s an admirable song that is sadly generally overlooked.

This song is _Same Love_, which was written to support gay marriage. The chorus is sung by Mary Lambert, who was raised in a Christian home, sometimes feeling guilty because of her homosexuality. Same Love was luckily a huge success!

God Save The Queen, Sex Pistols

The Sex Pistols may have released only one album, but that didn’t stop them from leaving a huge mark on punk music. _God Save The Queen_ was probably their most iconic single. Written by John Lydon, the title was the same as the national anthem of Great Britain.

This was obviously intended to mock the royalty since the lyrics call for rebellion against the British Monarchy as a response to the youth’s alienated situation at the time.

Imagine, John Lennon

Remarkably, John Lennon was able to write an anthem that would turn out to be even more popular than any Beatles’ hit. Indeed, after the cherished band split up, its members continued to show their impressive creative prowess in their solo careers.

_Imagine_ is probably John Lennon’s most recognized track, and it was released on his second album in 1971\. On the famous lyrics, Lennon attempts to encourage the world to imagine a peaceful world, where possessions aren’t as important as they are.

9 To 5, Dolly Parton

Dolly Parton wrote _9 To 5_ for the movie of the same name. The film basically showed how life in an office was in America at the time, where the typical workday was from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. However, both the song and the movie had a significant message too…

Indeed, both the song and the film were intended to express gender inequality in the labor market. Dolly had already gained a huge following in the male-dominated country audience, so the fact that she took advantage of her popularity to protest against unequal pay is something we should give her credit for.

Strange Fruit, Billie Holiday

This song is one of the most touching manifestations against racism in the American south. After releasing it in 1939 with Commodore Records, Billie Holiday generally closed her concerts with a powerful rendition of _Strange Fruit._

But the author was actually Abel Meeropol, a Jewish schoolteacher from New York. After seeing a horrible picture of a lynching in a civil rights magazine, he decided to express his outrage in a beautiful poem, and later transformed it into a song.

War, Edwin Starr

Edwin Starr’s _War_ was not only a huge success in the charts but also one of the most moving protest songs against the Vietnam War. With eloquently stark lyrics, Starr made an anti-war statement by criticizing the government’s foreign policy.

However, the song was actually written by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong, the crucial hitmakers of the legendary Motown label. Some of the label's artists at the time had already started putting out songs with social commentary on them, and these were usually written by Whitfield.

I Wanna Hold Your Hand, The Beatles

Conquering the U.S. has always been a big deal for British bands, for it represents an impressive accomplishment that may catapult a band into international stardom. The song that finally got the job done for The Beatles was _I Wanna Hold Your Hand_.

Not only did the American audience finally catch up with the Beatlemania, but it also brought British rock and roll to the forefront of music, inaugurating a whole new era in the ’60s. The band actually went to the U.S. for the first time a week after the single topped the charts.

A Change Is Gonna Come, Sam Cooke.

Though most of Sam Cooke’s repertoire consisted of emotive ballads at the time, he was determined to create a stirring protest song to support the civil rights movement that fought against discrimination towards African-Americans. The result was the brilliant _A Change Is Gonna Come_.

He was actually inspired by Bob Dylan’s _Blowin’ In The Wind_. Some of the lyrics from Cooke’s song were inspired by an incident that occurred to him in a motel when he was arrested for “disturbing the peace” after being denied a room for being black.

Thunderstruck, AC/DC

When AC/DC’s Young brothers wrote _Thunderstruck,_ they created a vigorous track that made history. But this song doesn’t only have the capacity to alter its surroundings during a concert, but also during cancer treatment!

Indeed, Australian scientists made a stunning discovery when they played Thunderstruck while preparing the drug used in chemotherapy. The particles coated in plasma, which attack cancerous cells, started to bounce around and secure a more even coating of plasma when AC/DC was coming out of the speakers at full volume.

Fight The Power, Public Enemy

Public Enemy was definitely one of hip hop’s most revolutionary groups, and _Fight The Power_ is their most well-known song. This is an anthem that not only embodies black pride but also created controversy by taking shots at different white icons like Elvis.

Moreover, the track first appeared in Spike Lee’s 1989 film _Do The Right Thing_, which portrayed racial tensions in a big city. _“I wanted this song to be an anthem that could express what young black America was feeling at this time”_ director Spike Lee explained.

Alright, Kendrick Lamar

_Alright_ had already gained notoriety when released on Kendrick Lamar’s album _To Pimp A Butterfly_. This LP analyzes the complex racial conflicts in America, at a time where police violence against African-Americans was in the spotlight.

_Alright_ made history when the crowds spontaneously started to chant the hopeful lines from the chorus at the Black Lives Matter marches. Undoubtedly, it has become a symbol of the 21st century's Civil Rights Movement.

