The 25 Most Powerful Songs of the Past 25 Years

From Mental Floss

They’re not the most beautiful songs, or the most musically important. In fact, a few could literally drive you nuts. But the following tunes—some as old as Mozart, others as current as Beyoncé—have fundamentally altered the world we live in at some point in the last quarter century. They’ve saved lives, brought glory to America, and gotten teenagers to use deodorant. Somehow, they’ve made a difference. So, ladies and gentlemen, put your hands together for the ultimate power playlist. Let the countdown begin!

25. “The Magic Flute” (Mozart)
Music That Makes Sewage Disappear
For all the chatter about how Mozart makes your kids smarter (false!) or how it helps with the SATs (possibly), the one thing that Mozart definitely seems to do is make sludge-eating microbes digest faster. A sewage treatment plant in Treuenbrietzen, Germany, has experimented with different operas, playing them at high volume through loudspeakers set up around the site. “The Magic Flute” seems to work best. Anton Stucki, the plant’s chief operator, believes the reverberations quicken the pace for breaking down refuse. “We think the secret is in the vibrations of the music, which penetrate everything—including the water, the sewage, and the cells,” he says. “It creates a certain resonance that stimulates the microbes and help them work better.” Stucki doesn’t even like opera; he’s a rock ‘n’ roll fan. But he tolerates Mozart because it makes the microbes more efficient, saving the plant up to $1,250 a month.

24. “867-5309/Jenny” (Tommy Tutone)
The Drunk-Dialing Song
For nearly three decades, this single has been a gift to smashed college kids everywhere. Ever since the song was released in 1982, crank callers have been dialing 867-5309 and asking for “Jenny.” People who are unfortunate enough to be assigned the number can look forward to dozens of prank calls a day, depending on where they live.

A few people have managed to turn the digits to their advantage. In 2004, disc jockey Spencer Potter of Weehawken, N.J., discovered 867-5309 was available in his area code and picked it up, thinking it would be good for business. Almost immediately, Potter was overwhelmed by the volume of calls. So in February 2009, he sold it on eBay to Retro Fitness, a health club that felt the digits fit perfectly with its 1980s-nostalgia theme. In the end, Potter made $186,853.09—a number he could live with.

23. “I Will Always Love You” (Whitney Houston)
The Song That Showed Saddam’s Softer Side
You might think winning elections is easy for dictators—after all, they aren’t running against anyone. But there’s still pageantry involved, which Saddam Hussein took seriously. To win the hearts and minds of Iraqis in 2002, Hussein boldly chose as his campaign anthem an Arabic cover of Whitney Houston’s version of “I Will Always Love You” (written by Dolly Parton). The song was played alongside footage of the dictator kissing babies, shooting guns, and striking heroic poses on Iraq’s three TV stations continuously during the election season. If that’s not proof Hussein tortured his own people, we don’t know what is.

22. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” (Nirvana)
The Tune That Revolutionized the Underarm IndustryKurt Cobain claimed he didn’t know Teen Spirit was a brand of deodorant when he wrote Nirvana’s 1991 grunge anthem. In fact, the name of the song came from his apartment wall, where a friend had spray-painted “Kurt Smells Like Teen Spirit.” But the song’s impact on the antiperspirant was undeniable. The product’s manufacturer, Mennen, came out with a new tagline: “Do you smell like Teen Spirit?” Sales of the deodorant skyrocketed, and Mennen quickly expanded its line of Teen Spirit products; six months after the song was released, Colgate-Palmolive bought the company for $670 million. Though grunge fans didn’t care so much about how they dressed, apparently they cared how they smelled.

21. “Gran Vals” (Francisco Tárrega)
The Sound that Ended Silence Forever
You may not realize it, but you know this tune all too well. Nokia introduced the 13-note piano phrase 20 years ago, creating the first ringtone. It’s estimated the passage is now heard 1.8 billion times around the world each day, about 20,000 times per second. The ringtone comes from “Gran Vals,” a 1902 guitar solo written by classical guitarist Francisco Tárrega. In 1993 the tune was hijacked by Nokia exec Anssi Vanjoki, who thought it would be the perfect default ring for the sleek, new half-pound Nokia 2110. Today, you’re not the only person tired of the tone. The search for alternate phone sounds has turned ringtones into a multi-billion dollar business.

20. “Panama” (Van Halen)
The Song That Toppled a Dictator
Sometimes music moves people. And sometimes it moves them out of hiding. In December 1989, the United States invaded Panama after dictator Manuel Noriega was publicly exposed as a drug czar. Noriega took refuge in the embassy of the Vatican on December 24, and American troops immediately surrounded the compound. To smoke him out without bombing the place, soldiers of the U.S. Southern Command Network Radio turned to Van Halen.

Loudspeakers were set up around the compound and the sonic blasting began. After 10 days of being assaulted by the rock group’s “Panama” and other songs at high decibel levels, Noriega decided that he’d rather be behind bars, and on January 3, 1990, he surrendered. He was convicted on eight counts of drug trafficking, racketeering, and money laundering—all because he couldn’t handle a few power chords. Incidentally, the song isn’t even about the Central American country. Legend has it that it’s about lead singer David Lee Roth’s station wagon.

Read the full text at Mental Floss