Skip To Content
  • What's In Our Earbuds? badge

14 Songs That Might Not Seem So Radical Today, But Were Groundbreaking When They Were Released

Prince's Dirty Mind was waaaaay ahead of its time in 1980.

We asked the BuzzFeed Community to tell us which songs were way ahead of their time. Here are the groundbreaking results.

Warning: Some submissions include topics of sexual assault and lynching. Please proceed with caution.

Note: Not all submissions were made by Community users.

1. "What's Going On" by Marvin Gaye (1971) was about the injustices of the Vietnam War.

Marvin Gaye lyrics: "Pick lines and picket signs don't punish me with brutality. Come on, talk to me, so you can see, oh, what's going on"
Jim Britt / Getty Images

Motown founder Berry Gordy originally didn't want Marvin Gaye to release "What's Going On" because he thought it was too political (Gordy was used to producing popular hits about lighter subjects, while Gaye wanted to record a song about the injustice of the Vietnam War). Gaye went on a recording strike until Gordy approved the song, and once he did, it became Motown's fastest-selling song at the time.

Listen to the song here:

View this video on YouTube

Tamla / Motown / Via youtube.com

2. "9 to 5" by Dolly Parton (1980) tackled the toxic sexism ingrained in workplace culture.

Dolly Parton lyrics: "9 to 5, for service and devotion β€” you would think that I would deserve a fair promotion. Want to move ahead, but the boss won't seem to let me. I swear sometimes that man is out to get me"
20th Century Fox / Courtesy of Everett Collection

"Dolly Parton's '9 to 5' called out the sexism ingrained in workplace culture before it was common to do so. This song came out in the '80s, but it holds just as much relevance to working environments today."

β€”hiitsnicetomeetyou

Listen to the song here:

View this video on YouTube

RCA Nashville / Via youtube.com

3. "Hurricane" by Bob Dylan (1976) was about famous boxer Rubin "Hurricane" Carter, a Black man, who was falsely accused of murder.

Bob Dylan lyrics: ""Here comes the story of the Hurricane, the man the authorities came to blame. For something that he never done, put in a prison cell but one time, he could-a been the champion of the world"
Steve Morley / Getty Images

"'Hurricane' by Bob Dylan from the late '70s tells the story about famous boxer Rubin 'Hurricane' Carter, a Black man, who was falsely accused and arrested for murder because of racial profiling."

β€”pancakesarebetter

Listen to the song here:

View this video on YouTube

Columbia / Via youtube.com

4. "Strange Fruit" by Billie Holiday (1939) acknowledged the lynchings of innocent Black citizens in the US.

Billie Holiday lyrics: "Southern trees bear a strange fruit, blood on the leaves and blood at the root. Black bodies swingin' in the Southern breeze, strange fruit hangin' from the poplar trees."
RTÉ

"Billie Holiday's song 'Strange Fruit' (originally recorded in 1939 and then again in 1944) is heartbreakingly brilliant. She sang about an important issue that most people refused to even acknowledge in the '30s, which was the lynchings of innocent Black citizens in the US."

β€”kaylayandoli

Listen to the 1944 version here:

View this video on YouTube

Commodore / Via youtube.com

5. "You Don't Own Me" by Lesley Gore (1963) was about women embracing their independence from men and a patriarchal society.

Lesley Gore lyrics: "Don't tell me what to do and don't tell me what to say, and please, when I go out with you, don't put me on display. You don't own me, don't try to change me in any way. You don't own me, don't tie me down 'cause I'd never stay"
American International Pictures

Suggested by: volkswagenpanda

This iconic hit by Lesley Gore is about women embracing their independence from men, and women using their own voices during a time when they weren't being heard. "You Don't Own Me" was incredibly groundbreaking, especially since it was released in the early '60s, and has had a long-lasting effect on women decades later (it was notoriously sung by Bette Midler, Goldie Hawn, and Diane Keaton in The First Wives Club in 1996).

Listen to the song here:

View this video on YouTube

Mercury / Via youtube.com

6. "Let's Talk About Sex" by Salt-N-Pepa (1991) was about eliminating the stigma around conversations about sex.

Salt-N-Pepa lyrics: ""Let's talk about sex for now to the people at home or in the crowd, it keeps coming up anyhow. Don't decoy, avoid, or make void the topic, 'cause that ain't gonna stop it"
Michael Putland / Getty Images

"'Let's Talk About Sex' by Salt-N-Pepa was done in a way that was accessible for everyone, and was damn catchy at that. I was maybe 10 years old when it came out, and even I understood what was being said and how important it was and still is today."

β€”sarahdianna

Listen to the song here:

View this video on YouTube

Next Plateau / Via youtube.com

7. "Under Pressure" by Queen and David Bowie (1981) covered the hatred and violence embedded in American society, and the overwhelming feeling that came as a result of it.

Queen and David Bowie singing: "Under pressure, that burns a building down, splits a family in two, puts people on streets. That's the terror of knowing what this world is about β€” watching some good friends screaming: 'Let me out!'"
Koh Hasebe / Shinko Music / Armando Gallo / Getty Images

"I've always loved 'Under Pressure' by David Bowie and Queen, but it was only a few weeks ago that I actually read the lyrics (I'm not a native speaker, so I didn't understand all of the words from listening) and wow, the text is so beautiful. It gets me every time when Bowie sings: 'Why can't we give love one more chance? Why can't we give love β€” 'cause love's such an old-fashioned word, and love dares you to care for the people on the edge of the night.'"

