Top 10 Songs Based on Historical Events

These are so many really good songs that are based on historical events.  We compiled this list based on the songs we thought had the most descriptive lyrics about the historical event and that are also really great songs.


10.  “Smoke on the Water” Deep Purple

This is a song by British rock group Deep Purple that was released in 1972.  The song tells the true story of when the band set up camp to record at a mobile recording studio in Montreux, Switzerland which was part of the entertainment complex of the Montreux Casino.  At the time that Deep Purple was recording,  a Frank Zappa concert was held in the casinos theater.  Someone in that crowd let off a flare gun and the theater caught fire.  ‘Smoke on the Water’ refers to the fire spreading over Lake Geneva from the burning casino as the members of Deep Purple watched the fire from their hotel.  The “Funky Claude” running in and out is referring to Claude Nobs, the director of the Montreux Jazz Festival who helped some of the audience escape the fire.  The song is honoured in Montreux by a sculpture along the lake shore with the band’s name, the song title, and the riff in musical notes.

9. “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” Gordon Lightfoot

The song was composed by Gordon Lightfoot and released in 1976.  This song describes the sinking of the bulk carrier SS Edmund Fitzgerald on Lake Superior on November 10, 1975.  Carrying a full cargo of taconite ore pellets with Captain Ernest M. McSorley in command, the Edmund Fitzgerald embarked on her final voyage.  In the midst of a severe winter storm on Lake Superior, with near hurricane-force winds and waves up to 35 feet (11 m) high. Shortly after 7:10 p.m. the Fitzgerald suddenly sank in Canadian waters 530 feet (160 m) deep.  Although the Fitzgerald had reported being in difficulty earlier, no distress signals were sent before she sank. Her crew of 29 all perished, and no bodies were recovered.

8.  “April 29th 1992” Sublime

Sublime was a ska punk band from California that formed in 1988 but lead singer Bradley Nowell died of a heroin overdose in 1996.  The official title of the song references the date April 29, 1992, however the lyric is sung as, “April 26, 1992.” It has been said this was a mistake, but the take was strong enough the band kept it.  The date refers to the Los Angeles riots that took place in 1992 and the song describes this event and the acts of crime including arson, robbery and vandalism that occurred.  The riots started after a jury trial resulted in the acquittal of four Los Angeles Police Department officers accused in the videotaped beating of African-American motorist Rodney King following a high-speed police pursuit. Thousands of people throughout the Los Angeles metropolitan area rioted over the six days following the announcement of the verdict.  The song was released in 1996 off of the bands self-titled album.

7.  “Blue Sky Mine” Midnight Oil

“Blue Sky Mine” is a song off of Midnight Oils 1990 album Blue Sky Mining.  The song refers to the Wittenoom asbestos mine in Western Australia where blue asbestos was mined between 1947 and 1966. The once-thriving town is now a virtual ghost town. Shops are boarded up, the 2 schools are closed, the local cinema is derelict.  It is estimated that 25% of the 20,000 men who mined asbestos there will die from related diseases.  The “blue” refers to the blue asbestos, and the “sugar refining company” refers to the Colonial Sugar Refining company (CSR), the owner of the mines.  The CSR made no effort in making the miners working conditions up to standard. The miners had to crawl around on their knees scratching for blue asbestos. It wasn’t until 20 years later that the CSR actually built vents so that miners could breathe fresh air. This was described as the “greatest industrial disaster in Australia” by the Asbestos Diseases Society of Australia.  The main theme throughout Blue Sky Mine is workers rights, no one should have to work in the conditions that the CSR provided, unfortunately for most, it was there only choice any they had nowhere else to go.

6.  “Rammstein” Rammstein

Rammstein is a German heavy metal band that sing in German as well as English.  The very discriptive song “Rammstein” is sung in German but I attached a video that contains the lyrics in English.  This song was released in 1995 off the bands debut album and it is about the Rammstein Air Show Disaster that happened in 1988 and is the second worst air show disaster in history.  The air show was held in Rammstein, West Germany.  Aircraft of the Italian Air Force display team collided during their display, crashing to the ground. 67 spectators and 3 pilots died, 346 spectators sustained serious injuries in the resulting explosion and fire.  In the Live aus Berlin performance of the song, lead vocalist Till Lindemann ascends from underneath the stage via a trap door. He wears a burning coat,= and special goggles from which a laser beam is projected from one of the lenses.

