Throwback Thursday: Remembering the Music of Our Youth

You can undeniably tell a lot about how old a person is by checking their iTunes music playlist.  If yours is full of songs by Elvis Presley, Guess Who, Rush, Bee Gees, Commodores, Creedence Clearwater Revival or Foreigner, retirement income is one of your main concerns and you may even be thinking of purchasing long term care insurance sooner rather than later.

Ironically, nothing makes me feel younger than hearing a beloved tune from my teenage years.  I’m instantly transported to that cherished time in my life when I was young and carefree and filled with hopeful optimism about the future – dangerously tanned but wrinkle free.

No hallucinogenic drugs involved.

playing a record

Because our music was good, right? 

And not to sound too old lady here, but back then lyrics had some meaning.  Jefferson Airplane/Starship, Led Zeppelin and Rush all found inspiration in great literature.

We wept when Neil Young sang about the four Kent State University students killed by National Guard Troops for protesting the US invasion of Cambodia. 

We fist-pumped when Don McLean crooned about Buddy Holly’s death, serial killer Charles Manson, and the Kennedy assassination (all in the same song!) 

“And while Lenin read a book on Marx, a quartet practiced in the park, and we sang dirges in the dark the day the music died.” 

It makes you feel a little weepy just reading that, doesn’t it?

Our songs defined the world events of our times:

  • Anti-war: “Yes and how many times must the cannonballs fly before they are forever banned?”
  • Anti-racism: “It’s been a long, long time coming but I know a change is gonna come.”
  • Equal rights: “I am woman.  Hear me roar.”
  • Environmental concerns: “Hey, farmer, farmer put away the DDT now.  Give me spots on my apples but leave me the birds and the bees.”

We had our love songs – often used for the first dance at our weddings: “Sometimes all I need is the air that I breath and to love you.”

And of course, young heartbreak: “And I would give anything I own. I’d give up my life, my heart, my home. I would give everything I own, just to have you back again.”

Compare those words to, for example: “And I’m like baby, baby, baby ooh. Like baby, baby, baby ooh.  Like baby, baby, baby ooh.”

Or, “I want it, I got it, I want it, I got it (baby).  You like my hair?

Not quite the same depth of emotion or political awareness, wouldn’t you agree?

You have to admit the 60’s and 70’s was a great time for music.  Lists of the top 100 songs of all time most often contain many of the songs of that era.  That’s why there are so many Classic Rock ratio stations and the PBS Rock and Roll Oldies specials are their most successful fundraisers.  Plus, it’s interesting how marketers use nostalgic music in commercials to promote their products.

The generational music gap

The musical generation gap is quite well-known. Each age-group firmly and fully believes that the “best” music was the stuff that was written and recorded in their personal youth, and that anything produced after that period is pure garbage. 

If you could time travel back to my childhood home – the one with pink Formica counters, shag carpets and wood-panelled walls – you’d hear conversations like this on any given day:

Me (singing at the top of my lungs):  Da da da da dum. Da da da da dum. Whaa Whaa Whaa.  Wha Wha Whaaaaaa!

My Mom:  Turn down that godawful noise!


Mom:  Turn that down!  It’s giving me a headache.

Me:  WHAT?  What are you talking about?  That’s Chicago.  They’re great!

Mom:  You want to hear some real music?  Why don’t you put on my Perry Como album?

Me:  Perry Como!?!  That’s your idea of good music?  He puts me to sleep.

Fast forward about twenty years or so.  My teenage son is helping me sort some boxes in our basement.

Son:  Hey, Mom.  Can I put on some music?

Me:  Yeah! That would be grea….. What the heck is that noise?

Son:  That’s Pantera.  They’re awesome.

Me:  It sounds like a garbage truck colliding with a bunch of dumpsters.  Why don’t you put on one of my Beatles tapes?

Son:  MooooooM!  Those old guys!

It turns out, hating your kids’ or parents’ music may be a biological reality we couldn’t escape if we wanted to.  Scientists have determined that the years from the ages of 10 to 25 are our key memory-building years, peaking between sixteen and twenty.  Therefore, the songs we hear as teenagers hold a disproportionate power over our emotions.  They stay at the top of our playlists because they become hardwired into our memory during this critical neurological time.

In other words, musical nostalgia isn’t just a cultural experience.  It’s a neurological command.

The power of nostalgia

Remembering our past and the good times we enjoyed is not bad for us.  It can even make us happier. 

You can see this phenomenon in heartwarming action in this rather sweet video of a listless elderly man rejuvenated when given his favourite olden days music to listen to. It’s quite uplifting to watch.

They use the same practise at my mother’s retirement home.  A regular event is a “sing along” with (accordion playing) Remy.  He plays old-timey songs like “Red River Valley,” “White Cliffs of Dover,” “I’ve Got a Loverly Bunch of Coconuts,” and the like.  The residents belt out the songs, laugh and even dance a little.

In 15 or 20 years will that be us?  What tunes will our “singalongs” have?  “She Loves You?” “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction?” “Stairway to Heaven?  Accompanied of course by electric guitar.

When our young people age, they’ll have electrodes planted into their brains (or whatever the music distribution system will be in 2060) and sing, “And I’m like baby, baby, baby ooh. Like baby, baby, baby ooh.  Like baby, baby, baby ooh.”

Final thoughts

There’s no doubt that music can induce nostalgia quickly and easily.

What are the favourites on your playlist?

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2 Responses

  1. Gin says:

    Hi Marie, I am close to being a contemporary to you.
    However, I am happy to share with you that there are still outstanding lyrics in today’s music. My husband is quite a music lover and does spend a lot of time seeking out new music.
    Here are some outstanding lyrics of social conscience, romantic songs and current topics
    Enjoy :), and the music is pretty great also although not perhaps everyone’s cup of tea.

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