What is it about music, anyway? Even if you aren’t currently in a music-loving stage of life, you probably have been. And certain songs evoke emotions we didn’t know we had, or remind us of things long forgotten, not to mention things we’d rather not remember. We all have memories that come back in a joyous flood when we hear “that song.” Other songs bring back losses or tragedies so sharply that we bleed all over again.
At some point in the last ten years, I deliberately stopped listening to music. Doing so cut off the rhythms that could make my toe tap unconsciously (my personal test for how good a song is), stopped the music that could lift my heart, and deadened those primal club beats that could have me speeding joyously down the road like a bat outta hell — or my old lady version of it. For the most part, it’s probably my loss. But when you’re looking for a place to hide, you don’t want to take the bad stuff with you.
Old ladies, you see, have had a lot of time to build up a lot of memories with a lot of accompanying music. That doesn’t make me a music expert; it just means I’m older than you. There are certain songs that transport me instantly to another time and place in my life. For example:
“Les Préludes” – Liszt. I knew it in the 1950s as the music from TV’s “Flash Gordon” before learning its origins were much earlier and of a much higher caliber — quite likely my earliest realization that classical music could be cool. Same was true of “The Lone Ranger” theme, actually lifted from the classical William Tell Overture.
“Boléro” – Ravel. Highly addictive, repetitive classical piece, one of the first I bought as a teen. Drove my parents absolutely nuts by playing it over, and over, and over. I wasn’t being malicious; I just liked it that much. Younger listeners probably remember it in a much different context — as the music from Bo Derek’s movie 10.
“Victory at Sea” soundtrack – The first LP I ever bought. I heard some kid playing it at the Science Fair that year (1959?) and fell in love with it. Lots of triumphant marches. Hard to top Richard Rodgers compositions. With the album came descriptions of the scenes (from TV’s “Victory at Sea”) that each song accompanied, so I could “hear” the bombs dropping in the chaos of battle, the calm that followed, and share the joy of victorious troops coming home.
“Moon River” – Andy Williams. The original from Breakfast at Tiffany’s” (1961). “Our song,” my high school sweetheart (and future husband) and I.
“Classical Gas” – Mason Williams. Guitar doesn’t get any better than this. Williams lived in Oklahoma City and his earliest gigs as a musician were played there in a coffee house (folk music club) called The Gourd, which later became The Buddhi. The Gourd was almost mythical by our standards, being a mysterious little hole in the wall on a side street that was barely more than an alley. When I finally started dating in my high school senior year (no snide remarks, please), we ventured into what by then had become The Buddhi. Dark, smoky, a single room with bare brick walls and a tiny little stage. Some pretty famous folk singers played there, before they were famous. Judy Collins, for one. And Williams, of course. (I think he was a part owner.) Turns out it wasn’t such an evil place after all. They served nothing alcoholic. (The bad memory associated with all this is that I once owned an LP that Williams recorded there. A real collector’s item. I loaned it to a “friend” who wanted to record a copy of it and never got it back.)
“Theme from a Summer Place” – Percy Faith Orchestra. Song from one of two LPs my sweetie gave me for Christmas, 1960 — the first gifts he ever gave me. It’s everything that next year was for me.
“The Twist” – Chubby Checker. (Also “Peppermint Twist” by Billy Dee and the Starlighters.) Fall 1961, my freshman year at the University of Colorado. The Twist was new, this song was hot, and I drank gallons of beer while dancing the night away at “The Tule” (Tulagi’s) in Boulder. Did you know if you keep dancing hard enough, you can put away gallons of draft Coors and still walk back to the dorm sober? (Yep, mine was a very sheltered upbringing.) The Tule, at the time, was the biggest single outlet in the country for Coors draft beer. Of course, Coors wasn’t distributed nationally in those days, and the brewery was just right down the road in Golden.
“Here Comes the Bride” – The song my church wouldn’t let me have at my huge, long-imagined dream wedding, because it was secular music. Instead I had to settle for Purcell’s (Clarke’s) “Trumpet Voluntary,” which is magnificent on a big church organ, but at the time I’d never heard it. And it certainly wasn’t the tune every little girl dreams of hearing at her wedding. I’m still mad at me for not sticking up for me, but my parents were paying for everything, so …
“Joy” – Apollo 100. A ’70s instrumental rock version of Bach’s “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” that I played endlessly. I used to play this as loud as a really big home stereo could manage and dance wildly around the room with my son, who was then maybe four or five years old. He’d spin himself in a tight circle as the song progressed until he finally got so dizzy he’d fall down laughing.
“Top Gun Anthem” – Theme from the movie Top Gun. I had just bought a brand new “Colorado sky blue” (my description) Acura Integra, and I’d take long, fast expressway drives clear around the city with this song blaring on the radio. Loved the whole soundtrack, actually.
“I Want to Know What Love Is” – Foreigner, 1983, the months right after my divorce. I’d jog around the local track with this playing loud enough to deafen me and with tears streaming down my face (lemme tell you, even on a standard oval track, it’s tricky to jog when you can’t see).
“I Hope You Dance” – sent with love to a man I should have treated better, on what I found out later was the day he died. About three months after my dad died. More tears.
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So, what are some of your landmark songs, the ones that always remind you of a certain place and time? There’s a good chance I won’t be familiar with them, but I can always find them on the Internet. To jog your memory, Billboard has posted a fabulous list of their 100 all-time greatest songs from the year they (Billboard) started, 1958, to the present. Not only titles but the videos as well. Now if only I could figure a way to rip all those songs …
And the beat goes on.
——- Addendum 2023 ——-
Just a couple of notes: Billboard still has their list up but it no longer includes the videos. You’ll have to check YouTube for those. And I remembered one more specific song and event. In Oklahoma, Henry Bellmon ran for US Senate in 1968. My husband and I worked hard on his campaign and were at his victory party on election night. The band must have played “Hey Jude” a million times and it really stuck with me.
The “Victory at Sea” album will play in full starting with the linked piece. It’s worthy of your best speakers. Because Richard Rodgers, RCA Victor orchestra.
More recently, last spring for my birthday my brother found an old copy of The Gourd album mentioned above. Somebody on eBay had it. Funny thing is I don’t recall ever telling my brother about losing the album.