CNN’s “Soundtracks: Songs That Defined History”

Every once in a while you hear that certain song. That song that makes the memories flood back in waves. Where you can remember everything about the time, people, place, and circumstances where you heard it. The radio plays Bonnie Tyler’s “I Need a Hero” and you are instantly brought back to speeding to 11th grade as fast as you can before school starts. Or the iPod shuffles to Warren G & Nate Dogg’s “Regulate” and you distinctly remember the feeling of entertaining an entire lodge of people in the mountains with your a cappella version.

Your own personal history is wrapped up in music, and looking at the broader picture, so is the history of the world. CNN and The Rock worked together to bring us this documentary to look at major historical events and to show the relationship to the music at those times. Just like in your own personal life, music can trigger memories of major historical events. Also, in many cases, the music itself was creatively inspired by the events themselves and served as a reaction to the history of the moment.


This is the basis for CNN’s new 8 part series “Soundtracks: Songs That Defined History.” Tony and I will be discussing the series as a whole once it’s completed but wanted to give you our initial take on the first episode that just aired. This first episode surrounded the assassination of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968. I’ll admit that, at least with this episode, the show is a little heavier on the history part instead of the music but being a CNN documentary I kind of expected that. The show discussed how songs like “We Shall Overcome” and “People Get Ready” became anthems for the civil rights moment of this time. Then how after the assassination, the music itself moved towards an angrier tone, like “Living in the City” and “Mississippi Goddamn.”

Once they got into more recent times, they discussed the 80’s and Public Enemy’s angry protest music. They even documented the Black Lives Matter movement and how “We Shall Overcome” just does not work for this generation. Songs like Kendrick Lemar’s “Alright” are what speak to today’s protest-minded youth who want more immediate results. They wrapped it up by showing President Obama being elected and his speech harkening back to the famous Sam Cooke song “A Change Gonna Come.” It gave a full circle feel to the episode as music inspired by history then came back and inspired someone who made history.

Overall, I liked the first episode though I did feel they got kind of preachy liberal towards the end of it. I was surprised to not see or hear The Rock’s presence after he was used in advertising. I also would have preferred more music being discussed throughout the decades around the same cause. We still think it’s worth a watch and something we will be looking forward to each week.

Some of the events still to be covered are the 9/11 attacks, Hurricane Katrina, and the moon landing. Tony and I will be back to cover all 8 parts once the series has ended.

Let us know what you thought of the episode and if you are looking forward to the rest of the series at or on Twitter.

-Craig and Tony

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