Music That Changed The World
December 18, 2009 11:41 AM   Subscribe

20 Pieces Of Music That Changed The World

Sure to be contentious, but a fascinating and educational journey through the intersection of music, history, and culture nevertheless.
posted by blue shadows (65 comments total) 96 users marked this as a favorite

 
These are awesome. I linked to this recently in my comments.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 11:44 AM on December 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


At least this particular list includes works created prior to the last century, unlike most of these lists. Nice link.
posted by neewom at 11:48 AM on December 18, 2009


I have a really hard time quibbling with that list, assuming that this is Western music we're dealing with here. Maybe I'd put a medieval troubadour on there, but I don't think I could take anything out. I mean, I'd put Rapper's Delight on there but if I had to replace it with any other hip hop song it'd be Fight the Power. My dad has talked in the past of how alien it was to here Rapper's Delight for the first time, such a weird, new thing. My dad was only 21 at the time it came out. He knew something different had been birthed onto the world.
posted by Kattullus at 11:51 AM on December 18, 2009 [3 favorites]


yeah, was expecting to be all '20 pieces that changed the world? we'll see about that!' but this is actually a pretty damn good list.
posted by Lutoslawski at 11:55 AM on December 18, 2009 [3 favorites]


Every one of these made me think, "huh. that really is just about the perfect choice."
posted by Navelgazer at 12:04 PM on December 18, 2009


Never mind the list. Listen to the extremely insightful commentary by Robert Harris.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 12:07 PM on December 18, 2009


What Navelgazer said. I look forward to listening to these.
posted by blucevalo at 12:08 PM on December 18, 2009


Oh, goodie! I've been hoping that they'd put these segments up on the website (I figured a podcast would be too much to ask for, what with rights issues and all). I've heard various episodes of this series from time to time on the Sunday Edition, but have missed a bunch of them. Thanks for finding this, blue shadows!
posted by kentk at 12:10 PM on December 18, 2009


I attended a New York Philharmonic performance of The Rite of Spring a few years ago. In the middle of the first movement, several older members of the audience left in disgust, just like 1913!
posted by exogenous at 12:10 PM on December 18, 2009


I'm listening to the La Marseillaise episode and it's just supremely lovely and erudite. Does anyone know if this exists as a podcast?
posted by Kattullus at 12:12 PM on December 18, 2009


I really appreciate how Michael Enright tries to "get" the music that he really doesn't like...
posted by Old Man Wilson at 12:12 PM on December 18, 2009


That's a great article, exogenous. I particularly like this bit:

"There were loud arguments in the audience between supporters and opponents of the work."
posted by mr_crash_davis mark II: Jazz Odyssey at 12:15 PM on December 18, 2009


What, no "Uptown Girl"?
posted by Servo5678 at 12:15 PM on December 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


Servo5678: What, no "Uptown Girl"?

Wow! You've managed to hit on the single song that I hate the most in the world. Well, that and Dominic the Donkey, but Dominic the Donkey is only a seasonal pain and limited to the US, Uptown Girl can strike at any time, any place.
posted by Kattullus at 12:19 PM on December 18, 2009 [3 favorites]


chiggity-chee, HEE-HAW! HEE-HAW!
posted by Navelgazer at 12:21 PM on December 18, 2009 [3 favorites]


exogenous: Really? I'd think RoS would be considered pretty tame today.

It's always been my dream to be at a film or musical performance or something that goes down in history as a legendarily controversial event, like the riot at Rite of Spring. I was really hoping that there'd be some crazy reaction when I saw Lars von Trier's Antichrist recently, but besides some shocked gasps (including my own), nothing of note happened. I want to be somewhere where there's a major cultural upheaval going on, where people are passionate and not just consumers or fans. But alas, people are too passive.
posted by Saxon Kane at 12:22 PM on December 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


This is brilliant. Thanks for posting this!
posted by hecho de la basura at 12:24 PM on December 18, 2009


exogenous: Really? I'd think RoS would be considered pretty tame today.

