School in a Book: Classic Songs and Musical Artists

You know how out of the blue one day you hear a song you used to love and you think, I can’t forget this again. I have to write it down. You start to wonder how many other great songs you’ve let slip from memory. Then you have kids, and you start actively seeking them out so you can pass them on. This list is a good jumping-off point for that process.

It’s highly unlikely that all your favorite songs are listed here. But there are a lot of great ones, and many that you’ll hear here and there throughout your life. Listen to them at the YouTube links provided, absorbing the style of each artist and thinking critically about what you like, what you don’t like, and why. No need to memorize song titles, but a working recall of most of these artists will help you immensely in your many enjoyable music-related conversations to come.

This list is a work in progress; check back for updates.

Important Classical and Modern Instrumental Composers

  • Johann Sebastian Bach (Toccata and Fugue, Brandenburg Concertos)
  • Ludwig van Beethoven (Moonlight Sonata, Fur Elise)
  • Johannes Brahms (Hungarian Dance No. 5)
  • Frederic Chopin (Nocturne No. 2, Spring Waltz)
  • Antonin Dvorak (New World Symphony)
  • Edvard Grieg (Peer Gynt Suite)
  • George Frideric Handel (The Messiah, HWV 56: Hallelujah Chorus)
  • Mendelssohn (Hebrides Overture)
  • Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Piano Concerto No. 21 in C major, K. 467: II. Andante; Requiem, K. 626: Lacrimosa Dies Illa; Serenade No. 13 In G Major, K. 525, “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik”: I. Allegro; Symphony No. 40 In G Minor, K. 550: I. Allegro Molto; Piano Sonata No. 11 In A Major, K. 331: Rondo: Alla Turca; The Magic Flute, K. 620: Overture)
  • Robert Schumann (Piano Concerto)
  • Franz Shubert (Serenade; Symphony 8)
  • Johann Strauss (On the Beautiful Blue Danube Waltz)
  • Igor Stravinsky (The Rite of Spring)
  • Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (Swan Lake; The Nutcracker; the 1812 Overture)
  • Giuseppe Verdi (Nabucco: Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves (Va’, Pensiero, Sull’ali Dorate); Messa Da Requiem: Dies Irae – Tuba Mirum)
  • Vivaldi
  • Richard Wagner (The Ride of the Valkyries)
  • Philip Glass (Glassworks)
  • Hans Zimmer (Interstellar; Time)
  • John Williams (Star Wars theme)
  • Thomas Newman (American Beauty soundtrack)
  • Sergei Prokofiev (Peter and the Wolf)

Important Operas

  • The Magic Flute, Mozart
  • Don Giovanni
  • The Marriage of Figaro
  • La Boheme
  • Carmen
  • Madame Butterfly
  • Falstaff
  • The Barber of Seville

Important Musicals

  • Annie (Tomorrow, Maybe)
  • The Wizard of Oz (Somewhere Over the Rainbow)
  • Pinocchio (When You Wish Upon a Star)
  • Footloose (Footloose)
  • Grease (You’re the One That I Want, Summer Days)
  • My Fair Lady (I Could Have Danced All Night)
  • Fiddler on the Roof (Sunrise, Sunset; Tradition)
  • Singin’ in the Rain (Singin’ in the Rain, Make ‘Em Laugh)
  • Oklahoma! (Oklahoma!, Oh What a Beautiful Morning)
  • West Side Story (I Feel Pretty)
  • Little Shop of Horrors (Da-Doo, Skid Row)
  • Beauty and the Beast (Beauty and the Beast, This Provincial Life, Be My Guest)
  • The Little Mermaid (Kiss the Girl)
  • The Sound of Music (Spoonful of Sugar, Edelweiss, Sixteen Going on Seventeen, My Favorite Things, Do-Re-Mi, Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious)
  • Breakfast at Tiffany’s (Moon River)
  • South Pacific (I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair, Bali Ha’i)
  • White Christmas (White Christmas, Sisters)
  • Annie Get Your Gun (Anything You Can Do)
  • Guys and Dolls (Sit Down, You’re Rocking’ the Boat)
  • Cats!
  • Other Disney musicals

