Top Philosophical Songs
“Rock and Roll Philosopher” Grant Maxwell has compiled a list of the top 15 philosophical songs. I suspect many philosophers would give this list the other kind of “R and R,” namely a revise and resubmit. Your suggested changes, folks? (Include links if you can.)
Just this morning I played Nick Lowe’s “The Beast in Me” before discussing Book IX of the Republic — perfect fit.
There’s so much good stuff to choose from, e.g., Wilco’s “Less Than You Think” is a beautiful song in its on right and perfect for discussions of free will & determinism (with or without the beautiful feedback outro).
And of course there’s the New Pornographers “Chump Change,” which sadly does not appear to be on line. The chorus quotes from the Tractatus (“The world is that which is the case”), quite appropriate, as Saturday was LW’s 125th birthday. Their “Streets of Fire” is not so much philosophical as academic, but it still makes me laugh:
Come on, come out of the rain.
You’re not oppressed, you’re just too learned.
I took the book, I lit the page.
Your sabbatical was burning.
Sweet, sweet, sweet, sweet fire in the street…
(I hope the links come out; I couldn’t figure out how to preview the post…)Report
“Who Makes the Nazis?” The Fall
“M.E.” Gary Numan
“Communist Eyes” The Germs
“ABBA, God, & Me” The Meatmen
“Ambition” Subway Sect (w/ the fantastic line “I won’t be tempted by vile evils because vile evils are vile evils”)Report
Most of those seem only incidentally philosophical. For example, “all things must pass” is kind of Heraclitian, but in the absence of any more general reflection on its significance it’s not really philosophical. In this case, the reflection seems trite: it’s either “love doesn’t last” or, that’s why I left before you woke up after our one night stand. Same with “you can’t always get what you want.” No shit, sherlock, unless you have something original to say about why that is, or how what you want’s different from “what you need.”
From their chosen artists, I think others would be better picks:
Rolling Stones: “Paint it Black”
Beatles: “Nowhere Man,” “Piggies,” “In my life,” “Elenor Rigby”
Johnny Cash: “Sunday morning coming down”
Hank Williams: “I’ll never get out of this world alive”
MGMT: “Your life is a lie”
That “Happy” song is too atrocious for words–it makes Bobby Ferin’s “Don’t Worry” seem deep and non-obnoxious in retrospect. If you must pick something young and recent, maybe: Lorde, “Royals”Report
The Cure: “Why Can’t I Be You?”
Love presents itself not as desire for the other but as longing to become the other. Kinda messed up (which is of course why I like it).
For more from the Cure, there’s always “Killing an Arab,” which retells Camus’ The Stranger. Or the “How Beautiful You Are,” which puts to music Baudelaire’s “The Eyes of the Poor.”Report
In a more analytic philosophy (less ‘philosophy of life’) vein, the Eagles song “Victim of Love” includes in the chorus the line: “I could be wrong, but I’m not.”
It doesn’t seem natural to me to read this as “it’s physically/metaphysically/logically possible that I’m wrong, but in fact I’m not wrong.” It looks more like an epistemic modal. But if it’s an epistemic modal, then it is apparently assumed that knowledge is not a norm on assertion, since the first clause disclaim knowledge as to the very claim asserted in the second clause. In other words, it’s an instance of the knowledge version of Moore’s Paradox, “p, but I don’t know that p.” (Incidentally, I think this is evidence that the knowledge version, unlike the belief version, is not always infelicitous.)Report
“And of course there’s the New Pornographers ‘Chump Change’.” That Wittgenstein quote is really the only philosophical content in the song, just a random obscure reference, for no apparent reason but hipster points. In that vein, there’s also Arcade Fire’s “Reflektor,” which they claim was inspired by Kierkegaard’s “The Present Age.”
I hate to admit it, but Kansas’s “Dust in the Wind” is a lot closer to philosophical about time and mortality than their Dylan, Stones, and Harrison picks. Strong evidence that philosophical music does not equal good music.Report
I like the lines about facts in the Talking Heads’ “Crosseyed and Painless”.Report
Joe Thomas, “Plato’s Retreat”
Bette Midler, “The Rose”
And while this is just an album title, not a song, it raises a GREAT question: John Mellencamp’s “Nothin’ Matters, and What if It Did?”Report
For the problem of evil: “God’s Song” by Randy Newman (I like Etta James’ cover).
“Who am I?”, written by Leonard Bernstein for a production of Peter Pan and later performed by Nina Simone (who added some new lyrics). Other songs called “Who am I?” that have some philosophical content are by Lou Reed and by Country Joe & the Fish.
Eric Clapton’s “Find Myself” has these lines: “I had to find myself/No use looking for no one else/
‘Cause I’ll be lonely till I find myself.”Report
There’s also Lou Reed’s “Dime Store Mystery”, which has these lines: “I know this feeling, I know it from before/Descartes through Hegel belief is never sure.” And the Dandy Warhols have a song called “Nietzsche”.Report
The song “where the birds always sing” by the cure almost perfectly captures nihlism in my opinion. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TUzs5xsG75gReport