One of the few constants in life is that things will change. The human experience is brimming with metamorphoses, from our bodies while we’re young to our minds when we age. So if it feels like a roller coaster ride at times, don’t worry! You’re not alone!
Thankfully, music has always been a tool to help us better understand ourselves. Because change is so universal, it’s been a theme of songwriters of every generation.
Whether the changes are as personal as losing a partner or as collective as watching society grapple with civil rights, generations of singers have put their excitement and confusion center stage to help us feel less alone.
We’ve compiled a list of 21 songs about change to comfort you as the world spins around you. After all, if we’re going to have to ride this crazy rollercoaster, there might as well be great music!
1. Sam Cooke – “A Change Is Gonna Come”
The conflicted tone of Sam Cooke’s legendary single “A Change Is Gonna Come” is a masterful stroke of songwriting.
Cooke’s song of racial justice feels melancholy when the poignant set of socially conscious lyrics juxtaposes with the track’s lush orchestration. The effect grounds the broader sentimental strokes of the music in stark reality.
Drawing upon his experiences in a segregated country and taking inspiration from Martin Luther King Jr’s I Have a Dream speech, Cooke’s song has become synonymous with the ’60s civil rights movement. It reminds us how far we’ve come and how much further we have to go to achieve racial equality.
2. Jimmy Buffett – “Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes”
Jimmy Buffett is best known for his carefree, permanent vacation vibe on hits like “Margaritaville.” If you’re wondering how Buffett achieves his zen-like, cocktail umbrella outlook on life, look no further than his single “Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes.”
The beginning of the song captures Buffett in a contemplative mood. During the first verse, it seems the Mayor of Margaritaville might be down in the dumps. But then our narrator lets us in on his secret to happiness.
For Buffett, it’s as simple as a change in attitude. By focusing his mindset on enjoying the present, the singer can relax and laugh about life’s changes.
3. Charles Bradley – “Changes”
Black Sabbath wrote “Changes” in 1972 as a total departure from the band’s previous heavy metal sound. The track is about a band member’s divorce, lending the lyrics and instrumentation a heavy-hearted sound.
Forty years later, soul singer Charles Bradley would cover “Changes.” Whereas the Black Sabbath version plodded Bradley’s grooves, breathing a triumphantly defiant feeling into the angst of the original song.
With a vocal style reminiscent of Ottis Redding and Wilson Pickett, Bradley rips through the song’s sadness and turns a dirge into an anthem. Hearing the singer’s wailing performance is almost enough to make you revel in the changes.
4. Sheryl Crow – “A Change Would Do You Good”
If you ask Sheryl Crow, change isn’t always a bad thing. The singer-songwriter continued her impressive streak of Billboard charting singles with the hit “A Change Would Do You Good.”
With abstract lyrics that evoke Bob Dylan or David Bowie, Crow weaves her disparate narratives between flits of organ and soulful percussion.
Tying everything together is the incredibly catchy chorus. Instead of lamenting life’s changes or languishing in nostalgia, Crow is adamant that change is good. It’s a salient and incredibly catchy reminder that sometimes we all need a shock to the system.
5. Notorious B.I.G. – “Things Done Changed”
Hip-hop fans going through changes will love the Notorious B.I.G.’s nostalgic account of how the streets have changed in “Things Done Changed.” The rapper’s larger-than-life flow illustrates how difficult it is to come up from poverty, and by Biggie’s account, the opportunities were becoming fewer by the day.
It’s a stark realization that “Things Done Changed” is nostalgic for the good old days that were still rough and tumble. But what’s most telling is that Biggie Smalls spends less time waxing nostalgic and more time in the present. His urgency underscores the very notion of how much life has changed on the streets.
6. Bob Dylan – “The Times They Are a-Changin'”
Bob Dylan is one of the most influential American artists of the 20th century, thanks to compositions like “The Times They Are a-Changin’.” Influenced by folk ballads from Ireland and Scotland, Dylan wrote his account of the shifting social mores taking shape in the ’60s.
The song’s lyrical content, while profound, is intentionally vague. This amorphous quality has allowed the track to become an anthem for various causes and eras, transcending the context of its writing.
With its hopeful tone and childlike melody, the song takes on the quality of a secular hymn that dreams of societal change.
7. The Scorpions – “Wind of Change”
A whistling melody, expansive synthesizer pads, and slinky guitars set the tone early on in the Scorpions’ global hit single “Winds of Change.”
