What is the most influential song of all time?

What would YOU pick as the most influential song of all time, and why?

The June 2014 Atlantic asked the above as its Big Question. Naturally, it’s a patently absurd task to even try to answer. Of course, people did, as Oklahoma blogger Dustbury noted. Quite a few responses for We Shall Overcome, which is an understandable choice.

My off-the-cuff choice, without overthinking it, was among Ode To Joy, appropriated for Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony; This Land Is Your Land, Woody Guthrie’s American anthem; or She Loves You, the song with the “Yeah, yeah, yeah” that epitomized Beatlemania, and all it wrought.

What would YOU pick, and why?

Author: Roger

I'm a librarian. I hear music, even when it's not being played. I used to work at a comic book store, and it still informs my life. I won once on JEOPARDY! - ditto.

9 thoughts on “What is the most influential song of all time?”

  1. Amazing Grace?

    That is a pretty broad question. And I suspect many of our responses will be very culturally biased: someone of Euro descent (like me) is more likely to pick something like Amazing Grace or Bach’s Toccata and Fugue, simply because we’ve never been exposed to Asian or African classical or folk music.

    I wonder what someone raised in Keralia, India would say? Or in rural Mongolia….

  2. of the modern era i’d probably go with “Yesterday” by The Beatles, if only because i think it’s the most-covered song ever written (which is a pretty good indicator of influence). pre 19th century? no clue. something by Beethoven or Bach probably.

  3. How about a song that every English-Speaking person has sung many times? “Happy Birthday to you.”

  4. For a musician, that is a damned hard question. On one hand, John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme.” But then I think about “Strange Fruit,” which, while billie’ Holiday’s voice is very over-stylized, tells a story unique in American history… and still is happening, I don’t have to tell anyone that.

    “Amazing Grace” appeals more to people of faith. But John Lennon’s “Imagine” reaches everyone, including churchgoers, and its timeless message of simplifying life, of looking at what really matters… yeah, I’m going with that. Great question, Roger. Hope you get lots of interesting responses! Amy

  5. That’s an awfully tough question, Roger. Lots of songs have influenced world history, or became the focal point for dreams and aspirations. Think La Marseillaise or Yankee Doodle. But here’s a question for you, or for anyone else: What is the song that has most influenced your life, that at a crucial moment determined what you are now?

  6. No clue. Or so many, it’s impossible. I was out to breakfast yesterday, and one guy, a little older than I, said, “Does the fact that everything people say, you hear a song reference, a function of aging?” I laughed, “I’ve been doing that for nearly 50 years!”
    But I’ll play along: Elephant Talk by King Crimson is, in part, why I loathe partisan politics: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t3DppaXz4-o

  7. I’d go along with those who said “Yesterday” or “Imagine.” Those (and other) Beatles’ songs have been covered by such a range of artists and so often since they were first written that they have influenced generations of people.

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