Tongue in cheek songs about historical topics
February 13, 2019 11:21 PM   Subscribe

Yesterday, clavicle recommended this song - The Mesopotamians by TMBG. It‘s my new favourite song (thanks clavicle!). I love songs that poke fun at historical topics and then squeeze relevant words/dates etc. into the lyrics. I also love the Monty Python song „Oliver Cromwell“. Do you have other recommendations? Thanks!
posted by Omnomnom to Media & Arts (50 answers total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
The Anglo Saxons by The Mountain Goats.
posted by terretu at 11:34 PM on February 13, 2019 [3 favorites]

I don’t know if pastiches for children’s TV is quite what you’re looking for, but there’s always Horrible Histories.
posted by Bloxworth Snout at 11:39 PM on February 13, 2019 [6 favorites]

More TMBG!

James K. Polk
Istanbul (Not Constantinople)
posted by acidnova at 11:43 PM on February 13, 2019 [13 favorites]

The Animaniacs Presidents Song is a fantastic mnemonic device that saved my butt in more than one high school history test.
posted by Rhaomi at 11:56 PM on February 13, 2019 [3 favorites]

posted by exceptinsects at 12:16 AM on February 14, 2019 [7 favorites]

Thank you for reminding me of my favourite of this genre, absolute banger William the Conqueror by DMX Krew.
posted by Lluvia at 12:31 AM on February 14, 2019

Also Monty Python: The Philosophers Song.
posted by stillmoving at 12:42 AM on February 14, 2019 [3 favorites]

Too Late to Apologize: A Declaration by Soomo (re: the American Revolutionary War)
posted by lesser weasel at 12:48 AM on February 14, 2019 [3 favorites]

The Lyre of Orpheus by Nick Cave. Tesla's Hotel Room by the Handsome Family.
posted by snarfois at 1:03 AM on February 14, 2019

Not tongue-in-cheek exactly, but Christopher Lee did a whole album about Charlemagne.
posted by terretu at 1:20 AM on February 14, 2019 [1 favorite]

Perhaps more literary than strictly historical, but Oedipus Rex by Tom Lehrer
posted by crocomancer at 1:23 AM on February 14, 2019 [3 favorites]

There's not a lot of historical data in William Howard Taft by the Two-Man Gentleman Band, but it's a heck of a lot of fun.

88 Lines About 42 Presidents (by the Brunching Shuttlecocks, including Metafilter's own Lore Sjoberg) is equally fun, and much more information dense, but I can't seem to find it anywhere online.

You can find Jonathan Coulton's equally excellent Presidents song if you search for "Presidents" on his download page.
posted by yankeefog at 2:26 AM on February 14, 2019

Ah! So my go-to girls for weird historical songs are Rasputina:

Year Without a Summer
My Little Shirtwaist Fire
Howard Hughes
Herb Girls of Birkenau

The War of 1812 by Three Dead Trolls in a Baggie is Canadian gold.
posted by Jilder at 4:29 AM on February 14, 2019 [5 favorites]

King Tut by Steve Martin.

From Wikipedia: King Tut" paid homage to Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamun and presents a caricature of the sensational Treasures of Tutankhamun traveling exhibit that toured seven United States cities from 1976 to 1979. The exhibit attracted approximately eight million visitors.
posted by fuse theorem at 5:29 AM on February 14, 2019 [6 favorites]

Capitol Steps checks the "tongue in cheek" box. They focus on contemporary politics, but since they've been around for 30 years, I guess you could say they have 29 years of historical content? Some tracks are available on their website - here's Stormy Daniels. And they have a youtube channel. Here's Huckabee from 2008.

If Capitol Steps is up your alley then you might also check to see if you have a local Gridiron Club which produces shows of similar content to raise funds for journalism scholarships. (The wikipedia article is about the D.C. club but there are others around the country).

