25 Most Meaningful Songs in Our Lifetime
Yes, I know...another blog post about songs and how great they are...blah, blah, blah. Well, maybe I'm writing this not to talk about how catchy a tune might be to me, but more about songs that get you to thinking. Thinking is one of my favorite pastimes. It often intrudes on everything I do. To be honest, I have been planning this post for a few months, but my world has been pretty crazy and I, like most of us, has been pretty burnt out between work and dealing with covid. But these songs have helped to keep me sane and music in general has be a way for me to vacation while never leaving my seat.
I wanted to put this list together from what I call my "Thinking" mix. I often play these songs while I am working on de-humanizing tasks like data entry and listening to "All hands on Deck meetings". You'd be surprised what adding a soundtrack to a company meeting does for its context.
Pick one or two songs and listen to them, and then come back and pick a couple more. They are picked to be great songs, as well as having a message. Of course I realize these have meaning to me, and that you might not think these have merit, or that you have a better tune that should here, and I understand that. To be fair, if you suggest a song to me, I might add it in!
These songs are not in any particular order. They just are what they are. They are songs about life, love, human potential, money, good vs. evil, religion and a bunch of stuff that may offend some of you with my editorials on what the songs mean to me. Sorry, I have opinions and that's all they are. Unike the "news," which is mostly just opinions, this is meant to be a good diversion from life, so just think about it. That's all I ask. Or perhaps this is just a referendum on hair styles of the last 50 years...
Masters of War — Eddie Vedder Version (2011)
(Originally written in 1962 by Bob Dylan)
This song has so much bitter wisdom in it, its crazy. While being a classic Bob Dylan work, and a full-on anti-war protest, its cutting commentary on the U.S. war machine is just about as truthful and devastating as you can get. While I firmly believe that war can be justified and can create a better human condition in the long run in certain circumstances, this song captures much of American's diplomacy failures and political dog-wagging in its ugliest moments. To be fair, if your into Gloom Metal, Black-Sabbath's song War Pigs(1970), is essentially the same message with a very different style.
Black Violin — Stereotypes (2015)
Simply and amazing song with powerful string playing with beat box percussion, combined with the cultural definitions of stereotype and a true story of the artist and why he did the song. Adds to the conversation and beats stereotypes at the same time.
Shania Twain — Ka-Ching! (2011)
"When you're broke, go out and get a loan...our religion is to go and blow it all...by shopping at the mall..." pretty much says it all. I find this song significant because it takes the faults of capitalism and consumerism and throws it right in your face as performed by a superstar. Gutsy in my book. Many people suffer with undiagnosed addictions and using things to cover up our emotional problems is defiantly rampant in western society. There's a reason that its called shopping therapy, and its high never really satisfies the hole in or lives for long, plus its usually followed by buyers remorse. And, Shania is just too damn sexy to not watch. Sorry—not sorry.
Bread — Diary (1972)
Perhaps the saddest and most forgiving song ever written. Its about a guy who steals his wife's diary and sits down to read it under a tree thinking the one she is writing about is him. As he keeps reading, he slowly realizes that his wife has a secret love, but he really lovers her, and vows to make her happy by letting her go. True love! And perhaps karma at the same time. Don't take that diary unless your prepared for a full dose of reality no matter how hard it hurts.
Rob Bryanton — The Anthropic Viewpoint (2007)
OK, ok, so its a bit lacking in clever verses, but this song rocks! And its striking to me how science can create some really interesting music, by a physics teacher no less! We're just goldfish living in a bowl, and what's beyond we will never know...We're just here because were here... So simple but it sums up the idea that if there are other dimensions of reality, we are stuck in this one, using tools created in this reality. It might be real that alternate realities exist, be we may never be able to tell or explore them. Look up the anthropic principle to discover the ultimate subjectivity.
Sung by Gene Wilder — Pure Imagination (1971)
written by Anthony Newley / Leslie Bricusse
Yes, the song from Willie Wonka that goes "Come with me, and you'll see, a world of pure imagination..." It's really a wonderful song, and by wonderful I mean its full of wonder. The trick about this song, is that it speaks to the child inside you, and affirms that you can change the world if you keep your sense of wonder. Don't let all those sensibilities and 'what if's' get in the way. Its truly magical.
Jeff Buckley — Hallelujah (1984 original release)
Written by Leonard Cohen
This is a beautiful song that is masterful in it cords and rhythms. Its also such an interesting song about love and music construction and how the two share themes. Have you ever felt like you resonate with someone? Evoking the old testament story of Sampson and Delia, Bathsheba and David, it reaches back to the beginnings of history to show how men will trade everything away for love, but usually in hopeless ways that are defeating and cathartic at the same time. We often seem to turn love into a contest, for lack of knowing anything better, when it comes to being vulnerable and open to another who might just strip us bear and discard us to our own fate.