Important Folk Songs, Spirituals and Christmas Carols

  • The Star-Spangled Banner
  • America, the Beautiful
  • God Bless America
  • Auld Lang Syne
  • You’re a Grand Old Flag
  • The Air Force Song
  • The Marine’s Hymn
  • When the Saints Go Marching In
  • Amazing Grace
  • How Great Thou Art
  • I’ll Fly Away
  • Kumbaya
  • He’s Got the Whole World
  • Swing Low Sweet Chariot
  • What a Friend We Have in Jesus
  • This Little Light of Mine
  • Happy Birthday to You
  • Oh, Susanna
  • Coconut
  • Banana Boat Song (Day-O)
  • Home on the Range
  • You Are My Sunshine
  • My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean
  • Ain’t We Got Fun?
  • Someone’s In the Kitchen With Dinah
  • Take Me Out to the Ballgame
  • I’ve Been Workin’ on the Railroad
  • You’ll Sing a Song
  • Down By the Riverside
  • Lavender’s Blue
  • Where, Oh, Where Has My Little Dog Gone?
  • How Much Is That Doggy In the Window
  • Alouette
  • There’s a Hole in the Bucket
  • O Holy Night
  • Jingle Bells
  • Santa Claus Is Coming to Town
  • Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
  • The First Noel
  • We Wish You a Merry Christmas
  • The Twelve Days of Christmas
  • Oh Come All Ye Faithful
  • Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer
  • Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
  • We Three Kings
  • Away in a Manger
  • Silent Night
  • What Child Is This?
  • God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
  • Joy to the World
  • Angels We Have Heard on High
  • I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day
  • It Came Upon the Midnight Clear
  • Jingle Bells
  • Frosty, the Snowman
  • Let It Snow
  • Holly, Jolly Christmas
  • The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting)
  • I’ll Be Home for Christmas
  • I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas
  • Deck the Halls
  • We Wish You a Merry Christmas

Important Children’s Songs and Artists

  • The Alphabet Song
  • Rock-a-Bye Baby
  • Ba Ba Black Sheep
  • Mary Had a Little Lamb
  • Star Light, Star Bright
  • Hush, Little Baby
  • Skidamarink
  • Knees Up Mother Brown
  • Down by the Bay
  • The Itsy Bitsy Spider
  • Frere Jacques
  • Lollipop, Lollipop
  • If You’re Happy and You Know It
  • Skip to My Lou
  • The More We Get Together
  • This Old Man
  • The Ants Go Marching One By One
  • Are You Sleeping, Brother John?
  • Row, Row, Row Your Boat
  • Humpty Dumpty
  • Five Little Monkeys
  • Ring Around the Roses
  • Old McDonald
  • Three Blind Mice
  • Nick Nack Paddywack
  • Pop Goes the Weasel
  • Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush
  • Hey Diddle Diddle
  • Jack and Jill
  • London Bridge Is Falling Down
  • She’ll Be Comin’ Round the Mountain
  • This Little Piggy
  • Little Bo Peep
  • Sing a Song of Sixpence
  • A Tisket a Tasket
  • Little Boy Blue
  • Old King Cole
  • Little Miss Muffet
  • The Muffin Man
  • Over the River and Through the Woods
  • The Farmer In the Dell
  • Baby Bumble Bee
  • BINGO
  • Do Your Ears Hang Low?
  • John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt
  • Ring Around the Rosey
  • Pat-a-Cake
  • This Little Piggy Went to Market
  • Where is Thumbkin?
  • Here is the Beehive
  • Peter Piper
  • Hush, Little Baby
  • Pop Goes the Weasel
  • Are You Sleeping, Brother John?
  • Five Little Ducks
  • Twinkle Twinkle Little Star
  • Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes
  • I’m a Little Teapot
  • If You’re Happy and You Know It
  • The Wheels on the Bus
  • Old MacDonald

Important Popular Artists

1920s, 30s and 40s

  • Billie Holiday (Blue Moon; God Bless the Child)
  • Doris Day (Dream a Little Dream of Me; Que Sera Sera; Perhaps, Perhaps)
  • Bing Crosby (Christmas album; Swingin’ on a Star; Let Me Call You Sweetheart)
  • Frank Sinatra (My Way; Fly Me to the Moon; New York, New York; That’s Life; I’ve Got the World on a String)
  • Sammy Davis Jr. (I’ve Gotta Be Me; Candy Man)