Do They Know It’s Christmas?, Band Aid

When Irish rock musician Bob Geldof (Boomtown Rats) saw a TV news report about the millions of people from Ethiopia that were going through a famine in 1984, he decided to write with Midge Ure (Ultravox) a song on this theme.

The song “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” was sung by 30 British pop stars, releasing it before November ended, just in time for Christmas. The song revealed the contrast between the “first” and the “third world,” raising over $3 million for Ethiopia.

Looking for Freedom, David Hasselhoff

Although David Hasselhoff reminds us of Baywatch, one of his most popular songs is Looking for Freedom. He performed the song on New Year's Eve 1989, in front of many pro-German reunification activists at the Berlin Wall, who sang along in unison.

This song will forever be remembered as the soundtrack accompanying the last weeks of the Berlin Wall. The song has seen many covers from different bands around the world. It was even featured in a Top Gear episode and an ad for a Knicks vs. Mavericks game!

Black or White, Michael Jackson

Another hit from Michael Jackson was the one in his 1991 song, a plea for racial tolerance. The video is iconic, as it featured the King of Pop dancing with Zulu warriors, and there’s also Macaulay Culkin shredding on the guitar!

What made history was also the morphing technique used in the video. Michael Jackson’s Black or White was the 12th #1 hit and the fastest-rising single in 22 years since The Beatles' "Get Back".

I Am Woman, Helen Reddy

This Australian singer was frustrated nobody thought of creating optimistic songs about women in pop music, so she wrote I Am Woman in 1971. Helen Reddy was part of the women's liberation movement, and her song would hit number one a year later.

In 1972, a movie producer wanted Helen to re-record the song and add a verse, using the song in his "feminist comedy" Stand Up And Be Counted. Reddy’s song became a huge hit, and many women have sung it ever since. It even earned him a Grammy!

Panama, Van Halen

Van Halen didn’t sing about the country but was actually singing about the car that had inspired lead singer David Lee Roth after he went to a race in Las Vegas! He saw the car Panama Express, and he sang about it after he got accused by a reporter that he only sang about women, partying, and cars.

However, as a tongue-in-cheek reaction, David said he’d never sung about cars, so he decided to make that happen. As crazy as this sounds, American soldiers blasted the song outside the Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega’s hideout before he finally gave himself up.

The (Dirty) Howdy Doody Theme

You may have heard the Howdy Doody theme, but we bet you didn’t know there’s a dirty variation that came to life after cops raided the gay bar Stonewall Inn in New York on June 28, 1969. The police officers tried to disperse them, but more LGBT people showed up, throwing things at the police.

Riot cops were called as backup, and then the crowd began singing. That’s when the dirtier variation of the Howdy Doody show theme was heard on the streets, and the cops attacked the singers.

Runaway Train, Soul Asylum

Soul Asylum decided to include in their hit Runaway Train’s video photos and names of missing children. They knew that the song would be popular and decided to use it for a good cause.

The song is about the lead singer’s battle with depression, but the video director decided to use the “runaway” part of the song, which is how the video helped find 26 missing children! At different gigs, people began showing up, saying that the video changed their lives.

Strong Girl, African Artists

“Wherever you are, show the world that you’re a strong girl!” —says the song played by nine of the most talented female artists in Africa, which celebrates girls and women from all over the world.

Their message calls world leaders to give girls and women power from developing countries. The song was part of the Poverty is Sexist campaign (ONE), calling for improving health and education among women.

Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story, Broadway Musical Song

During the hit musical Hamilton, the final song Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story helped found the first private orphanage in New York. The orphanage was built in tribute to Alexander Hamilton himself, who had also lost his parents as a young boy.

The song impressed so many people that donations began pouring in! A line in this song made the life of 4,500 children and their families much better, and it has also inspired many people to work with the charity!

Amazing Grace, John Newton

The song talks about forgiveness and redemption being possible, as God is also merciful to those that have sinned. Former slave ship captain John Newton wrote the song in 1772, and it became a hymn all races sang.

Amazing Grace is also a protest song that people have associated with Martin Luther King and civil rights. The song is usually sung on Martin Luther King Jr Day, and it is one of the most recognizable songs in the USA.

Here's to the State of Mississippi, Phil Ochs

The American protest singer and songwriter wrote Here’s to the State of Mississippi to attack the injustices and inability to comply with civil rights laws in Mississippi.

One of its most unforgettable lines says, “when the black man stands accused, the trial is always short.” Ochs sings about the “criminals posing as mayors of the towns.” The singer thinks of himself as a “singing journalist,” while people see his ballads as part of the protest music genre.

