Songs With Pieces of History

I like listening to songs sung about history. I take them as mini history lessons. Of course, the facts in a single song are not comprehensive, but at least most have sufficient facts to document the essential details of a particular piece of history; and for those that do not have the needed facts to appreciate the history that is sung, they will prompt one to do a little research so as to be able to understand the songs. And hey, every little piece of knowledge, regardless of how minor it is, benefits.

When we have listened to a song a number of times, we gradually pick up its tune and lyrics. It is not even as if we tried to remember the lyrics or melody, it just happens naturally to everyone. Ever heard of the phrase "the power of music"? Well, I undoubtedly think this phrase applies to this type of songs.

So what has this factor got to do with a history-sung song? First, the effortlessly acquired facts (which are the lyrics themselves) would be cemented in our brains without us even trying to not forget them.

Second, for those songs which lyrics only relate to a particular history without stating a direct account of it, the details that we obtain through our researches would also be recalled whenever the song is played. Wouldn't it be great if history classes actually use this "learn through songs" approach? It wouldn't be a dread then for those students who dislike their history subjects. But for those of us who are blessed with the appreciation of histories, songs like these simply make a particular piece of history more pleasurable to study.

Third, as mentioned above, songs like these whet our curiosity and desire to know more on a subject or issue, so they can be likened to fish baits in that once we hook on them there is a lure for us to discover more. And for history buffs, the temptation to dig deeper merely intensifies with the acquiring of each new juicy factual morsel.

Included in this hub are four apt examples of songs sung about history accompanied by their respective lyrics and videos, along with links pertaining to the subjects for those who might be interested to discover more. The significant lyrics are emphasized in bold.


Grave marker for Annie Moore at Calvary Cemetery, Queens, N.Y.
Grave marker for Annie Moore at Calvary Cemetery, Queens, N.Y. | Source

Isle of Hope, Isle of Tears

This song actually engages two pieces of history - Ellis Island and Annie Moore. I'll always remember the opening and closing dates of Ellis Island, the famed gateway for millions of immigrants to the land of freedom and opportunities, and the name and age of the first immigrant to pass through it. This song is written by Brendan Graham and Ronan Tynan, and has been performed by a number of singers including Tynan himself. This version is of Irish all-female singing sensation, Celtic Woman, from their album, Songs from the Heart .

Close-up view of the grave marker of the above image.
Close-up view of the grave marker of the above image. | Source
First Ellis Island Immigration Station in New York Harbor. Opened January 2, 1892. Completely destroyed by fire on 15 June 1897.
First Ellis Island Immigration Station in New York Harbor. Opened January 2, 1892. Completely destroyed by fire on 15 June 1897. | Source


Lyrics:

On the first day of January

eighteen nine-two

They opened Ellis Island

and they let the people through

And the first to cross the threshold

of that isle of hope and tears

Was Annie Moore from Ireland

who was all of fifteen years


Chorus:

Isle of hope, isle of tears

Isle of freedom, isle of fears

But it’s not the isle you left behind

That isle of hunger, isle of pain

Isle you’ll never see again

But the isle of home

is always on your mind


In a little bag she carried

all her past and history

And her dreams for the future

in the land of liberty

And courage is the passport

when your old world disappears

But there’s no future in the past

when you’re fifteen years


Chorus


When they closed down Ellis Island

in nineteen forty-three

Seventeen million people

had come there for sanctuary

And in springtime when I came here

and I stepped on to its piers

I thought of how it must have been

when you’re fifteen years


Chorus


David Livingstone (1813-1873)
David Livingstone (1813-1873) | Source

What About Livingstone

Clues about David Livingstone are only presented in the chorus, so I find it needless to include the entire song's lyrics here. Though not much information can be obtained from this song about Livingstone by accomplished Swedish pop group, ABBA, it generates a keen interest to discover more about this man (understandably an explorer with the phrase "travelling up the Nile") and his adventures.

Do watch the video on the right as it has a brief and all-you-need-to-know summary about Livingstone.

Lyrics:

What about Livingstone
What about all those men
Who have sacrificed their lives to lead the way
Tell me wasn’t it worth the while
Travelling up the Nile
Putting themselves on test
Didn’t that help the rest
Wasn’t it worth it then
What about Livingstone



Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin (1869-1916)
Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin (1869-1916) | Source

Rasputin

Made famous in 1978 by West German pop and disco band, Boney M., Rasputin was a hit single off their tremendously popular album Nightflight to Venus . It is a semi-biographical song about Grigori Rasputin, chiefly known by his family name, who was an influential and prominent figure in Russia's political arena, and who, too, played a major role in the events that led to the fall of the Romanov dynasty.

