Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Song Remembers When

There’s a Trisha Yearwood song from several years back that begins:

I was standin' at the counter
I was waitin' for the change
When I heard that old familiar music start

It continues to recount how even though years have passed and “though I had forgotten all about it, the song remembers when.”

How often do we find ourselves going about our daily lives when a song comes on the radio or in the grocery store and we’re suddenly floored by memories that only seconds ago were buried in the deep recesses of our minds? Sometimes it’s a memory of heartache upon hearing what used to be “our song” from loves past. Other times we’re reduced to a brief trance as we’re mentally transported back to a time and place decades gone but crystal clear in our mind’s eye.

Earlier this evening I was engrossed in writing a travel piece when Tie a Yellow Ribbon by Tony Orlando and Dawn came on the radio via the Saturday night oldies show. Suddenly I remembered being in our big green ’71 Chrysler, driving down Route 60 in my hometown with my dad. We had just gone to the post office and were stopped at a red light in front of the big catholic church when it came on the radio. I was tagging along while Dad did some errands that day as I was too young to be in school yet. I suppose my dad might have actually been singing along, which was a rare occurrence and probably why this stayed with me. I remember nothing else about that day, but I remember those moments of that song.

I also have a cache of what I call “vacation songs” that trigger memories. When I was a kid we usually drove up North for our family vacations, spending several days in the car. Going up I-95 you lose radio stations every hour or two and constantly have to find a more local one. Invariably they’re all playing the same current top 40 songs, so we’d hear the same songs several times each day, to the point of begging the radio gods to please find a new song for us weary travelers!

Because of this, I remember where we went on vacation each year by the song I associate with each location. Summer of ’79 was the Reunited vacation thanks to Peaches and Herb, so that was the year we had a family reunion in the Midwest. Summer of ’81 was the Queen of Hearts vacation (Juice Newton), which means New Jersey. Summer of ’83 was the Flashdance vacation, so that means we went to New England that year as I remember hearing it in the train station at Mt. Washington in New Hampshire.

Even 25 years later, I always think of these places and their respective scenery when I hear these songs. When I hear the theme from Flashdance I’m once again sitting in the backseat of our old van, counting license plates and reading the road atlas.

As Trisha’s lyrics say, the moment seemed to freeze/and we turned the music up and sang along.

Yeah, and even if the whole world has forgotten
The song remembers when.

What songs are strong memory triggers for you?


  1. This happens to me all of the time...I will be going about my business and BAM, a song throws me back 10, 20, even 25 years....for some reason smells do the same thing to me...songs and smells....

  2. I also associate "Tie a Yellow Ribbon" with my Dad...

    Songs are like those memory strings for me...each time a song is associated with a memory, it is like another knot in the thread. Each appending itself to the story.

    Like seeing folks dancing at a HS reunion, which added new stories to the narrative of my life in music.