Seconding Three Dead Trolls in a Baggie and Rasputin!
posted by bunderful at 5:41 AM on February 14, 2019 [1 favorite]

Charlie on the MTA was written in earnest as a political campaign song but has sort of a fascinating history after that. Absurdity (when I was little, I always wondered why the wife didn't hand him "one more nickel" instead of a sandwich though the open window at the Scollary Square Station), history, politics, the MBTA Charlie Card...and banjos.
posted by Pax at 5:43 AM on February 14, 2019 [8 favorites]

Allen Sherman's You Went The Wrong Way Old King Louie.
posted by Lunaloon at 5:46 AM on February 14, 2019 [1 favorite]

Tom Lehrer's Wernher Von Braun:

Some have harsh words for this man of renown,
But some think our attitude
Should be one of gratitude,
Like the widows and cripples in old london town
Who owe their large pensions to Wernher von Braun.

posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 5:54 AM on February 14, 2019 [9 favorites]

I am honor-bound to mention that TMBG also did "Meet James Ensor" (art history).
posted by cage and aquarium at 6:05 AM on February 14, 2019 [4 favorites]

The other Mesopotamia is by The B-52s

Turn your watch! Turn your watch back!
About a hundred thousand years...
posted by rd45 at 6:10 AM on February 14, 2019 [1 favorite]

Randy Newman, "Louisiana 1927"
posted by booth at 6:10 AM on February 14, 2019 [1 favorite]

Not quite historical, but a country-and-western rendition of Homer's Odysseus
posted by restless_nomad at 6:11 AM on February 14, 2019

Dissenting opinion about "Louisiana 1927" here - that is more of a commemoration/memorial for an historic event, as opposed to something that pokes fun. (It's a gorgeous song, though, so check it out anyway.)

More to your topic:

Donald Fagen's New Frontier is a sort of overall poking-fun at 50s Cold War paranoia mixing with 50s teen culture (the general gist of the song is about kids throwing a house party inside one of their parents' bomb shelters).

The Rolling Stones' Sympathy For The Devil doesn't necessarily make fun of historic stuff, but it's a definite alternate take, and also kicks righteous ass.

Then there's We Didn't Start The Fire.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:26 AM on February 14, 2019 [1 favorite]

With Her Head Tucked Underneath Her Arm
posted by azalea_chant at 6:27 AM on February 14, 2019 [3 favorites]

Tom Lehrer is a goldmine for this sort of stuff. Definitely "Wernher Von Braun", but also Alma, and Lobachevsky.
posted by briank at 6:35 AM on February 14, 2019 [9 favorites]

I think you just might like Jonathan Coulton's Mandelbrot Set
posted by Mchelly at 6:40 AM on February 14, 2019 [3 favorites]

There is Battle of New Orleans by Johnny Horton.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 6:40 AM on February 14, 2019 [9 favorites]

I really enjoy Brad Neely's song about George Washington.
posted by TwoStride at 7:16 AM on February 14, 2019 [2 favorites]

Ooh, I get to link to The Great Molasses Disaster again!
posted by cobaltnine at 8:23 AM on February 14, 2019 [1 favorite]

Ian Dury and the Blockheads, There Ain't Half Been Some Clever Bastards. Includes silly verses on van Gogh, Noël Coward, and this gem of mauled rhyme:

Einstein can't be classed as witless
He claimed atoms were the littlest
When you do a bit of splittin'-'em-ness
Frighten everybody shitless!

Also, the couplet "Radioactivity / Discovered by Madame Curie" in the Kraftwerk song always cracks me up because the music is so ominous & heavy and the line falls so flat, but I'm not sure that's intentionally tongue-in-cheek.
posted by miles per flower at 8:28 AM on February 14, 2019

Allan Sherman's Good Advice (lyrics) manages to squeeze in Isaac Newton, Henry Ford, the Wright brothers, Benjamin Franklin, Sigmund Freud, Alexander Graham Bell and Christopher Columbus.
posted by verstegan at 8:59 AM on February 14, 2019 [1 favorite]

Half Japanese - Ancient Life. Does prehistory count?
posted by hydrophonic at 9:30 AM on February 14, 2019

I can't find any audio for you online, but in a similar vein to Half Japanese,
The Tinklers - I'm Proud To Be A Citizen Of The Roman Empire
posted by hydrophonic at 9:36 AM on February 14, 2019

If a poem is acceptable: The Battle of Hastings
posted by contrarian at 9:41 AM on February 14, 2019

There's a Brooklyn-based band called Piñataland, which doesn't easily fit into any music genre; I've heard "chamber-pop" as one reasonable suggestion: Chamber instruments making pop songs, but their focus has been about writing songs about historical events.

