On Playlists And Eras

I love music. And I have distinct memories of the time and space in which particular songs or bands have become a sort of personal anthem.

For example, the summer after my first year in university, I worked in Montreal. Bad Day by Daniel Powter was my theme song for that adventure – it was literally being played everywhere. Also the entire (What’s the Story) Morning Glory album by Oasis. I lived with my older brother that summer and he loaded all the songs from that album onto my mp3 player. My mp3 player was tiny (this being in the pre-Steve Jobs/iPod era) and could only hold one album worth of songs at a time. I spent hours working alone at a fume hood, listening to this album over and over again. Pipette, swirl, repeat all to the beat of What’s the Story Morning Glory? This was also the summer I fell in love with the Parachutes album from Coldplay but that’s a discussion for another day.


Phil Coulter (ON CASSETTE TAPE no less) = childhood

Home (Michael Bublé) = studying for Animal Physiology on the little window seat of my rented room in Dot’s house.

Maroon Five = Weekend studying sessions for AP Biology and reading Harry Potter.

Wake Me Up When September Ends (Green Day) = studying on the blue carpeted third floor of my university library.

*Maybe I spent more time paying attention to the music instead of actually studying?*

Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm (Crash Test Dummies) and Right Down the Line (Gerry Rafferty) = falling in love with John.

Karma Police (Radiohead) = tutoring a Japanese student in English who wanted to learn how to pronounce all the words to this song.

A few weeks ago, on our way home from the beach, the kids asked me to play our affectionally titled RoadTrip Beats playlist. Again. I heard a groan from John. We have listened to this playlist a lot. I believe he said something along the lines of: “These used to be great songs.” To the kids, there is no such thing as too many plays of Hey Brother or Zero.

I say all this because I have a new working playlist. It’s a classical essentials playlist on Spotify and I put it on constantly when I need to concentrate. I mostly tune it out, but I subconsciously know the ordering of all the songs. It’s mildly annoying – but also highly effective – to listen to music so frequently it takes on new life.

Now excuse me while I go listen to Champagne Supernova.

Your turn. Do you have a go-to playlist for different settings? Do you remember specific songs from highly memorable periods of your life?

Header photo by Namroud Gorguis on Unsplash

21 thoughts on “On Playlists And Eras”

    1. …she knows it’s too late as we’re walking on by…

      I had never heard a single Oasis song until that summer and then listened to it for hours and hours and hours! It stirs up very specific memories for me. I rarely listen to the album now.

      Also, remember Savage Garden?! That band takes me back, too. And I won’t get started on owning both Spice Girls AND Britney Spears cassette tapes (without my parents permission) that were listened to on repeat in a WALKMAN!

  1. There are so many songs that remind me of a specific place or time.
    Green Day’s Good Riddance always reminds me of the last episode of Seinfeld.
    Strawberry Wine reminds me of the summer after 8th grade.
    There is a Meredith Brooks song (that I’m too prudish to type the name of) that takes me back to being on the 9th grade bus to band practice.
    Whenever I hear Garth Brooks, I’m recall a youth group trip on which a friend brought along her new 6 cd set of Garth Brooks albums.

    1. Wow – that is a lot of Garth Brooks albums. As much as I appreciate the convenience of Spotify (and use it daily), there is something nostalgic and wonderful about the days when I had a little carrying case for cassette tapes or making a mix-CD for roadtrips! Or how my Discman always skipped tracks which was so annoying at the time, but pulls at nostalgic heart strings now.

  2. Oh I definitely strongly associate music with certain eras/moments. It is eerie sometimes how quickly a song can call up certain feelings – some that I would prefer to ignore!!

    Oasis is a major one – my husband is a HUGE!!!!!!!!!!!!! huge huge Oasis fan (we went to a concert together when we were 19 in Detroit, MI – one of our first road trips together!), and I even distinctly recall that for some silly play I had to do for an English class in high school, we used Champagne Supernova as the intro music 😛 My husband made me a mix CD with some of the Noel solos – there are certain live versions of Slide Away and Talk Tonight that recall feelings of our early relationship 🙂

    I also have some specific road trip albums that I go back to again and again – Neil Young Harvest Moon is one that brings me straight back to driving west with my family on many national park roadtrips. We were driving through South Dakota a few years ago on the way to Montana and it was such a strong association that I had to pull it up again – my children were less than impressed 🙂 Rolling Stones Let it Bleed, and The National Trouble Will Find Me are my big 3 road trip albums. (The National a later addition obviously).

