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Self-determination soundtrack

Freedom, independence and self-determination are fundamental human needs. It is therefore no surprise that they are also some of the main themes in pop music. These ten iconic songs encourage us to lead an independent and self-determined life.

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1. "Non, je ne regrette rien" - Edith Piaf (1960)

The most famous French song about self-determination was composed in 1956 but not actually released until 1960. The lyricist Michel Vaucaire and composer Charles Dumont played it on the piano to the already terminally ill Édith Piaf at her home. Piaf felt that this song, an ode to the will to live and power of love was especially for her. "Non! Rien de rien/Non! Je ne regrette rien/Ni le bien qu'on m'a fait/Ni le mal tout ça m'est bien égal!" It also matched her own outlook: no matter what happens in life, good or bad, hope does not give in.

Song text: here

2. "Naants' Indod'Emnyama" - Vuyisile Mini (early 1960s)

The song became the hymn of the opposition of black South Africans to apartheid. “Watch out Verwoerd, the blacks are coming” is the refrain in Xhosa, a common language in South Africa. The reference is to Hendrik Verwoerd, the former President and founder of apartheid. It was composed in the early 1960s by the trade union activist Vuyisile Mini. He is supposed to have sung the song when the apartheid regime sent him to the gallows on 6 November 1964. It is interpreted by Miriam Makeba, Africa's most famous musician.

Song text: here

3. "Respect" - Aretha Franklin (1967)

The hit by Aretha Franklin – actually a song by Otis Redding – became a soundtrack of the civil and women's rights movements. Franklin sings an amended version of the lyrics tailored to her role as an advocate of women’s rights. At that time, women in the US were not entitled to social support if they were living with a man. So her version of the song is about a woman who nonetheless draws social benefits and gives the money to her unmarried man when he comes home. All she wants is a little respect: "R-E-S-P-E-C-T/Find out what it means to me/R-E-S-P-E-C-T". The song struck a chord with everyone who felt they did not receive enough respect in 1960s America: women, African Americans and homosexuals. The song made the vocal sensation an international soul star and was ranked number 5 in the Rolling Stone list of the 500 best songs of all time.

Song text: here

4. "My Way" - Frank Sinatra (1968)

I've lived a life that's full/I've travelled each and every highway/and more, much more/I did it, I did it my way!) "My Way" by Frank Sinatra is the classic ode to a self-determined life. He recorded the song in just two takes and under half-an-hour. He didn’t initially like the song with its autobiographical content, it wasn't a great commercial success either reaching 27th place in the US charts. Nonetheless, it still became America's unofficial national anthem and a worldwide hit. The song was originally created by French musicians: the original version is a song entitled “Comme d’habitude” (same as always).

Song text: here

5. "Born To Be Wild" - Steppenwolf (1968)

The road movie “Easy Rider”, written by Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper, is about an individual's desire for freedom and the social awakening of the 1960s – sex, drugs and rock’n’roll. The film ends in disillusionment, however the title song by Canadian-American band Steppenwolf lived on as an attitude to life: Born To Be Wild. It embodies the ideal of individual freedom and the longing for self-determination and a non-conformist life.

Song text: here

6. "You can get it if you really want" - Jimmy Cliff, (1972)

The low-budget film “The Harder They Come” signalled the worldwide breakthrough of Jamaican reggae music at the start of the 1970s – thanks to the soundtrack by Jimmy Cliff, who also played the main part. The film’s most famous song celebrates self-determination and personal responsibility: You can get it if you really want. But you must try, try and try, try and try. You’ll succeed at last.

Song text: here

7. "Rock The Casbah" - The Clash (1982)

The subversion of punk pioneers The Clash from London struck an irreverent tone. In Rock The Casbah they mock the Islamist revolutionaries in Iran who banned western music after 1979. The lyrics recount how a fundamentalist ruler tried everything to stop his subjects listening to music. However, the people – Jews and Muslims – refuse to surrender their freedom and dance together. Rarely has punk been more contemporary.

Song text: here

8. "Wind of Change" – Scorpions (1990)

"The world is closing in/Did you ever think/That we could be so close/Like brothers?"
Few got to the heart of the emotions that accompanied the end of the cold war as well as the German band Scorpions with their rock ballad "Wind of Change". The song shaped an entire generation and is the soundtrack of the fall of the wall - German reunification and self-determination for the eastern European countries. The idea for the song came to the singer Klaus Meine in the summer of 1989 during the Moscow Music Peace Festival attended by 100 000 people. The song reached the charts in 78 countries, was the most successful single of 1991 and the most-played song on the radio in that year.

Song text: here

9. "Lose yourself" - Eminem (2002)

He grew up in abject poverty with a drug-addicted and violent mother and became one of the most successful musicians of all time: the American rapper Eminem. In “Lose yourself” he is powerfully elegant about his struggle to escape the misery through singing. He summarises his life motto in the last verse: You can do anything you set your mind to, man.

Song text: here

10. "Happy" - Pharrell Williams (2013)

The song could be used as the musical setting for the American declaration of independence, which famously stipulated the pursuit of happiness as a human right. The song’s simple but charming message: if you believe in the power of love and happiness, no-one and nothing can bring you down. The message obviously brings people together: Pharrell Williams’ music video inspired countless people all over the world to upload their own dance films to the internet.

Songtext: here

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