The Washington Post

Songs about history

I was just listening again to Mark Knopfler’s “Done with Bonaparte,” which I like very much, and it reminded me how rarely one hears good songs about history. Obviously, there are the patriotic songs — “The Star-Spangled Banner” is one obvious example — but I mean modern songs that are:

  1. Explicitly about historical matters (rather than just protest songs about current events, or songs that have brief historical references).
  2. Good independently of their cultural significance.

My favorite Russian singer-songwriter, Bulat Okudzhava, wrote many about World War II, partly because he fought in the war and partly because he wrote songs for Soviet films, many of which were about the war; but I can’t think of many American ones. Knopfler also has some others, “Baloney Again,” which I quite like, and “Sailing to Philadelphia,” which I don’t like. David Byrne’s “Mommy Daddy You and I” might vaguely be about the immigrant experience, but I don’t see it as sufficiently historical. Paul Simon’s “American Tune” has historical references, but I don’t think it’s fundamentally about history, either.

In any event, if you have some recommendations, please post them below. I’d like to listen to the songs myself, and I think my children might enjoy them, too. (My boys and I just listened to “Done with Bonaparte” together, largely because we had earlier listened to a recorded lecture about the Napoleonic Wars, and I think it helped bring some of the historical material to life.)

Eugene Volokh teaches free speech law, religious freedom law, church-state relations law, a First Amendment Amicus Brief Clinic, and tort law, at UCLA School of Law, where he has also often taught copyright law, criminal law, and a seminar on firearms regulation policy.



Success! Check your inbox for details. You might also like:

Please enter a valid email address

See all newsletters

Show Comments

Sign up for email updates from the "Confronting the Caliphate" series.

You have signed up for the "Confronting the Caliphate" series.

Thank you for signing up
You'll receive e-mail when new stories are published in this series.
Most Read



Success! Check your inbox for details.

See all newsletters

Your Three. Videos curated for you.
Play Videos
Deaf banjo player teaches thousands
Perks of private flying
Drawing as an act of defiance
Play Videos
Husband finds love, loss in baseball
Bao: The signature dish of San Francisco
From foster homes to the working world
Play Videos
How soccer is helping Philadelphia men kick the streets
Here's why you hate the sound of your own voice
The woman behind the Nats’ presidents ‘Star Wars’ makeover
Play Videos
How hackers can control your car from miles away
How to avoid harmful chemicals in school supplies
How much can one woman eat?
Next Story
Jonathan H. Adler · May 1, 2014

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.