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RAMble, the University Libraries' blog

Three Songs Every Student Should Know

by Christian Sammartino on 2021-05-18T10:39:00-04:00 | Comments

During National Poetry Month, we can’t help but include the celebration of music as well. The marriage of music and poetry go hand in hand in terms of lyrics and accompaniment. During the History of Rock class that some of our co-workers are taking, the question was posed: “What songs do you feel everyone should know?” We loved this idea and asked our own library faculty and staff, “What 3 songs do you think every student should know?” Here are some of the answers we collected; these are an eclectic mix of tunes. Enjoy!



  1. “My Way” (1969) by Frank Sinatra
  2. “Man in the Mirror” (1988) by Michael Jackson
  3. “What a Wonderful World” (1967) by Louis Armstrong

I chose these songs because, for me, they represent the importance of self-reflection, growth, change, and to appreciate the ups and downs that come our way. Even in the hard moments, there is learning and growth. Also, in today’s world with the constant presence and pressure of social media posts, it is incredibly important to know that none of that matters – taking care of ourselves, being our best self through growth and learning, and practicing gratitude are more fulfilling and real.


Here are three songs that highlight the marriage of poetry and music that should be known by every student, in no particular order:

  1. “Dancing Barefoot” (1979) by Patti Smith: The godmother of punk brings us a dreamy lyrical song with a hard rock edge and a spoken word ending.
  2. “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” (1971) by Gil Scott-Heron: This is a poem spoken over some very funky music. It is powerful commentary of social injustice and influenced a generation of hip-hop. Still very relevant.
  3. “Strange Fruit” (1939) by Billie Holiday: Billie Holiday's performance is probably the most well know version of this poem turned song. Haunting and heart-wrenching.


  1. “Eleanor Rigby” (1966) by the Beatles: I think it's important for students to think about others who might feel lonely and isolated, especially during this crazy time. “Eleanor Rigby” is powerful both instrumentally as a departure from traditional pop rock music of its time, but also thematically due to its lyrics highlighting the loneliness of the elderly.
  2. “Do You Feel” (2007) by the Rocket Summer: “Do You Feel” encourages the listener to think about actions over lip service and how to better the world.
  3. “Blackbird” (1966) by Nina Simone: This is an important song that speaks to the struggles of black women, struggles that continue even 50 plus years later.


  1. “I Know the End” (2020) by Phoebe Bridgers: Every student should know this song because it reflects coming of age in the 21st century. Phoebe sings about leaving the places and people you are familiar with, going into an uncertain and at times apocalyptic future, and reinventing yourself.
  2. “Mystery of Love” (2017) by Sufjan Stevens: This song perfectly encapsulates the wonder and pain in the experience of falling in love with someone new and reflecting on the past relationship after a breakup.
  3. “Joy” (2019) by Bastille: “Joy” celebrates the importance of friendships and relationships in one’s life. This song is about being in dark places mentally but being able to come out of this by reaching out for help and relief from those around you.


  1. “Fancy” by Bobbie Gentry (1969)/Reba McEntire (1990): Bobbie Gentry wrote this song as the Women’s Movement was gearing up in our nation. When really listening to the rags-to-riches story, the listener will come to understand that the mother knows the only way for her daughter, Fancy, to rise out of poverty is to become a prostitute (remember the timeframe when women had limited opportunities). The development of Fancy’s self-empowerment and her understanding of her mother’s motives is impressive. Reba McEntire’s re-release was just as powerful as the original.
  2. “Zombie” (1993) by The Cranberries: A song by the Irish alternative band which pays tribute to two children who died when the IRA set bombs off in the town of Warrington, England, in 1993 to protest occupied Northern Ireland by the UK. The late lead singer, Dolores O’Riordan, titled it “Zombie” because the IRA’s fight continues, never seeming to end. Dolores O’Riordan had an extremely powerful voice, as well.
  3. “Circle” (1988) by Edie Brickell & the New Bohemians: Friends come and friends go throughout our lifetime. Sometimes it’s hard to keep good ones; it’s easier to give up. But the desire to not-let-go is human nature; we want to be alone, then we want our “circle” around us. The song seems to emanate with despair and exhaustion from trying too hard to keep that “circle of friends.” The haunting instrumental music really sets the tone of the song.


  1. “Wretched World” (2009) by Converge: If you ask me to name my favorite band, Converge will be my frequent answer. They never stop evolving, but each painful change doesn’t feel forced. They remain authentically urgent. While much of their catalog is some of the heaviest, complex, and abrasive material I’ve encountered, they’re not afraid to expose emotions dealing with loss. “Wretched World” is crushing! It helped me face and deal with one of the most difficult things I’ve ever experienced. I hope this might help someone else the same way it helped me.
  2. “Get Better” (2015) by Frank Turner: After experiencing a song as heavy and emotional as “Wretched World,” you might need something that acknowledges the wreckage you just experienced but helps you to rebuild. Frank Turner’s, “Get Better,” should do the trick. The driving drum beat, a simple riff, thumping bass, uplifting piano, and charming British vocals are absolutely inspiring. The words fill me with joyful motivation and determination. Is there a wall you need to get over? This song is going to help you get over it and turn it into rubble!
  3. “Colossus” (2018) by IDLES: IDLES! A complete experience! Their live shows are probably the loudest I’ve witnessed. Colossus is an assault on toxic masculinity that’s been passed down for generations. The build-up on this track is amazing!


  1. “Gimme Shelter” (1969) by the Rolling Stones: Merry Clayton gives a devastatingly emotional performance in her duet with Mick Jagger in this song that is increasingly relevant again.
  2. “Jolene” (1974) by Dolly Parton: If you don’t know this song then you won’t get the parody of it that Dolly herself made when she got her Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, the one for which she helped fund the research.
  3. “Both Sides Now” (1966) by Joni Mitchell: At first it sounds a little corny, but then you realize that it is one of the most perfect examples of song writing for all time.


  1. “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” (1939) by Judy Garland: Your dreams can come true.
  2. “Joy” (2018) by for KING & COUNTRY: Put joy and in your heart and you will look at the world in a different perspective.
  3. “Man In the Mirror” (1988) by Michael Jackson: If you want to make the world a better place, start by changing yourself.

Blog post written by Jenn O'Leary

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