Most of their songs begin with a sound-clip from history, such as this one featuring President Roosevelt introducting the New York World's Fair in 1939, followed by a song of their own making; that song "1939" sings of the hope and ambition of that world's fair. Another song "Devil's Airship" is about the strange airship scare in 1890s California, including the quotation overheard by an eyewitness to the strange airship over Sacramento (of an advanced nature at the time, so this is basically a UFO scare) where a passenger said "We'll be in San Francisco by tomorrow Noon." Both of these songs I mention are on "Songs for the Forgotten Future, Vol 1."

They have a self-titled album, two volumes of "Songs for the Forgotten Future," a pair of EPs (much of which is found on SftFF), and "Hymns for the Dreadful Night," essentially a third volume of SftFF, but with some forward-looking futurific songs as well, such as "The Settlers," about transforming Mars.

I'm doing a sort of desert-island discs thing for a friend's podcast, and right now I'm trying to pick which of these albums will be among my 5; it's not an easy choice.
posted by Sunburnt at 11:43 AM on February 14, 2019

History is Made by Stupid People by the Arrogant Worms.

Also by the Arrogant Worms - Don't Go Into Politics.
posted by Lunaloon at 12:17 PM on February 14, 2019 [1 favorite]

Say Ho! by Scott Miller - about Sam Houston
Cezanne by 5 Chinese Brothers is close - kind of an art history lesson about painter Paul Cezanne
Lots of old Billy Bragg songs, ie: all the non-love songs. Like Island of No Return and The World Turned Upside Down
The Crash at Crush by Brian Burns - about a purposeful trainwreck near Waco TX
Johnny Cash - I Would Rock & Roll for You - Has a verse about the history of Sun Records -
posted by The_Vegetables at 1:48 PM on February 14, 2019

Rock Me Amadeus?
posted by bendy at 8:22 PM on February 14, 2019 [1 favorite]

More of a polemic than a poking-fun song, but REM's Ignoreland does contain specific dates.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 8:36 PM on February 14, 2019

And one of few songs about Patty Hearst.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 8:39 PM on February 14, 2019

And not the best song on this album, but it's about the Three Stooges
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 8:44 PM on February 14, 2019

This American Life did an episode a few years ago that featured a song about the Erie Canal, and it included a custom-made song that I still think about.

What would you do with a canal to the Moon?
posted by CathyG at 10:21 AM on February 15, 2019

Tom Lehrer is a goldmine for this sort of stuff. Definitely "Wernher Von Braun", but also Alma , and Lobachevsky.

The last one doesn't fit this mold, as the name was picked only to make the song lyrics work; the song doesn't have much to do with the actual life and work of Lobachevsky.
posted by each day we work at 6:53 AM on February 16, 2019

One more just came to me: You'll be Back
posted by crocomancer at 1:57 PM on February 18, 2019

Pablo Picasso by the Modern Lovers and Cezanne by the Five Chinese Brothers.
posted by eve harrington at 4:46 PM on February 18, 2019

The Complete History of the Soviet Union , Arranged to the Melody of Tetris
posted by azalea_chant at 12:38 PM on February 21, 2019 [1 favorite]

Maginot Line by Geoff Berner:

Maginot line, maginot line, thought you were so safe and strong.
Maginot line, maginot line, stupid, stupid, you were wrong.

posted by mandolin conspiracy at 12:41 PM on March 4, 2019

Camper Van Beethoven - Jack Ruby
posted by hydrophonic at 7:56 AM on March 5, 2019


Sabaton /ˈsæbətɒn/ is a Swedish power metal band from Falun. The band's main lyrical themes are based on war, historical battles, and acts of heroism[1]—the name is a reference to a sabaton, knight's foot armor.
posted by Sleeper at 5:21 AM on March 21, 2019

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