What are the greatest history pop songs of all time? I decided to make a playlist and collect them; it’s a playlist for my forthcoming book, The World: A Family History of Humanity. History books do not usually have soundtracks, but music plays a huge part in the book—it stars not just conquerors and prophets, empresses, presidents, artists and scientists but also Josephine Baker, Sinatra, Elvis, Jagger, Billie Holiday, Bowie, Elton and others too who operate at the nexus of power, art, commerce, music, culture, celebrity.
I think “Sympathy for the Devil” by the Rolling Stones—its lyrics narrated by the devil perpetrating the great crimes of the 20th century—is the greatest history song of all time, but there are many others. Bony M’s “Rasputin” is an excellent introduction to Russian court politics in the early 20th century. Ava Max’s recent “Kings & Queens” is a rallying cry for modern feminism.
The definition of a history song is that it either covers a historical event—as you will see there are many Great American History Songs in the list from “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down to Battle of New Orleans” and Billy Joel—or it is a song that becomes the anthem of a historical event—like “Don’t Stop” by Fleetwood Mac, the themesong for Bill Clinton’s campaign or “Rebel Rebel” played by Donald Trump after his recent arrest in NYC, Scorpions’ “Winds of Change” which signaled the fall of the Berlin Wall or “Baraye,” the Iranian song that has become the anthem for the protests after the death of Mahsa Amini. Not all the songs are in American or British: like my book itself, it is a world history list so there are songs from Cuba, India, Iran and Ukraine.
I hope you enjoy this Soundtrack to the World.
But the question is: have I missed any of the great history songs? If I have, please write and I will add it.