Music has an incredible power to bring people together and trigger significant changes, and some of the best songs throughout history aren’t just remembered for their lyrics and melodies, but for the powerful effects, they had at the time and still continue to have today. There’s a lot of suffering all around the world, and a single song can’t make all of that go away, but it can act as a catalyst, inspiring people to stand up, take action, and make things better, as well as raising huge amounts of money for worthy causes. Here are five of the very best.
Michael Jackson’s humanitarian work should never be forgotten or overlooked when considering the late legend’s incredible contributions to pop culture and society as we know it. He once stated that Heal the World was his proudest achievement as a songwriter. It was a simple song on the face of it, but with a powerful message underneath, clearly and unabashedly expressing Jackson’s lifelong desire to see the world in a state of peace and harmony.
The music video focused on orphans in war-stricken Burundi and Heal the World was also chosen as the name of Jackson’s charitable organization, which helped to raise millions to improve the lives of kids around the world.
Back in the late 1980s, gang warfare was on the rise, but this song helped to calm things down in a big way. More than a dozen of the West Coast’s leading hip hop stars came together for the track, including MC Hammer, Ice-T, Dr. Dre, and Tone Loc.
The piece was conceived as a response to the escalating battles between LA gangs the Bloods and the Crips, and the lyrics, featuring passages like ‘bullets flying, mothers crying, brothers dying’ encouraged black youths across the country to stop fighting and come together.
It was in October of 1984 that Boomtown Rats singer and iconic activist Bob Geldof watched a documentary about famine in Ethiopia. The haunting images moved him to take action, planning out a charity single, and getting in touch with different people around the British pop music scene.
Geldof had already written a foundation for the song, but it was completely redone in a Christmas style, complete with a powerful titular question. It made it to the top of the UK charts and raised tens of millions of dollars for famine relief.
Directly linked to Do They Know It’s Christmas? We Are the World started off as a simple idea in the mind of Harry Belafonte. The singer and actor wanted to make an American equivalent of Geldof’s Christmas tune, also to counter famine in Africa.
As soon as Quincy Jones got involved, the production really started to ramp up, with the likes of Lionel Richie, Stevie Wonder, and Michael Jackson getting involved. Many of the performers later said they didn’t really like the melody of the song, but it performed brilliantly, raising more than $63 million.
Bob Geldof was again involved with the creation of this unique duet, putting two of the 80s most exciting and eclectic stars in the same space for a special single, with the proceeds raised from this charity single also going to help starving people in Africa.
The pair initially planned to perform it live and in sync, with one in London and the other in Philadelphia for the Live Aid broadcast, but the timings didn’t quite add up, so they had to simply record it in a studio. The resulting song generated millions more for famine relief.