Chuck Klosterman once said that music doesn't move anyone -- it only holds our hands and guides us as we move ourselves. The perfect chords or the perfect lyrics for the perfect point in your life have the power to fundamentally change you because they speak to some inarticulate emotion you've been grappling with long before you heard that song. And on occasion, music can tap into the same vein in thousands or even millions of people, and suddenly a three-minute pop song has the power to change the world. Here are a few examples ...
8Sarah McLachlan's "Angel" Stopped Darryl McDaniels of Run-D.M.C. From Committing Suicide
These days, the heartbreaking lyrics and vocal styling of Sarah McLachlan's "Angel" are mainly used by the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to make you feel bad for every square foot of your apartment that isn't currently occupied by a rescue pet. But back in 1997, it was still in heavy radio rotation and helping to save the life of Run-D.M.C. member Darryl McDaniels.
At that point in time, McDaniels was in a really bad place. He was suffering from depression and fighting it with prescription drugs, which might have been OK, except he washed them down with lots and lots of alcohol. The group was falling apart, and he lost his creative drive. So one day, he decided he would end it all, despite having things to stick around for -- like lots of money, a huge army of fans, an undoubtedly impressive collection of shell-toe Adidas, and his children. Maybe not in that order.
But then McDaniels turned on the radio, heard "Angel," and suddenly life seemed amazing. Or as he put it, "That record saved my life. I heard Sarah McLachlan's record and something that day said, 'Life is good. It's good to be alive.'"
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"Also, I'm one of the few people who can wear this hat and not look like a tool. It's the little things."
He then went out and bought every album McLachlan ever released and listened to only her music for a year. What sound like the habits of an obsessed stalker happened to save McDaniels' life. And when, three years later, he found out he was adopted, he knew he'd been saved from the brink so he could use his fame and money to help children in similar situations. He set up the Felix Organization to provide "inspiring opportunities and new experiences to enrich the lives of children who are growing up in the foster care system." Each summer, more than 150 kids on each coast head to Camp Felix for days of swimming, rock climbing, and presumably learning the chords to "I Will Remember You" on the acoustic guitar.
7 Van Halen's "Panama" Forced Dictator Manuel Noriega To Surrender
You'd never guess it from the title, but "Panama" is not actually about the country, the canal, or the hat. David Lee Roth was angry that critics had accused him of only ever singing about sex, partying, and cars, when he had clearly never written a song about a car! In order to achieve the trifecta for which he was already famous, he composed a song about one he'd seen race in Las Vegas, called "Panama Express." The song hit No. 13 on the Billboard Top 100 and became one of Van Halen's most famous anthems.
That might have been it, but five years later, the U.S. decided to invade the actual country. This was one of those confusing invasions where we used to support the guy we were now trying to take down, General Manuel Noriega. The military called the invasion Operation Just Cause, in case there was any confusion over which side was morally justified. The plan to capture Noriega himself was called Operation Nifty Package, because even though you're launching an invasion, it doesn't mean you're above silly words like "nifty."
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Operation Stridex clearly failed.
But Noriega wasn't thrilled about the prospect of being taken prisoner, and sought sanctuary in the Vatican embassy. That's when the military asked their soldiers to submit songs for the ultimate psychological warfare playlist. They set up speakers outside the embassy and started blasting music day and night. And of course the primary song on heavy rotation was the one that shared its name with the country they were invading, because if there is one thing soldiers love, it's irony.
We'll never know how long Noriega could have held out listening to 1980s glam rock, because it was the Vatican ambassador who broke first. After 10 days of deafening music, the papal nuncio told the dictator to pack his bags.