Harry Chapin — Cats in the Cradle (1974)
Don't take my word for it, listen to this story that leads into a rendition of the song by Harry Chapin. It may be cliche', but its so true. The older you get, the truer the song becomes as life flies by. When I was a young child, I would ask my Grandmother what she had been doing while I hadn't seen her, and she would often answer, "Well, the days drag but the years fly."
Supertramp — The Logical Song (1979)
I find this song a profound example of what happens to us as we grow up. For the free spirits among us, it may be self-evident or a reason why they chose the path of quietly living their own lives the way they do. Its a song about the programming that we all go through on the way to becoming the A-word— 'Adults'. This song happens to take a hard look at the process and asks its this really right? Is it OK to take a child and his sense of wonder and turn them into a logical, sensible, practical and possibly cynical adult? What happens if they try to hold on to their child-like sensibilities? Are they then called radical or even crazy and medicated into a state where they can be accepted? I say, keep your child-like wonder of the world. Everything is a miracle at every point of every day!
The Beatles — The Inner Light (1968)
If you don't know this, George Harrison got into Hindu culture and philosophies quite a bit, and really fell in love with Vedic music and instruments. Indian music is quite a bit different in note and cord structure from Western style sounds. I just happen to really like this song and the way the instrument is plucked and how it is so percussive and different. I often like things that are different, and this song is definitely it. The concept that everywhere you are is exactly where you are supposed to be is the very essence of Zen Buddism, and this song encompasses this theme quite well. You don't need to go someplace to discover yourself or even how the world works. It exists right inside you, and you carry with you everything you need.
XTC — Dear God (1986)
Many people find this song to be sacreligious. The song questions how people use religious texts to justify killing, maiming and harming others. But when you get to the core of it, the song doesn't really work, because people are the cause of it all. They condone great evil and harm by using God to justify it, so it comes full circle for me in the end. Sacrilegious and blasphemous on the surface, but the thinking didn't go deep enough to see that the search for God can't be found in a book or even in a song. It definitely can't be found by having someone spoon-feed what religion and spirituality are for you. You are the only one who can find your own truth.
Pink Floyd - The Final Cut (1983)
"Far from flying high in clear blue skies, I'm spiraling down to the hole where I hide..." Powerful words for PTSD, depression, alienation and suicide. The entire song is a poetic journey on pain, suffering, overcoming fear and trying to look normal when you don't feel so normal inside. It's an internal dialog of sexual repression, societal norms, and what it feels like to be in a constant state of cognitive dissonance. Disquieting and alarming but you feel the raw emotions.
Steppenwolf — Spiritual Fantasy (1968)
A song about religion and humanity and what should be happening, but doesn't seem to be. Social commentary on religion, the 1960s culture, and a really great tune to make you reflect on how some things never change. The lyrics make a clear distinction between philosophy and religion.
The Beatles — All you Need is Love (1967)
Just to lift the spirits and to give a message that often seems trite, all you need is love is often true, but I might add that its hard to get to understanding without love. The video link takes you to a short documentary on the song, and I included it to give you more background.
Black Eyed Peas — Where is the Love (2003)
Great piece of social commentary, prayer, poetry and Rap, all combined together in a message of where we have gone wrong, and where we can change our world to make it a better place for our children. This song was written in response to the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Centers which just about all of us remember where we were, and what we were doing when it happened. "We only got one world!" I hope it also makes you stop for a moment and wonder about the other side. What motivates people to do such horrific acts against humanity and why did they feel this was the only way to solve their problems.
John Lennon — Imagine (1971)
I also consider this song to be a great inspiration for thinking and imagining possibilities. Many people I know find it beautiful and thought provoking, but I have friends who think its a song about socialism, and therefore hate it. I never took the socialist vein, and I don't believe that John Lennon meant it to be that way either. Its a song about everyone living in peace, looking out for each other and all of us finally coming together to create a world where we all have what we need. No more poverty, no more hunger, no more war, no more stereotypes and no more hate. Imagine if the United States could use the money set aside for war, and instead spend it on food for the hungry, mental health, education and rebuilding old crumbling infrastructure. In even just two or three years, we could create a completely different path for our country and possibly the world. Yes, I know, it seems absurd to many people to be so giving and naive, since all countries and all people would need to subscribe to such a philosophy together. While it may seem so crazy to imagine this scenario, I point to the 1960s Star Trek series and the many allusions it makes to a future world culture as an example of what we could accomplish if we put our differences aside and focus on our common needs.
