Important Musical Artists and Songs (The ‘School in a Book’ Series)

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 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; 1812 Overture)
Giuseppe Verdi (Nabucco: Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves (Va’, Pensiero, Sull’ali Dorate); Messa Da Requiem: Dies Irae – Tuba Mirum)
Richard Wagner (The Ride of the Valkyries)

Important Modern Composers

Philip Glass (Glassworks, more)
Hans Zimmer (Interstellar, Time, more)
John Williams (Star Wars main theme, more)
Thomas Newman (American Beauty soundtrack, Scent of a Woman main theme, more)
Sergei Prokofiev (Peter and the Wolf)

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 Sound of Music (Spoonful of Sugar, Edelweiss, Sixteen Going on Seventeen, My Favorite Things, Do-Re-Mi, Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious)
Breakfast at Tiffany’s (Moon River)
The Little Mermaid (Kiss the Girl)
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)

Important Folk Songs, Spirituals and Singalong Songs

The Star-Spangled Banner
America, the Beautiful
God Bless America
When the Saints Go Marching In
Amazing Grace
How Great Thou Art
I’ll Fly Away
He’s Got the Whole World
Swing Low Sweet Chariot
What a Friend We Have in Jesus
This Little Light of Mine
Oh, Susanna
Banana Boat Song (Day-O)
Home on the Range
You Are My Sunshine
My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean
Ain’t We Got Fun?
Down By the Old Mill Stream
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
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

Mr. Rogers
Various Disney songs and soundtracks

The Alphabet Song
Rock-a-Bye Baby
Twinkle Twinkle Little Star
Ba Ba Black Sheep
Mary Had a Little Lamb
Star Light, Star Bright
Hush, Little Baby (Don’t Say a Word)
Knees Up Mother Brown
Down By the Bay
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
Wheels on the Bus
Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes
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
Do Your Ears Hang Low?
John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt

Important Rock Artists

Aretha Franklin (Respect, [You Make Me Feel Like a] Natural Woman, Chain of Fools, I Say a Little Prayer)
Barbra Streisand (The Way We Were, You Don’t Bring Me Flowers, Don’t Lie to Me)
B.B. King (The Thrill Is Gone, Every Day I Have the Blues, Early in the Morning, Ain’t Nobody Home)
Bette Midler (From a Distance, I Think It’s Gonna Rain Today, The Rose, Wind Beneath My Wings)
Billie Holiday (Blue Moon, God Bless the Child)
Bill Withers (Just the Two of Us, Lean on Me, Ain’t No Sunshine)
Billy Joel (Piano Man, New York State of Mind, We Didn’t Start the Fire)
Bing Crosby (Christmas album, Swingin’ on a Star, Let Me Call You Sweetheart)
Bob Dylan (Desolation Row, Like a Rolling Stone, Blowing in the Wind, Knockin on Heaven’s Door, Lay Lady Lay, Visions of Johanna, Highway 61 Revisited, Just Like a Woman, Mississippi, Mr. Tambourine Man, Positively 4th Street, Subterranean Homesick Blues, Tangled Up in Blue, The Times They Are A-Changin)
Bob Marley (Three Little Birds; Redemption Song; Could You Be Loved; I Shot the Sheriff; One Love)
Buddy Holly (Everyday, Not Fade Away, Rave On, That’ll Be the Day, Peggy Sue)
Bruce Springstein
The Carpenters (We’ve Only Just Begun, Close to You, Yesterday Once More, Rainy Days and Mondays, Ticket to Ride)
Cat Stevens (Wild World, Morning Has Broken, Where Do the Children Play, Blowin’ in the Wind)
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, Beauty and the Beast)
Cher (Bang Bang, )
Chuck Berry (Brown Eyed Handsome Man, Johnny B. Goode, Promised Land, No Particular Place to Go, Maybellene, Roll Over Beethoven, Sweet Little Sixteen)
David Bowie (Changes, Heroes, Young Americans, Ziggy Stardust, Let’s Dance, Modern Love)
Diana Ross
Dolly Parton (Jolene, I Will Always Love You, 9 to 5)
Ella Fitzgerald (with Louis Armstrong: Cheek to Cheek, Summertime; Cry Me a River; Embraceable You)
Elton John (Candle in the Wind, Can You Feel the Love Tonight, Circle of Life, I’m Still Standing, Tiny Dancer, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Rocket Man, Your Song, Alison)
Elvis Costello ([What’s So Funny About] Peace, Love and Understanding; Watching the Detectives)
Elvis Presley (Can’t Help Falling in Love, Love Me Tender, Blue Suede Shoes, Hound Dog, Jailhouse Rock, Don’t Be Cruel, Mystery Train, Suspicious Minds, All Shook Up, That’s All Right)
Eminem (esp. Without Me, Not Afraid)
Eric Clapton (Tears in Heaven, Wonderful Tonight, Cocaine)
Etta James (At Last, Something’s Got a Hold on Me)
Fats Domino (Ain’t It a Shame, Blueberry Hill)
Frank Sinatra (My Way; Fly Me to the Moon; New York, New York; That’s Life; I’ve Got the World on a String)
Gladys Knight (Midnight Train to Georgia, I Heard It Through the Grapevine, Neither One of Us)
James Brown (Please, Please, Please; Get Up [I Feel Like Being a] Sex Machine; I Got You [I Feel Good]; It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World; Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag)
Janis Joplin (Me and Bobby McGee, Piece of My Heart, Summertime, Try, Maybe)
Jerry Lee Lewis (Great Balls of Fire, Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On, Breathless)
Joe Cocker (With a Little Help From My Friends, You Are So Beautiful, Feelin’ Alright, Cry Me a River)
John Coltrane (instrumental)
John Denver (Take Me Home, Country Roads; Home Grown Tomatoes)
John Lennon (I Feel Fine, Strawberry Fields Forever, Imagine, Instant Karma, Happy Christmas [War Is Over])
Johnny Cash (Ring of Fire, I Walk the Line, Folsom Prison Blues)
Joni Mitchell (Both Sides Now, Help Me, Raised on Robbery, Big Yellow Taxi)
Kanye West (Gold Digger, All of the Lights, Jesus Walks)
Little Richard (Good Golly, Miss Molly; Long Tall Sally; The Girl Can’t Help It)
