When it comes to songs bearing some sort of life lesson, perhaps no subject is more explored than the subject of money. Whether it wanting it or needing it, working for it or doing crime for it, gaining it or losing it. everyone has their own opinion when it comes to money.
Regardless of your opinion on it, money drives us in some way, shape, or form. Whether it be our own lifestyle or the people we chose to surround ourselves with, money and its value have their place in human society almost as long as civilization itself.
Therefore it is no wonder that a multitude of musical artists has used the subject of money in their music. Money in itself is neither good nor evil after all, and artists have free reign to interpret its use and value any way they please.
Let us take a look at 20 different songs about money and perhaps learn why it is such a popular topic among artists.
“Money (That’s What I Want)” – Barrett Strong (1959)
Considered as one of Motown’s earliest classics, the song was written by Berry Gordy and Janie Bradford back when Motown Records were known as Tamla Labels. The original release was sung by Barrett Strong, and it still holds up today.
The song’s message of wanting money for the hell of it surprisingly resonates even today, with lyrics such as ‘You’re loving gives me a thrill, but your lovin’ don’t pay my bills.’
The song has since been covered by several bands, most notably by The Beatles and The Flying Lizards, both versions receiving great success both critically and commercially.
“You Never Give Me Your Money” – The Beatles (1969)
The Beatles are considered as one of the most successful bands in the history of music. That being said, it may surprise you that the song documents the financial troubles the band had right before disbanding in 1969.
At the time of the song’s recording, Both Mccartney and Lennon were in the midst of losing control of the company that published their songs, after another company bought a majority of shares from that company.
Paul Mccartney himself stated that the lyrics were based on the frustration he had with their manager Allen Klein. This can be seen in the lyrics, “you never give me your money, you only give me your funny paper”.
Other lines refer to his trips to the countryside in order to avoid the rising tension building within The Beatles: “One sweet dream, pack up the bags, get in the limousine.” While The Beatles had other songs that dabbled in the topic of money. ’You Never Give Me Your Money’ has a sense of genuineness and somberness that makes it stand out in their discography.
“C.R.E.A.M” – Wu-Tang Clan (1993)
A stand-out track from their debut album “Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)”, the track is a juxtaposition against the other tracks in the record.
The track has a slower, more relaxed beat and tempo in contrast to the other faster, more aggressive tracks on the record.
An abbreviation of “Cash Rules Everything Around Me”, the song’s lyrics reference poverty, a life of crime, and doing anything to gain cash in order to survive. Many rap enthusiasts believe that the song is actually a commentary on capitalism, where everything revolves around money and the ways to gain even more money.
The song’s complex message helped solidify Wu-Tang Clan as a force to be reckoned with within the music industry.
“Money, Money, Money” – ABBA (1987)
A classic disco-hit for the Swedish pop group ABBA. the song was a follow-up to their worldwide hit “Dancing Queen” released a few months prior.
“Money, Money, Money” became their second song to become a worldwide hit establishing ABBA as a worldwide pop sensation.
The lyrics were written from the perspective of a young woman who desires a well-off man to boost her finances. Being one of their more popular songs in their discography. “Money. Money. Money” has been covered by several bands since its release. most notably by the Irish girl group The Nolans.
“She Works Hard For The Money” – Donna Summer (1983)
Perhaps Donna Summer’s magnum opus, the song is a wonderful tribute to hardworking and independent women around the world. Summer’s got the idea of a song when she met a washroom attendant in LA.
The female attendant was visibly tired from working two jobs, after which Summer had the sentence “She works hard for the money” stuck in her head after the encounter.
The song marks Donna’s transition from soul & rock to full-on dance-pop. The song also helped further established Donna Summer as the “Queen of Disc.o” as well as a role model for female empowerment.
“Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems” – The Notorious B.I.G (1997)
Despite his short-lived career due to his untimely demise, The Notorious B.I.G will always be remembered as one of the most gifted and talented rappers who have ever lived. The song is the second single off his posthumously released album, “Life After Death”.
