• Music

Songs About Historical Events That Are Surprisingly Accurate

List RulesVote up the songs that actually turn history into art.

Songs hold a lot of power, telling stories about people, places, emotions, and a host of other topics - including history. Songs about historical events may offer insights into a time long ago. They can also evoke a memory of a not-too-distant historical happening. 

Much like historical movies, historical songs may take license in their content - to minimize, emphasize, or simply avoid key facts. Historically accurate songs, on the other hand, can surprise you with just how much they get right. A lot of mainstream songs about war, for example, include details that can almost transport you into the heat of battle. Songs about historical figures may create a personal connection with that individual, building newfound affinity or disdain.

Here's a list of songs that are surprisingly accurate - which one grabs your attention with its historical truth? 

  • Photo: Geffen

    What It’s About: Aptly named, "American Witch" tells the story of the Salem witch trials. The trials began in 1692 and lasted until the following year, with roughly 200 individuals accused of witchcraft during the proceedings. 

    What It Gets Right: The lyrics of Rob Zombie's "American Witch" incorporate details derived from firsthand accounts of events leading up to the trials. Bridget Bishop, one of the 20 individuals executed during the trials, was associated with a mysterious, evil creature - "the body of it looked like a monkey, only the feet were like a cock's feet with claws" - imagery echoed in the first verse of the song.

    Throughout the song, Zombie cries out about “20 innocents” for whom "we pray for... bow down [to]... hang high... [and] accused," a proper reference to the 20 people who perished during the trials.

    Where It Falls Short: All facts are apparently accurate, complete with a description of the accused witches' final moments, standing "Alone on the hill and ready to die." The hill in question is Gallows Hill, the site where Bishop and 18 additional convicted witches were hanged. 

    History made art?
  • What It’s About: In a song about the D-Day invasion on June 6, 1944, "The Longest Day" presents a visceral, haunting, and graphic account of events. 

    What It Gets Right: "The Longest Day" includes some interesting wordplay, referencing "Overlord, your master, not your God." Operation Overlord was the codename for the Allied D-Day offensive. Details from the lyrics line up with firsthand accounts of the battle, as well, with “Oh the water is red" attesting to memories of "The sea around... red with blood."

    Where It Falls Short: All facts of "The Longest Day" are accurate, with men turned "paper soldiers to bodies on the beach" amid blood, sand, and bullets. Roughly 4,000 Allied troops perished on D-Day, individuals who, according to the song, met the "ghostly hand" of a Valkyrie on their way to Valhalla.

    History made art?
  • Photo: Ueli Frey / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA 3.0

    What It’s About: "Buffalo Soldier" tells the story of African-American cavalry and infantrymen who fought for the United States during the late 19th century. Largely tasked with securing the expanding American West, Buffalo Soldiers fought against Native Americans during the American-Indian Wars until the 1890s and in the Caribbean as part of the Spanish-American War in 1898.

    What It Gets Right: Bob Marley and the Wailers correctly describe the Buffalo Soldiers as "taken from Africa, brought to America," with many of the men having formerly been slaves.

    Where It Falls Short: "Buffalo Soldier" accurately depicts the circumstances and activities of its namesake group. Just as the song indicates, Buffalo Soldiers did fight in conflicts like the Battle of San Juan Hill. The poignant lyrics point out how Buffalo Soldiers went from "Fighting on arrival, fighting for survival" in servitude only to take up arms "in the war for America." 

    History made art?
  • What It’s About: The Battle of New Orleans was fought in January 1815 - two weeks after the War of 1812 had officially come to an end. Johnny Horton's "The Battle of New Orleans" tells the story of the conflict, a decisive a battle that resulted in outmatched US soldiers soundly defeating their British counterparts.

    What It Gets Right: The ragtag group of American forces at New Orleans in 1814 were equipped with whatever weapons they could find, including the "squirrel guns" referenced by Horton. As British troops approached, soldiers led by future president Andrew Jackson "stood beside our cotton bales," an accurate description of the fortifications built around New Orleans. 

    Where It Falls Short: At the time of the Battle of New Orleans, Andrew Jackson was a major general, not “Colonel Jackson," as indicated in the song. Jackson was a major general in the Tennessee militia as early as 1802, and received a commission as major general in the US Army until 1814, largely due to his successes during the War of 1812.  

    History made art?