Oh yeah. They left quietly and without a fuss, but there was definitely a departure of a number of people who were clearly not pleased with the music. I'd attended a number Philharmonic performances previously (thanks, Young Subscribers Club!) and hadn't seen anything like it before. I guess these people had season tickets and just sort of showed up automatically regardless of the program.
posted by exogenous at 12:31 PM on December 18, 2009


The list reminds me in a good way of Richard Thompson's 1000 Years of Popular Music, in which he was asked to do the best pop songs of the last thousand years and shockingly went back to things like Summer Is Icumen In. I always love it when a most-whatever list acknowledges things happened before 1950, or even 1900.
posted by immlass at 12:33 PM on December 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


I thought for sure that the final rendition that they'd play of La Marseillaise would be Serge Gainsbourg's reggae version Aux armes etc. but the Stephane Grappelli Django Reinhardt version was even more perfect. They mention that the Grappelli/Reinhardt rendition was controversial and so was Gainsbourg's. Here's footage from the famous 1980 Strasbourg appearance when French paratroopers threatened to stop his show by force. Gainsbourg's musicians refused to take the stage out of fear for their life so he went on alone and sang La Marseillaise. Whenever I see that videoclip I'm just about ready to storm... well, anything really. Point me somewhere and I'll storm it.
posted by Kattullus at 12:34 PM on December 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


That is an excellent list. Very comprehensive. I'm rather impressed.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:35 PM on December 18, 2009


No Baby Got Back? Ugh.
posted by stormpooper at 12:41 PM on December 18, 2009


Also, Kattullus, now that I'm listening to them instead of just reading the list, the "Fight the Power" goes into "Rapper's Delight" quite a bit, actually.
posted by Navelgazer at 12:44 PM on December 18, 2009


I'm outraged that the list does not include The Young New Mexican Puppeteer.
posted by The World Famous at 12:45 PM on December 18, 2009


I will survive is probably the fucking low point of Disco.

The correct answer is Donna Summer - I Feel Love
posted by empath at 12:50 PM on December 18, 2009 [3 favorites]


How about a list of 20 pieces of music that:

changed your world

changed your mind

changed your heart

changed your pants?
posted by Faze at 12:52 PM on December 18, 2009


My dad has talked in the past of how alien it was to here Rapper's Delight for the first time, such a weird, new thing.

I actually remember hearing Rappers Delight for the first time -- Summer of 1980, I think, I was four or 5 years old and it was in Ocean City, MD sitting in the dining room of my grandparents condo.

I'm not sure why I remember that song particularly, but I do have a very distinct memory of hearing that song in that place. It's really one of my earliest music memories. I also remember Funkytown, from that same summer.
posted by empath at 12:55 PM on December 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


I remember hearing Daft Punk Da Funk for the first time, I actually had to go over to the radio to check if it was working as I'd never heard that squelch sound before
posted by Damienmce at 1:02 PM on December 18, 2009


What, no "Uptown Girl"?

For a second I thought you meant, "Downtown" by Petula Clark. Which was witty because of *search "Gould" +"Petula"... here it is, oh WFMU, you beauty you... this.
posted by From Bklyn at 1:09 PM on December 18, 2009


I attended a New York Philharmonic performance of The Rite of Spring a few years ago. In the middle of the first movement, several older members of the audience left in disgust

Yeah, many years ago I went to the NY Phil to see the Rite with my then girlfriend. We were students and were trying to score student tickets when this nice older gentlemen, whose friends had canceled, offered to just give us his extra tickets. So we got to sit by this man during the concert and we got to talking and it turned out we were both from Iowa (funny enough he had moved to NYC decades earlier to avoid persecution because he was gay...perhaps he now wishes he would have stayed!). The first half of the concert was a Strauss tone poem (Don Quixote). When it ended and the Stravinsky was about to start, this man got up to leave. I couldn't believe it! I thought to myself at the time, "he came just for the boring part!" "I can't listen to that modern music, you know," he said. He shook my hand and in it he left me a $20 and told me to take my lady out for dessert. After that I became sort of liberated. Like it's ok if you don't want to listen to the Rite of Spring - you don't have to like it just because it's the Rite of Spring. He gave me the freedom to not listen to anymore Mozart. You can be crotchety and generous - in fact, it's often a very nice combination.