1950s and 60s

  • B.B. King (The Thrill Is Gone; Every Day I Have the Blues)
  • Bill Withers (Just the Two of Us; Lean on Me; Ain’t No Sunshine)
  • Duke Ellington (It Don’t Mean a Thing [If It Ain’t Got That Swing])
  • Ella Fitzgerald (Cheek to Cheek; Dream a Little Dream of Me; It Don’t Mean a Thing [If It Ain’t Got That Swing])
  • Etta James (At Last; Something’s Got a Hold on Me)
  • James Brown (Get Up [I Feel Like Being a] Sex Machine; I Got You [I Feel Good])
  • John Coltrane (A Love Supreme, Parts 1-4; Naima)
  • Nina Simone (I Ain’t Got No/I Got Life; Sinnerman; I Put a Spell on You)
  • Otis Redding (I’ve Been Loving You too Long [to Stop Now]; [Sittin’ on] the Dock of the Bay; Try a Little Tenderness; I’ve Got Dreams to Remember)
  • Louis Armstrong (What a Wonderful World; Cheek to Cheek; Unforgettable)
  • Miles Davis (Blue in Green; So What)
  • Muddy Waters (Mannish Boy)
  • Sam Cooke (A Change Is Gonna Come; What A Wonderful World/Don’t Know Much About History)
  • Sam & Dave (Soul Man)
  • John Lee Hooker (Boom Boom)
  • Chuck Berry (Johnny B. Goode; No Particular Place to Go; Maybelline; Roll Over Beethoven; Sweet Little Sixteen; You Never Can Tell)
  • Bobby Darin (Dream Lover)
  • Buddy Holly (Everyday; That’ll Be the Day; Peggy Sue)
  • Elvis Presley (Can’t Help Falling in Love; Love Me Tender; Blue Suede Shoes; Hound Dog; Jailhouse Rock; Don’t Be Cruel; All Shook Up)
  • Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers (Why Do Fools Fall in Love)
  • Frankie Valli (Sherry; Big Girls Don’t Cry; Walk Like a Man; Can’t Take My Eyes Off You)
  • Jackie Wilson (Lonely Teardrops; [Your Love Keeps Lifting Me] Higher and Higher)
  • Fats Domino (Blueberry Hill)
  • Jerry Lee Lewis (Great Balls of Fire; Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On)
  • Patsy Cline (I Fall to Pieces; Walkin’ After Midnight; Crazy)
  • The Drifters (Under the Boardwalk; Save the Last Dance for Me)
  • The Everly Brothers (All I Have to Do Is Dream; Bye Bye Love; Wake Up Little Susie)
  • Four Tops (Reach Out [I’ll Be There]; I Can’t Help Myself [Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch]; Baby I Need Your Loving; Walk Away Renee)
  • The Isley Brothers (Shout, Parts 1 and 2; This Old Heart of Mine [Is Weak for You])
  • The Righteous Brothers (Unchained Melody; You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’)
  • The Ronettes (Be My Baby)
  • The Shirelles (Mama Said; Will You Love Me Tomorrow)
  • The Spencer Davis Group (Gimme Some Lovin’)
  • The Staple Singers (I’ll Take You There; Respect Yourself; Let’s Do It Again)
  • The Supremes/Diana Ross (Baby Love; Where Did Our Love Go; Stop! In the Name of Love; You Keep Me Hanging On; You Can’t Hurry Love; I Hear a Symphony)
  • The Temptations (My Girl)
  • Roy Orbison (Only the Lonely; Oh, Pretty Woman)
  • Little Richard (Good Golly, Miss Molly; Tutti Frutti; Long Tall Sally)
  • Solomon Burke (Everybody Needs Somebody to Love; Cry to Me)
  • Wilson Pickett (In the Midnight Hour; Land of a 1,000 Dances; Mustang Sally)

