Music and songs in intimately connected to culture, society and politics. Emotion is easily expressed through the medium of music and there are many songs that have adeptly captured the essence of a certain moment in history or a particular cultural mood. And there are some songs that even contributed to the changing of society through their impact on those who hear them. Music has the ability to inspire, to give energy and, apparently, to create change. Here are 7 pivotal examples of instances where music has changed something.
1. Fight the Power – Public Enemy (1989)
Public Enemy’s Fight the Power not only became the inspiration for a resurgence of Black Power spirit in rap music, it surprisingly also became something of a soundtrack for those fighting for the fall of the Soviet Union.
In 1991 in Belgrade, the capital of Serbia, the rebel radio station B92 played Fight the Power pretty much on repeat. This was in response to Milošević forbidding the station from broadcasting news. To get around the ban the station played subversive and seditious tracks such as Fight the Power, to communicate their message in music rather than words.
2. Looking for Freedom – David Hasselhoff (1989)
1989 was a turbulent and politically charged year that many have described as a triumphant moment for Western ideology and culture. It was also a significant year for Western music. Along with Fight the Power, another hit song, Looking for Freedom, played a key role in the undoing of the Soviet Union and the great East-West divide in Europe.
David Hasselhoff’s Looking for Freedom (a cover of German song released in the 1970’s) was top of the charts when Berliners began dismantling the Berlin Wall. On New Years Eve 1989 the Hoff himself appeared atop a partially demolished section of the wall and performed the song to a huge crowd.
Apparently, the Hoff believes himself to be pivotal in the triumph of Western values over those of the Soviet Union. A slight exaggeration perhaps, but his song certainly ushered in a new era of freedom for Berliners on both sides of the wall.
3. Helter Skelter – The Beatles (1968)
Charles Manson claims this song contains within it a prophecy that he sought to fulfil. Namely, that an apocalyptic race war would begin, which Manson called ‘Helter Skelter’. He went on to write is own lyrics for the song, which explained the war more explicitly.
The exact role that The Beatles song played in inspiring the madness of Manson that led to the murder of nine people is unclear. Yet it undeniably played a part in a very dark moment in music history.
4. Happy Birthday – Stevie Wonder (1981)
Shortly after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. a campaign was launched to have his birthday turned into a national holiday. The campaign was initially unsuccessful, but in 1981 Wonder released Happy Birthday in support of the idea.
He then hosted the Rally for Peace Press Conference in 1982, where he sought to persuade the public to sign a petition supporting the national holiday. The petition garnered 6 million signatures and Reagan introduced the holiday in 1983.
5. God Save the Queen – The Sex Pistols (1977)
This raucous punk classic inspired a generation of spiky jacket wearing anti-authoritarians in the UK and made anti-royalist sentiment acceptable and cool. During the Queen’s Silver Jubilee, the band boarded a boat and set off down the Thames. They were seen passing the Houses of Parliament playing God Save the Queen, adorned in their usual punk attire. “God save the queens, the fascist regime”!