Songs that made history

 Songs that made history

Our music is the expression of our thoughts
Most of us, at some point of our lives, have derived strength from an inspirational song. This just goes on to show how we connect to music and how deeply it affects our subconscious moods. How many of us did not shed tears after listening to the plea for a heaven on earth in John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’? Which one out of us can remain unmoved when Leonard Cohen decides to croon ‘Suzanne’ in a deep, gravelly voice? We enjoy songs for all occasions. Music is how we choose to celebrate our lives. Music has the power to create   history, as can be seen from the records set by some songs.
These songs are a common man’s delight. You and me, we sing them when times are tough, and also when happiness prevails. These songs have gone beyond commercial success to achieve lasting fondness in the hearts of their listeners. We bring to you some songs which have endured the test of time and sifted through the generation gaps. They contain the story of mankind’s struggles and triumphs, of its strengths and shortcomings. We bring to you songs that have enchanted us over the years, and which have changed the way in which we look at the world.
Back in the 70’s, homosexuality was frowned upon. Needless to say, if you had been a member of the LGBT community back in the swinging 60s and 70s, you would truly have had a bad time. The religious people branded the homos as being ‘sinful’ and even the law wasn’t doing much to help them. No wonder people got mad.
Then one fine day, Tom Robinson decided to pen down ‘Glad to be Gay’, a stinging whiplash at the conservative society. The reception of the song was simply fabulous. Gay parades played it, people sang it loudly on the streets and in no time at all, the song had become the gay anthem of the country. Had you been a spectator at the London gay parade of 1976, you would have heard this song blaring down from the speakers.
The song has been released in ten versions since then, each of them with lyrics that have been modified over time (thankfully, the chorus remains the same as the original song).
Traditional songs and folk music
Remember the rock-a-baby bye lullaby that was sung to make you fall asleep when you were an infant? Ever wondered where such songs originated from? Well, at first such music was composed by wandering minstrels who went from village to village putting up performances and delighting their audiences. One such traditional song is ’Buffalo Gals’. It is of American origin, and has endured in the minds of people ever since it was first sung as ’Lubly Fan‘ by a minstrel called John Hodges in the year 1844. The lyrics of the song are a representation of the jolly American spirit, and with the passage of time, the lyrics were modified to suit the audiences that they were played out for.
So when the minstrels performed in Boston, they sang ‘Boston Gals’, and while in New York, they sang ‘New York Gals’. By far, the most loved version is the ‘Buffalo Gals’. Known for its mellow ambience and folksy allure as well as the catchy beats, this song features significantly within all documented collections of North Carolina folklore. The minstrels would call out for the ‘pretty gal’ to ‘come out tonight and dance by the light of the moon.’
Songs that have had serious psychological impact
Ever heard a song that depressed you so much that you wanted to curl up and die? Sounds sad, doesn’t it? The 20 odd people who allegedly committed suicide after listening to the song ‘Gloomy Sunday’, by Hungarian composer Rezső Seress, might agree. The song was composed in the year 1933. Known for its sorrowful lyrics which speak of the doomsday and the world coming to an end, the song was reportedly responsible for a number of suicides across Hungary and America in the late 1930s. No wonder, it was banned from broadcasts and radio stations.
Billie Holiday’s version of the song was banned from being broadcasted on television during the 1940s, based on the belief that it will discourage the national spirit during times of war. Surprisingly, people still listen to the song. So far, there haven’t been any deaths reported.
Songs which deal with pertinent issues
The World Wars were terrible times indeed. And those of you who are recalling the Atom bomb droppings might also recall the fateful Holocaust and the mass ill-treatment of Jews. Naturally, songs were written about such incidents. ‘Do not stand by my Grave and weep’, a poem composed by the American poet Mary Elizabeth Frye was later turned into a song by Joseph Twist. The lyrics are so poignant that they can make strongest of us cry (ironically, the poem instructs us not to, reverse psychology five!).
Not surprisingly, the poem and the song have gained global recognition and were even chosen as America’s favourite in a poll conducted by the BBC.
Proud of Australia and would like to flaunt your heritage and culture when abroad? If swearing, being a smartass and drinking won’t cut it, then you might just fall in love with the song ‘Down Under’ by the Australian Band ‘Men at Work’. It is patriotic and speaks of the Australian culture and the native way of life. Released in the year 1982, the song tells the tale of an Australian traveller and his adventures in foreign lands. The notes of the song, especially the ones which have been played out on the flute, are said to be inspired by ‘Kookaburra’, a children’s rhyme. The song has been ranked fourth in the list of Best Australian Songs, which was brought out by the Australasian Performing Rights Association in the year 2001.
We all like a good old melody. And if it is as musical as ‘Waltzing Matilda’, we might just get hooked on to it. First performed in the year 1895, ‘Waltzing Matilda’, is a popular Australian song written by the composer Andrew Patterson. The song has strong political themes and is said to deal with the issue of the Shearers Strike of 1894. Since its inception, the song has gone on to acquire a position of pride amongst the ten most recorded songs in the world, and has been released in four different versions.
In danger of getting all political, let’s hear it for the Dixie Chicks who came out with the song ‘Not ready to make nice’,  supporting the controversial statement made by one of the members- Natalie Maines- regarding the Bush administration, whereby she openly denounced the war in Iraq and said that she regretted that the President was from Texas.  It was a gutsy move and one which was much admired by both critics and fans. Come to think of it, wouldn’t all of us just love to burst out in protest about one or the other injustice that we see? And what better way to do it than through a song?
This song went on to occupy the 77th position on the 100 best songs of the decade list as compiled by the Rolling Stone magazine in the year 2009.
Such is the power of music that when Midge Ure organised a concert in 1985 to provide aid for the famine situation in Ethiopa, there were phenomenal sales, and the song ‘Do they know it’s Christmas?’ went on to occupy the top ranks in the UK singles chart. It stayed at the number 1 position for five consecutive weeks.
The concert itself featured artists like Paul McCartney, Freddie Mercury, David Bowie, Adam Clayton, Sting and many others, and the sales reached unprecedented numbers, leading to the amassing of a lot of monetary aid for the famine victims in Ethiopia.
Music shall always be a bright point in our lives when things become unbearably dull. So let’s go through life with a song on our lips and hope in our hearts. After all, as they say (or rather sing), we shall overcome.

Rahul Raj

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