This is it. We’ve reached the end, the pinnacle, the true masterpieces of children’s television. The top ten Horrible Histories songs. The best of the best (in my humble opinion). These songs are iconic, emotional, truly part of British culture. They’ve taught me so much, and a lot of my love of history is owed to them. I cannot thank the writers of this show for creating them, you are artists and we salute you.
10. Pioneers of Transportation
This song from series five is often forgotten, but boy do I love it. Firstly, it’s a Greased Lightening parody. Secondly, it involves the whole male cast, and the group efforts always turn out fantastically. Thirdly, there’s great dancing. Fourthly, the lyrics manage to pack a fairly big topic into a two minute song that you can understand and learn from. Documenting the work of George Stephenson, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, Henry Ford and the Wright Brothers, and they made great advances in trains, steam ships, cars, and planes, to create something of a transportation revolution. It’s such an upbeat awesome little number, how can you not love it.
9. Rosa Parks: I Sat on a Bus
And from feet-tapping musicals we shimmy on over to some old school soul to hear about Rosa Parks. Dominique Moore absolutely knocks this one out of the park (no pun intended) in her account of the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott which more or less kicked off the Civil Rights movement in America. Again, the HH team take an underrepresented history and present it in the most inspirational way, to one of the best tunes going. The use of Aretha Franklin’s ‘Respect’ makes an excellent nod to the peaceful nature of a lot of the civil rights movement. The song takes a small story which represents something so much bigger, and it pulls it off in the most touching way. I love it.
8. The Borgia Family
FINALLY, some Early Modern subject matter, AND it’s in the top ten. That’s because the Renaissance is the best and we all know it. Anyway, this series four number instantly presents itself as an Addams Family parody within the opening notes of the song: those iconic clicks set the dark and evil tone of the whole song. And boy do the cast do it justice: especially Martha, who pulls one of the best vocal performances of the entire show. It documents the corrupted rise and fall of the Borgia Family, including Rodrigo Borgia who became the notorious Pope Alexander VI between 1492 and 1503. They were power-hungry and notorious, and the song captures the essence of them perfectly. Also, Mat Baynton as a Machiavellian Prince? YES PLEASE.
7. Dick Turpin
Mat. Baynton. In. Eyeliner. Okay yes he looks incredible dressed as eighteenth century highwayman Dick Turpin, but there are several other reasons why this song has made it into the top ten. It is an EXCELLENT parody of Adam Ant’s Stand and Deliver: the perfect song to document the life of Dick Turpin. It captures the nature and sound of the song perfectly, slipping in little references to other songs by the artist, and the video makes great homage to the 1981 original. It also demonstrates one of the key aims of the show: to dispel popular historical myth. Nope, his horse wasn’t called Black Bess, and nope, he wasn’t this romantic killer of legend. Instead, ‘a ruthless killer with a ruthless killer’s heart.’ But with Mat taking centre stage, it’s hard to completely get rid of the dreamy aesthetic of the story.
6. Born To Rule
The original. And one of the best. The first ever song from the first ever episode of the show, and it still stands strong and one of the favourites. The Georgian era is often a forgotten period of history, so it’s nice for this number to tell us a little bit more about it. Even if it does reduce the kings down the ‘the sad one, the bad one, the mad one, and the fat one.’ And this is what the show does so well over and over again: capturing historical stories and figures in presenting their essence in the tiniest phrase. The song isn’t parodying any one boyband in particular, but rather the genre as a whole: sitting on the chairs, swaying, standing up on the key change. It’s all iconic, and it remains one of the best songs the show has to offer.
5. Charles Dickens
Hands down, this is the most sophisticated song in the show. I actually feel like it was written by Morrisey and The Smiths. Wow. Charles Dickens did lead a miserable life didn’t he? But he used this to produce some of the greatest works this country has ever seen. And the song documents the link between the two, which is an area of history little well-known. Well done team. But it’s the parody of the song which makes it rank so highly. Mat captures Morrissey’s voice excellently, and a lot of the lyrics are reproduced and adapted for Dickens in such a clever way. Also, Al Murray features on the drums. Perfection.
4. The Monarchs Song
If you don’t know the chorus to this song, get out. Just, get out, and go and think about who you are. Because The Monarchs Song isn’t about any artist or music genre in particular, it’s about the great English (and British) Monarchy, from William the Conqueror to Elizabeth II. A simple rhyme and ditty for you all to sing along: and sing along we certainly did. This song has engrained the order of the monarchs in my brain forever more, ready to be utilised in any quiz question or party trick needed. It captures the essence of the show: to teach. If you haven’t learned it, go and do so. Now.
3. The Few
Another boys group effort making it into the top ten. This time, they’re RAF pilots in the Second World War, parodying Take That like an absolute dream. The upbeat boy-band pop feel of the music is combined with cheesy lyrics referencing several of Take That’s biggest hits. As the opening number to series four, you can really see how the production effort has greatly increased for the show: it’s a slick, well-made, flashy music video. There’s dancing, great costumes, spitfires, the whole works, and really is the pinnacle of what the show can offer. And wow does the Churchill quote at the end really hit you where it hurts.
2. Finale: We’re History
When the team announced Horrible Histories was coming to an end in 2013, there was a lot of expectation placed on what the final song would be. And I must say, they really pulled it out the bag with this one. It wouldn’t have worked if they had focused on a specific period or individual, so I was so pleased when they produced this epic number documenting every era covered throughout the shows run. It spoke of both the good and bad parts of every historical era, not exactly leaning towards progress, but rather highlighting how if there’s one thing history is, it’s horrible. Yes it’s a Eurocentric story, but that is what the show focused on. Over four minutes, the song builds and builds, creating an overwhelming sense of nostalgia and celebration of the show. It’s emotional. I’m not crying, you’re crying.
1. Charles II: King of Bling
There could only be one winner. Because this song is an icon of British culture. Featuring way back in Series Two, Mat Baynton’s performance as Charles II is incredible. An Eminem parody, the song captures the essence of this seventeenth century Restoration Monarch in just two minutes, telling us everything we need to know about his reign. He restored the monarchy, he had a wife plus many many girlfriends, he personally helped out in the Fire of London, and he loves to party. It’s the perfect example of the show’s genius of taking a historical topic and transforming it into something we can understand and learn from. Here, they get it exactly right. And that is why it remains our true favourite. King of Bling, we salute you.
So there we have it. Every Horrible Histories song ranked, from worst to best. I hope you’ve read this and gone back to listen to them, to remind yourselves of just how great they are. Honestly, this show had an awful lot of influence on me choosing history as my degree subject, and to this day I continue to utilise it in my learning. It works because it doesn’t dumb down history, it dumbs it up, and it stays true to the accuracy of the past. So thank you, Horrible Histories, thank you.