Friday, May 8, 2015

Musical Memories

Are there songs that take you to a different time and place; evoke memories of a certain person or event? When I started my car this morning the oldies station was playing Paul Mauriat's Love is Blue. It's a beautiful spring day here in North Carolina with bright sunshine, a deep blue sky and birds chirping their delight yet with the first few bars of this song I was transported far away. Suddenly, the year was 1968 with temperatures below zero and a full moon casting silver glitter over a landscape covered in deep snow. I was driving north on M-140, on my way to my friend Cheryl's house, singing along with the radio and dreaming of adventures to come. I don't remember why I was going to Cheryl's house but I have a vivid recollection of everything else. This is an instrumental but I knew the French lyrics and would sing along - "Bleu, bleu. L'Amour est bleu -"  while my 16-year-old self would go all dreamy-eyed. You see, a few months later, I was going to be flying to France to spend the summer studying language, culture and (not an official part of the curriculum) teenage European boys. A teenage girl's daydreams are powerful indeed (and the actual trip itself was even better). Is it any wonder that this song takes me on a journey through my youthful memories whenever I hear it?

In the summer of 1966, a ridiculous, but strangely catchy, tune called They're Coming to Take Me Away hit the airwaves. It was one of those songs that was played relentlessly, over and over and over. I don't hear it much these days but when I do, I'm fourteen again, bouncing across Mexico City in a dilapidated school bus with a Spanish speaking driver who sang along at the top of his lungs any time this song played (and, believe me, it played a lot!). Of course, not speaking English, he didn't know most of the words but when it came to the chorus, "they're coming to take me away, ho ho he he ha ha,"  that man would belt it out with the best of them. It was an experience not soon forgotten that returns to me every time I hear the song.

Light My Fire by The Doors (one of my favorite groups of my high school and college years) takes me to summers on the lake with high school girlfriends. I close my eyes and I'm sitting in the front passenger seat of my friend's Chevy Corvair; the car with the hole in the floorboard right where my feet should be resting. Not all that bad in the summer (barring rain puddles) but downright chilly in Michigan winters!

When I hear Wilson Pickett's In the Midnight Hour, I feel the sultry summer heat, beads of perspiration and nervous excitement of hitting the dance floor at the American Legion Hall and trying out my American Bandstand moves (the ones I'd practiced in front of the full-length mirror in my bedroom for hours) with that cute guy from the next town over; the one with the smooth moves who all the girls wanted to dance with. Small-town America at its finest. :)

Roberta Flack's The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face  stirs memories of the vinyl knee-high boots, hot pants, crocheted vests and floppy hats of my early college years and the first time I saw a certain hockey player who would capture my heart. Yes, I was actually wearing the above-described outfit the night we met but, in my defense, I was much younger and much thinner and he later told me he thought I looked "adorable." A very good musical memory. ;-)

It takes only the first few notes of Patti Page's The Tennessee Waltz to see my young dad waltzing my mom around the living room of our house. My mom loved music and it was played often in our home, first on a simple turntable then later on a newfangled stereo console with dual speakers. For a young girl, watching her parents dance around the room while smiling into one another's eyes was magical. They're both gone now which makes the memory precious and the musical journey back to that time all the more poignant.

Those are only a few of my musical memories. What are the musical milestones of your life? 


  1. Thank you PJfor sharing your memories with us. I love music. Our favorite oldies radio station is always on.Your memory of your Mom & Dad were wonderful. I just experienced similar memories while hearing a song by The Platters. It immediately brought to mind my Mom & Dad waltzing in the kichen and singing to each other softly. It brought tears to my eyes but good ones. :) They're both gone now and it was a beautiful memory.
    Carol L
    Lucky4750 (at) aol (dot) com

    1. Carol, I'm so happy that you have such a lovely memory of your parents. Lots of great songs by the Platters out there!

  2. Oh, how funny! I also remember "They're Coming to Take Me Away." I used to belt it out now and then when our kids were small and they were driving me nuts. It always made them stop and just stare at me like I'd lost my mind. Well - yes - I almost had but singing this song and then laughing always made it better. :-)

    There is another song of that same time period that I have been able to find again. It's about a big roach. It's something like this: "Roach, big bad Roach." It goes on about the roach living under the sink but it gets so big, it's sleeping in bed with the singer. It was funny. Wish I could find that song again.

    Connie Fischer

    1. LOL @ Connie! It really is a ridiculous song but it always leaves me smiling too. :)

      I'm pretty sure I've never heard the roach song. After many years of coastal Florida living, I know I'd remember a song about roaches! (I really could go the rest of my life without seeing a palmetto bug and be perfectly happy.)

    2. I couldn't agree with you more on that one, PJ!

  3. There was an album by Johnny Horton when I was growing up, so pretty much any song I hear with him takes me back to being a kid, jamming on my Mickey Mouse plastic guitar, standing on the couch, and dreaming about marrying a singer like Johnny Horton. My favorite song is They'll Never Ever Take Her Love From Me, but that was too morose when I was a kid--my favorite song then was "All Grown Up"--'standing at your door, just like I've done before, you've change, it's strange, you're all grown up!"

