10 Songs Based on Historical Events7 min read

-Quentin Gavignon-

No Tears Left to Cry – Ariana Grande, 2018

The song is a response to the bombing at her concert at the Manchester Arena during the tour in the UK in May 2017. The 25-year-old American singer left the stage deeply shocked and even refused to record a new album. Eventually, after spending time with her family and friends, she headed back to the studios to compose No Tears Left to Cry. The track oozes positivity and emphasises on optimism. Her work was critically acclaimed, and the song will always link her to the tragedy which occurred in the city of Manchester. Ariana Grande’s song hits number three on the US Billboard 100.

These Four Walls (The Ballad of Perry Smith) – Bastille, 2016

The song muses on capital punishment in the US through the Perry Smith’s case. Kansas-native ex-convict was convicted of murdering four members of a family during a robbery. The case became famous after Truman Capote’s non-fiction novel In Cold Blood, published in 1966. The lead singer, Dan Smith, explained that he was inspired to write the song by reading this book. Most of the lyrics portray his last days in his cell before his execution. The British band clearly defends his position of not condoning the death penalty but also doesn’t know what to think about it. Perry Smith, was executed by hanging in 1965. The song was named ‘most depressing’ of the album by Bastille fans.

Raised By Wolves – U2, 2014

Like Sunday Bloody Sunday, one of the most iconic songs by the Irish band U2, Raised By Wolves depicts the everyday life of living in Dublin during the period of ‘The Troubles’. At that time, there were political and religious tensions between Northern Ireland and Ireland over the constitutional status of Northern Ireland. Indeed, the unionists in Northern Ireland where the population was predominantly Protestant, wanted to remain in the United Kingdom whereas, Ireland nationalists, mostly Catholic, wished to leave the United Kingdom to obtain the independence. The conflict lasted almost 30 years and was deemed to have finished after the signature of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. Bono tells the story of car-bombing that he witnessed while riding his bike. The singer also mentions some accurate details of the cars, naming the brand and the registration plate. The metaphor of the wolves symbolises how barbaric and merciless mankind can be.

The Big Three Killed My Baby – The White Stripes, 1999

The White Stripes denounces the three major car makers of the 1950-60ss which were thriving at that time. In the song, Ford, Chrysler and General Motors are roundly criticised for engineering the concept of planned obsolescence and also lacking long-term innovation for its vehicles. The lyrics describe how car makers and oil companies ruled the world and left no opportunity for any other brand to set up. The track mentions “Tucker’s blood”, which is a reference to Preston Tucker, an American automobile entrepreneur, who designed the Tucker 48 in the 1950s. The number of cars produced remained low since the company had to shut down following negative publicity by the media. Some believe that the “Big Three” were involved in the Tucker demise.

P.L.U.C.K – System of a Down, 1998

System of a Down is a band made up of four members who have Armenian roots and logically, this song recounts the Armenian genocide perpetrated by the Ottomans in 1915. P.L.U.C.K stands for ‘Politically Lying, Unholy, Cowardly Killers’, an acronym used to define the deeds of the Ottoman Empire. Around 1.5 million Armenian people were killed, but this figure remains disputed. The lyrics express the long-awaited will to recognise Turkey officially as the main instigator of the genocide. The band roundly scathed Turkey and the lack of courage of other nations, like the US, to step forward to pile pressure on it.

Wind of Change – Scorpions, 1991

Through this ballad the Hanover-formed band expresses hope of a better future after the Berlin wall fell in 1989, but more generally they celebrate the end of the Cold War between the Eastern and Western blocks. The song contains several references to Russia, with the River Moskva and the Gorky Park, showing that Russia has embraced a new political vision that could lead to more peaceful relationships with the US and the rest of the world. The band also alludes to Mikhail Gorbachev’s new policies to modernise and change the country drastically. Wind of Change has marked a generation and the charts. The hit reached number one position in Germany and in most of the European charts before conquering the US charts with a fourth place. The track is also one of the best-selling singles of all times.

Russians – Sting, 1985

The song recounts the period of tension between the two powerful countries, the United States and the USSR, during the Cold War. Sting used the Romance Theme of a Soviet propaganda movie, Lieutenant Kijé, to build his melody. In the lyrics, the English singer hits out at President Reagan and Soviet Premier Khrushchev who continuously threaten the global balance to use the atomic bomb to annihilate each other. Sting even referred to the Star Wars Initiative, a hare-brained defence system aiming at protecting the country against ballistic strategic nuclear missiles. The lyrics also evoke Julius Oppenheimer, the American physicist, credited with being the creator of the atomic bomb during World War II. Despite all the political divergences, Sting places his hopes in the new generations to settle the issue, “I hope the Russians love their children too.” The song ends with a clock ticking, representing the urgency of acting swiftly to save the world.

Enola Gay – Orchestral Manœuvres in the Dark, 1980

Enola Gay remains the only massive hit made by this English band. Enola Gay is a reference to the name of the B-29 Superfortress bomber which dropped the atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima on the 6 August 1945, killing around 100,000 Japanese citizens. The pilot, Colonel Paul Tibbets, named the plane after the name of his mother, Enola Gay Tibbets. This anti-war song is filled with historical references like the time of the bomb dropping (8:15) and the name of the uranium bomb, Little Boy. Andy McCluskey, the vocalist and bass guitarist, alludes to the double relation, between the pilot and his mother, and the bomber and the bomb in the sentence: “Is mother proud of little boy today“. The song finishes with: “It is never ever gonna fade away” demonstrating that that event will mark the history forever. Another interesting fact about the song is that it came out when Margaret Thatcher allowed US missiles to station on the British soil.

Smoke on the Water – Deep Purple, 1973

The British Band depicted the blaze that burnt down the Montreux Casino in Switzerland. In 1971, Deep Purple flew to Montreux to record an album using a mobile recording studio rented by the Rolling Stones. The studio, which was a part of the casino, would be vacant since the casino had to close down for its annual winter renovations. The day before the closing, a concert by Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention was held. During the performance, a member of the audience fired a flare gun on the ceiling made of rattan. The complex burned to ashes. The accident left nobody injured, however, the flames had ravaged the whole building. The “Smoke” naturally refers to the blaze but the “Water” comes from the fact that the casino was located near the Lake Geneva. Eventually, the band ended up recording in the Montreux Grand Hotel.

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