Humans have a tendency to take things for granted. For instance, I don't know why I can't obey the little martian in my head who keeps telling me to skinny dip whenever I come across a public water fountain, I just take for granted that I can't. In that same vein, there are a lot of songs that we hear our entire lives and never even consider as songs with a name. Their existence is taken for granted, and I'm here to correct that.
1. 'Entry of the Gladiators' — Julius Fucik
Read that name again, it's not what you thought it was.
It's weird to hear this song without watching a circus scene. It's like eating two tubs of ice cream without seriously resenting yourself afterwards. Even weirder is to imagine it playing to its original context: gladiators. I know what we call a "circus" nowadays is derived from what the ancient Romans used to call a "circus," but when I think "brutal battles to the death and a lion eats someone afterward" I normally picture something ... well, something heavier than your average clown performance soundtrack. But maybe that's what was considered a badass bloodbath soundtrack in the 19th century.
2. 'Powerhouse' – Raymond Scott
This is for when you need to place an anthropomorphic animal at a factory and make him suffer. Preferably at the hands of a gremlin.
The most recognizable part starts at the 1:14 mark.
3. 'Yakety Sax' — James Q. 'Spider' Rich and Homer 'Boots' Randolph III
Also known as the "Benny Hill Theme" or "Laughing at Others' Disgrace Song." No schadenfreude is complete without "Yakety Sax" in the background. Pain is just that much funnier when it's ridiculous too, and this song could make even the most ridiculous things even more ridiculous. Even a recording of President Lyndon Johnson ordering pants that don't chafe. Why don't you try and see for yourself? Play both videos at the same time!
4. 'The Streets of Cairo, or the Poor Little Country Maid' — Sol Bloom
Whenever you need to indicate that something comes from the Middle East, this is the song to play. Anything done while listening to "The Streets of Cairo" will feel stereotypically Arab.
5. 'William Tell Overture' — Gioachino Rossini
You can't really feel speed if you're not listening to this. This is the go-to piece for horse races, dog races, people races, and sex with strangers (NSFW) if you're Stanley Kubrick.
6. 'Morning Mood' – Edvard Grieg
Lots of songs from the Norwegian play Peer Gynt have made it into the collective subconscious, including "In the Hall of the Mountain King." The ubiquity of the work's music is strange because if you ask most people in the street to tell you what a "Peer Gynt" is, they're probably going to think you're making an inappropriate comment.
This one is known as the universal wake-up call for little smiling birds and people who don't really want to wake up.
7. 'Sabre Dance' — Aram Khachaturian
Everything is more complicated when you listen to this song. Try tying your shoelaces to it in less than five minutes. Unless you do it in a wipe-out montage interspersed with black-and-white stock footage of a car factory conveyor belt, it's impossible.
8. '1812 Overture' — Pyotr Tchaikovsky
When they say "cannons" in the title of that video, they're not talking about some obscure music concept, nor did they misspell "canon." They're talking about honest-to-god, big-metal-tube-that-shoots-solid-lead-balls cannons.
The logistics of lugging a cannon out to a sound stage make this a tricky one to reproduce as intended, but somehow the people who recorded this version did it. If they killed anyone in the process, hopefully the judge was lenient.
The recognizable part (the part with cannons) starts at the 14 minute mark.
9. 'Shave and a Haircut Two Bits' – Unknown
Possibly the most recognizable song ever, it's also one of the shortest ones. You can know this song just by the beats. Actually, you could probably just write it down in "doot-doos" and most people would know what you're talking about, like so: doot doo doo doot doo DOOT DOOT.
10. 'Johnny I Hardly Knew Ya' – Unknown
Bet you never even knew that song had lyrics, right?
This one nowadays is normally used in a humorous context (see Dr. Strangelove, or How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the Bomb; Antz; and half of every movie, etc.), but in actuality it's a powerful anti-war theme about the hardships which war veterans are sometimes made to bear — often for naught. It tells the story of a lady who finds her husband disfigured and incapacitated from war. He has to resort to panhandling to sustain himself and his family.
The origins of the song are kind of dubious, if my research is to be trusted. It's widely regarded as a traditional Irish Folk tune, but it was published for the first time by an Englishman named Joseph B. Geoghegan, and, before that, it was published in the U.S. with different lyrics and the name "When Johnny Comes Marching Home."
Either way, it's freaking awesome and, to make it more awesome, I'm presenting you with the version of the Dropkick Murphys.