Louis Armstrong (What a Wonderful World, Cheek to Cheek, Unforgettable)
Madonna (Vogue, Like a Virgin, Material Girl, Like A Prayer)
Mariah Carey (I Don’t Wanna Cry, Without You, Hero, Bye Bye, One Sweet Day, Vision of Love, Fantasy, Always Be My Baby, Emotions, O Holy Night)
Marvin Gaye (What’s Going On, Let’s Get It On, I Heard It Through the Grapevine)
Michael Jackson (Thriller, Bad, Billie Jean)
Miles Davis
Moody Blues (Nights in White Satin)
Natalie Cole (Unforgettable, This Will Be [An Everlasting Love])
Nat King Cole (Unforgettable, When I Fall in Love, Mona Lisa, Christmas songs)
Nina Simone
Nirvana/ Kurt Cobain (Smells Like Teen Spirit, Come As You Are, In Bloom)
Otis Redding (I’ve Been Loving You too Long [to Stop Now], [Sittin’ on] the Dock of the Bay, Try a Little Tenderness)
Patsy Cline (I Fall to Pieces, Walkin’ After Midnight, Crazy)
Patti LaBelle (On My Own, If Only You Knew, Lady Marmalade)
Peter, Paul and Mary (Puff the Magic Dragon, Blowin’ in the Wind, If I Had a Hammer, Lemon Tree)
Pink Floyd (Another Brick in the Wall Part 2, Comfortably Numb, Wish You Were Here)
Prince (Kiss, 1999, Purple Rain, Little Red Corvette, Sign O’ the Times, When Doves Cry)
Queen/ Freddie Mercury (We Will Rock You, We Are the Champions, Bohemian Rhapsody, You’re My Best Friend, Another One Bites the Dust)
Ray Charles (Georgia on My Mind, Night & Day, Hit the Road, Jack, I Can’t Stop Loving You, I Got a Woman, What’d I Say)
Sam Cooke (A Change Is Gonna Come, Cupid, A Change Is Gonna Come, Bring It on Home to Me, You Send Me, Wonderful World)
Sammy Davis Jr.
Simon and Garfunkel (Bridge Over Troubled Water, Scarborough Fair, All I Know, Sound of Silence, The Boxer)
Stevie Wonder (I Just Called to Say I Love You, Could You Be Loved, Higher Ground, Living for the City, Superstition, You Are the Sunshine of My Life)
The Beach Boys (California Girls; Surfin’ USA; Caroline, No; I Get Around; Don’t Worry Baby; God Only Knows; Good Vibrations)
The Beatles (A Hard Day’s Night; All You Need is Love; Can’t Buy Me Love; Come Together; Eleanor Rigby; Hey, Jude; Let It Be; Yesterday; Yellow Submarine; I Saw Her Standing There; Norwegian Wood [This Bird Has Flown]; Penny Lane; Please Please Me; Rain; Something; Strawberry Fields Forever; Ticket to Ride; While My Guitar Gently Weeps; With a Little Help From My Friends; In My Life)
The Doors/ Jim Morrison (Light My Fire, People Are Strange, Riders on a Storm, Break on Through to the Other Side, The End)
The Eagles (Hotel California, Desperado, The Boys of Summer [Don Henley solo])
The Grateful Dead
The Jimi Hendrix Experience/Jimi Henrix (All Along the Watchtower, Purple Haze)
The Righteous Brothers (Unchained Melody, The Righteous Brothers, You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’)
The Rolling Stones (Tumbling Dice, Beast of Burden, Brown Sugar, [I Can’t Get No] Satisfaction, Paint It Black, Gimme Shelter, Honky Tonk Women, Jumpin’ Jack Flash, Miss You, Ruby Tuesday, Street Fighting Man, Sympathy for the Devil, Wild Horses, You Can’t Always Get What You Want)
The Temptations (Just My Imagination, My Girl, Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone)
Tina Turner (What’s Love Got to Do With It, Proud Mary, Simply the Best)
Tony Bennett (The Way You Look Tonight, Fly Me to the Moon, ILeft My Heart in San Francisco)
Whitney Houston (I Will Always Love You, Greatest Love of All, How Will I Know, I Have Nothing, I Wanna Dance with Somebody, Run to You, Saving All My Love for You, Where Do Broken Hearts Go)
Willie Nelson (Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain, On the Road Again, Whiskey River, Blue Skies, Mams Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys)
Credence Clearwater Revival

