Grammy award-winning songs strike a chord within us. Maybe it’s the beat or the melody that does it, or sometimes it’s the message behind the song that draws us in. These six songs do just that—using the power of music to convey a message of worldwide significance. Taking on issues from hunger to AIDS, these classics never seem to lose their relevance or power.
“Waiting on the World to Change” — John Mayer
John Mayer is frustrated. Or at least he was in 2006 when he recorded this hit song, which laments the lack of action on the part of his generation—amidst a world that desperately needed positive activism and initiative. It was the first time Mayer tackled a political message in his music, but maybe he should try it again—it remains his most successful single to date and took home the Grammy for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance.
“Where the Streets Have No Name” — U2
It would be nearly impossible to create a list of Grammy-winning songs with a cause, and not mention U2. Arguably the most activist of modern bands, U2 recorded this hit when religious tensions were at a high in their native Ireland. Lead singer Bono wrote the lyrics in response to the idea that you could identify someone’s religion and income based on the street where they lived.
“Do They Know it’s Christmas?” — Band Aid
Released in time for Christmas 1984, proceeds from this mega-hit song benefitted anti-poverty efforts in Ethiopia. The charity super-group “Band Aid” was comprised of a very long list of British and Irish musical stars, including George Michael, Paul McCartney, Bono, Phil Collins and David Bowie. And they sure started a trend. Since its inception, Band Aid inspired several other charitable music projects, as well as benefit concerts like “Live Aid” and “Farm Aid”—going strong to this day.
“We are the World,” USA for Africa
Inspired by the work of Band Aid, the USA responded with their own musical message. Assembled to record a song which would raise funds for famine and disease relief in Africa (specifically Ethiopia), “USA for Africa” included 47 American singers and musical artists led by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie. Richie and Jackson also penned the song “We are the World,” which went on to sell more than 20 million copies. More recently, an all-star cast of singers recorded a remake of the song in response to the devastating 2010 earthquake in Haiti.
“Another Day in Paradise” — Phil Collins
As with John Mayer, the biggest hit of Phil Collins’s career moved beyond the stuff of typical pop songs and tackled big issues. In this case, it was poverty and homelessness—issues that remain incredibly relevant today. The song reminds us that there are those living in terrible conditions, while we remain immersed in our own version of comparative “paradise.”
“Streets of Philadelphia” — Bruce Springsteen
Written for the film Philadelphia, the Boss’s song about the tragedy of HIV/AIDS was a double-award-winner, picking up not only a Grammy but an Oscar as well. By writing the song and lending his voice to the movie’s major single, Springsteen also put HIV and AIDS in the spotlight. And it achieved even greater success overseas, where it reached #1 on the charts.
Check out the We Are the World remake with Justin Bieber, Pink, Lil Wayne and many more!
Want to change the world with your own music? Check out these music-oriented volunteer opportunities!
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