Bruce Springsteen sang in 'No Retreat No Surrender' that you can learn more from a three minute record than you can ever learn in school. Track down that old form teacher who confiscated your walkman/ discman/ mp3 player and show him/her the following list! Who said popular songs are all vacuous fluff and confection?
1. 'Being Boiled' (1981) The Human League
Phil Oakey and company stand up for animal rights and protests against the mass exploitation of silkworms.
Vocabulary enriching lyric: "sericulture" (The cultivation of silkworms for silk)
2. 'Free Your Mind' (1992) En Vogue
Don't judge by appearances! Down with damaging stereotypes! These four ladies rap and roar their polemic, although their leather and lace costumes in the video does dent their credibility.
Vocabulary enriching lyric: "synecdoche" (Using a small part, such as an individual, to judge a whole group, i.e race or culture in the case of this song)
3. "Remembrance Day" (1987) Bryan Adams
Everything he does is not just MOR rock and aweshucks love balladry. Here's a restrained tribute to the role of Canadian soldiers in World War I.
Interesting Fact written into song lyrics: "By October 1918, Cambrai had fallen" Surely the only reference to the 1918 Hundred Days Offensive by the Allied Powers, in rock music?
4. "Wuthering Heights" (1979) Kate Bush
It doesn't get more literary than this tune. The haunting refrain of 'Heathcliff! Its me, Cathy! I've come home, let me into your window!" evokes and distills the essence of Emily Bronte's classic novel more effectively than a dozen Yorknotes study guides.
5. "One Week" (1998) Barenaked Ladies
There has to be one pop-culture referencing song on this list. Jason Mraz has based his entire career around this song and with good reason, the references fly in, in a relentless stream:, Alfred Hitchcock and Akira Kurosawa, Harrison Ford and Aquaman are namechecked.
6. "Enola Gay" (1984) Orchestral Manoevres in the Dark
More history, now its World War 2, or to be more specific, the end of WW2. OMD sing about the plane that dropped the atom bomb on Hiroshima.
Interesting fact worked into song title: The name of the plane! Genius!
7. "Invisible Sun" (1981) The Police
A dark song about the political tensions in Northern Ireland, but not difficult to listen to. Banned by the BBC upon release - how rock and roll is that?
Vocabulary enriching lyric: 'armalite'. aka the AR-18 assault rifle.
8. "Cemetry Gates" (1987) The Smiths
Smart lyrics from Morissey, the Ocasr Wilde-o-phile. Apparantly about poetry battles and questions of attribution that take place in the titular graveyard.
Educational advice written into lyrics : A warning against plagiarism: "Always someone somewhere, with a big nose who knows!"
9. "Once In a Lifetime" (1980) Talking Heads
You may have first heard this song used in the trailer for 'The Truman Show' It combines existentialism and fears of looming mid-life crisis with a beautiful chorus that, once heard, may never leave your brain.
Educational note on music video: Incorporates footage of tribal dancing and sign language (and I'm not referring to David Byrne's dancing and hand gestures..)
10. "MLK" (1984) U2
"Pride In the Name of Love" maybe the more obvious song about Martin Luther King, but 'MLK" is the shorter and more subtle piece.
Do you have any examples of smart pop(ular) songs? Post them in Comments please.