He was a cool guy. For years after, my then gf and I would send him a Christmas card each year (we got his address on the ticket stub).
posted by Lutoslawski at 1:18 PM on December 18, 2009 [22 favorites]


> 20 Pieces Of Music That Changed The World

What, nothing by Pythagoras?
posted by ardgedee at 1:28 PM on December 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


I want to be somewhere where there's a major cultural upheaval going on, where people are passionate and not just consumers or fans. But alas, people are too passive.

Me too, but this would be hard. I mean, I've seen a woman on stage pull a scroll from her vagina and read Shakespeare from it - and it didn't get so much as a gasp. I even heard that during an 80's (?) production of Ubu Roi the company dropped a giant pile of horse shit in the pit after the first line - and it stayed there reeking for the duration of the play. Apparently the audience was not phased.

I think this was - though they wouldn't admit it - a big part of the Fluxus/Danger Music movement....the 'climbing inside the vagina of a living whale' piece and such. But I don't think it got nearly the rise out of people they wanted to get.

The thing is is that nowadays there's 'something for everyone.' If you go to a performance art show on the lower east side, or a contemporary performance of Ubu Roi, you're probably the sort of person who won't get freaked out by weirdness or controversy. But in the time of RoS everyone went to the orchestra - it was all there was, and they certainly weren't expecting the Rite of Spring to sound/look like the Rite of Spring when they went into the theatre that night. To recreate this type of reaction today, you'd have to do something like trick a bunch of conservative religious people into thinking they're going to see a church service but it turns out to be a 3D screening of two girls and one cup or something.
posted by Lutoslawski at 1:44 PM on December 18, 2009 [4 favorites]


Yeah, it's pretty hard to épater le bourgeois anymore.
posted by jokeefe at 1:50 PM on December 18, 2009


I was so shocked that he didn't put Cage's amazing 4′33″ on the list.

Then I realized it was on the list, but you just couldn't see it.
posted by asusu at 1:51 PM on December 18, 2009 [7 favorites]


Kattullus : I'd put Rapper's Delight on there but if I had to replace it with any other hip hop song it'd be Fight the Power.

I was fully expecting to get irritated at the fact that they either would completely over represent Rap, or it wouldn't be there at all. "At the very least", I surmised, "it better have Rapper's Delight".

When I saw Fight the Power, I thought about it for about a half second and said "Or that. That works too."

I'm actually amazed at how much I agree with most of these; even the ones I'm not really much of a fan of.

Cool.
posted by quin at 2:24 PM on December 18, 2009


I don't know. By my count 14 of the 20 are from the 20th century. Not sure how expansive that is. Silent Night? John Brown's Body/Battle Hymn of the Republic? Dido's Lament? The Brandenburg Concertos? The Internationale?

As for recent stuff, Purple Haze? God Save the Queen? Paranoid? Jocko Homo
posted by stargell at 2:28 PM on December 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm only two segments in and I'm loving this. Thank you very much for posting it.
posted by Errant at 2:36 PM on December 18, 2009


Thanks for a great post. If these radio show clips are all 24 minutes long, like the first one, that's 8 hours of stuff to listen to there. I hope they don't all make me as angry as the first one did.

This is not to argue with the inclusion of Elvis Presley's first single as something that changed the world; this case is made very eloquently. Less eloquent and at points downright embarrassing was the dubious attempt to side-step the whole 'white people ripping off black artists' thing, which it could be argued that Elvis did not initiate but took to a new level.

In this connection, and especially if like me you had not heard of him before, the Wikipedia article on Arthur Crudup - the guy who wrote That's Alright but didn't see any royalties from it - is well worth a read.
posted by motty at 2:52 PM on December 18, 2009


This was the first time I've ever listened to The Rite Of Spring, and I was surprised by how tame it sounded, at least to my ears (though I understand the dancers' choreography had a lot to do with the uproar at the time). On the other hand, forty years' worth of film soundtracks may well be rooted in that one piece of music.

/(my 2¢)
posted by spoobnooble at 3:01 PM on December 18, 2009


By my count 14 of the 20 are from the 20th century. Not sure how expansive that is.