5.  “I Don’t Like Mondays” Boontown Rats

Boontown Rats were an Irish band led by Bob Geldolf.  The song “I Don’t Like Mondays” was written by Geldolf and is about a 16 year-old girl, Brenda Ann Spencer, who carried out a shooting spree on an elementary school in 1979.  Here house was located across the street from Cleveland Elementary School in San Diego, CA and she opened fire from a window of her home.  She killed two adults and injured nine children. After firing thirty rounds, Spencer barricaded herself inside her home for almost seven hours, warning police that she was going to “come out shooting.”Ultimately, she surrendered to police. Spencer showed no remorse for her crime, and her full explanation for her actions was “I don’t like Mondays; this livens up the day.”  She also said, “I had no reason for it, and it was just a lot of fun,” “It was just like shooting ducks in a pond,” and, “[The children] looked like a herd of cows standing around; it was really easy pickings.”  Spencer was tried as an adult and is still incarcerated.

4.  “Jeremy” Pearl Jam

Pearl Jam are an American Rock band.  “Jeremy” was released in 1992 as the third single from Pearl Jam’s debut album Ten. On January 8, 1991, Jeremy Delle, a 15-year-old sophomore who had recently transferred to the school, killed himself with a .357 Magnum in front of his second-period English class. He was described by schoolmates as “acting sad”. After coming into class late that morning, he was told to get an attendance slip from the school office. He left and returned with a .357 revolver. He walked to the front of the class and announced, “Miss, I got what I really went for.” Delle then put the gun into his mouth and pulled the trigger. The incident inspired the Pearl Jam song “Jeremy”. The band’s lead singer, Eddie Vedder, read a newspaper account of the incident and was moved to write the song almost immediately.  In 1993, the “Jeremy” video was awarded four MTV Video Music Awards, including Best Video of the Year.

3.  “Sunday Bloody Sunday” U2

U2 is an Irish rock band and their song “Sunday Bloody Sunday” was released in 1983 as the opening track to the album War.  The lyrics describe the horror felt by an observer of the troubles in Northern Ireland, mainly focusing on the Bloody Sunday incident in Derry where British troops shot and killed 26 unarmed civil rights protesters and bystanders.  This incident happened in 1972 and occurred during a Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association march; the soldiers involved were members of the First Battalion of the Parachute Regiment.  Lead singer of U2, Bono reasserted the song’s anti-sectarian-violence message to his audience for many years. Today, it is considered one of U2’s signature songs, and is one the band’s most performed tracks. Critics rate it among the best political protest songs.

2.“Hurricane” Bob Dylan

This song is about the imprisonment of Rubin “Hurricane” Carter in 1966.  Carter and a man named John Artis had been charged with a triple murder during a robbery at the Lafayette Grill in Paterson, New Jersey in 1966. Carter and Artis were found guilty of the murders, which were widely reported as racially motivated. In the years that followed, a substantial amount of controversy emerged over the case, ranging from allegations of faulty evidence and questionable eyewitness testimony to an unfair trial. In his autobiography, Carter maintained his innocence, and his story eventually led Dylan to visit him in Rahway State Prison in Woodbridge Township, New Jersey.  Carter was jailed for 19 years.  Dylan’s efforts brought new publicity to Carter’s case, getting him a new trial in 1976, where he was again convicted, with prosecutors claiming he killed the men in retaliation for a murder of a black man earlier that night. Carter was not freed until 1984, when his conviction was finally overturned.  Apologize for the more news like video but it was all I could find.

1.  “Neda Speaks” The Airborne Toxic Event

The Airborne Toxic Event is an alternative rock band from Los Angeles, California.  On June 7, 2010, the Airborne Toxic Event released a song and video titled “Neda,” in recognition of the one-year anniversary of the Death of Neda Agha-Soltan, the young Iranian woman who was killed during the protests of the disputed 2009 presidential election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Iran. In conjunction with Amnesty International, the band also launched a website,, to raise awareness about Agha-Soltan’s death and the human rights struggle in Iran. The music video features a series of animated stills depicting the events surrounding Agha-Soltan’s death, interspersed with text.


    • Thank you so much for that correction. I had written Deep Purple in the article but put Black Sabbath in the title. I changed it, thanks 🙂

  1. Thanks for the list. Possibly the most prolific writer of songs based on historical events doesn’t appear even once: Al Stewart. (Roads to Moscow; Nostradomus; On the Border; etc., etc., etc.) Honorable mention, perhaps(?): Renaissance with Mother Russia, Kiev, Songs of Scheherezade, etc.

    • You are totally correct and I apologize, I love Al Stewart and his music had clean slipped my mind when doing this list. Thank you for your input

  2. Another good candidate was the 2017 song by Dropkick Murphys called “4-15-13,” about the Boston Marathon bombing. The tune has an irresistible hook and a passionate vocal delivery.

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