Educational songs that sound good
May 14, 2005 8:52 PM   Subscribe

I want to make a mix CD based on educational songs that still sound good. Any subject - biology, chemistry, grammar, history, you name it. What songs should I add to my collection?
posted by Newbornstranger to Media & Arts (45 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I doubt you can find them, but Square One had some great songs about math. I still remember some of the lyrics about "Infinity".
Plus, there are several songs about US states and/or capitals.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:58 PM on May 14, 2005 [1 favorite]

Tom Lehrer
posted by cyphill at 9:00 PM on May 14, 2005

Moxy Fruvous has songs titled and about Entropy and Photosynthesis. They have another about mitosis, called "The Mitosis Waltz." Also, just about anything that came out of Schoolhouse Rock is gold.
posted by The White Hat at 9:00 PM on May 14, 2005

A lot of the old schoolhouse rock songs were actually quite good. I have Three is the Magic Number one of my regular playlists.
posted by Ariosto at 9:00 PM on May 14, 2005

"Three is a magic number." There are lots of versions. Great song about math.
posted by bonheur at 9:00 PM on May 14, 2005

I'll claim the obvious and say They Might be Giants - Why Does the Sun Shine? It's a cover of an obscure 50's educational record. James K. Polk is an original that's excellent too.
posted by abcde at 9:04 PM on May 14, 2005

Interplanet Janet she's a galaxy girl! A solar system miss from a future world...
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:17 PM on May 14, 2005

I second the Tom Lehrer recommendation, especially "The Elements". Also, Sesame Street. Not adult-oriented, but "Born to Add" still entertains me.

Lynda Williams, "The Physics Chantuse," is definitely . . . interesting.

If you can find any of his stuff, the physics songs written by Walter Fox Smith are great.

Michael Kelley's "Quadratic Formula" is acoustic-rockish thing, and Antoni Chan's "Sound of Friction" and "Mathematical Pi" are catchy parodies (look in the middle of the page).

For more, check out the Massive search engine, and .
posted by Anonymous at 9:22 PM on May 14, 2005

Bloodhag writes songs about science fiction authors and the plots to books those authors wrote. I'm not sure it's "educational" but they sure are awesome.
posted by cmonkey at 9:25 PM on May 14, 2005

There's a great Schoolhouse Rock song, "Little Twelve Toes," about the base12 system ... actually, I'll just second Schoolhouse Rock in general. The one about how bills become laws is good, too (if you're into U.S. civics at all).
posted by Tuwa at 9:26 PM on May 14, 2005

The original Sun is a Mass of Incandescent Gas along with all the other Singing Science songs is available here.
posted by O9scar at 9:41 PM on May 14, 2005

although i recommend the TMBG version over the original.
posted by puke & cry at 9:43 PM on May 14, 2005

Wakko from the Warner Brothers Historia, (I think), had a couple of great songs. In fact, the whole show was really great in an edu-tainment sort of way.
posted by geekyguy at 9:43 PM on May 14, 2005

You might check out the Schoolhouse Rock Rocks compilation.
posted by box at 10:08 PM on May 14, 2005

Flanders and Swann had a song about The First and Second Laws of Thermodynamics, here's the text, recording readily available from Amazon etc.
Heat is work and work's a curse
And all the heat in the Universe
Is gonna cooool down 'cos it can't increase
Then there'll be no more work and there'll be perfect peace
Yeah - that's entropy, man!
While not up to the F&S or Lehrer standard, there's a song about Avogadro's number that gets played on WCLVs Weekend Radio every October to commemorate Mole Day, I don't know where you would get a recording, but it (and other similar songs) seem to come from the The Biochemists' Song Book.
posted by Quinbus Flestrin at 10:20 PM on May 14, 2005

Jonathan Coulton writes songs about the Mandelbrot set and other other things.

Geek Rhythms.

Gordon Lightfooot did some historical events - "Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" and "Black Night in July". He also had "Don Quixote".

Literature: Bruce Springsteen's "The Ghost of Tom Joad." TMBG's "No One Knows My Plan" is kind of about Plato's "Republic." Elvis Costello's "Drunken Man's Praise of Sobriety" is a Yeats' poem.
posted by milkrate at 10:24 PM on May 14, 2005

The Red Krayola did an album about the Russian revolution called Kangaroo? that appears to be out of print at the moment. The lyrics are chockful of terrible rhymes about history and Higelian philosophy, backed with catchy rock and pop melodies. If you can find a copy, the tracks "Portrait of V. I. Lenin In the Style of Jackson Pollock" Parts 1 & 2, and "Keep All Your Friends" are quite good. Sample lyrics:

To fail to percieve
The difference
Is to fail to perceive
The difference
The meaningless pattern
Of political meaning
In social life.

It's awesome.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 10:34 PM on May 14, 2005

I second (or third, fourth, whatever) any Tom Lehrer (I'd say "New Math"), They Might Be Giants, Moxy Fruvous, and Schoolhouse Rock, and add that "The Volcano Song" by Logan Whitehurst & the Junior Science Club is both educational and rockin'.

Or if'n you can find any of the parody songs from the Bill Nye series, those are wonderful, too.