1970s

  • Aretha Franklin (Respect; [You Make Me Feel Like a] Natural Woman; Chain of Fools; I Say a Little Prayer)
  • Al Green (Let’s Stay Together; Love and Happiness; Take Me to the River)
  • Bob Dylan (Like a Rolling Stone’ Blowing in the Wind; Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door; Mr. Tambourine Man; The Times They Are a-Changin’)
  • Creedence Clearwater Revival (CCR) (Have you Ever Seen the Rain?; Bad Moon Rising; Proud Mary; Who’ll Stop the Rain; Down on the Corner)
  • Crosby, Stills and Nash (Long Time Gone)
  • Curtis Mayfield (People Get Ready; Superfly)
  • Cat Stevens (Wild World; Morning Has Broken; Cat’s in the Cradle; Where Do the Children Play; Blowin’ in the Wind)
  • James Taylor (Five and Rain; Sweet Baby James; You’ve Got a Friend; Carolina in My Mind)
  • Janis Joplin (Me and Bobby McGee; Piece of My Heart; Summertime)
  • Elvis Costello ([What’s So Funny About] Peace, Love and Understanding)
  • Joe Cocker (With a Little Help From My Friends; You Are So Beautiful)
  • Lou Reed (Walk on the Wild Side; Perfect Day)
  • John Denver (Take Me Home, Country Roads; Annie’s Song; Rocky Mountain High; Home Grown Tomatoes)
  • Simon and Garfunkel (Bridge Over Troubled Water; Scarborough Fair; Mrs. Robinson; The Sound of Silence)
  • Sly and the Family Stone (Hot Fun in the Summertime; Family Affair)
  • Smokey Robinson and The Miracles (Cruisin’; You Really Got a Hold on Me)
  • Sonny and Cher (I Got You Babe)
  • Marvin Gaye (Let’s Get It On; I Heard It Through the Grapevine; Ain’t No Mountain High Enough; Mercy Mercy Me)
  • The Beach Boys (California Girls; Surfin’ USA; I Get Around; Good Vibrations)
  • The Beatles (In My Life; Strawberry Fields Forever; All You Need is Love; Come Together; Hey, Jude; Let It Be; Yesterday; Yellow Submarine; Ticket to Ride; While My Guitar Gently Weeps; With a Little Help From My Friends)
  • The Byrds (Mr. Tambourine Man; Turn! Turn! Turn!)
  • The Carpenters (We’ve Only Just Begun; Close to You; Yesterday Once More; Rainy Days and Mondays)
  • The Jackson 5 (I Want You Back)
  • The Grateful Dead/Jerry Garcia (Workingman’s Dead; Uncle John’s Band)
  • The Doors/Jim Morrison (Light My Fire; People Are Strange; Riders on a Storm; Break on Through to the Other Side)
  • The Eagles (Hotel California; The Long Run; Take It Easy)
  • The Jimi Hendrix Experience/Jimi Hendrix (All Along the Watchtower; Purple Haze)
  • Neil Young (Cortez the Killer; Rockin’ in the Free World; Sugar Mountain)
  • Nancy Sinatra (These Boots are Made for Walkin’; Bang Bang)
  • Peter, Paul and Mary (Puff the Magic Dragon; Blowin’ in the Wind; If I Had a Hammer; Lemon Tree; We Shall Overcome; Leaving on a Jet Plane)
  • John Lennon (I Feel Fine; Strawberry Fields Forever; Imagine; Happy Christmas [War Is Over])
  • Johnny Cash (Ring of Fire; I Walk the Line; Hurt)
  • Joni Mitchell (Both Sides Now; Help Me; Big Yellow Taxi)
  • Willie Nelson (On the Road Again; Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys; Always on My Mind)
  • Kool and the Gang (Jungle Boogie)
  • Gloria Gaynor (I Will Survive)