    So I didn't have a real knowledge of music--everything I heard was country music when I was little-little, so it wasn't until I got playmate when I was about 8 that I realized there was music outside of country. It was with her that I found my first soundtrack: Footloose (which I still love) and I could sing all the words to the whole album. She also introduced me to Whitesnake, George Michael, Warrant, Poison, and Def Leppard. I became a Big Hair Band girl.

    My first 45 was a Whitney Houston "How Do I Know"--and I would belt along with that one. Whenever I hear it, I'm suddenly 12 again and thinking about that cute boy in my class that we all adored. Oh, how I wanted to fall in love. That was my number one goal in life. *LOL*

    One of the first score soundtracks I ever bought was the score to Braveheart. The music was so instantly recognizable for me when I would hear it on TV or elevators, I would stop and I could pinpoint where in the movie it came from. I still think it's one of the most haunting soundtracks ever. Of course, the composer then went on to do the score for Titanic, which elicited similar feelings (though never as poignant as the Braveheart one did.)

    Whenever I hear Jimmie Rodgers (the one who died in 1930 or so), I think of Dad. Whenever I would take Dad to his treatments and checkups, he would get in the car and go, "Where's Jimmy?" And though Jimmy Rodgers is not my favorite artist, I would put it on for him.

    1. Johnny Horton! Play "The Battle of New Orleans" and it's summer, I'm eight years old, sitting on my summer neighbor's screened porch and singing my heart out with half the kids in the neighborhood. :)

      Right there with you on the Braveheart soundtrack. Another one that elicits those same feelings in the soundtrack from Last of the Mohicans.

  4. Sleepovers- Satisfaction, Rolling Stones, Gloria, Them, We gotta Get Out of this Place, Animals

    1966 summer at a cottage on Elkhart Lake , Wisconsin I remember the band played Carrie Ann and Bus Stop by the Hollies and Summer in the City - Lovin Spoonful

    Freshman year of HS dances:1968 White Room, Badge- Cream local band" Grease" concert
    My first concert Kind of a Drag- the Buckinghams

    1968-Building Freshman Homecoming float at the TR Coast Guard station- Midnight Confessions, Grass Roots and Magic Carpet Ride,Steppenwolf
    HS songs:
    1969 WOODSTOCK album from the concert
    1970 Color My World , Chicago,
    1971 American Pie Don McLean, Maggie May, Rod Stewart, Albums- Agualung, Jethro Tull, Joni Mitchell, Blue and Cat Stevens Tea For the Tillerman
    1972 You Know It Don't Come Easy, Ringo, School's Out For Summer- Alice Cooper, I'm Eighteen, Bob Seger, Wild World, Cat Stevens, Nights In White Satin, You Know You Want To Be a Rock N Roll Star , Moody Blues

    College was Pink Flloyd's Dark Side of the Moon and the group Yes with Roundabout

    1977 Wedding- Paul Stokely's The Wedding Song, Somewhere from West Side Story

    1978 going to work song on the radio- You Better You Better You Bet, The Who, Queen songs were popular too, Jesse Colin Young, Miss Hesitation

    1983 first child and discovered Raffi

    1. Lots of memories for me in that list too, Laurie!

  5. Thanks, PJ, for taking us down this musical path. Laurie G. - a lot of memories for me in your post, too!

    Here are three of mine where the songs really take me back:

    The Love Theme from Romeo and Juliet - I hear it and I am at YWCA day camp where one of the campers is playing that song on the piano *all the time.* I pestered my parents to go to a sleep-away camp for several years and ended up at a day camp one Summer where I learned I have no musical talent and I won the Most Enthusiastic Day-Camper award. That was kind of a lost memory until our local light oldies station started putting more instrumentals in their rotation. Heard Love is Blue for the first time in years, too, on that station.

    Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen - Remember that scene from Wayne's World where the guys sing? That was me and my girlfriends in Debbie's car riding around on the weekends. None of us had singing voices but we thought we sounded great!

    Brian Wilson by Barenaked Ladies - Our first vacation on Hatteras Island and this song was on the radio or sound system everywhere. When I hear it, it takes me to that beautiful National Seashore and playing with our then new dog on the beach. It shows up on our Pandora playlist and my husband or I still mention hearing it all the time the first time we vacationed in Avon.

  6. My husband and I have our song - Never my Love by the Association - we still hear it on the radio. When a teenager I was an Elvis Presley fan and then the Beatles and Simon and Garfunkel. A lot of the 70's music - English bands, Fleetwood Mac, The Yes, Mamas and the Papas etc.

  7. I'm late to the party, PJ, but I just wanted to say how much I enjoyed reading your memories! The story about your parents brought tears to my eyes. How wonderful to have such a great memory of your parents... I hope my kids remember something sweet like that about me!

    I also remember singing along to "They're Coming to Take Me Away (haha!)", and I grew up listening to the ballads of Johnny Horton, etc. thanks to my dad's collection. And now I'm lucky enough to have a son who likes history as much as I do. Thanks to sharing those songs with my kids, I have the only 6yo who knows when the Battle of New Orleans was (and the only 3yo who knows who the Red Baron is). So I guess my musical memories are more about the lyrics (and teaching tools!) than the music. Oh well. :)