I call out, to no one, “With the human race on the ropes and the world’s population as your audience, what song would you use to save it?”
A response reaches out from the distance, to only me, “If ‘We Are the World’ couldn’t do it, then nothing can.”
Oh God. We’re doomed, aren’t we?
I don’t believe that. Not as long as we still have breath. We still have time to turn this inevitable cataclysm around. And if we can reach deep enough inside our souls, we can still be better. Even if we can’t do it by ourselves, we can look to the power of music to inspire us how to achieve something worth redeeming.
And so I say, to everyone, these songs, when understood and put into practice, could very well heal the wounds we’ve inflicted upon the world:
Bob Dylan – “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall”
Lesson: This song is essentially a patchwork quilt of ideas for songs Bob Dylan didn’t think he’d ever have the chance to complete. In doing so, he stitched together an all-encompassing view of the realities of man. It can be good, it can go bad and it can stay neutral. It all has an ending, it all has a beginning. Even when you put all the shades together, it creates a beautiful tapestry of humanity.
“I met a young woman whose body was burning
I met a young girl, she gave me a rainbow
I met one man who was wounded in love
I met another man who was wounded with hatred”
Michael Jackson – “Earth Song”
Lesson: There’s more to this world than human ambition. That near-sightedness has hurt our Mother Nature and, subsequently, ourselves.
“What about the man (What about us)
What about the crying man (What about us)
What about Abraham (What about us)
What about death again
Do we give a damn?”
Jason Mraz – “All Dialed In”
Lesson: What a wonder it is to feel a wholeness with the universe, with infinity. I felt it, years ago and in microscopic moments ever since. Fleeting as it was, I recall the image of dark clouds descending from the sky as I walked below them. They opened up, the deluge enveloping me instantly. I was still a long ways from shelter, so I accepted my place. I was a part of this. I was part of all. I was as insignificant as I was valuable, at peace with all the wrongs and right of my fellow man. Soaking and heavy, I continued onward. Just then, a car pulled over and offered me a ride. I accepted. When asked about repayment, the man said, “Just do the same thing for someone when you get the chance.”
“Climbing to the sky to gain a better understanding,
You’ll see the world is one and not one million things.
So while I’m singing out, I’m really thinking how astounding it is
That we’re all dialed in.”
Marvin Gaye – “What’s Goin’ On?”
Lesson: This song came on the heels of an anti-war protest that turned violent. In 1969, police and protestors rioted off Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley, California, now dubbed “Bloody Thursday.” It’s 2015, and that story is so relevant, it’s chilling. So instead of interjecting beliefs and taking sides, the writers of this song simply wanted to know what happened. This is why you don’t see the likes of Public Enemy and Rage Against the Machine on this list. Put down the weapons, put down the signs. Let’s talk. Let’s sing.
“Picket lines and picket signs
Don’t punish me with brutality
Talk to me, so you can see
Oh, what’s going on?”
Thrice – “Beggars”
Lesson: While the rest of these songs are about lifting our spirits to new heights, this haunting commentary is about tearing down the cancers of our society. The seed of corruption grows when a man thinks he is above all others. But take a look around and see how much control you really have and how insignificant you really are. It’s humility in its most terrifying form: “We are beggars, all.”
“All you champions of science and rulers of men,
Can you summon the sun from its sleep?
Does the earth seek your counsel on how fast to spin?
Can you shut up the gates of the deep?”
John Mayer – “Heart of Life”
Lesson: If you think life is ruthless, cumbersome and unsalvageable, then you haven’t experienced the power of friendship. We endure disappointments, tragedies and failures, many of us in disproportionate amounts. But it’s in those moments where love and and support blind us with their brilliance, showing us that the ups more than make up for the downs. Remember that no matter what you’re going through, someone else has gone through it, too.
“Pain throws your heart to the ground
Love turns the whole thing around
No it won’t all go the way it should,
But I know the heart of life is good”
John Lennon – “Imagine”
Lesson: If one person can live his or her life with kindness, love and respect, then it’s not out of the question for our brothers and sisters to do the same. We let war over money, religion and politics get in the way of unifying this great world we live in. Imagine what we could accomplish if seven billion people were all working for the same cause, sharing each others’ joy, comforting each others’ sorrows? That’s the thing: we shouldn’t have to imagine something so magnificent.
“You may say I’m a dreamer,
But I’m not the only one.
I hope someday you’ll join us,
And the world will be as one.”
U2 – “One”
Lesson: One of the gold standards of unity expressed through music. If you get a chance, read the U2 biography. It has a detailed backstory on how this song was created and how it was the linchpin that kept the band together. Regardless of the personal and political inspiration, it’s a message to which all of us should learn.
“Love is a temple
Love the higher law
You ask me to enter
But then you make me crawl
And I can’t be holding on
To what you got
When all you got is hurt”
Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five – “The Message”
Lesson: This was one of the first popular rap songs to step outside of itself and bring some perspective to people who originally had nothing to rally behind. It influenced a culture of musicians and civilians who found the strength to fight for something more, something they deserved. You don’t have to settle for something less because of your circumstances.
“A child is born with no state of mind
Blind to the ways of mankind
God is smilin’ on you but he’s frownin’ too
Because only God knows what you’ll go through”
The Beatles – “Let It Be”
Lesson: This is the song. The song that is and the song that will be. Let it be.
“And in my hour of darkness,
She is standing right in front of me.
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be.”
If you hear but do not heed the message of these songs, I will say, to only you, you have two simple tasks. And if you do them, you will have done the world a great service:
- Don’t hate.