Music & Chemistry

by Mark Griep
Department of Chemistry
University of Nebraska-Lincoln


If I have enough time, I play one of these songs before my undergraduate course in general or liberal arts chemistry. They are timed so class begins when the song ends. Some students keep track of the songs and try to figure how they relate to the lecture.

Song (Year) [Duration]
by Performer

Notes

Possible Chemistry Lecture Topics

Tic Tic Tic (1949) [2:34]
by Doris Day
This song is from the 1949 movie My Dream is Yours. Doris is a Big Band singer and her heart beats like a Geiger counter in love. Here’s Doris singing the song in a clip from the movie. measuring radioactivity
(How Little It Matters) How Little We Know (1956) [2:40]
by Frank Sinatra
Lounge song about chemistry, explosions, kissing, and intermingling tingles. Be forewarned, the refrain How Little We Know is funny before a difficult chemical topic but not after an exam. I use this before a discussion on the nature of light
Why Does the Sun Shine (1959) [2:40]
by Tom Glazer
A song about our sun from the first album in a multi-album set of science folk songs for kids. Available online at http://www.acme.com/jef/science_songs/. It was covered more recently by They Might Be Giants on their 1998 live concert album Severe Tire Damage. The sun is a mass of incandescent gas where hydrogen is built into helium at a temperature of millions of degrees. It also has carbon, nitrogen, aluminum, copper and iron. elements, nuclear fusion
What Is Chemical Energy? (1959) [2:38]
by Tom Glazer and Dottie Evans.
One of the only chemical songs in a multi-album set of science folk songs for kids. Available online a at http://www.acme.com/jef/science_songs/. Glazer later achieved acclaim for On Top of Spaghetti. combustion, bond energies, thermodynamics, free energy
The Elements Song (1959) [1:28]
by Tom Lehrer.
This remains the apex of chemistry in song. It is available online as part of Mike Stanfill’s wryly humorous flash graphics at http://www.privatehand.com/flash/elements.html periodic table of elements
Woodstock (1970) [5:25]
by Joni Mitchell
This song was written two years after the famous concert. It was a hit and then immediately covered in 1970 by Crosby Stills Nash and Young who also had a hit. It is about changing the world and togetherness, which is lyrically summarized by saying we are stardust, we are billion year old carbon, we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden. elements and the solar system
Hey Hey Hey (1967) [2:14]
by Elvis Presley
This song is from the 1967 movie and album Clambake. Elvis sings about GOOP, a super-hard super-fast-drying varnish, right before he wins the boat race, his girl, and the respect of his father. organic nomenclature
Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology) (1971) [3:00]
by Marvin Gaye
Things aint what they used to be with oil in the ocean, fish full of mercury, and other ecological problems. Marvin wonders how much more the earth can stand. water purity
Big Yellow Taxi (1974) [4:10]
by Joni Mitchell
Joni is not happy they replaced paradise with a parking lot so she tells the farmer to stop using the insecticide DDT. Instead, she willl accept spots on her apples in return for the birds and the bees. agricultural chemistry
Radioactivity (1975) [6:50]
by Kraftwerk
Uber-cool electronic techno disco song with a Geiger counter beat. radiation, chain reaction, Curie, and ominous biological mutations
Traffic Jam (1977) [1:55]
by James Taylor
This song is from the 1977 album JT. James sings a capella about his slow drive home in his supposedly fast car. He used to think it was cool to use fossil fuel but now he sees it is the road to ruin. petroleum, energy sources
Pocket Calculator (1981) [4:30]
by Kraftwerk
Uber-cool electronic techno disco song about a pocket calculator. significant figures and calculations
Chemistry (1982) [4:58]
by Rush
Popular 80s rock song that may be about aliens but that mentions electricity, chemistry, water, biology, and so much more. electrolytes
The Meaning of Life (1983) [2:30]
by Eric Idle
This is from the 1983 movie The Meaning of Life. Apparently, we are just self-replicating D. N. A. complex biomolecules
Radioactive (1985) [2:51]
by The Firm
Another popular 80s rock song. In this one, singer Paul Rodgers is radioactive and wants to get it on. radioactivity
Lithium (1991) [4:17]
by Nirvana
This song is from the 1991 album Nevermind. Kurt Cobain sings about living in his head but never mentions using the antidepressant lithium. elements, ions, periodic properties, medicinals