The song received a Grammy nomination at the 40th Grammy Awards for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group.
Featuring vocals from Sean Combs and Mase, the song’s lyrics reflect on wealth being a negative influence on one’s life. The song’s chorus depicts this sentiment perfectly: “It’s like the more money we come across. the more problems we see.”
“If I Had $1,000,000” – Barenaked Ladies (1989)
A song with a literal amount of money in its title. this folk-rock hit became one of Barenaked Ladies’ most famous songs. despite it never being released as an official single. It didn’t even have an accompanying music video to go along with its ridiculous lyrics.
Despite this, the song has become a huge hit Canadian musical duo, charting not only in their home country but also in the UK and the US.
The lyrics playfully allude to what would one buy if one had a million dollars. The song’s simple yet endearing beat and playful, earnest lyrics have made it a favorite among Barenaked Ladies fans and an essential inclusion to any live show.
“The Gambler” – Kenny Rogers (1978)
Perhaps no other song shows the dangers of losing one’s money than this country classic by Kenny Rodgers. Undoubtedly Kenny’s most famous song, it may surprise you that this version is actually a cover.
The original was released 2 years before limited success. It was only after Kenny Rodgers and producer Larry Butler’s rendition of the original released did the song really took off.
In the song’s lyrics. the narrator depicts a man only known as “The Gambler”. where he warns listeners of the dangers of gambling. A must-listen for any country music aficionado.
“Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots of Money)” – Pet Shop Boys (1985)
A statement piece by the English synth-pop duo. Pet Shop Boys. The song was originally included in their debut album. “Please”, before being released independently the following year to great success in the UK and US.
The song has once again gained popularity in 2021, where it was used in a commercial for that year’s Super Bowl event.
The song depicts two individuals who are opposites. with lyrics referring to one as “intellectual’. and the other having “brawn”. Together they plot schemes to make plenty of money. The main punchline of the song refers to the duo failing to make money, with the lyrics “the people in it are not going to make money.”
“Money” – Pink Floyd (1973)
If you ask anyone from the older generation about songs regarding money. this song most likely will be their response. Appropriate to the title. the song extensively uses money-related sounds such as cash register sounds and jingles of coins to accentuate its tone and message.
Easily one of the most unique songs in Pink Floyd’s history.. which is saying something given the amount of experimentation in their discography.
Lyrically. the song posits the idea that money in itself is evil. where the more one has it the more temptations one faces in one’s life. With lyrics such as ‘money, so they say, is the root of all evil today. But if you ask for a raise, it’s no surprise that they’re giving none away,’ this song remains a staple among fans of progressive rock.
“Bitch Better Have Money” – Rihanna (2015)
As the title suggests, the song is about Rihanna calling out those who owe her money. Nothing more, nothing less. The song itself is a mixture of trap, electronic, and rap. The song has received great commercial success, charting high in over eight different countries.
As for lyrical content, Rihanna confidently flexes her success and threatens those who owe her money.
Perhaps not the most sentimental or complex when it comes to the lyrical content but a stand-out song regarding money nonetheless. So much so that the song ended up in a number of “Best Songs of 2015” lists by the end of that year.
“Money For Nothing” – Dire Straits (1985)
There are two ways you may have heard about this song. Either because you have heard the song yourself, or perhaps the controversy that surrounds its lyrical content.
Nevertheless, the song is the most successful single for the British rock band, reaching number one in Billboard charts and maintaining it for three weeks. The song even won Best Rock Performance by a Group or Duo at the 28th Grammy Awards.
The controversy for its lyrical content came when some accused it of being homophobic. specifically the use of the word ‘faggot’. The band’s frontman and vocalist Mark Knopfler have defended the use of it stating that the lyrics were written in first-person from the perspective of another character.
Nevertheless, the actual lyrics depict the conversation between two working-class men watching MTV, with the punchline being that rockstars “earn money for nothing’ and “get chicks for free.”
