Popular songs that teach a lesson (i.e. We didn't start the fire)

I’m looking for popular songs that teach a lesson, but that people don’t really know that they do. (Good sentence, Hah?) For instance, I know some teachers teach “We didn’t start the Fire” in their history classes, but a lot of people don’t know that the song was meant to teach. See what I mean? Sorry for being so ambiguous.

Although “The Battle of New Orleans” was actually written by teacher James Morris (aka Jimmy Driftwood), it became a pop hit when recorded by Johnny Horton. Read the background of the song’s origin and popularization here:


Lyrics and music available at:


Gordon Lightfoot wrote, and still performs, “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” as both a tribute to the sailors who lost their lives and an attempt to preserve the memory of the disaster:


If I didn’t need to get some sleep, I’d post more links. I’m sure plenty of other posters will be happy to share their favorite examples.

You will get better responses in Cafe Society. I’ll move it there for you.

Off to Cafe Society.

DrMatrix - General Questions Moderator

“I’m going to Vietnam” (correct title?) by Canned Heat
“Alice’s Restaurant Masacre” by Arlo Guthrie (don’t litter)
“Only the Good Die Young” by Billy Joel

Goodnight Saigon by Billy Joel.

Follow The Drinking Gourd

(look it up - it’s worth the effort - esp. for Americans)

“Murder by Numbers” is pretty educational, but not in a socially constructive way.

“You must learn” by KRS One

“Shipbuilding” by Elvis Costello

“Free Satpal Ram” by Asian Dub Foundation

perhaps “American Skin” by Bruce Springsteen?

Most songs by the Animaniacs

  • Oliver Cromwell * by Monty Python.

Iron Maiden has a munber of historical songs, with The Trooper being the best known. We also listened to Rime of the Ancient Mariner in Lit class. Maiden has done a lot of lit work really.

Virgin Steele has done two albums on the House of Atrius from Greek Mythology.

How would you teach “We Didn’t Starrt the Fire”? It’s pretty much just a string of references without any kind of commentary on them. What does it teach other than these are some vaguely related things that happened in history?

The Star Spangled Banner
I Don’t Like Spiders and Snakes
50 Ways to Leave your Lover
Cat’s in the Cradle

James K. Polk, Meet James Ensor, and Why does the Sun Shine? by They Might be Giants

One of my favorites, a life lesson if there ever was one… “Take the Long way home” by Supertramp.

Because somtimes, it just dosn’t matter what you do as long as you are happy. So take the senic route

You beat me to it Edward The Head and how appropriate too. Hey we listened to ROTAM in Lit class too. A student brought in the Powerslave ALBUM and we listened to it after a week long discussion on the actual poem. This is going back many many moons though.

Iron Maiden also had songs such as The Flight of Iccarus and Alexander the Great. To name a few more.

I agree with Lego that We Didn’t Start The Fire doesn’t really teach but it can be used as a guide by teachers to explain the history referenced in the song.

How about U2’s Sunday Bloody Sunday and Pride. Don McLean’s American Pie? It might be more like WDSTF though since the references are kind of vaugue. I know Cecil did a explaination of the song some time ago.

I am sure there a ton of other songs out there as well.

Almost anything by Tom Lehrer.

My favorite is The Teen Commandments, by Paul Anka, Johnny Nash and George Hamilton IV. I especially like:

  1. At the first moment, turn away from unclean thinking. At the first moment!

“Why Does The Sun Shine?” helped me a couple questions right on an Astronomy test my freshman year of college. Of course, I probably would have done better if I actually went to class instead of stayed in my dorm room listening to TMBG, but I’ll take it.

Rifles of Kentucky
Bonnie Blue Flag
Roll Alabama Roll
Marching Through Georgia
Roads to Moscow, Lord Grenville, On the Border - Al Stewart

Um, “Don’t Take Your Guns To Town.”