Be Careful What You Eat (1993) [1:15]
by Animaniacs
Yakko, Wakko, and Dot sing about the ingredients listed on junk food packages. This one is manic fun. You might still be able to find the cartoon posted on YouTube inorganic nomenclature, salts, organic nomenclature, biomolecules
Electrolite (1996) [4:05]
by REM
Electrolite sends singer Michael Stipe out of sight. electrolytes
Molecular Orbital Blues (1996) [4:53]
by Richard Shoemaker
My UNL colleagues Stephen DiMagno and Richard Shoemaker co-wrote the lyrics and then Shoemaker recorded his own performance for your listening pleasure. It is available on YouTube at Molecular Orbital Blues. The song is about the homo, lumo, antisymmetric psi2, and antibonding orbitals of allyl and butadiene. atomic orbital theory, molecular orbital theory
Radiation Vibe (1996) [3:14]
by Fountains of Wayne
Singer Chris Collingwood is grooving on a radiation vibe and wants to get some sun. electromagnetic spectrum
Elements (1998) [4:13]
by Danny Tenaglia
At the end of this electronic techno trance song, DJ Danny tells us that Elements are all there is. I play this before several classes during the first week of the semester
All About Chemistry (2001) [4:09]
by Semisonic
Singer Dan Wilson had a relationship with a chemistry graduate student in which he promised to memorize everything she did to him so he could teach it when it came his turn. The music video uses chemical imagery and is online at http://www.semisonic.com/music/aac/chemvideo.asp. I play this after the third exam.
Radiation Nation (2001) [2:00]
by Agent 51
I love the energetic beat and fake British accents but have little idea what they are actually singing about. Adult supervision may be required. I just do not know for sure. electromagnetic spectrum
Chemical Calisthenics (2002) [3:22]
by Blackalicious
This may be the most intellectual hip-hop song every written. nuclear energy
Glucose, Glucose (2004) [2:46]
by ScienceGroove
Sung to the tune of “Sugar, Sugar” by The Archies, this song is about the monosaccharide sugar, muscles metabolizing to create ATP and lactate baby. This song is online available from writer/performer Greg Crowther as an mp3 download at http://www.science-groove.org/Now/ biochemistry
Rest My Chemistry (2007) [5:00]
by Interpol
This song is about giving up cocaine addiction. The accompanying video has great imagery. In the music video on Vimeo http://vimeo.com/2320742, pointillist atom surfaces erupt in ways that suggest electrical discharges and then calm down to atoms again. atoms
Chemistry (2007) [4:26]
by Tammy Cochran
This is the second country song about chemistry that I’ve found. You can hear Chemistry on YouTube. Tammy starts by saying that sparks were flying on the day we met and that it was pure and simple chemistry involving chain reactions. Soon, however, the relationship is chemistry, a temporary insanity. This song is funny to play on the day after the exam. chemical reactions
Chemistry (2008) [2:59]
by Velvet
Velvet doesn’t need psychology because with this biology and physiology, we have chemistry between you and me. Science is in control and we’re helpless in the face of D.N.A. Here is the YouTube video of Chemistry chemical reactions
We Are All Connected (2010) [4:21]
by Symphony of Science
The words of Bill Nye, Carl Sagan, Richard Feynman, and Neil deGrasse Tyson are digitally symphonized so they sing about the interconnectedness of life on Earth, which boils down to the way the atoms are connected.
Here’s the Symphony of Science website and the We Are All Connected song on YouTube
chemical bonds, biochemistry
Chemistry (2012) [4:48]
by Katie Nicholas
Katie sings about her relationship with her boyfriend. She says their love is a new equation full of chemistry and complications. It is a chemical explosion that is radioactive and glows.
Here’s the video on YouTube
chemical equations, radioactivity
Radioactive (2012) [3:05]
by Imagine Dragons
Dan Reynolds dramatically sings about breathing in chemicals and then about revolution. He is empowered every time he shouts radioactive.
Here’s the serious, violent, and cute video on YouTube
radioactivity
Cool Kids (2013) [3:35]
by Echosmith
Sydney Sierota sings about the angst many youth feel when they see others who they believe have it all. Even though the song doesn’t have any lyrics about chemistry or chemical apparatus, the song’s second video on YouTube includes two shots of the chemical symbol for neodymimium, element 60. It got me excited. elements, periodic table

Last updated on March 4, 2014.