History in Music: Ancient to Colonial Times

So often, homeschoolers get stuck on how to teach music, especially if their child isn’t interested in learning how to play a musical instrument. Some families will put together a History of Rock class to learn how modern music has transformed from Rock Around the Clock to Harry Styles, Lizzo, and Bad Bunny. Another option is to study History in Music – or the way songs tell us about our past.

More of an interdisciplinary study than a mini history course, listening to history in music songs helps kids to explore the many ways that history can be told artistically. Beyond the lyrics, you can look at the visual forms in the videos. What does the setting, costuming, and actions of the people in the video communicate in addition to the poetry of the words?

Listening to songs that are supposed to be about historical events requires a critical ear. Artists have long taken liberties with the way they interpret events, so it comes as no surprise that not all history in music lyrics sing accurate facts. Sometimes a song is just meant to be fun, not educational, and that’s okay. Other times, a songwriter may use a lot of metaphors and symbolism in the song because they don’t want to get bogged down in heavy facts.

Here’s a list 15 songs from a variety of musical genres that you can build a History in Music class around. These songs take you from the beginning of life on earth to early American colonial times. You can also check out our other curated History in Music lists:

1. Barenaked Ladies. Big Bang Theory Theme Song

Read the lyrics to the Big Bang Theory Theme Song by the Barenaked Ladies

A fast-paced fun song that takes you from the primordial soup of life simmering in space to modern times.

2. The Police: Walking in Your Footsteps

Read the lyrics to Walking in Your Footsteps by The Police

Not sure why lead singer Sting felt the need to include God in a song about dinosaurs, but be warned, if that’s an issue for you.

3. B-52s: Mesopotamia

Read the lyrics to Mesopotamia by the B-52s.

You’ll definitely want to listen with a critical ear to this song about Mesopotamia and the Cradle of Civilization, as the dates and facts don’t really line up.

4. The Bangles: Walk Like an Egyptian

Read the lyrics to Walk Like an Egyptian by The Bangles

Admittedly, this song only has a couple of verses about Ancient Egypt, but it’s a catchy tune and it’s one of my all time favorite songs, so it’s on the list.

5. Iron Maiden: Alexander the Great

Read the lryics to Alexander the Great by Iron Maiden

An 8-minute heavy metal history to Alexander the Great, king of the Ancient Greek kingdom of Macedon in the 330sBCE

6. Bastille: Pompeii

Read the lyrics to Pompeii by Bastille.

Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79CE, covering the town of Pompeii in fiery ash. Bastille’s song imagines what it would have been like to be there in the moment.

7. Siouxsie and the Banshees: Cities in Dust

Read the lyrics to Cities in the Dust by Siouxsie and the Banshees.

Another song about the volcanic destruction of Pompeii.

8. They Might Be Giants: Istanbul (Not Constantinople)

9. Van Morrison: Avalon of the Heart

Read the lyrics to Avalon of the Heart by Van Morrison

A bit of a ballad about the 6th century legend of King Arthur.

10. Arcade Fire: Joan of Arc

Read the lyrics to Joan of Arc by Arcade Fire

The patron saint of France, Joan of Arc died a martyr leading armies because of her visions.

11. Patti Smith: Amerigo

Read the lyrics to Amerigo by Patti Smith

A song about North America’s namesake, 15th-century navigator Amerigo Vespucci

12. Dave Matthews Band: Don’t Drink the Water

Read the lyrics to Don’t Drink the Water by the Dave Matthews Band

An unvarnished take about the European slaughter of Native Americans during colonization.

13. Rob Zombie: American Witch

Read the lyrics to American Witch by Rob Zombie

This telling of the 1692 Salem witch trials will require some research to understand all the references.

14. Weezer: The British Are Coming

Read the lyrics to The British Are Coming by Weezer

Very much a song justifying the actions of colonists that led to the American Revolution. Could definitely be worth your while to look at how financial interests of certain privateers (not necessarily relating to taxation without representation) really pushed the Tea Party cause.

15. O’Jays: Ship Ahoy

Read the lyrics to Ship Ahoy by the O’Jays

A 9-minute soulful song about the Transatlantic Slave Trade.



Alessa Giampaolo Keener, M.Ed. homeschooled her children from kindergarten into college. Over the last 15+ years, she has also worked with families in creating individualized learning plans. As a professional curriculum developer, Alessa has created afterschool youth development programs for a Baltimore-based nonprofit, as well as teaching materials for homeschool parents and brick and mortar school teachers.