Now, this is a subject that often creates some controversy. It is also a very misunderstood process. Change is not necessarily about rebellion, although it can be. Ideally, where human rights are concerned, it should be.
All change for the good is often preceded by chaos. The people that have control don’t want change. They see that it has a personal effect on them. So, they resist it. But if we don’t change, we don’t grow and get better. And if we don’t grow, we are not really living.
- Self First
- Playing For Change
- All Things Must Pass – George Harrison
- Changes – David Bowie
- Ramble On – Led Zeppelin
- What’s Going On – Marvin Gaye
- A Change is Gonna Come – Sam Cooke
- Peace Train – Cat Stevens
- The Times They Are-a-Changin – Bob Dylan
- Waiting On The World To Change – John Mayer
- Imagine – John Lennon
- Searching for Meaningful Music?
- Songs About Change – Final Thoughts
But if you want to make a difference, you cannot change others unless, first, you change yourself. Life and the society that we live in is in a constantly changing situation. That is inevitable and sometimes, for society to catch up to change is necessary.
But there are reasons for change, perhaps more important reasons than just keeping pace with what is going on about us. There is still enough poverty, human rights violations, greed, and corruption in the world to be dealt with. And flying off to make another life on Mars is not the answer.
Playing For Change
There are plenty of songs about change and the need for it in all the areas I have mentioned and more. The great poets and songwriters have all turned their hand to it.
There are also different aspects to change. Change the world, our lifestyle, our partners, and just about everything. Songs were written about all of them. Let’s take a look at what they have had to say about just one such aspect from the many.
George wrote this song about how things change and must change by necessity. It allowed him the chance to let his Buddhist teachings come to the fore. They had never been allowed to in his Beatle days. Understandable to a point.
He understood that Buddhism is not a religion and more a life philosophy. It is, therefore, ironic that many “so-called” Buddhist countries are racked with as much corruption and greed that non-Buddhist countries experience.
Life Is Fleeting
It is not only a song about change and how we can improve, but about life itself. He reminds us that sunrise is brief, a storm doesn’t last all day and life moves along.
It was inspired by the death of his mother in some part. But, it is impossible to not recognize the end of the Beatles in the words and sentiments.
A Wake-up Call?
Is it a call to act now while we still can? Possibly. It would certainly fit in with how he saw himself and his life. I said earlier about changing yourself first. George did that.
I was never sure about David Bowie as an artist. Cue incredulous complaints. He was a great songwriter of that; there is no doubt. But the repeated reincarnations of alter-ego characters left me a bit cold.
And sometimes, I don’t think he gave Mick Ronson the credit he was due. There is a plot behind the scenes in that situation we can’t go into here. Needless to say, when Mick died, Bowie never went to the tribute concert. I digress.
“Changes” is Bowie writing about the changes in his own life. The early struggles with novelty songs like “The Laughing Gnome” through to “Space Oddity” and the album Hunky Dory. This is where we find the original version of “Changes.” It was here that he finally found his groove.
For me, it was his album Aladdin Sane that was his real breakthrough. Featuring, of course, the track “Jean Genie” and Mick’s track-making guitar.
Changes give us a little clue to how desperate Bowie was in his early career as he tried to find his way. He revisits Dylan’s “Times They Are A-Changing” theme in the lyrics. Talking about how society was changing. A song that is certainly worth its place on this list.
Perhaps not immediately recognizable as a song about change, but it is how it can be interpreted. It is written about medieval travelers who would go from place to place and constantly change their environment.
The song teaches that change is inevitable and is often necessary. And it won’t be as painful as you might think it will be. I like the way Robert Plant includes a couple of references to Tolkien, of whose writings he is a great fan of.
In some ways, this could also be considered an autobiographical song. After Led Zeppelin had ceased to operate as a permanent musical function, he made plenty of personal changes in his own life. He was not one to sit on his laurels and sing “Stairway” until he was 90 milking every last penny. He changed from one project and then on to the next. Respect to him for that.
I must hold my hands up in guilt and admit there is another reason this song is included. If you haven’t already, take a listen to John Paul Jones’s bass line. Was there ever a more creative, melodic, and harmonic bass player than him? I doubt it.
I took a lot of stick in some circles for liking Marvin Gaye. If you played rock music, you weren’t supposed to like Motown, although don’t tell The Who that.
Motown, all sweet smiles, sharp suits, and trite dance steps. But, also some great songs and artists. Marvin Gaye was one of them. So, when he released this song asking what on earth is going on in the world, I was even more impressed.
He was one of many black American artists at the time that began to challenge the establishment. And he and the others frightened the life out of them. This song was and still is a great example.
For the first time, he got involved in the songwriting process along with one of the Four Tops and songwriter Al Cleveland. They threw down the gauntlet in some ways, and the message was simple. Change. That was against the grain for the Motown brigade.
And he had a go at plenty of issues…
It is interesting how, if the song were released again today, how much is still relevant.