The West German band was inspired to write this power ballad as the Cold War began to wind down. Recognizing the power of music to unite people, Scorpions tapped into the political zeitgeist and wrote an anthem of peace.
“Winds of Change” is now synonymous with the end of the Cold War. The band performed the song in Germany for the tenth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.
8. David Bowie – “Changes”
David Bowie was a pop music chameleon, making his 1972 single “Changes” feel like a summation of the then-fledgling songwriter’s career.
With musical backing by a group of musicians that would eventually become known as the Spiders from Mars, David Bowie stutters his way through an anthem for the strange misfits.
Its jaunty piano punctuates Bowie’s sultry saxophone playing, making the song one of the earliest examples of the art-rock and R&B combination that Bowie would pioneer.
While “Changes” didn’t make a huge splash upon its initial release, the track is now considered one of Bowie’s finest moments.
9. 2Pac – “Changes”
Considered by many critics to be one of his finest songs, 2Pac’s posthumous single “Changes” takes a stark look at the state of the Black American experience nearing the end of the 20th century.
Typical of 2Pac’s legendary flow, the song is delivered in his lyrically dense, rapid-fire style. Referencing the war on drugs, violence, and politics, the rapper doesn’t pull any punches.
2Pac would become the first performer posthumously nominated for a Best Rap Solo Performance Grammy Award. Though the beginning of the new Millenium would see a glut of unreleased material from the rapper, the single remains the high-water mark.
10. Eric Clapton – “Change the World”
Over the years, Eric Clapton’s career has seen many changes. His three inductions into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame are unparalleled.
As a solo artist and a member of Cream and the Yardbirds, Clapton is an undisputed guitar icon. And if that weren’t enough, Clapton even plays the guitar solo on the Beatles’ iconic song “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.”
But one of the guitarist’s most successful tunes comes from a ’90s collaboration with R&B producer Babyface. “Change the World” is a pop song that frames the effect of love in astronomical terms.
11. Deftones – “Change (In the House of Flies)”
The Deftones changed up their traditional nu-metal sound on the textured and sprawling single “Change (In the House of Flies).” The song was their biggest commercial hit and introduced a more artistically inclined sound that the band would continue to explore throughout the decade.
The single is full of shoegaze-inspired distorted guitar and foreboding lyrics brimming with obtuse, poetic angst. While songs about change often espouse to roll with the punches or transcend it, the Deftones are content to wallow in it.
12. The Killers – “Change Your Mind”
The Killers’ unique blend of new wave and heartland rock could only come from a band that calls Las Vegas home. Nevada’s desert plans surround Sin City’s neon lights, and the juxtaposition is what gives added depth to tracks like “Change Your Mind.”
The track’s earnest tale of heartbreak is made palatable by the band’s dancey drums and punk-inflected guitars. While this story of unrequited love could feel trite in less capable hands, the Killers turn it into a vital and electric-sounding alternative anthem.
“Change Your Mind” would serve as a precursor to further musical experimentation on Sam’s Town and Day & Age.
13. John Mayer – “Waiting on the World to Change”
John Mayer’s first attempt at a political song, “Waiting on the World to Change,” is almost apolitical. The singer tackles the political apathy of younger generations by illustrating the impossibility of changing a corrupt system when younger voices have less power in the decision-making process.
While no one will confuse “Waiting on the World to Change” with heavier protest songs of the ’60s, the song’s hopeful tone is catchy while marking the maturity of Mayer as a lyricist.
The single would garner Mayer a Grammy Award and remains the guitarist’s most successful song.
14. The Byrds – “Turn! Turn! Turn!”
The Byrds’ helped lay the foundation for jangle-pop and folk-rock with their iconic ’60s single “Turn! Turn! Turn!”
Originally a biblically inspired folk song, the band’s use of vocal harmonies, 12-string guitar, and start/stop dynamics helped breathe rock and roll life into the track. As a result, the single shot to the top of the Billboard charts.
“Turn! Turn! Turn!” split the difference between the sacred and secular in a way few pop songs have ever done. The song’s shimmering guitars and chiming pleas for peace have made the track a comfort for many listeners since the ’60s.
15. Thundercat – “Them Changes”
There are millions of songs about heartbreak. The highly universal experience is well-worn territory for songwriters, often making the sentiments feel less than sincere.