Roxette (She’s Got the Look)
Sam Moore (Soul Man, Hold On, I’m Comin’, Part Time Love)
The Supremes (Baby Love, Where Did Our Love Go, You Keep Me Hanging On)
Foreigner (Starrider)
Journey (Don’t Stop Believing)The Police (Message in a Bottle)
Bob Seger (Old Time Rock ‘n Roll)
Boston (More Than a Feeling)
John Mellencamp (Hurts So Good)
Steppenwolf (Magic Carpet Ride)
The Pretenders (Message of Love)
John Legend (Glory, All of Me, Ordinary People)
Annie Lennox/ Eurythmics (Sweet Dreams [Are Made of This], Here Comes the Rain Again, Why)
The Everly Brothers (All I Have to Do Is Dream, Cathy’s Clown, Bye Bye Love, When Will I Be Loved, Crying in the Rain, Wake Up Little Susie)
The Isley Brothers (It’s Your Thing, That Lady [Part 1 and 2], Shout (Parts 1 and 2)
Sonny and Cher (I Got You Babe)
Steppenwolf (Born to Be Wild)
Neil Diamond (Sweet Caroline)
Fleetwood Mac (Rhiannon)
Stevie Nicks (Talk to Me)
The Champs (Tequila Song)
Carly Simon (You’re So Vain)
The Spencer Davis Group (Gimme Some Lovin’)
Mark Ronson (Uptown Funk)
Lionel Richie (Easy Like Sunday Morning)
The Four Tops (Reach Out [I’ll Be There], I Can’t Help Myself [Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch])
Roy Orbison (Oh, Pretty Woman)
Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers (Why Do Fools Fall in Love)
Bobby Darin (Dream Lover)
The Jackson 5 (I Want You Back)
Dion (The Wanderer)
Paul Anka (Put Your Head on My Shoulder)
Andres Trevino (Hit the Road Jack)
Kool and the Gang (Jungle Boogie)
Sam Cooke (What A Wonderful World/Don’t Know Much About History)
Amy Winehouse (Rehab)
Bob Marley (Don’t Worry Be Happy, Three Little Birds, No Woman No Cry)
Alice Cooper (I’m Eighteen, School’s Out)
AC/DC (Thunderstruck, Back in Black, Highway to Hell)
Aerosmith (Dream On, Sweet Emotion, Walk This Way)
Axl Rose (Sweet Child o’ Mine, Paradise City, November Rain)
Bee Gees (How Deep Is Your Love, Stayin’ Alive)
Black Sabbath (Iron Man, Paranoid)
Blondie (Call Me, Heart of Glass, One Way or Another)
Bobby “Blue” Bland (I Pity the Fool; Farther Up the Road; Cry, Cry, Cry; Turn On Your Love Light)
Bonnie Raitt (Nick of Time, I Can’t Make You Love Me, Angel from Montgomery, Love Me Like a Man)
Brian Wilson (In My Room, Don’t Worry Baby, Carline, No)
Bruce Springsteen, (Born in the U.S.A., Born to Run, The Rising, Thunder Road)
The Animals (Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood, We Gotta Get Out of This Place, The House of the Rising Sun, We Gotta Get Out of This Place, It’s My Life)
Creedence Clearwater Revival (Bad Moon Rising, Fortunate Son, Proud Mary, Who’ll Stop the Rain)
Crosby, Stills and Nash (Suite: Judy Blue Eyes, Ohio)
Curtis Mayfield (People Get Ready, Superfly, I’m So Proud)
Cyndi Lauper (Girls Just Want to Have Fun, True Colors, Time After Time)
Darlene Love (He’s a Rebel, Christmas (Baby Please Come Home), He’s Sure the Boy I Love)
David Ruffin (Ain’t Too Proud to Beg, My Girl, Walk Away From Love)
Dion (Teenager in Love, The Wanderer, Runaround Sue, Abraham, Martin and John)
Donny Hathaway (The Ghetto, Pt. 1, Where Is the Love)
Doris Day (Dream a Little Dream of Me; Que Sera Sera; Perhaps, Perhaps)
Frankie Valli (Sherry, Walk Like a Man, Can’t Take My Eyes Off You)
Gregg Allman (Midnight Rider, Whipping Post)
Guns N’ Roses (Paradise City, Sweet Child O’Mine, Welcome to the Jungle)
Iggy Pop (Search and Destroy, I Wanna Be Your Dog, Lust for Life)
Jackie Wilson (Lonely Teardrops, [Your Love Keeps Lifting Me] Higher and Higher)