It's a lot easier for music to change the world when people around the world have the technology to hear it.
posted by decagon at 3:15 PM on December 18, 2009 [3 favorites]


Disintegration is the best album ever!
posted by digiFramph at 3:46 PM on December 18, 2009


This was the first time I've ever listened to The Rite Of Spring, and I was surprised by how tame it sounded, at least to my ears (though I understand the dancers' choreography had a lot to do with the uproar at the time). On the other hand, forty years' worth of film soundtracks may well be rooted in that one piece of music.


A lot more than film soundtracks are deeply rooted in that piece of music. It really changed everything pretty drastically.

The uproar did have a lot to do with the choreography (they did a restaging of the original a couple years ago in NYC. I saw the video of the production - and even today the choreography is pretty downright awful). But the music certainly played a significant role as well. Take the second part: not only to you have this crazy bitonality - and a lot of it clustered in the lower strings (E7 on top of an Eb7 with a lot of density in the bottom voices is just an insanely radical thing at this time), but the chord is played as if the orchestra were a giant drum being played with seemingly sporadic accents, making the time very hard to get a hold of, aurally. It really is totally nuts! Check out this really amazing radiolab bit about the RoS and neuroscience.
posted by Lutoslawski at 3:58 PM on December 18, 2009


The correct answer is Donna Summer - I Feel Love

Yep. One of the earliest examples of House music, too.
posted by hellojed at 4:14 PM on December 18, 2009


It's always been my dream to be at a film or musical performance or something that goes down in history as a legendarily controversial event

Apparently when the Impressionists started showing paintings in Paris people tried to break into the galleries because they found them to be such an abomination. Now they're such a part of our collective consciousness that they just make us shrug and say "what? that's what it looks like."
posted by ekroh at 4:23 PM on December 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


It's a lot easier for music to change the world when people around the world have the technology to hear it.

My guess is that more people around the world were familiar with Eine Kleine Nachtmusik or Adeste Fideles pre-20th century than have heard Ornithology, that more Americans were influenced, more profoundly, by Battle Cry of Freedom or Dixie, for crying out loud, than Will the Circle Be Unbroken or I Will Survive.

I know this list is not "the 20 songs that most changed the world," but to dismiss the first 2,500 years of music history because there were no recordings is misguided. In fact, one could argue that music was more important as a social force in the days before recording and transmission technology. The Iliad , after all, was likely sung rather than recited.
posted by stargell at 5:09 PM on December 18, 2009


The Iliad , after all, was likely sung rather than recited.

While true, that's sort of a moot point with regard to this list, given that The Iliad was generally sung to the tune of I Will Survive, in Reggae style, with a backing track by Terminator X.
posted by The World Famous at 5:27 PM on December 18, 2009 [8 favorites]


very cool - just listened to #16 and am looking forward to more. Thanks!
posted by nnk at 6:00 PM on December 18, 2009


This is quite a fair list, all things considered. It is, however a bit difficult not to see something from Kind of Blue, probably "So What". It certainly changed jazz forever, anyway -- and that doesn't exclude Bird's "Ornithology".
posted by Seekerofsplendor at 6:22 PM on December 18, 2009


Shouldn't this be "Twenty Pieces of Music That Changed the Western World"? I mean, come on now.
posted by bettafish at 6:29 PM on December 18, 2009


Shouldn't this be "Twenty Pieces of Music That Changed the Western World"? I mean, come on now.

Well... not wanting to get all "western imperialist asshole" about this, but I think that Elvis affected asian music a lot more than asian music has affected the west. I'd welcome counter examples, however, because I'm not really a western imperialist asshole.
posted by hippybear at 6:49 PM on December 18, 2009


hippybear: Well... not wanting to get all "western imperialist asshole" about this, but I think that Elvis affected asian music a lot more than asian music has affected the west. I'd welcome counter examples, however, because I'm not really a western imperialist asshole.

*cough cough* Love You To *cough cough*

And before that a lot of the San Francisco rock/folk crew had been influenced by Indian classical music
posted by Kattullus at 8:16 PM on December 18, 2009


Kattullus: excellent. thank you. I do sometimes wish that influence had continued beyond the psychedelic era. I guess I can see Genesis' Home By The Sea being in the pentatonic scale, and I hear a lot of Arabian influence in modern pop music right now, e.g. the new U2 album, so there is some influence, indeed.