    As a child of the 90s, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Dave Matthews Band, which is closely associated with pretty much my entire angst filled high school days. Specific songs are Say Goodbye and Crush. Secret Smile by Semisonic is another one that vividly recalls an era I’d probably rather forget!

    Very random ones are that I used to listen to the Moulin Rouge soundtrack while doing homework in college, specifically in the basement of Walter Library on the University of Minnesota campus 😛 REM’s It’s the End of the World as we know it reminds me specifically of debate camp I went to between 11th and 12th grade… Honestly I could go on and on 🙂

    1. Eerie is a good word for it; I sometimes get chills when I’ll hear a certain song. The connection between a song and event can be incredibly strong!

      It’s also interesting how our kids – of course! – don’t have the same associations to these songs and can find them boring or underwhelming!

      CCR reminds me of high school gym; our teacher loved the band and we had a unit on running and he would put on CCR while we ran laps around the gym.

  3. All songs from the 70s remind me of my childhood, and the 80s was my teen years. My sister and I used to “lie out” in our backyard (to get a suntan- those were the days!) listening to Billy Joel. Oh, and when I was a senior in high school my friends and I used to drive around aimlessly while listening to Simon and Garfunkel’s concert in central park- THAT brings back memories for sure!

    1. Suntanning to Billy Joel sounds very much like a teenage thing to do before the days of Netflix!!

      We still listen to Simon and Garfunkel occasionally – the kids seem to really enjoy the music! The Sound of Silence was actually one of our RoadTrip Beats songs!

  4. My whole life is a playlist, it feels like. I associate songs with periods in my life and also with other people. That said, I cannot for the life of me think of a single example. Oh wait, I just got one: 5 Days In July by Blue Rodeo and the Gypsy Kings reminds me of when my husband and I were first dating. We often listened to those two CDs. I have a very long playlist called Nicole Karaoke, which are all songs I love to sing along to. I also have a Nicole Workout and Nicole Runday, as well as a variety of instrumental songs I use for my yoga classes.

    1. My whole life is a playlist – love this! It’s true, though. I suspect most of us can trace music back to some of our earliest memories!

      I love that you have a Karaoke playlist; what a great idea to have a set of songs you know all the lyrics to/enjoy singing along with. I might adopt that idea myself! I have a Sunday morning playlist I like to put on before church each week (through the week too!); I have a running playlist. And last winter, post Christmas, I had a “winter” playlist. I wanted something seasonally themed but that wasn’t Christmas music anymore!

  5. Oh boy, where to begin… so many songs remind me of certain periods in my life. I am a 90’s grunge girl at heart, so all the 90’s and early 2000’s bands (first and foremost Pearl Jam, and then of course Nirvana, Stone Temple Pilots, Soundgarden, REM, Matchbox Twenty, Lifehouse, Jimmy Eat World, ….) are my jam.

    Of course there are also other genre songs that take you right back to your teenage/college years… remember “I’ll be missing you” by Puff Daddy (cover from The Police’s Every Breath You Take)? It was not my genre but that song always takes me back to the late 90’s.

  6. Ooh! Great post!
    Love picturing you at those various times of your life with the music flowing 🙂
    For me…
    – The Lord of the Rings soundtrack takes me back to late teenage years, sitting in the study at my sister’s house, writing angsty novels
    – Let’s Get It Started by Black Eyed Peas (although the unedited version was Let’s Get Retarded which now leaves me deeply offended) takes me back to a single moment in a nightclub where I bumped into an old friend from school
    – The Voice Within by Christina Aguilera – played on repeat after my childhood sweetheart broke my heart. “Young girl, don’t cry…”
    – Ed Sheeran is this year, ever since my friend and I booked tickets I realised I needed to actually listen to his music before the gig!
    – Get Low by Lil Jon reminds me of a work trip to Arizona in 2015 and the last night party, dancing with new friends to this song
    – Mickey Mouse Clubhouse CD! I bought this when A was a toddler and I was a new driver, and we played it on a loop while we were out driving anywhere

    1. I remember listening to the Titanic soundtrack on repeat! Anytime I hear a Celine Dion song on the radio, I think of the Titanic movie! The LOTR soundtrack is classic!

      I can still picture the sleepover I had with friends when I heard Christina Aguilera Genie in a Bottle for the first time.

