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Songs and musicians can do more than just entertain; they can also inspire. Last year, Eminem raised awareness for a good cause in England on his social media account following the Manchester attack that left dozens dead and hundreds injured.
The music they produce is no different in this sense. There have also been numerous songs that have entertained and inspired in equal measure, and choosing the best is a rather daunting undertaking. That being said, here are 6 songs that have had a lasting impact on society:
"Imagine" by John Lennon
Arguably the signature song of the great John Lennon, “Imagine” was released as the title track on Lennon’s second album, which was named Imagine as well. The soothing ballad wants you to imagine a peaceful and unified world where religion, race, ethnicity, and nationality do not cause divisiveness and conflict. It also encourages people to not be chained to material wealth.
Yes, Lennon’s message seems utopian at best, but there is nothing wrong with aspiring for that kind of world. The song resonated back then, and it still resonates today.
“Strange Fruit” by Billie Holiday
Racism remains, and that is why Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit” endures. Crowned by Time in 1999 as the song of the century, some 60 years after it was first released, this Holiday classic tackles racism in the most in-your-face way possible.
As haunting as it is moving, “Strange Fruit” describes in vivid detail how vile racism can be, and Holiday’s unmatched vocals make listening to the song an almost surreal, if not eerie, experience. Unfortunately, the song continues to be as relevant now.
"War” by Edwin Star
Way before Jackie Chan tried singing this all-time classic in Rush Hour, Edwin Star’s “War” had become an antiwar anthem that openly condemned war, specifically the one being waged in Vietnam at that time.
More than its straight-up vilification of war, this Edwin Star hit—notable for being the first Motown song to make a political statement—also played up the need for people to live together in harmony, because really, what is war good for? Absolutely nothing!
“Fight the Power” by Public Enemy
Rap often has a bad rep, especially today, but the genre has been used through the years to make social and political statements, notably in the raising awareness for the plight of minorities.
Public Enemy did exactly that in “Fight the Power,” first released as part of the soundtrack for the Spike Lee film Do the Right Thing, and then a year later as part of Public Enemy’s Fear of a Black Planet album.
The song was unapologetic yet authentic, confrontational but empowering, and incendiary yet unifying. And in many ways, it didn’t matter if you were part of a minority or not, as the message of the song was universal: partake in social and political change.
“Heal the World” by Michael Jackson
“Heal the World” by Michael Jackson not only showcased the master showman’s exceptional voice, but it also showed his awareness of the world, which at that time was being torn apart by wars in the Balkan Region and Somalia. Jackson just wanted to heal the world, and he made his call to action in the form of this beautiful song.
“Runaway Train” by Soul Asylum
Overlooked in societies all around the world are the so-called black sheep or outcasts, who are often misunderstood, neglected, and ostracized. This segment of society found an anthem in the form of Soul Asylum’s “Runaway Train,” a sublime but ultimately moving alternative track that became the voice of people longing for acceptance and support.
This trivia from a Lottoland infographic on the most influential rock songs shows how Runaway Train became the voice of a lost generation: After the release of the music video, 26 individuals who ran away from home returned. Some two decades later, Soul Asylum’s hit still resonates.