Iconic Songs Played by Musicians Around the World: “Stand by Me,” “Redemption Song,” “Ripple” & More

We here at Open Culture love to see how well known and well loved songs pop up all over the globe in new and interesting forms. These covers could be played on very un-rock instruments, or on ones we’ve never heard of. We’ve seen schoolkids sing songs that their grandparents loved, and we’ve heard senior citizens singing death metal. Music unites us in troubling times, and we need more of it.

The above video from Playing for Change imagines a world where people from all four corners of the earth play and sing a song together, and makes it real through the power of technology and interconnectivity.

It started in 2005 when Mark Johnson heard street musician Roger Ridley singing Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me” in Santa Monica. Struck by Ridley’s emotive voice, he returned with recording equipment and began a process of bringing the world to join in. Johnson recorded Grandpa Elliott in New Orleans sharing a verse, Washboard Chaz providing washboard rhythm, then Clarence Bekker in Amsterdam taking a verse, the Twin Eagle Drum Group providing a Native American rhythm, and so on. By the end of the video, Johnson had racked up frequent flier miles and stitched together a cohesive track.

Years later, the Playing for Change non-profit has accumulated an impressive back catalog of cover songs and has helped fund 15 music programs worldwide.

One takeaway is this: the world agrees on Bob Marley. Whether he’s being political or spiritual, everybody seems to get it. Here’s “War” featuring Bono. Also see “Redemption Song” here:

Other stars have done guest spots to bring awareness to the project. Bunny Wailer, Manu Chao and Bushman singing “Soul Rebel”:

Most recently, they recorded “The Weight” with Robbie Robertson and Ringo Starr:

And we always enjoy this version of the Dead’s “Ripple.”

The videos are heartwarming, but the music stands by itself without the globetrotting. For those who need a good vibe injection to start 2020, start here.

Related Content:

Music Is Truly a Universal Language: New Research Shows That Music Worldwide Has Important Commonalities

BBC Launches World Music Archive

Behold the MusicMap: The Ultimate Interactive Genealogy of Music Created Between 1870 and 2016

Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the artist interview-based FunkZone Podcast and is the producer of KCRW’s Curious Coast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.


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