Songs that conjure up specific memories

Music is really important to me. I am not one of those people who identifies as incredibly “musical”—I was classically trained in piano, I learned guitar, I could read sheet music, I took singing lessons, I also wrote songs, and I have an expansive knowledge of music from dozens of genres over decades—but music is near and dear to my heart. I only went to my first concert when I was 21, but then I became a concert photographer and music reviewer. I relish in all the visceral emotions that music and live music brings, I (over)analyse lyrics, and I appreciate every piece of work that goes into a single piece of music, even if it’s obscure as fuck, or isn’t going to top the charts. (Who cares about topping the charts, anyway.)

If you’ve seen the film Almost Famous, then you would know about the famous scene where the group starts to sing Elton John’s Tiny Dancer on a bus. The entire mood is uplifted but there is some feeling of bittersweetness—at least depending on how you perceive the characters and the film in general. Similar to that scene, and that moment, there are some songs that conjure up very specific memories for me. The memories are often a time I was listening to the song, or an album, or some artist; a memory that was sometimes special, or something I was hardened to because it hurt a little bit, or something seemingly random but so specific to me as a person, and my life.

This post isn’t going to be an exhaustive list of them, but I thought I may as well try. As I have just implied, not all memories are filled with joy, and not all of them are even very nice. But I think it’s worth picking out a few, that at least for me, seem quaint but are interesting stories to tell. There are some items not on this list because they’re more personal, and I’m also not just including songs that “remind me of someone”—they are specifically songs or albums that make me think of a very specific moment. This list is also in no particular order!

Californication, Red Hot Chili Peppers

Nick and I were on Hey Geronimo’s Longest Shortest Tour—where they played about a dozen sets at about a dozen different venues across Sydney—and on the tour bus, Danaj, the photographer and overall hype man for the day, was singing along to this song but exaggerating parts of the song he didn’t know the words to with sounds like “mee ne mee ne ma, mee ne mee ne ma”. I think he was also making a point of the lyrics being difficult to comprehend as well, but if I ever hear this song out in public (as I’m not a huge fan of RHCP in general), I want to sing it in the same way he did.

Definitely Maybe album, Oasis

I bought this album at a yard sale. I didn’t mind going to yard sales when I was younger, because the trinkets and tchotchkes and “bric a brac” on most yard sales got me way more interested than the “furniture” that my parents were often searching for. It got really boring when there wasn’t even someone else’s random “trash” that I could sift through to find if it could be a “treasure” for me.

I think this yard sale was at a school, or a sporting oval, maybe more like a “car boot sale” (or trunk, if you’re from the US) where people opened up the back of their cars and sold a bunch of unwanted stuff. I had heard of Oasis but only listened to a few of their songs, and when I picked the album up, I hadn’t even heard of it (don’t think the internet was a big thing then, and there was no streaming service to give you recs). I bought it for either 50¢ or $1—I can’t remember—and popped it in my CD player when I got home, as I lay on the carpet doing nothing else. It was a sunny afternoon, the dappled light coming through the sheer curtains of my north-facing bedroom window. This album will always remind me of a lazy weekend afternoon in the sunlight, a “simpler time” when I was also a school kid with very little worries.

Weather With You, Crowded House

I used to go to an after-school tutoring/coaching school when I was in high school, for maths and science (if I remember correctly—it was about 17 years ago). It was held in an old office building with a brick interior, on some floor above the ground floor. The science tutor was a pretty funny bloke. He didn’t grab your attention immediately and wasn’t completely engaging, but he had a bit of a sarcastic and subdued sense of humour, which I appreciated when I did get to witness it. One day, out on the street in the nearby plaza somewhere, someone was playing Weather With You by Crowded House. I think it was someone playing the song live.

The entire class was stone cold quiet, working on a problem, and the tutor didn’t love making chit-chat, and also wasn’t the type to walk around the room and observe students. I sat pretty close to the front, near the window. The music continued and got to around the chorus before the bridge. If you haven’t heard this song, there’s a line in it that’s repeated many times: “everywhere you go, always take the weather with you”. The tutor made a comment, sort of under his breath, but also deliberately speaking to me, since I was the only one near him. He said something along the lines of, “It’s just the same thing over and over, isn’t it?” and chuckled. He said it with a tone of annoyance and like he was fed up with the song. I love Crowded House, but he had a point.

Around The World, Daft Punk

On the note of repetition, I recall the first time I saw the music video for Around The World. I was sitting at home on the couch and my mum made a comment about the dancers wearing costumes that looked similar to a costume that one of the groups wore in my dance studio’s concert. I was paying more attention to the music and I asked if there were other lyrics apart from “around the world”. I don’t remember what my parents said back to me, but I remember trying to count and then losing count. The video was mesmerising regardless.

