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songs song decade events

This reference work offers a guide to 150 historically significant songs that helped chronicle the twentieth century. It explains the story behind each song’s creation and how it reflected political, economic, and social events of the time. Songs are arranged in roughly chronological order within each decade so the historic, political, and social themes embodied in these songs unfold in an understandable sequence. Additional indices, arranged alphabetically by song title, songwriter name, and subject, are also provided.

Songwriters have often used lyrics to describe current events and social moods of the day. Even compositions without lyrics, such as patriotic marches, are able to convey a sense of national pride. Therefore, an examination of our songs, and the story behind their creation, provides a glimpse of our nation’s collective psyche at different points in our history.

Why reflect on history through songs? Songs can sometimes convey emotions that no other medium can. The real pain of war is revealed through lyrics that only someone touched by such a tragedy could write. The anguish of the Depression was explained in songs that were easily understood by all listeners, even those unable to read or write. Joyful songs of prosperity were universally understood when created, and remain easily accessible footnotes of history.

Songwriters would, in all likelihood, work at their craft without its potentially lucrative rewards. Some even avoid commercially viable topics for their lyrics in favor of more meaningful, thought-provoking messages. Songwriters can, therefore, be considered historians and futurists. They describe recent events and speculate on where the world is heading. Songs—lyrics and melodies—are their diaries of people, events, and emotions. Fortunately, songwriters have left these sometimes intimate diaries of the twentieth century for us to study now and in the future.


Songs selected for consideration were typically from American vernacular or “popular” music, but songs from Broadway musicals and fine arts repertoire were considered whenever they were enjoyed by large numbers of listeners. Genre and subgenre that emerged tended to reflect social movements and were, therefore, most often included when they first emerged. Music created for specific venues (dance halls) and media (radio, television, and film) were also closely examined, because they have tended to reflect historic events.

It should be noted that lists of "Top Songs of " or "Best Songs of " are typically based on either commercial success in the marketplace or esthetic value of the compositions listed. This reference work attempts, instead, to present a representative selection of songs from each decade that best reflect American society at the time.

Songs were considered “noteworthy” if they remained in the public’s consciousness for a significant amount of time. Another criterion was the value a song had in describing historical events—social, political, and economic—of the day. Songs that described human conditions so effectively that they have been performed and recorded by numerous artists throughout the years were considered esthetically successful. And, although it was not the primary criterion, commercial success demonstrated by record sales, sheet music sales, and radio broadcasts was considered.

Songs were typically included in the decade in which they were written. Some songs were, however, included in the decade when the most influential recording, performance, or use (for example, film score) impacted on the public consciousness, even though the song had been written in a previous decade. Songs that were cast in a dramatically different genre or arrangement were also included in the most relevant decade.

It should also be noted that it is extremely difficult to identify the exact date of creation for many songs that emerged from improvisatory inspirations, such as jazz and rap. The registration of copyright and legal date of publication for a song (typically melody and lyrics) are often business decisions rather than accurate historic milestones. Therefore, the date of the first noteworthy recording (sound recording) is sometimes the indication given for the publication date. The authors of this reference work also considered copyright registration and publication and sound recording dates in order to assign a song to the appropriate decade.


The Story Behind the Song is organized by decades of the twentieth century. Each chapter begins with a historical overview of how songs from the decade reflected social, political, and economic events of that era. Each chapter includes entries of fifteen selected songs that had significance for the time period. Each song entry includes a discussion of the song’s history, why it was created, and how it reflected the events of the era when it was created. Each song entry includes the song title, songwriter(s), publication information, and current availability.

This reference work also provides a selected bibliography of resources and three indices. The bibliography includes Web sites and books that are helpful in researching songs, songwriters, and events of the twentieth century. Each of the three indices are arranged alphabetically and include an index arranged by Song Title, Songwriter, and Subject.

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about 4 years ago

Thank you sir/madam. This article is very relevant and useful for research particularly for students in music.