That's all I've got, right now.
posted by The Great Big Mulp at 11:24 PM on May 14, 2005

KOMPRESSOR has recorded several educational songs with his industrial power. I recommend "Adding Up Numbers."
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 11:30 PM on May 14, 2005

History? How 'bout "Manhattan Project" by Rush? One of the best tunes about the atomic bomb ever written... there's a band called Magellan which is kind of prog metal with a trombone thrown in, they have a lot of songs based on history as well.

For science, check this out: Science Groove ... guy wrote songs for his dissertation, and then followed it up with a second album. The dissertation one is the best. You can't not sing, "Oh, affected sibling pairs..."
posted by kindall at 12:06 AM on May 15, 2005

There are lots of songs that are written to be educational songs first, and pop songs second, but honestly, the first thing that came to my mind was the Stereolab song "Ping Pong." If there's a catchier explanation of Marxist political economy out there, I haven't heard it.
posted by .kobayashi. at 12:42 AM on May 15, 2005

A few of these are corny some are great and other are so-so I haven't given any a proper listen so can't recommend anyone or two with confidence but you'll have fun finding the jewels hope this helps
posted by RecordBrother at 1:52 AM on May 15, 2005

I was always partial to the Nation's of the World song from Animaniacs.
posted by rudyfink at 2:33 AM on May 15, 2005

PinkStainlessTail, I want to be on your mix CD list for all eternity.
posted by matildaben at 2:45 AM on May 15, 2005

Monty Python's Philosopher's Drinking Song.
There isn't much educational content, but there is some :)
posted by -harlequin- at 4:00 AM on May 15, 2005

For an actual chart-topping hit that's been used for educational purposes, "We didn't start the fire" by Billy Joel.

A list of brief explanations of all the history refererences is here. It's a big list...
posted by -harlequin- at 4:06 AM on May 15, 2005

Leon Rosselson wrote an awesome song about The Diggers called "The World Turned Upside Down." The best-known version was done by Billy Bragg and is available on the "Back to Basics" album.
posted by Mayor Curley at 6:42 AM on May 15, 2005

"The Battle of New Orleans" by Johnny Horton, and, going out on a limb here, "Marie Provost" by Nick Lowe, about the death of silent-era movie star Marie Prevost.

In the early 90s, Saturday Night Live featured a parody of "USA for Africa" type benefits where the 'rock stars' explained the Whitewater scandal. Not sure where you'd find that, though!
posted by kimota at 6:51 AM on May 15, 2005

Also, on Happy Days, Potsie sang that song about the circulatory system. I don't know-- is the Johnson's Baby Aspirin commercial making a reference to it, or is the melody older than Happy Days?
posted by kimota at 6:57 AM on May 15, 2005

"Chemical Calisthentics" from the Blackalicious album Blazing Arrow is a hip hop song about the periodic table of the elements and has made its way onto many a mix for kidlets.
posted by jennyb at 7:53 AM on May 15, 2005

Down with Entropy (MC Stephen Hawking)
posted by damehex at 9:21 AM on May 15, 2005

Yakko from Animaniacs sings a great countries of wht world song. You might be able to find it on the p2p networks.
posted by panoptican at 9:31 AM on May 15, 2005

Electricity by Goodness
posted by tumble at 9:43 AM on May 15, 2005

I really like TMBG's "The Bloodmobile," but I've only ever heard it embedded in a flash video. Apparently it used to be available for free download from their website but it doesn't look like it's there anymore. (You can watch the video here.)

Also by them, I always get a kick out of "James K. Polk," myself.
posted by Kosh at 12:16 PM on May 15, 2005

Also the Galaxy/Universe song from Monty Python's Meaning of Life.
posted by greatgefilte at 2:39 PM on May 15, 2005

Pinky and the Brain had "Brainstem" which listed different parts of the brain to the tune of Yankee Doodle. I have it on VHS but I don't know where you could get just the audio for it.
posted by PurplePorpoise at 3:26 PM on May 15, 2005

The Chromatics
posted by trevyn at 9:01 PM on May 15, 2005

My all-time favorite is The Tale of Mr Morton. It's also from the Schoolhouse Rock Rocks CD.

Mr Morton is the subject of the sentence,
and what the predicate says, he does...

Skee-lo performs it and it's got a great beat.
posted by SheIsMighty at 4:40 AM on May 16, 2005

Maybe it falls short on the educational side, but for a good laugh you could try Math Suks.
posted by grateful at 6:51 AM on May 16, 2005

They Might Be Giants - "James K. Polk". more than you wanted to know about an obscure president and funny.
posted by plasticpool at 8:06 AM on May 16, 2005

Oh yeah, and then there was "Meet James Ensor". Belgium's famous painter...
posted by furiousthought at 10:36 AM on May 16, 2005

Not to beat the They Might Be Giants horse to death, but there's also "Mammals" off Apollo 18.

Animaniacs -- in particular Yakko Warner -- sings all the US states and their capitals on the first Animaniacs album. Wakko sings about all the planets.

I made an educational mix for my daughter of nothing but covers of Schoolhouse Rock songs (Yeah, some of them were by Smashmouth) and TMBG. (She listened to it once and opted for her Brittany Spears/Kylie Mynogue/Bjork mix instead.)
posted by Gucky at 10:49 AM on May 16, 2005

A related article from today's NYTimes (reg. required) "When You Wish Upon An Atom: The Songs Of Science"
posted by .kobayashi. at 6:48 PM on May 17, 2005

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