Random Access Memories, Daft Punk

I listened to RAM the day it came out. I had to rush to university to drop off an assignment and then hurry to work immediately after. I started listening to it on the train for the first time, comfortably zoning out. I was really enjoying the album, and I was not far from having left the train station when someone in the street interrupted me. I immediately thought they wanted directions so I stopped. The man asked, “Hi, sorry to bother you, but I think you’re really pretty”. I thanked him and was about to scurry off, but he maintained conversation and asked me on a date. I said I was taken. He said, “Oh, damn”.

I was mostly bothered that he interrupted me while I had my headphones in.

Get Lucky, Daft Punk

I was at a club where a band I liked was playing. I was taking photographs as I was a concert photographer at the time. I arrived a little early, and the DJ started playing Get Lucky. It was the hot new song at the time.

There were a couple of bands, and in between sets, the same DJ played Get Lucky again. I thought, yeah I can deal with this.

At the conclusion of all the bands’ sets, I looked at the time and decided I’d better get home because I had a long way to travel. I was able to escape the sea of club-goers who had just swarmed in, but not before the DJ played the goddamn song for the third time that night. Jeez. (It’s a good song, but come on.)

Innocence, and Keep Holding On, Avril Lavigne

I am still salty about this. And my long-time friend of 20 years, Lilian, is probably still salty about this too. I get it, teenagers are mean. But out of the goodness of our own hearts, at our school ski trip (note we were “mature” 16 year olds by this point), we decided to be the lead singers for two of our friendship groups (who were all a group of friends as a whole, but let’s just say, in true 2000s style, the two separately were gendered) in a talent show, provided they would all sing along. They promised they would.

None of them sang along. None! It was embarrassing and sad, and maybe I’m still a little sad, even though I don’t care anymore. I just remember being angry and in tears afterward, and I went to the boys’ cabin and yelled at them, and threw the contents of their trash can across the room, and the night ended with an apology and me trying to fit into my mate’s duffel bag because I was such a small person, and because the way kids made up back then was to balance the shitty feelings with some kind of joke. Lilian and I may have been passionate about singing, but didn’t appreciate feeling taken advantage of.

It’s actually quite difficult for me to listen to both of these songs. They’re also triggering because I really connected to these songs during some emotionally dark times as well. I’m actually generally able to dissociate songs from negative memories, but it’s been tricky with these two.

Steal My Sunshine, Len

I loved this song so much when I was a kid. I remember it being played almost everywhere, but I distinctly remember rollerblading to it when there used to be a rollerblading rink not far from where I lived at the time. I went there with my friends and the place played great music, often with some games that would “eliminate” people from rollerblading if they didn’t stop, or change direction, or stand in pairs, or something, when the music stopped. I was one of few people left in one of these game rounds and I remember feeling so free, confident, and happy while this song played on the speakers as I rollerbladed around the rink.

Your Song, Elton John

This was the song that inspired this post. Nick and I saw Elton John in concert in January this year and Goodbye, Yellow Brick Road has become stuck in his head on occasion. I said I don’t like that song very much, and in fact, I don’t even listen to a lot of Elton John’s music, but I became familiar with it when I was a kid. My parents had numerous cassettes of popular music that they played mostly in the car, but sometimes played at home. I vaguely remember ABBA and Shania Twain being played in the car frequently, but that one of Elton John’s greatest hits or compilation albums was in the house. Back then, it was common for cassettes to have thick booklets folded into the plastic case, containing all the lyrics of the songs on the album. For some reason this seemed to be less common with the rise of CDs, maybe because they figured you could look it up on the internet? Or some other reason.

I distinctly remember reading the lyrics to Your Song and wondering what they really meant, probably long before I had the ability to analyse more complex sentences. The line I sat on the roof and kicked off the moss, well a few of the verses, they got me quite cross sounded unusual to me, and the visual of someone sitting on a roof angrily kicking moss kind of stuck with me. It was the song on the casette that I remembered the most.

Hybrid Theory, Linkin Park

In my teen angst years, I sometimes felt like I needed my space and to create an environment where no one would disturb me. I was a big fan of Linkin Park, specifically the album Hybrid Theory—even after Meteora was released, I found myself listening to Hybrid Theory even more. To be fair, maybe any Linkin Park song takes me back to this specific memory of being a teenager, in my room, with the lights off (my parents did not like me to shut the door, so this may have been my way of emulating a similar thing), blasting Linkin Park from my computer speakers almost loud enough for other people at home to hear.

The juxtaposition—which is something evident in my hobbies and interests now, I think—is that on my 21-inch CRT (that’s a big old TV-like monitor, and not a flat screen, for you younger people out there), my computer wallpaper was a feminine hand-drawn bunny with flowers in mostly pink and other pastel colours, and covered in what we called deskmates or screenmates. (I’ve got a blog post from 2016 that reminisces on those things!) Also, good old Windows XP.