James Taylor (Five and Rain, Sweet Baby James, You’ve Got a Friend)
Jimmy Cliff (Many Rivers to Cross, The Harder They Come, I Can See Clearly Now)
John Fogerty (Bad Moon Rising, Fortunate Son, Proud Mary)
John Lee Hooker (Boom Boom; One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer; Boogie Chillen)
Led Zeppelin (Black Dog, Heartbreaker, Kashmir, Ramble On, Stairway to Heaven)
The Band (The Weight, The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down)
Lou Reed (Satellite of Love, I’m Waiting for the Man)
Luther Vandross (Never Too Much, Superstar, A House Is Not a Home)
Lynyrd Skynyrd (Free Bird, Sweet Home Alabama)
Martha Reeves and the Vandellas (Dancing in the Street, Nowhere to Run)
Mavis Staples
Merle Haggard (The Fugitive, The Bottle Let Me Down, Mama Tried)
Muddy Waters (Got My Mojo Workin’, Mannish Boy, I’m Your Hoochie Coochie Man, Rollin’ Stone)
Al Green (Let’s Stay Together, Love and Happiness, Take Me to the River, Tired of Being Alone)
Nancy Sinatra (These Boots are Made for Walkin’; Bang Bang)
Neil Young (Cortez the Killer, Heart of Gold, Rockin’ in the Free World)
Patti Smith (Gloria, Rock N Roll Nigger, Because the Night)
Paul Rodgers (All Right Now, Bad Company, Can’t Get Enough)
Ramones (Blitzkrieg Bop, I Wanna Be Sedated, Sheena Is a Punk Rocker)
R.E.M. (Losing My Religion, Radio Free Europe)
Rod Stewart (Da Ya Think I’m Sexy?, Maggie May, Tonight’s the Night [Gonna Be Alright], Downtown Train)
Roger Daltrey (My Generation, I Can See for Miles, Pinball Wizard, Won’t Get Fooled Again)
Ronnie Spector (Be My Baby, Baby I Love You, Walking in the Rain)
Roy Orbison (Crying, In Dreams, Only the Lonely)
Santana (Oye Como Va; Black Magic Woman)
Sly and the Family Stone (Hot Fun in the Summertime, Dance to the Music, Everyday People, Thank You [Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin], Family Affair)
Smokey Robinson and The Miracles (Ooo Baby Baby, Shop Around, The Tracks of My Tears)
Solomon Burke (Everybody Needs Somebody to Love, Cry to Me, Just Out of Reach)
Steven Tyler (Sweet Emotion, Dream On, Walk This Way)
Steve Perry (Oh Sherrie, Don’t Stop Believin’, Open Arms)
The Bangles (Walk Like an Egyptian, Manic Monday, Eternal Flame)
The Byrds (I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better, Mr. Tambourine Man; Turn! Turn! Turn!)
The Clash (Complete Control, London Calling, Should I Stay or Should I Go, Train in Vain, [White Man] In Hammersmith Palais, Just Like Heaven, Pictures of You)
The Drifters (Money Honey, Under the Boardwalk, Up on the Roof)
The Police (Message in a Bottle, Every Breath You Take, Roxanne)
The Ronettes (Be My Baby, Walking in the Rain)
The Sex Pistols (Anarchy in the U.K., The Sex Pistols, God Save the Queen)
The Shirelles (Tonight’s the Night, Will You Love Me Tomorrow)
The Staple Singers (I’ll Take You There, Respect Yourself, Let’s Do It Again)
The Who (Baba O’Riley, I Can See For Miles, I Can’t Explain, My Generation, Won’t Get Fooled Again)
Thom Yorke (Fake Plastic Trees, Karma Police, Everything in Its Right Place)
Tom Waits (New Coat of Paint, Downtown Train, Dirt in the Ground)
Toots Hibbert (Funky Kingston, Monkey Man, Pressure Drop)
Tracy Chapman (Give Me One Reason, Fast Car, Stand By Me)
U2/ Bono (Beautiful Day, With or Without You, I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For)
Van Morrison (Brown Eyed Girl, Into the Mystic, Moondance)
Wilson Pickett (In the Midnight Hour, Land of a 1,000 Dances, Mustang Sally)


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