- Going into Space – “Mindless moonshots, spend it on the have nots”- a few people around today could consider that one.
- The Tax Situation (those that paid it) – “We make our money, before we see it, you take it”
- The Endless Wars – “Bills are sky-high; let’s send that boy off to die.”
- Crime – “Crime is increasing, trigger happy policing”- no need to comment on that one.
His answer was for people to find a way to love each other rather than hate. Haven’t gone too far with that one yet in some circles. One of the greatest songs about change with great sentiments and a brave condemnation at a time when it was dangerous to question.
From Sam Cooke’s 1964 album Ain’t That Good News, the title and lyrics speak for themselves. It was originally released as a single also in 1964 as the B-side to “Shake.”
It is a song inspired by a personal situation that Sam had experienced with his wife. They turned up at a motel with his backing band and were met with a “Whites-only” sign. They were refused entry. No comment necessary, but it spawned what could be the most popular song about change that struck a chord with a lot of people.
Taken from his album Teaser and the Firecat, this is a simple song that can be rather vague in its meaning. Essentially, it is about the importance of supporting peace and changing yourself to feel that way. He likens the peace movement to a train steadily moving towards its destination. A destination that will include resistance to war and hatred in all its manifestations.
After the 1960s ended, Cat Stevens released this song. Celebrating the hope that society would change and continue to become more peaceful for everyone. The album was released in 1971 as the sixties, and all its trials and tribulations had ended.
He hoped in the message of the song that we could all now move forward. No doubt he will have been disappointed at the outcome.
How could I not include this? One of the classic anthems about change from my youth, from one of the world’s great poets. This could be called the most important song of the early 60s.
Inspired by the Civil Rights movement, Dylan sings, “You had better start swimming, or you’ll sink like a stone.” Join us or else. He follows that up with, “The old world is rapidly changing, get out of the new one if you can’t lend a hand.” Ouch!
It was the title track from his 1964 album of the same name. This song was no accident. He sat down to upset a few people and write an anthem to contribute to change. It was influenced in many ways by some Celtic ballads he had heard.
The Night After
Released in 1965 as a single in the UK, it reached number 9 on the chart. It was played to a standstill in my house. That after some long into the night and early morning sessions with my friend Chris. It was not released as a single in the US.
On Saturday, November 23, 1963, Bob Dylan opened his concert with this song. It was the night after JFK had been gunned down. “For the loser now will be later to win.”
Not many people seem to use the words “protest songs” anymore. Prevalent in the time of Bob Dylan and Joan Baez, the phrase seems to have gone out of fashion. But that is exactly what this excellent song is.
We Don’t Trust Our Leaders
That is the message that comes across, and when you look around, who can blame him. In this song, he complains about the endless wars that some countries insist on fighting. He ridicules the media and its deliberate bias.
As he says, “When you own the TV channels and the newspapers, you can say what you like.” And the problem is some people actually believe it.
That is exactly how he sees it because you can’t beat a system that is corrupt in the first place. He and his generation are just Waiting On The World To Change. And, of course, one day, it will. An excellent song with the sort of content about change that we might expect from a Dylan or a Baez.
Somehow, whatever subject you discuss, it always seems to turn to this song from John Lennon. As someone I know said, “the song that McCartney wishes he’d written.” So, no surprise this ends our list of songs about change.
But is it about change? Of course, it is. That is the deep-rooted meaning of what John was saying. A call to change and to lead a different life. A call to change, to be better.
Sometimes the message gets lost and is criticized for being anti-this and anti-that. And to be fair on the face of it, it is anti-religious, and it is against extreme nationalism. It is against the extremes and excesses of capitalism, some of which are performed by his peer group.
Give Peace A Chance
John was a fervent opponent of any war. “Give Peace A Chance,” he advocated. He was just highlighting that without religious conflicts caused by perceived differences and nationalism, there would be no need for wars.
That, if the super-rich had any sense of moral duty at all, then just a fraction of their wealth could be used to benefit the poor and hungry, rather than indulge themselves in headline-grabbing games.
The Message In Imagine Can Get Lost
The message also sometimes gets lost because people hear the beauty of the song and don’t then don’t hear the meaning of the words. They will sit back and get swept away by it without hearing what John and Yoko were meaning and what they were trying to say. A great song, of course, and a fitting way to end a list of songs that talk about change.
Searching for Meaningful Music?
We can help with that. Take a look at our detailed articles on the Best Songs About Walking, the Best Songs about Fighting, the Best Songs About Friendship, the Best Songs about Friday, the Best Songs About Clouds, and even the Best Songs About Ice Cream for more memorable music.
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Songs About Change – Final Thoughts
Of course, if you were to read all this and listen to all this, you would think we had no chance at all. These songs are just highlights. They portray things that are not right in the eyes of the writer. Not all would agree, of course. There is nothing wrong with having an opinion.
But songs can have a positive impact. It makes us think about what could be done if we set our minds to it. Just, “Imagine.”
Until next time, happy listening.