I Will Follow You Into The Dark, Death Cab For Cutie

I love Death Cab. I love Death Cab from early to mid 2000s. Aside from the fact that this was my favourite song to play and sing on guitar, and the fact that it holds a special place in my heart for myriad personal reasons, the memory I associate with it most is singing it in the car. It was some time in between the lockdowns in Sydney during the COVID-19 pandemic, when things were uncertain, and I was driving with my friend Chris in the passenger seat to go and have dinner after we had planned to go to a team event together but it was cancelled at the last minute because people were feeling uncomfortable with being around people. I felt on edge. Things generally felt stressful, and we’d just reached the exit of the motorway but there was so much traffic. He played this song and I sung along in the best voice I possibly could. Something about this song makes me want to give it my all when I sing it. Pour my heart and soul into it. I think it’s also “easy” for me to sing and I can hit all the notes; we’re not all great vocalists, but some people have that one song that they feel great about singing because they believe they can sing it well.

I think Chris remained silent for the entire two-and-half minutes, which I appreciated so much. I also hadn’t listened to the song for such a long time. I think I stumbled over a lyric, but that didn’t matter. In a way, it gave me calm, amidst a world of chaos.

The Sound of Settling, Death Cab For Cutie

I’m pretty sure it was the “Tap Tap Dance” iPhone/iPod Touch game that had this song for one of the levels. I think I exhausted the free version and didn’t want to pay for the app, so I ended up repeating the same level with the same song when I was bored. I only vaguely remember the details, and I could be recalling incorrectly. But this song reminds me of hours of playing that game over and over, trying to perfect my score, and it’s hard to imagine it outside of that context. 🫠

Somewhere Only We Know, Keane

This song will never cease to remind me of my second boyfriend and the first time he broke up with me. We were on-off for what felt like ages, but it was only about eight or nine months. I was besotted with him. He was the first person I truly loved, he was my first kiss, and we were obsessed with each other. Sometimes I felt like I couldn’t understand him, and I think that’s why the breakup really hurt. Sure, we were just kids. But he decided to break up with me while we had some alone time during the breaks of a school performance showcase event. The timing was shitty and at the same time I couldn’t find a way to be alone to process what happened. My close friend at the time was the one who had tried to get us some time alone, and she was the one who found me in tears.

This wasn’t a particular song we listened to together or anything like that. It was a song I listened to a lot at the time that gave me some kind of solace, maybe some kind of weird foreshadowing for the breakup happening. But above all, I always wished I had more time with him because I loved him. The lyrics have themes of uncertainty and loss, and somehow they just spoke to me. Unlike the Avril Lavigne songs from earlier, I don’t struggle to listen to this song.

Island in the Sun, Weezer

I was at the Weezer concert in 2013, as part of their Memories tour. I wrote a blog post about it, it’s a bit of a hot mess in terms of the photos, and because it’s such an old post! But it’s there. 🥲 The band hadn’t come to Australia in 14 years, and were commemorating their first album (“The Blue Album”) by playing it in full. I didn’t even write about this specific memory in that blog post, which surprises me, but maybe I posted it on social media somewhere. There was an encore during which they played a few songs. Frontman Rivers Cuomo said something along the lines of, “We love Australia. You guys are our little island in the sun—” and we all knew they were going to play Island in the Sun. I teared up. Most Weezer fans, or even people who aren’t big fans, will be familiar with that song. I love how he introduced it because it was very apt, Australia being this little (big) country with a warm-to-hot climate in the middle of the ocean.

Let’s Get Loud, Jennifer Lopez

This is such a catchy song. Please don’t fight me on it. What’s funny is that I remember this song because it was one of the most exciting dance routines I learned when I was a dancer. We did a jazz routine to it and it was very, very fun. I don’t think I remembered too many of the other dance routines I learned. I retained this particular routine in my memory quite well, and remembered it for many years after we performed it at our annual dance studio concert.

Nick has told me a funny memory he has of this song, too, which I now also remember… he recalls a school talent quest where there was an act using this song from a CD, but the CD started skipping during the chorus, sounding a bit like “let’s get la-la-la-la”. He also remembers the act not being given a chance to continue. Odd. 😆

I think many of us can remember the first time we heard a song, or what we were doing when we first heard it, but it doesn’t always have lasting impact like some of these funny memories I’ve shared. Thank you for taking the time to read these little tidbits from my life, inspired by songs or music that conjured up these memories. I’d love to hear if any music does the same for you, even if it’s bizarre or out of the ordinary.

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Ahh I love this!! The ones that immediately spring to mind for me are both videogame related and both Metallica, haha. The first is playing Donkey Kong 64, the “Creepy Castle” level, while listening to the title song from And Justice For All, and the second is playing the Protoss campaign of the Starcraft 1 expansion Brood War while listening to Whiplash from Kill ‘Em All. 😄 I can even picture the specific parts of the levels I was on.

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