Most would expect a list consisting of the 10 Best Songs About History to highlight historical events like the Civil War, the American Revolution, or ancient civilizations. However, music and song lyrics have seldom been written about historical events. Songwriters and lyricists, past and present, most often write about their own time and its impact on their lives and society. As such, our contributor’s list includes songs about recent American history, iconic times, and important events in the history of America, as well as major historical periods and figures.
- "Butcher’s Tale" (The Zombies, 1967) Written by Chris White, the song flopped as many mistakenly took it to discuss the Vietnam War. In actuality, it was written about World War I and the Battle of Somme.
- "Sympathy for the Devil" (The Rolling Stones, 1968) From the crucifixion of Christ to the rise of the Bolsheviks, from World War II to the 100 Years War and the Holocaust, few songs about history cram so much into only a few lines of lyrics.
- "Abraham, Martin, and John" (Dion, 1968) Songs about history often cite historical figures. In this song, iconic figures for social change, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr., and the Kennedy brothers, John and Robert are the topic of choice.
- "Indian Reservation" (Paul Revere and the Raiders, 1971) Written about the displacement of the Cherokee nation from Georgia to the state of Oklahoma in the late 1700’s, this song has been re-recorded by many artists over the years. In fact, some of the lyrics appear in Tim McGraw’s Indian Outlaw.
- "Hotel California" (The Eagles, 1977) Are we really listing Hotel California, in a list of songs about history? In short, yes. In 2004, Don Henley, in an interview with Rolling Stone, explained it was written about the self-destructive and hedonistic nature of the music industry in Los Angeles in the 1970’s. This is contrary to the oft-repeated, erroneous rumors about the Church of Satan or Camarillo State Mental Hospital.
- "Rain on the Scarecrow" (John Cougar Mellencamp, 1985) In the late 70’s and early 80’s, small family farms failed at an astonishing rate, taking many small towns with them. The music industry pushed to help failing farmers with the birth of Farm-Aid, a concert and non-profit organization committed to strengthening small-time agriculture. Farm-aid help set the stage for a rebirth in homesteading, small hobby farms, and organic foods so popular today, so naturally it should appear in a list of songs about history.
- "We Didn’t Start the Fire" (Billy Joel, 1989) Here is another one of many songs about history that highlight the problems of society for its time. Reportedly, each two-line section represents a year, starting with 1949, and discusses the subsequent problems left behind for future generations to resolve.
- "A Meticulous Analysis of History" (Pinky and the Brain, 1997) Yes, you read that right. Our list of best songs about history includes a song sung by Warner Brothers cartoon characters. If you need something fun to teach a child about famous historic figures (albeit famous failures) this is a perfect tune, and besides, it’s fun.
- "Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue" (Toby Keith, 2002) After the attacks on September 11, 2001, many singers and songwriters wrote songs in remembrance, to express anger, or to offer comfort. None, however, quite expressed the country’s outrage and support for veterans quite like this one.
- "Gettysburg, 1863" (Iced Earth, 2004) Actually a three-song trilogy, each song represents a single day of fighting in the biggest battle every fought in the Western Hemisphere, the Battle of Gettysburg. Accompanying the heavy metal band is the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra.
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