Thursday, January 19, 2012

Songs to Make You Smarter

As a history nerd, a pseudo-science nerd, as someone who enjoys all sorts of music, it's often forgotten in our adult lives how much music can teach us about the world around us. We had countless songs in school about everything to help us remember, we had the Animaniacs teaching us about capitals and whatnot, and now, as adults, we're supposed to read dry history texts or listen to lectures? Screw that! Let's learn through music!

When I think of educational music for the rest of us, the first band I always go to is The Two Man Gentlemen Band. They're sorta rootsy, sorta vaudeville, but they caught my ear initially with their song about President William Howard Taft. While they don't really care to be pigeonholed as a history band, between "William Howard Taft" and "Franklin Pierce" above, they have a whole mess of songs about history ("The Hindenburg Disaster," "They Can't Prohibit Love" (about prohibition)), even one about math ("Prime Numbers"). It's proof positive that learning can be fun.

Chances are you already know the song above, "The Elements" by Tom Lehrer. Lehrer was primarily a musical humorist and satirist in the 1950s and 1960s - many of his songs dealt with the political climate of the day, and there are too many to even count that would fit in. I'm also a big fan of "New Math" since I can't understand old or new math. Lehrer today is woefully underappreciated.

You probably know Randy Newman from making you cry during Toy Story. He's also a satirist, a singer-songwriter who's spent time singing about society and politics and history over his career. He's got a ton of great songs anyway, but songs in this vein include "Great Nations of Europe" and his song about the 1927 Mississippi River flood, "Louisiana 1927."

This is just a handful of stuff you might not have heard of or considered. We all know about the folk singers of the 1960s and the protest songs, but a lot of more fun stuff gets lost in the shuffle. What are your favorites?

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