Joe Walsh — Life of Illusion
I really just love this song and his voice. He is such a unique singer and writer, and I wanted to include this song because I listen to it just about every week of my life. It really hits home with me when were "caught up in endless (day to day) solutions that really have no meaning" other than the task at hand. I often wonder about what is real vs. how we perceive reality. Human senses are very fallible and limited in the ways they understand our environment, and I expect that we will discover that much of what we deem true is nothing more that human illusion.
As performed by Dusty Springfield—Windmills of Your Mind (1969)
Written by Noel Harrison
Dusty created a series of vignettes that are mesmerizing and meditative. She was a child of the sixties, and this song is the one of the topmost psychedelic pop hits. I enjoy listening to each interlude and feeling the emotion and visual imagery that my mind produces when I listen to it. Its about time, cycles and connections. The song (with the English lyrics) was introduced in the film The Thomas Crown Affair (1968), and has been performed in several languages since its inception.
David Bowie–Changes (1971)
"And I turn myself to face me...and these children that you spit on as they try to change their worlds...turn and face the strange changes..." Wise words on how your life changes, your thoughts change over time, and your perspective changes your attitude towards the world, for the better or the worse. You can embrace change or you can run from it and become your own living museum. Of course the trick is to filter out the bad, and let in the good.
Led Zeppelin—Stairway to Heaven (1971)
Classic and seemingly profound for its time, Led Zepplin was saying it in prose, what the whole society was thinking and doing. Oddly, Robert Plant hates singing this song and grew tired of having to sing it like he meant it. Stairway is really the song the people define Led Zepplin's sound by, and its a hallmark of what an amazing rock epic should be with its bluesy rock chords, fantasy based lyrics and amazing synergy, compiled together in almost 8 minutes of groove. While it might seem like a cliche of 70's rock today, imagine where Rock & Roll would be without it. Its impact on music and culture will last for decades beyond us. Its primal delivery and sonic mysticism will outlast us all. This song has over a 100 million views on Youtube and is in the top 75 songs ever created throughout human history.
Edwin Star–War (1969)
"War, what is it good for? Absolutley nothing". While there are some who would argue that wars have helped humanity's progress technologically, it comes at a terrible price. So if millions have to die and countless millions suffer to have a better car—well, I'm not so sure. Too many times have the unaware been used to fight the fight that diplomates and politicians failed us with. While I believe in a strong defense of our country and culture, it shouldn't have to come at the price of so many useless and needless wars.
Crosby, Stills and& Nash—Teach your Children Well (1970)
A simple message of taking care of the ones that we love, passing on your knowledge and passions, and hope that you did a good job in the end. And to your young ones, they will have a time that they can pass what they learned back to you, if you take the time to listen and love.
Marvin Gaye—Mercy Mercy Me (1971)
An absolutely great song and a call out to everyone to look around and see what is happening to the only planet we got to live on. This entire album is worth a look at. When this song was written, the environmental movement was very small and many people considered it a fridge idea. This song helped to articulate what was on so many people's minds and has become an anthem for environmentalism over the years.
Kansas—Dust in the Wind (1978)
written by Kerry Livgren
Kansas is probably one to the greatest, classic 1970's rock bands, this song is their best. At its surface, the song "Dust in the Wind" is beautiful. The lyrics poignantly deliberate on how much of what we try to achieve is impermanent and lost over time. It will pass, as all things pass. A moment is a fleeting thing, and each of our lives is just a series of moments. If we "close our eyes, only for a moment, then the moments gone...." Its philosophical, religious and its haunting melodies will be here long after the band members are just "dust in the wind".
William Shatner—You're Gonna Die (2004)
While Shatner's music has become the butt of many jokes about talking your way through a song, it really works in this little ditty produced with Ben Folds. Grabs you right from the beginning with the cheesy organ music that takes you right to Sunday mass and the support singers adding in the church sermon background, to create that humbling experience of a funeral service. Shatner asks "Why did I waste it? Why didn't I taste it? ... Live life like you're gonna die, because you will." Its a smack in the face with a tongue and cheek sermon at the same time. And I have no idea why this video is shot at a carnival.
As a little bonus, I have one more that I really like. Its about human potential, what we do with our lives as we grow and what choices we can make in the world. We can choose to do great goods, or great evil, but ultimately its your choice, so choose wisely, or humanity judge you.
Well, that's my list for now. I might tweak it, and I am very open to your ideas of songs that make you think from the last 50 years. I don't expect you to agree with everything that's on the list, or that didn't make the list, but music is a deeply personal experience for all of us. Please hit me up if you want to debate one of your ideas of what should be on here. I am willing to listen.
What do you think?