  7. I have strong associations between music and memories, too, but it takes hearing the song to prompt the memory. It’s harder for me to think of songs that bring out memories. But here are a few:
    – Here, There, Everywhere by the Beatles – this was my first dance w/ Phil at our wedding. He laughs at the ‘changing my life with the waive of her hand’ because I am such a planner so his life looks very different than it was Pre-Lisa.
    – Summertime Girls by LFO makes me think of my freshman year of college. It was being played everywhere!
    – Several Chicago albums make me think of my teen years because my high school boyfriend loves Chicago and turned me onto that band, which was pretty old timey.
    – All My Life by Kacee & JoJo reminds me of that same time frame – it was the prom song junior year and my HS boyfriend could play piano by ear. He lived an hour away in a different town so we talked on the phone a ton and I remember him playing it for me over the phone.

    The venn diagram of my and Phil’s music tastes has the teeniest bit of overlap! And he is just not a music person like I am. He prefers classic rock/rock whereas I’m more of a singer/song writer with pop mixed in kind of person. Paul shares my love of Brandi Carlile and Taylor Swift. He knows the lyrics to sooo many songs and I’ll catch him singing them to himself. I also turned him onto “The Longest Time” by Billy Joel. Phil HATES that song, especially after hearing it played soooo many times this summer!

    1. I’m not good about remembering lyrics and often learn I’ve been singing something all wrong FOR YEARs because I misheard it originally. That said, I do LOVE to sing out loud (and sometimes cheat by looking at the lyrics tab on Spotify now)!

  8. When I taught at a college, I would ask each student on the first day of class what the last song they listened to was and then I would make a playlist of those songs. Those playlists still exit on my Spotify and it makes me happy to remember those classes.

    I think I’m slightly older than you, so for me it’s not really playlists that remind me of my younger days, but actual albums. I remember Garth Brooks’ Sevens album being the soundtrack to my freshman year of college and Jo Dee Messina’s album Burn getting me through my commute to my first job after college.

    I don’t listen to music much anymore, but I do have a running playlist and I love to just have 45 minutes to listen to music I love.

    1. Wow – what a genius idea. What’s the last song your listened to? Love this!

      I also appreciate your approach to the running playlist – having that time to listen to music you love is a great framing of how it compliments your exercise routine. If I run with music I tend to tune it out (well, except from the underlying beat)…but I should pay more attention to the songs I use and curate a list of music I love.

  9. I’ll admit that I’m not into music the way other people are. I think it might have been growing up in a conservative Christian household where we were only allowed to listen to Christian artists! A lot of my childhood was spent listening to dc Talk, Newsboys, Jars of Clay, Michael W. Smith, Amy Grant, etc. Sometimes I was able to sneak in “secular” music like NSYNC and Christina Aguilera, but I always felt guilty! Ughhhhh.

    1. This is very interesting; I was also raised in a very conservative home. We weren’t even allowed to listen to contemporary Christian artists. I remember one of my parents being horrified when they heard Jars of Clay.
      But I definitely snuck in lots of “secular” music like The Spice Girls, NSYNC, Five, and Brittney Spears (all of which I listened to on a Walkman or, eventually, a Discman.
      There was always music playing at home, though. Often classical or hymns, but it sparked the flame of loving music in me from a young age.

  10. Oh, my goodness. What a trip down memory lane. I’ve LOVED reading the comments, too – I am the same age(ish) as NGS and San. NGS’s songs were mine, too, and most of San’s were as well. I had a huge U2/REM kick in high school, along with Boston (I know, weird. That was my brother’s fault – we shared a car, and therefore a tape deck. Ha!). When I went through my Christian phase, it was Amy Grant, and then Jars of Clay (I had not thought of them in YEARS!). But also, over the years, Simon and Garfunkel (my parents had the records!), John Denver, Melissa Etheridge, the (Dixie) Chicks (also now), and now I’m all in on Brandi Carlisle… I could go on, obviously.

    What your post made me realize, though, was that my morning habit of putting on energetic music in the background while I start my workday. It gives me such energy – I need to restart that habit!!! That may help pull me out of my doldrums, too.
    (And now I feel like I should ask, what IS the last song you listened to? :>)
    <3

    1. I don’t put music on enough in the mornings; when I think to do this, I find it helps propel people forward more quickly and cheerfully. I should make a morning playlist sometime.

      Hmmm. Last song I listened to – I don’t know. I haven’t listened to music much the last few days and honesty have no idea!!

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