1980s

  • AC/DC (Thunderstruck; Back in Black; Highway to Hell)
  • Aerosmith (Sweet Emotion; Walk This Way)
  • Eurythmics/Annie Lennox (Sweet Dreams [Are Made of This]; Here Comes the Rain Again)
  • Barbra Streisand (The Way We Were; You Don’t Bring Me Flowers; Don’t Lie to Me)
  • Bee Gees (Stayin’ Alive)
  • Bette Midler (From a Distance; I Think It’s Gonna Rain Today; Wind Beneath My Wings)
  • Billy Joel (Piano Man; New York State of Mind; We Didn’t Start the Fire)
  • Blondie (Call Me; Heart of Glass)
  • Bob Marley (Don’t Worry Be Happy; Three Little Birds; No Woman No Cry; Could You Be Loved; I Shot the Sheriff; One Love)
  • Bob Seger (Old Time Rock ‘n Roll)
  • Bobby “Blue” Bland (I Pity the Fool; Farther Up the Road; Cry, Cry, Cry; Turn On Your Love Light)
  • Bonnie Raitt (Something to Talk About; Thing Called Love)
  • Boston (More Than a Feeling)
  • Brian Wilson (In My Room; Don’t Worry Baby; Carline, No)
  • Bruce Springsteen (Born in the U.S.A.; Dancin’ in the Dark; Streets of Philadelphia)
  • Cyndi Lauper (Girls Just Want to Have Fun; True Colors; Time After Time)
  • David Bowie (Ziggy Stardust; Let’s Dance)
  • Dion (Teenager in Love, The Wanderer, Runaround Sue, Abraham, Martin and John)
  • Dolly Parton (I Will Always Love You; 9 to 5)
  • Gladys Knight (Midnight Train to Georgia; I Heard It Through the Grapevine)
  • The Allman Brothers Band (Midnight Rider; Whipping Post)
  • Guns N’ Roses/Axl Rose (Paradise City; Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door; Welcome to the Jungle; November Rain)
  • Kenny Rogers (The Gambler)
  • Moody Blues (Nights in White Satin)
  • Jimmy Cliff (Many Rivers to Cross, The Harder They Come, I Can See Clearly Now)
  • Madonna (Vogue; Like a Virgin; Material Girl; Like A Prayer)
  • Pink Floyd (Money; Another Brick in the Wall Part 2)
  • Prince (Kiss; 1999; Purple Rain)
  • Queen/Freddie Mercury (We Will Rock You; We Are the Champions; Bohemian Rhapsody; Another One Bites the Dust)
  • The Ramones (Blitzkrieg Bop; Sheena Is a Punk Rocker)
  • Luther Vandross (Love the One You’re With)
  • Lionel Richie (Easy; Stuck On You)
  • Lynyrd Skynyrd (Sweet Home Alabama)
  • Martha Reeves and the Vandellas (Dancing in the Street)
  • Led Zeppelin (Stairway to Heaven)
  • Michael Jackson (Thriller; Bad; Black and White; We Are the World; Billie Jean)
  • Mavis Staples (I’ll Take You There; What Happened to the Real Me)
  • The Bangles (Walk Like an Egyptian, Manic Monday; Eternal Flame)
  • Steppenwolf (Born to Be Wild; Magic Carpet Ride)
  • Stevie Nicks (Talk to Me)
  • Stevie Wonder (I Just Called to Say I Love You; Isn’t She Lovely; Signed, Sealed, Delivered)
  • The Animals (Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood; The House of the Rising Sun)
  • The Band (The Weight, The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down)
  • The Champs (Tequila Song)
  • The Clash (Rock the Casbah; London Calling; Should I Stay or Should I Go)
  • Patti LaBelle (New Attitude; On My Own)
  • Neil Diamond (Sweet Caroline)
  • Paul Anka (Put Your Head on My Shoulder)
  • Rod Stewart (Have I Told You Lately?)
  • Roxette (She’s Got the Look)
  • The Rolling Stones ([I Can’t Get No] Satisfaction; Paint It Black; You Can’t Always Get What You Want)
  • The Police (Message in a Bottle; Every Breath You Take; Roxanne)
  • The Sex Pistols (Anarchy in the U.K.; God Save the Queen)
  • The Who (Baba O’Riley; I Can See For Miles; Won’t Get Fooled Again)
  • Tina Turner (What’s Love Got to Do With It; Proud Mary, Simply the Best)
  • Journey (Don’t Stop Believin’)
  • Bad Company (Can’t Get Enough)
  • Alan Jackson (It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere)
  • Nat King Cole (Unforgettable; When I Fall in Love; Mona Lisa)
  • Natalie Cole (Unforgettable; This Will Be [An Everlasting Love])
  • Ray Charles (Georgia on My Mind; Night & Day; Hit the Road, Jack; I Got a Woman)
  • Tony Bennett (Fly Me to the Moon; I Left My Heart in San Francisco)
  • Diana Ross (I’m Coming Out; Endless Love)

1990s

  • Carly Simon (You’re So Vain)
  • Celine Dion (The Power of Love; My Heart Will Go On; It’s All Coming Back to Me Now; Where Does My Heart Beat Now)
  • Eric Clapton (Tears in Heaven; Wonderful Tonight)
  • Elton John (Can You Feel the Love Tonight; Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Rocket Man)
  • Eminem (Slim Shady; Without Me; Not Afraid; Godzilla)
  • Mariah Carey (I Don’t Wanna Cry; Without You; Hero; Bye Bye; One Sweet Day; Vision of Love; Emotions; O Holy Night; We Belong Together; Always Be My Baby; Fantasy)
  • Nirvana/Kurt Cobain (Smells Like Teen Spirit; Come As You Are; In Bloom; Lithium)
  • U2/Bono (Beautiful Day; With or Without You; I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For)
  • Van Morrison (Brown Eyed Girl; Gloria [Them])
  • Whitney Houston (I Will Always Love You; Greatest Love of All; I Have Nothing; I Wanna Dance with Somebody; Run to You; Saving All My Love for You; Where Do Broken Hearts Go)
  • Alanis Morissette (Ironic)
  • Red Hot Chili Peppers (Under the Bridge)
  • Phil Collins (Another Day in Paradise; In the Air Tonight)
  • Lee Ann Womak (I Hope You Dance)
  • Enya (Orinoco Flow/Sail Away)

2000s

  • Beyonce (If I Was a Boy)
  • Adele (Hello; Someone Like You)
  • Lil Wayne (Lollipop; How to Love)
  • Justin Bieber
  • Macy Grey (I Try; Stay)
  • Jay Z (Forever Young)
  • John Legend (Glory; All of Me; Ordinary People)
  • Drake
  • Kanye West (Gold Digger; All of the Lights; Jesus Walks)
  • Tracy Chapman (Give Me One Reason)
  • Dr. Dre

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