It is explicitly stated in the lyrics that he was a Russian mystic who was appointed by Tsarina Alexandra to be the healer to her son, the Grand Duke Alexei (who was suffering from haemophilia, a hereditary blood illness only inherited by males, carried down through generations solely by females, and widespread among European royalty descended from Queen Victoria of Great Britain, Alexei's great-grandmother), and that he had numerous foes who were determined to bring him down by lacing his wine with a fatal dose of poison (cyanide) and by ultimately shooting him.


Lyrics:

There lived a certain man in Russia long ago
He was big and strong, in his eyes a flaming glow
Most people looked at him with terror and with fear
But to Moscow chicks he was such a lovely dear
He could preach the bible like a preacher
Full of ecstacy and fire
But he also was the kind of teacher
Women would desire

Ra ra Rasputin
Lover of the Russian queen
There was a cat that really was gone
Ra ra Rasputin
Russia's greatest love machine
It was a shame how he carried on

He ruled the Russian land and never mind the czar
But the kasachok he danced really wunderbar
In all affairs of state he was the man to please
But he was real great when he had a girl to squeeze
For the queen he was no wheeler dealer
Though she'd heard the things he'd done
She believed he was a holy healer
Who would heal her son

But when his drinking and lusting and his hunger
For power became known to more and more people,
The demands to do something about this outrageous
Man became louder and louder.

"This man's just got to go!" declared his enemies
But the ladies begged "Don't you try to do it, please"
No doubt this Rasputin had lots of hidden charms
Though he was a brute they just fell into his arms
Then one night some men of higher standing
Set a trap, they're not to blame
"Come to visit us" they kept demanding
And he really came

Ra ra Rasputin
Lover of the Russian queen
They put some poison into his wine
Ra ra Rasputin
Russia's greatest love machine
He drank it all and he said "I feel fine"

Ra ra Rasputin
Lover of the Russian queen
They didn't quit they wanted his head
Ra ra Rasputin
Russia's greatest love machine
And so they shot him till he was dead

Oh those Russians


Barker Cottage on Lake Weir in Florida. "Ma" and Fred Barker died in the upper left bedroom of this cottage.
Barker Cottage on Lake Weir in Florida. "Ma" and Fred Barker died in the upper left bedroom of this cottage. | Source

Ma Baker

Also a song by disco group, Boney M., this is the story of the legendary and infamous 1930s outlaw, Ma Barker (maiden name - Arizona Clarke; married George Barker), mother of members of the Barker gang. Her name is changed in the song because Boney M. decided that 'Ma Baker' sounded better when sung. The first few lines have already crafted the tone of the entire piece and from them it can be inferred that it is not about an honorable bit of history - "FBI's most wanted woman".


Lyrics

Freeze I'm ma baker
Put your hands in the air
And give me all your money
This is the story of ma baker
The meanest cat from old chicago town
She was the meanest cat
In old chicago town
She was the meanest cat
She really mowed them down
She had no heart at all
No no no heart at all
She was the meanest cat
For she was really tough
She left her husband flat He wasn't tough enough
She took her boys along
Cos they were mean and strong
Chorus:
Ma ma ma ma ma baker
She taught her boys Ma ma ma ma ma baker
To handle there guns
Ma ma ma ma ma baker
She never could cry
Ma ma ma ma ma baker
But she knew how to die

They left a trail of crime
Across the USA
And when one boy was killed She really made them pay She had no heart at all
No no no heart at all

Chorus

She met a man she liked
she thought she'd stay with him
One day he informed on them
They did away with him
She didn't care at all
Just didn't care at all

Here is a special bulletin
Ma baker is the FBI's most wanted woman
Her photo is hanging on every post office wall
If you have any information about this woman
Please contact the nearest police station

Don't anybody move the money or your life

One day they robbed a bank
It was last foray
The cops appeared to soon
They couldn't get away
With all the loot they had
It made them might mad
And so they shot it out
Ma baker and her sons
They didn't want to hang
They died with blazing guns
And so the story ends
Of one who left no friends

Chorus

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Comments 2 comments

Stephanie Henkel profile image

Stephanie Henkel 5 years ago from USA

I believe in the power of music, but hadn't really thought about the tidbits of history that we learn from music. The song, Isle of Hope, Isle of Tears, about Ellis Island touched me, as all of my grandparents came to this country through Ellis Island. Interesting hub!


Carmen H profile image

Carmen H 5 years ago Author

Glad you enjoyed Isle of Hope, Isle of Tears, Stephanie. It is one of my favorite songs of Celtic Woman.

About the history part, I have been telling my mum about that since I was a very little girl, then one day it just dawn on me to write about it.

Thanks for stopping by here too!

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