Greed is a complicated thing. Traditionally, people saw it in a negative light, which makes sense because the intense desire for gain can lead them down dark roads to dark ends. However, greed has undergone a bit of a reevaluation in recent centuries, as shown by how some people unironically believe in Gordon Gekko’s signature line. Whatever the truth of things, greed is powerful, thus enabling it to inspire some of the most famous songs ever released.
10. “Gold Digger” – Kanye West featuring Jamie Foxx
“Gold Digger” is one of Kanye West’s most successful songs. Curiously, a woman was supposed to sing the original version about herself as the titular character. That plan fell through, so Kanye West changed it to a man singing about a woman.
9. “Land of Endless Greed” – Bad Religion
Bad Religion is a punk rock band very concerned about various societal ills. It isn’t subtle about this. For instance, the song “Land of Endless Greed” is very straightforward in criticizing people who pursue their self-interest at the expense of others’ wellbeing.
8. “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” – Lorde
People often associate the idea of greed with monarchs. After all, monarchs are supposed to be the highest-ranking individuals with the most power in their societies. Despite that, they often sought even more of everything, so much so that a wide range of cultures developed the idea of a universal monarchy. For example, Mesopotamia had the King of the Four Corners. Similarly, Medieval Europe had a contest between the Popes and the Holy Roman Emperors to see which would claim supreme authority. The original version of “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” is rooted in the Cold War. Even so, its message is timeless, as seen by the success of Lorde’s 2013 cover.
7. “Money” – Pink Floyd
Pink Floyd’s “Money” isn’t exactly an ode to the stuff. Instead, it shows how the pursuit of money can warp people. Sadly, the existence of money isn’t the source of greed. It is a tool that provides several useful functions in certain societies under certain conditions. Unfortunately, it is very much possible for people to become consumed by their greed even without the existence of money. After all, money is a store of value rather than value itself.
6. “Greed” – Lucki featuring Lil Yachty
Speaking of which, “Greed” is another song about how the pursuit of money and other things of value can lead people astray. In particular, it aims at younger individuals.
5. “Big Yellow Taxi” – Joni Mitchell
“Big Yellow Taxi” is a song becoming more and more relevant as time passes. In short, it is about the exploitation of nature for the sake of meeting economic objectives. For example, it mentions paving over natural landscapes before raising buildings on that land. Similarly, it mentions the spraying of DDT, a synthetic insecticide that had a horrific effect on predators because of biomagnification. That reference makes the song rather dated because the United States banned DDT in 1972. Alas, many struggles remain unfought when it comes to the environment while there seems to be less and less time in which to fight them. Already, we are seeing the consequences of climate change around the world. Examples range from stronger hurricanes to vanishing lakes and rivers, which don’t bode well for the future.
4. “Disease of Conceit” – Bob Dylan
Vices often come in multitudes. After all, it is much easier for us to slip up in one regard when we are already struggling in another. “Disease of Conceit” is an excellent reminder that pride can mask our weaknesses from ourselves, thus inviting us to err while either unknowing or pretending to be unknowing. As for why Bob Dylan wrote the song, several televangelists took serious tumbles in the 1980s. Of course, that didn’t do much to remove the dark side of televangelism. For that matter, more than one of those disgraced televangelists managed to make successful returns.
3. “C.R.E.A.M.” – Wu-Tang Clan
Some songs have lyrics that can be interpreted in various ways by various individuals. “C.R.E.A.M.” isn’t one of them. Its lyrics make it very clear that it is a criticism of the system rather than an endorsement of the same. Even so, lots of people never bothered to engage with the lyrics on a meaningful level, thus leading to its popular perception as the latter. Still, there can be no doubt about how the people behind “C.R.E.A.M.” view a system resting upon greed as one of its foundations.
2. “I Want It All” – Queen
It is possible to interpret “I Want It All” in a negative way. Generally speaking though, people prefer more positive readings of the lyrics. Partly, that is because of Brian May’s statement about it being the willingness to fight for one’s goals and aspirations. However, it helps that the song takes the perspective of people who are up-and-coming rather than people who are already entrenched at the top. Regardless, many people would say hunger isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Instead, the issue is either a deficit or a surplus of it. Too little hunger leads to stagnation; too much hunger leads to greed.
1. “Material Girl” – Madonna
“Material Girl” is another much-misinterpreted song. Its name tends to mean a woman with a very materialistic outlook on life. The issue is that the music video made it very clear that the titular character is the exact opposite of that. She lives in a world dominated by materialistic concerns, but she doesn’t care much about them, as shown by how she responds positively to a simpler sort of romance. Under those circumstances, it is no wonder that Madonna has expressed irritation at being identified as the Material Girl. In any case, this is one of the most influential songs of the late 20th century. Its legacy is complicated enough for people to write books about it. Indeed, people have written books about it.