The 20th Century in Pop Music
'The 20th Century produced a phenomenon of Pop music that contained timeless hits that influenced culture, fashion and film.'
Lizzie Wood | 24 January 2016

I Wanna Be Adored - The Stone Roses (re-issue)

The decade of Britpop, Madchester and Shoegazing. Radiohead, Nirvana and Red Hot Chili Peppers. Friends, Toy Story and bleached blonde hair. Could any other decade be more diverse and jam-packed with different trends, especially in the music scene? The Stone Roses were one of the most popular bands of the 90s alongside those mentioned above. Re-issued in 1991, this track is about being an idol, and the way in which people will do anything to attain this status.

 

This Charming Man - The Smiths

First heard on Top of the Pops in 1983, this song has now become the band’s best known hit. When he heard it for the first time, Noel Gallagher, guitarist of the band Oasis which found fame in 1991, called it “life changing”, proving that its effect on the music industry continued into the next decade and beyond.

 

Gimme Shelter - Rolling Stones

‘69 was a dark decade. Fear and anticipation hung in the air in the wake of the Kennedy and Luther King assassinations. A day after the release of the album containing this single, the Stones held the most catastrophic rock and roll concert of all time, later coined “the day the 60s died.” The Altamont Free Concert descended into anarchy resulting in death and injury. Although the band were not to know this when writing, the song Gimme Shelter perfectly capture the feeling of dread which hung over the time.

 

Come Together - The Beatles

The same year, 1969, also saw the release of this hit by the Beatles. In contrast to the deep feeling in Gimme Shelter, this song was “gobbledegook” (as quoted by Lennon himself) but not any less legendary for it. Lennon was originally asked to write this for John Leary’s electoral campaign for Governor of California, but it was rejected and eventually released independently later that year.

 

Johnny B. Goode - Chuck Berry

This is a great example of storytelling songs to come out of the 1950s. It is a song style also used, among others, by the Eagles in Hotel California and Johnny Cash in A Boy Named Sue. It is a tale about a boy with an ordinary start in life but has a gift for playing guitar.

 

White Christmas - Bing Crosby

Not so much a song for the 20th century but a song forever. White Christmas is played almost religiously throughout the Christmas season, capable of kindling a spark of cheer in the most determined Grinches. It has survived the test of time, having been released almost half a century ago in 1954.

 

Over the Rainbow - Judy Garland

This song definitely holds weight with the establishment, having been announced Song of the Century by the Recording Industry Association of America and Greatest Movie Song (The Wizard of Oz, 1939) by The American Film Institute. Regardless of all its acclaim, many will know it today as the only song they can play on the ukulele!

 

The Charleston - James P Johnson (played by Green Hill Instrumental)

The dance of the same name eventually overshadowed the song and now exists in its own right, but this piece originated in a Broadway show called Runnin’ Wild. The rhythm and dance soon became synonymous and grew in popularity, now epitomising the 1920’s jazz vibe. It has seen many revivals over the years, most recently in Baz Luhrmann’s film The Great Gatsby in the track Bang Bang.

 

Clair de Lune - Claude Debussy

This is the best known of four parts in The Suite Bergemasque with the title of this part translating as “Moonlight.” Debussy was inspired to write the part by a poem, of the same name, by Paul Verlaine. The poem finishes: “With the still moonlight, sad and beautiful/ That sets the birds dreaming in the trees/ And the fountains sobbing in ecstasy/ The tall slender fountains among marble statues.” The image of slender fountains was made cinematic by Lewis Milestone who ended his film Ocean’s Eleven with a shot of the Bellagio fountain accompanied by Clair de Lune.


The 20th Century produced a phenomenon of Pop music that contained timeless hits that influenced culture, fashion and film. The musical variety produced had a profound effect and, in my opinion, still has a lasting influence on people today.

 

Original image by Chante Bohitige. 

James Routledge 2016