“Money Talks” – Rick James (1982)
Many songs in Rick James’s discography offer commentary on racial inequality, poverty, and corrupt law enforcement, and this song is no exception. In this soul funk hit, Rick James commentates on the actual worth of money.
Lyrics such as “What about the poor and destitute?” and “People need to eat to put shoes on their baby’s feet” accentuate the message of the song, making the listener question the worth of money. What’s the use of having money if everyone around you is suffering?
“Material Girl” – Madonna (1984)
A song that you can say. defined an entire generation of music lovers. Madonna’s bubbly vocals paired with her hard-thumping synths make for a song that is a joy to listen to even today. And sure, the Marilyn Monroe-inspired music video helped a lot in establishing Madonna as a force to be reckoned with in music.
As the title suggests, Madonna openly prefers men who can offer material things over feelings or emotions. No surprises there.
“For The Love Of Money” – The O’Jays (1973)
This song is essentially a seven-minute funk epic woven with messages explaining the dangers of yearning for money. Despite its long playtime, the song manages to grip its listener with its funky grooves while maintaining its motif of warning other regarding money.
The song’s lyrical content is relatively dark for the time, with references to stealing from their own mother and robbing their own brother permeating just the first verse of the song. The overlaying message being not letting money change who you are.
“Easy Money” – Billy Joel (1983)
This song was specifically written for the movie with the same name. starring Rodney Dangerfield. For the song to compliment the movie, Joel wrote the lyrics from the point of view of the movie’s protagonist, a down-on-his-luck gambler.
Lyrically-wise. the song is written within the perspective of a down-trodden gambler. where he continually gambles in the hopes of getting “easy money”
“Brother, Can You Spare A Dime” – Bing Crosby (1932)
Considered as the song that defined The Great Depression Era, “Brother, Can You Spare A Dime” first appeared in the 1932 musical “Americana.”
While its musical debut gained moderate popularity, it was only after the song was recorded by Bing Crosby and Rudy Vallee that the song received national acclaim.
The song’s premise revolves around an American everyday man whose idea of the American Dream collapses with the fall of the economy. This story mirrored those of the working-class men whose lives were shattered by The Great Depression.
“I Don’t Want Your Money” – Chicago (1971)
A simple rock song with a simple premise. A man who exclaims that he doesn’t need money. as long as he has the woman he loves by his side.
Not much complexity in terms of lyrical content but the song’s undeniable groove and lyrical simplicity at least make it an enjoyable listen. Not the most famous nor remembered song in Chicago’s repertoire. but a solid enough listen for anyone who is into old-school rock.
“Money” – Michael Jackson (1995)
Michael Jackson will inevitably end up on this list, considering he is one of the most accomplished and highly regarded musicians of all time. The song was written and composed by Michael in 1994, allegedly shortly after the child sex allegations that ruined Michael’s reputation.
In this song, Michael contemplates the friends he has around him, who he believes are only exploiting him for the wealth that he earns.
The song is also unique since it is one of only two known tracks that feature Michael rapping, the other being ‘Shout”.
“I’ve Got Money” -James Brown (1962)
This song was released as a B-Side along ‘Three Hearts in a Tangle” in 1962. In this R&B mashup of styles. Brown exclaims that while now he has a lot of money, he then needs love to go along with it.
Biographer R.J Smith describes the song perfectly, “It’s a song whose time has yet to arrive. and it’s barely a song.” Indeed much of the song sounds like a freestyle demo Brown recorded while recording an actual full record.
Despite this, the song did manage to chart in the US. reaching #93 in the Billboard Hot 100 at the time.
Money as a subject or topic can be interpreted in a variety of ways. as shown by the list above. If there is one thing that is a common denominator among all the songs in this list is that the actual value of money differs depending on which artist you are referring to.
Some artists enjoy brandishing the power and value of money, while others use it to reflect on its negative influence on our society. Objectively, money is simply a representation of value. Whether it is good or evil. needed or wanted, is all up to the artist
This is by no way an exclusive list more than anything it is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to songs regarding money. As long as the value of money persists in our society, artists will find different ways to use and interpret its value in their works of art.