Making Curriculum Pop

Hi Everyone, 

Last winter we had a really successful post where people worked to build playlists - see RESOURCES: American Studies + Popular Music and QUESTION: Music for Black History Month? To build on that tradition today I'm sharing my list of songs that reference and or allude to World History events. I may have to go back to articulate the allusions but I'll do that In the new year when I take all these lists and create iTunes playlists so we can download everything in one place.

Here's a list of songs about history or that make allusions to history - hence the World History Playlist.

"The Mesopotamians" - They Might Be Giants
"King Tut" - Steve Martin
"Leif Erikson" - Interpol
"Viva La Vida" - Coldplay
"I'm Henry the VIII, I Am" - Herman's Hermits
"Waterloo" - Abba
"Welcome Back Victoria" - Jesus Jones
"Alexander the Great" - Iron Maiden
"Hypnotize (Tiananmen Square)" - System of a Down
"Handlebars" - Flobots
"Flashing Lights" - Kanye West
"Marrakesh Express" - Crosby, Stills & Nash
"The Lion Sleeps Tonight (Wimoweh)"* - The Tokens
"Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport" - Jim Springer
"Istanbul (Not Constantinople)" - They Might Be Giants
"Lady Jane" - The Rolling Stones
"Dominique" - The Singing Nun
"Say You Will" - Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals
"Caesar" - Iggy Pop
"Plasticities" - Andrew Bird
"Anne of Cleves" - Rick Wakeman
"Lost" - Coldplay Feat. Jay-Z
"Marx And Engels" - Belle and Sebastian
"Oliver Cromwell" - Monty Python

What tunes do you want to add to our World History Playlist?

* For those of you wondering about "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" - from Wikipedia:
In the liner notes to one of his recordings, Seeger explained his interpretation of the song, which he believed to be traditional, as an instance of a "sleeping-king" folk motif about Shaka, Warrior King of the Zulus, along the lines of the mythical European sleeping king in the mountain: Shaka the Lion, who heroically resisted the armies of the European colonizers, is supposed not to be dead but only sleeping and will one day awaken and return to lead his oppressed people to freedom. University of Texas folklorist, Veit Erlmann, however, argues that the song's meaning is more literal and refers to an incident in Linda's own youth when he actually killed a lion cub.[5]

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Replies to This Discussion

Songs by Damien Dempsey...he's got a TON of great historical songs...mostly revolving around the Irish history in correlation with the rest of the world.

"To Hell or Barbados"

This you can always use when teaching with Oliver Cromwell-related material or The Crucible when the characters reference Barbados (Tituba seems to like it there, but the other characters don't it with such love). But the phrase "To Hell or Barbados" had t come from  somewhere. The English had enslaved the Scots and Irish and sent them to work in the crops at their new territory Barbados.

A related song is by Flogging Molly "Tobacco" takes on the same historical Irish POV of Barbados.


"The Great Gaels of Ireland" gives an overview of the history of the Gaels...Irish and Scottish,. how they were founded, their cultural history (ancient matriarchies), and the continued invasions on them.


"Choctaw Nation" tells of how the American Choctaw's supported the Irish through the Potato Famine by sending all the money they could, even when they didn't have that much and when they were not receiving sympathy or support from other nations. It's a long-forgotten piece of history and ignored in American history books, even in Irish history books. Even this seemingly small act of kindness had great significance for the Irish. Mr. Dempsey has much to say of this song if you ever run across it in any interviews. I can look later and repost some.


"Colony" is a bit of a rough folk-rock rap, and, boy, is it scrappy. Damien Dempsey just looks to starts fights, and I love it. The song addresses civilizations that have taken over other ones and think themselves superior still. It takes a look at POV and rewrites history from the underdog's POV. Love it.


"Boadicea" by Petra Berger,"Boadicea" by DJ Mason (ft. Roisin Murphy), "Boadiccea" by Faith and the Muse, and heavy metal band Bal-Sagoth did two songs on their album Battle Magic "When Rides The Scion Of The Storms" and "Blood Slakes The Sand At The Circus Maximus" are all about Boudica/Boadicea, or in Bal-Sagoth's poetic and literary tunes a soldier that fought for Boudica.


"Sunday Bloody Sunday" by U2...Song about the day known as "Bloody Sunday" where British troops opened fire on an rally of Irish protestors.


"Christmas in the Trenches" by John McCutcheon tells of the Christmas Truce of 1914.


Gilligan's Ireland "Poor Ned (Ballad of Ned Kelly)" and "Ned Kelly" by Johnny Cash are just two songs about the historical Irish-Australian outlaw debated folk hero.


Malinky's "Edom O'Gordon" tells the story of the Scottish Lady Margaret Forbes (nee Campbell) being attacked by Adam Gordon of Auchindoun, her clan's archnemesis, after she refused to allow him into her castle from the cold. Rather, he kills her and her entire family.


If I think of any more I'll let you know.

And, yes, I realize that most of these are not pop culture-y....but they're songs!

Nice additions Sean - I now have a lot of listening to do!  Thank you!





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