β€”saraktkv

Listen to the song here:

View this video on YouTube

EMI / Elektra / Via youtube.com

8. "Waterfalls" by TLC (1994) was one of the first songs to ever talk about HIV in an unfiltered way.

TLC lyrics: ""One day he goes and takes a glimpse in the mirror, but he doesn't recognize his own face. His health is fading and he doesn't know why, three letters took him to his final resting place"
LaFace / Arista

"Waterfalls" by TLC was way ahead of its time and more groundbreaking than most people realize. This famous group wrote and performed one of the first songs about HIV in the most unfiltered way and eliminated the stigma around this important topic that most people at the time refused to talk about.

Listen to the song here:

View this video on YouTube

LaFace / Arista / Via youtube.com

9. "What Would You Do?" by City High (2001) was recorded to illustrate the reality of being a sex worker and to eliminate the toxic label behind it.

City High lyrics: "What would you do if your son was at home, crying all alone on the bedroom floor 'cause he's hungry? And the only way to feed him is to sleep with a man for a little bit of money"
Interscope / Rockland

"Sex work is considered way more valid now than back in the early 2000s. 'What Would You Do?' highlighted very real issues that still plague us, like the ongoing cycle of sexual abuse and how it can affect people for the rest of their lives (the lyrics about 'waking up hoping to die'). City High sang about the need for all of us to be more compassionate to each other."

β€”childrenofthecornbread

Listen to the song here:

View this video on YouTube

Interscope / Rockland / Via youtube.com

10. "Big Yellow Taxi" by Joni Mitchell (1970) was written about the dangers of destroying wildlife and the environment.

Joni Mitchell lyrics: "They took all the trees, put 'em in a tree museum β€” and they charged the people a dollar and a half just to see 'em. Don't it always seem to go that you don't know what you've got 'till it's gone?"
GAB Archive / Getty Images

"'Big Yellow Taxi' by Joni Mitchell was released in 1970 and covered all of the dangers of destroying wildlife and the planet. It was way ahead of its time!"

β€”khrushchev

Listen to the song here:

View this video on YouTube

Reprise / Warner Bros. / Via youtube.com

11. "Papa Was a Rollin' Stone" by the Temptations (1972) was one of the first songs to candidly talk about a father abandoning his family and leaving his wife to raise their kids on her own.

The Temptations' lyrics: "Mama, some bad talk goin' 'round town sayin' that papa had three outside children and another wife β€” and that ain't right."
Metromedia Square

"'Papa Was a Rollin' Stone' by the Temptations is a pretty sad song. The song is told from the perspective of a kid who had never seen his deadbeat dad, whose dad completely abandoned his family, and who was raised by a single mother β€” he had only heard bad things about him around town."

β€”feliciam4fcc173df

Listen to the song here:

View this video on YouTube

Motown / Via youtube.com

12. "Eve of Destruction" by Barry McGuire (1965) tackled the anger and frustration young US citizens felt in the '60s about the Vietnam War and racial discrimination.

Barry McGuire lyrics: "The eastern world it is exploding β€” violence flarin', bullets loadin'. You're old enough to kill but not for votin' β€” you don't believe in war, but whats that gun you're totin'? And even the Jordan River has bodies floatin'"
CA / Redferns / Getty Images

"'Eve of Destruction' by Barry McGuire references many social issues from the '60s, like the Vietnam War and racial discrimination against Black citizens in the US β€” which are just as relevant today as they were in 1965 when the song was released."

β€”allamericanmorganmitchell

Listen to the song here:

View this video on YouTube

Dunhill / RCA / Via youtube.com

13. "Shave 'Em Dry" by Lucille Bogan (1935) was an unapologetic blues song from the '30s about a woman expressing her sexual pleasures and desires.

Lucille Bogan lyrics: "I got nipples on my titties, big as the end of my thumb. I got somethin' between my legs'll make a dead man come. Oh daddy, baby, won't you shave 'em dry? Want you to grind me, baby, grind me until I cry."
Document Records

"'Shave 'Em Dry' is from the 1930s, but it would make Cardi B blush, lol. It's 'WAP' nearly a century early πŸ˜‚."

β€”lakesm

Listen to the song here:

View this video on YouTube

Document Records / Via youtube.com

14. And "Head" by Prince (1980) tackled the passionate experience of a man performing oral sex on a woman.

Prince lyrics: "Now morning, noon, and night, I give you head, till you're burning up. Head, till you get enough. Head, till your love is red. Head, love you till you're dead."
Michael Ochs Archives / Icon and Image / Getty Images

"Every single song by Prince Rogers Nelson was groundbreaking."

β€”11111b

Prince was, without a doubt, a revolutionary when it came to the music world, and his third studio album, Dirty Mind, was a huge example of that. On this album, Prince covered many sexual topics that were otherwise never discussed in mainstream music, like sexual freedom and experimentation. Although "Head" wasn't a leading single, fans still recognize it as one of Prince's most daring and unfiltered songs, and helped shape the way musicians covered sex in decades to come.

Listen to the song here:

View this video on YouTube

Warner Bros. / Via youtube.com

Note: Submissions have been edited for length and/or clarity.

Nostalgia Trip

Take a trip down memory lane that’ll make you feel nostalgia AF

Newsletter signup form