But when you’re Thundercat, one of the world’s best bassists, your song of heartbreak comes out as one of the funkiest, dance-floor-ready tracks in recent memory.
The bassist’s standout track, “Them Changes,” is a syrupy mix of funk and soul that evokes ’90s neo-soul and modern afro-punk textures. If you’re going through changes but would rather dance than cry, Thundercats bopping bass grooves are just what the doctor ordered.
16. The War on Drugs – “Change”
The War on Drugs occupies a fuzzy space between rock and roll nostalgia and modern indie rock. With tracks like “Change,” the band evokes the ’80s studio sound of artists like Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen while adding shoegaze textures and drum sounds that firmly place the songs in this Millenium.
The band’s melodic sensibilities mask a song that finds the narrator in crisis. Whereas many tales of change lament it or accept it, the singer admits that he might not be capable of the change required to keep him from losing his love.
17. Fleetwood Mac – Landslide
Fleetwood Mac’s Stevie Nicks found herself at a crossroads. She could continue pursuing music with her partner Lindsey Buckingham or reenter school and begin a conventional life. With the weight of her future hanging in the balance, Nicks began writing “Landslide.”
Luckily for pop music fans, Nicks would choose to continue pursuing music. Eventually, Nicks and Buckingham would join Fleetwood Mac, and their recording of “Landslide” would go on to become one of the band’s signature songs.
The song’s beautifully heartbreaking melody and crisply plucked acoustic guitar have enchanted listeners for generations and have been the subject of dozens of covers.
18. The The – “This is the Day”
British band The The wrote one of the quirkiest and most life-affirming songs of the new wave era with their eccentric 1983 single “This Is the Day.”
The song’s mix of omnichord, synthesizers, and drum machines with the reedy sounds of melodica and accordion. This unique combination of electronic and organic elements lends the track a unique and airy texture.
The song’s chorus is brimming with positivity and the promise of a new day, juxtaposing the verses outlining the experience of depression. Whether the song is a carpe diem-style anthem or just an ironic tale of woe is up to the listener to decide.
19. REO Speedwagon – “Roll With the Changes”
REO Speedwagon’s “Roll With the Changes” is a classic rock ode to love and adaptability played with a breakneck piano riff and scorching lead guitar. The song is a rock anthem with an uplifting sound, a perfect compliment for any listener facing the changes head-on.
If you aren’t quite at the acceptance stage of change yet, listening to “Roll With the Changes” might help you get there.
The song is rock and roll enough to pump your fist to but so catchy that you have to sing along. After the final triumphant refrain of the choir, you’ll be ready to roll along with REO Speedwagon.
20. LCD Soundsystem – “I Can Change”
Indie dance band LCD Soundsystem’s ode to new wave, “I Can Change,” is an ironic look at how people view themselves and their romantic partners.
Over a cadre of synthesizer sounds that bubble and pop in an ethereally heady swirl, the band begs their lover not to change. It makes sense, they argue, that their partner changing who they are would end their love.
In the song’s wry twist, the singer leaves the listener with an admission that he would change to help someone fall in love with him. Herein lies the clever contradiction of attraction and relationships that LCD Soundsystem manages to pull off while making you dance.
21. Michael Jackson – “Man in the Mirror”
Michael Jackson was the undisputed King of Pop in the ’80s. His single “Man in the Mirror” was his tenth chart-topping single and the fourth from his album Bad.
The single showed a new side of the former Jackson 5 singer, balancing the bubbling bass synthesizer and R&B beat with a sweeping gospel choir. Balancing pop with piety paid gave the ballad a unique sound, and Jackson’s vocals rise to the occasion with his passionate performance.
In a career littered with hits, it’s telling that “Man in the Mirror” became one of Jackson’s most enduring tracks. The song’s proclamations of changing yourself for the better of the world ring just as true today.
Music has the power to help us feel less alone in this world. Listening to your favorite song often feels like having a conversation with a friend. We listen to music to make sense of complex emotions such as love, hate, and change.
It’s apparent by the thousands of songs dedicated to the shifting sands of time that everyone grapples with change in their lives. Life can be a complicated dance that constantly shifts, leaving you breathlessly confused. Luckily, the soundtrack to that dance is catchy.
Whether you’re embracing the chaos or blindsided by it, we hope these 21 songs about change can be a comforting soundtrack to the uncertain landscape of life. If change is one of life’s few constants, then music must be one, too!