A Road Map of Musical Memories

Do you ever think about the first time you heard a song?  What you were doing or feeling?  When I listen to music, I really enjoy the memories that a song evokes.   I can remember where I was the first time I heard it, or the first time it really registered emotionally; I can remember when it was playing during an argument, at a party as I was talking to a cute guy, a car accident, or when I was put on hold.

While stuck in traffic this morning, I entertained myself by thinking of songs that I can remember hearing for the first time, and what feelings those songs evoked then and now.

For instance – when I first heard Band of Horses’ “Laredo,” it was on a sunny, fall day. I had recently met someone, and just as the song came on the radio, our mutual friend sent me a text with some proof that this guy liked me.  I remember feeling so happy and full of hope as I listened to that song; that entire fall, hearing that song resurrected those same hopeful feelings I’d experienced during my first listen.  When I heard the song again after things between us soured, I couldn’t believe that I had once thought the song was happy – it seemed so wistful and melancholy.

Here are a handful of distinct memories that I associate with songs from my childhood; I’ll stick with songs that were actually released during my lifetime.

1.  Billy Ocean, “Caribbean Queen”

Don’t ask me why or how I remember this, but the first time I can remember hearing this song is as a toddler, rocking out in my crib (or playpen.  My memory is too vague to discern which).  I couldn’t have been more than two or three, but I remember wriggling to the music as I gripped the rails.  Like a chubby little toddler dancing, this song evokes silliness and fun when I hear it now.

2.  Johnny Hates Jazz, “Shattered Dreams”

My memories of the 80s get more vague as I get older.  But I still remember the first time I heard this song – I was probably three or four, and we were walking in a mall at night.  I remember passing by some freaky headless mannequins; when I hear this song now, I don’t feel the creepiness I did as toddler, but it’s definitely a moody song I save for a cloudy day.

3.  Wilson Phillips, “Hold On”

Summer of 1990 – this song came on the radio as we were driving back from Florida. My parents had given me the option of attending my kindergarten graduation or going to Disney World – guess what a five-year-old is going to pick? Even now, hearing this song makes me think of a comfortable sunny day – that no matter what is going on in your life, you can be happy as long as you have your family and some sunshine.

4.  The Moody Blues, “Your Wildest Dreams”

Early 1994 – My dad spent his evenings back then going to college.  We were driving to the library so he could work on a team project.  I had a bag filled with my favorite American Girl novels and fruit snacks to keep me entertained.  My dad had just received The Best of the Moody Blues albums in the mail from one of those CD clubs he belonged to, so he popped it in the CD player.  Life was about to change for us – Dad had just found out that he was going to be stationed in Texas.  Hearing that song now still reminds me of that exciting time when we moved from Virginia, when you are filled with hope at the unknown places your life is about to take you.

5.  Counting Crows, “Mr. Jones”

Summer 1994 – we had just moved to Texas, and were staying with relatives temporarily.  Everything about this state was so new and exciting, and this song was the soundtrack to our adventures.  Fourteen years later, I moved to that very city that had briefly been my home during those first weeks in Texas.  This song kept on popping up on the radio after my move, and every time it filled me with mixed emotions – I wanted so badly to make this city my own, to feel alive, to feel the sense of adventure that this song had evoked as a child, but I felt so lost and alone.  It took a couple of years, but I am finally at the place I so longed to be.


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