Still, nothing like the effect Elvis had, with rock bands springing up in Japan due to his influence. But thanks! I stand corrected.
posted by hippybear at 8:34 PM on December 18, 2009


It is, however a bit difficult not to see something from Kind of Blue, probably "So What". It certainly changed jazz forever, anyway -- and that doesn't exclude Bird's "Ornithology".

Changed jazz, absolutely. Changed the world? I'm not so sure. How so?

Listen to the segment on "Ornithology". I think Harris makes a pretty compelling argument for the importance of the piece (and Parker and bop in general). I don't think you can make the same kind of argument for "Kind of Blue".
posted by ssg at 9:03 PM on December 18, 2009


jokeefe: "Yeah, it's pretty hard to épater le bourgeois anymore."

I was auditing a seminar in experimental composition, once upon a time, and I was presenting a piece I had recently done on the day that Helmut Lachenmann was our guest.

After playing the recording, I was describing the method of organization and composition of the piece, the piece was divided into sections, for each one I used a different type of physical gesture to apply an object to bailing wire stretched on a 2x4 amplified through a contact microphone. Tugging with pair of pliers, sawing with a knife, scraping with a rasp, jostling a pencil woven between the strings, thumping with a dildo, etc. basically an extension of some ideas Cage explored in the '40s which were elaborated by Frith in the '70s. Lachenmann stopped me and asked the professor (also a German) "Was ist ein Dildo" ... after the explanation he blushed and appeared sort of flustered. He then lectured me very sternly that it was no longer necessary to shock the bourgeoisie. It was a pity - if I hadn't alienated him right off the bat I would have had all sorts of questions for him about composition and aesthetics.
posted by idiopath at 11:15 PM on December 18, 2009 [4 favorites]


I can't believe they left out Alvin and the Chipmunks singing 'Christmas Don't Be Late'. Ask anyone who was around at the time, you couldn't escape it on this planet or any you could fly away to. Talk about your Lip Dubbing!
posted by Twang at 11:46 PM on December 18, 2009


Blitzkrieg Bop belongs.

P.S. The audible condescension in the Carter Family segment is CBC at its worst.
posted by jeffen at 5:36 AM on December 19, 2009


E7 on top of an Eb7 with a lot of density in the bottom voices is just an insanely radical thing at this time

Too true. Amazing orchestration on offer there. Difficulty 9.8.
posted by Wolof at 6:14 AM on December 19, 2009


It's always been my dream to be at a film or musical performance or something that goes down in history as a legendarily controversial event, like the riot at Rite of Spring.

The 1976 premiere of the Ring cycle at Bayreuth qualifies for that status! In the brawl that ensued a woman's earring and earlobe were torn off.

Opera, particularly Wagner, is serious business.
posted by winna at 9:44 AM on December 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


paris ballet performing stravinski's rite of spring
posted by evabungle at 10:37 AM on December 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


That is the first time I've seen a ballet performance involving horses (they always look good en pointe, though).
posted by Kattullus at 10:51 AM on December 19, 2009


I haven't had a chance to listen to any of these yet :( but for those who have: do they talk at all about the African influences on jazz/rock/blues? I mean, anything in the West that is at all blues or rock based comes from African tribal music, so in a sense, that stuff changed the world more than anything else.
posted by Saxon Kane at 3:14 PM on December 19, 2009


Saxon Kane, episode 7 (Louis Armstrong's "West End Blues") talks precisely about that.

I've only listened to 4 of the shows so far, but they've been very interesting and persuasive. Very Western-centric, though, as noted above. I'd be interested in examples of music from other cultures that changed their home cultures, or the whole world. Any suggestions for further reading?

Thanks for posting this, blue shadows.
posted by Quietgal at 4:49 PM on December 19, 2009


Oh my god, can we get an FPP on that Paris ballet performance? Incredible!
posted by Rora at 6:23 PM on December 20, 2009


Michael Jackson breaking the color barrier on MTV with Bille Jean was pretty monumental.
posted by talldean at 8:25 PM on December 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Small update: on December 20th they added an extra bonus segment on Christmas music.
posted by Quietgal at 6:28 PM on January 1, 2010


« Older Kraken Mare lake...  |  Do you love your dog? So much... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments