July 3, 2014 at 12:12 pm

Musical Timeline Renders 31 Snippets of U.S. History in Song

America’s Soundtrack won’t teach you everything about U.S. history, but it presents some key moments through the lens of popular music — 31 songs about historical events that actually happened on a nifty interactive timeline.

This interactive web app, hacked together by Mark Stoughton (Mistake Pointer-Outer for Evolver.fm publisher The Echo Nest, a subsidiary of Spotify), places songs about U.S. historical events on a timeline so you can hear 30-second sample of one as you traipse through the timeline, or listen to the complete songs in the Spotify playlist`.

To browse the timeline, scroll up or down. You’ll be able to leap to the historical milestones you want to hear about after reading a brief description of what each song is about. America’s Soundtrack creator Mark Stoughton explains:

“Musicians don’t make music in a vacuum. They’re people, so they’re always in a context, whether that’s a breakup, a monumental victory, or something about the sandwich shop they noticed that day. It can be hard for the rest of us to know exactly what they’re talking about, although that too can be part of the fun. But with these songs, we know the context, because the songs are so directly about something, in this case a sampling of moments from U.S. history.

I wanted to re-introduce context back into these songs, in a way that made it visually interesting. Spotify had just released its Web API, which made easy to grab album art and 30-second samples. With the 4th of July being just days away, America’s Soundtrack offers a new way to re-visit important historical and cultural events in our nation’s history, though the timeline certainly isn’t comprehensive.

Not all of the songs are uplifting, in fact, it seems that musicians tend to write songs about some of history’s more tragic events. There are some positive examples, though, and even some sadder songs tend to evoke those classic American characteristics of perseverance and resolve. — and upon hearing those that don’t, we’re given a chance for introspection.

Also, a quick note: The songs aren’t tied to the dates of their release, but rather to the date of the event. For example, “The Star Spangled Banner” appeared as a poem in 1814, but wasn’t adopted as our National Anthem until March 3, 1931 when President Hoover signed it into law, so that’s when it shows up on the timeline.”

Pro Tip: When viewing the timeline, try scrolling up until the albums are pretty much in a straight line along the bottom of the screen, then using the arrow buttons at the top right to navigate.

(The Echo Nest, publisher of Evolver.fm, is a subsidiary of Spotify.)