American Idiot, Green Day

Green Day’s album American Idiot also came with a song that has the same name. Winner of 4 Grammys, American Idiot criticized America in 2004 during the Bush Administration and when the “new media” was rising.

American Idiot ranked 13 on Rolling Stone’s Single of the Decade in 2009, placing the song on 432 in their 500 Greatest Songs of All Time one year later. The song was so popular that it got its own Broadway musical, which is still a hit.

What’s Going On, Marvin Gaye

Marvin Gaye released his 1971 album titled What's Going On. It was a direct message against the Vietnam war, but also poverty and drug abuse.

The album also sends some positive messages, although it treats severe problems: "You know we've got to find a way; To bring some lovin' here today."

Helter Skelter, The Beatles

Paul McCartney wrote Helter Skelter in 1967 after he decided to have a noisier song, louder than the Who’s “I Can See for Miles.” But strangely enough, this song changed the world for the worse.

McCartney’s song was about an amusement park ride. Still, mass murderer Charles Manson believed it to be a secret message about an upcoming race war, leading his followers to the 1969 killing spree.

Graceland, Paul Simon

Paul Simon’s song from 1986 changed the world, protesting against apartheid in South Africa and raising the profile of the musicians and performers from Africa.

Simon toured next to South African musicians after he completed his album with the same name. His studio album got very famous, selling up to 16 million copies worldwide and winning the 1987 Grammy Award for Album of the Year.

L'Internationale, Eugène Pottier

The left-wing anthem written in the late 19th century by Eugène Pottier soon became an official anthem that has been celebrated by anarchists, communists, socialists, democratic socialists, and social democrats.

The anthem of revolution called to those oppressed to rise against the tyrants. Its very first lines call to unite the human race: “Stand up, damned of the Earth/Stand up, prisoners of starvation/Reason thunders in its volcano/This is the eruption of the end.”

99 Luftballons, Nena

In 1984, Nena released the 99 Luftballons (99 Balloons in English) album and the song that was also translated in English as 99 Red Balloons. The original song was inspired when he noticed that balloons were being released at a Rolling Stones concert in 1982 in West Berlin.

The singer then wondered what the Soviet sector would think when those balloons flew over their heads. The anti-war song ends with the singer finding a balloon, sending the message that “99 years of war have left no place for winners.”

Lili Marlene, German Love Song

In 1939, the German love song Lili Marlene rose to popularity among Montgomery's Eighth Army. Initially, a poem was published in 1915, it became a song in 1937, and in 1939, it got recorded by Lale Andersen under the name "The Girl under the Lantern."

The song could be heard on the German forces' radio station so often because one of the lieutenants collected only a few records from the Reich radio station while on his leave in Vienna. The Nazi government's propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels, even ordered to stop broadcasting the song.

We Shall Overcome, Joan Baez

The gospel from 1963 became a protected song and then an anthem of the Civil Rights movement. Joan Baez and others sang this song at rallies, festivals and concerts, and soon became used in many protects worldwide.

The lyrics in the first stanza are bringing people that share the same value, even if they are of different races, backgrounds, religions, and so on: “The world is one great battlefield,/With forces all arrayed;/If in my heart I do not yield,/I'll overcome someday.”

Freedom, Ben Kayiranga

In 1997, Ben Kayiranga's Freedom was a powerful song after the Rwanda genocide. The lyrics sent a message that reached everyone, putting a smile on the face of a nation that was still mourning.

Not really known worldwide, although it had lyrics in Kinyarwanda, French, and English, the message of freedom to the people, forever, stroke a cord in the hearts of Rwanda’s people.

People Get Ready, Curtis Mayfield

Another hymn of the civil rights movement, People Get Ready was covered by many singers, inspiring and uniting people to fight for equality.

The song was released in 1965 by Curtis Mayfield (lead singer of the Impressions band), and it’s also used and played by many LGTB groups. Mayfield was inspired by church sermons when he wrote this song: "It doesn't matter what color or faith you have," he said in an interview in 1997.

(We’re Gonna) Rock Around The Clock, Bill Haley

The rock song was released in 1952, and it became extremely popular as it got turned into an anthem for rebellious 1950s youth. The song was quite popular back then, and it still is.

Why did the youth love it? The song clearly sent a message of rebellion, no matter the hour —the movie Blackboard Jungle (1955) sent the same message through the song, where a teacher called for teens to be independent of the adults' control.

I Will Survive, Gloria Gaynor

Last but not least, we decided to wrap up this list with Gloria Gaynor’s cry for female power and to move on, even when we’re heartbroken.

However, the song has empowered millions of people all over the world. Even Gloria Gaynor agreed that the lyrics written by Freddie Perren and Dino Fekaris for her song are empowering: "I love the empowering effect, I love the encouraging effect. It's a timeless lyric that addresses a timeless concern."