Nostalgia

25 Oct

Music is very effective at conjuring up memories; however some songs go further and deliberately evoke nostalgia. It is a powerful emotion than only becomes stronger the older you grow.

An obvious classic is Don McLean’s American Pie. It doesn’t just hark back to better times but a specific day – The Day the Music Died when Buddy Holly and several other musicians were killed in a plane crash. Parts of the song are autobiographical, recounting how he heard about their deaths while delivering newspapers. Writing the song helped McLean come to terms with his grief. From the first line (“A long, long time ago… I can still remember how that music used to make me smile…”), the song is drenched in painful longing for things that have passed. Coincidentally (or not), it has become one of the most played funeral songs. Feel free to spend eight and a half minutes remembering what a great song it is.

Summer of 69 by Bryan Adams is another obvious choice. It may not have the lyrical depth of American Pie, but instead hits the listener with an emotional one-two about a summer of discovering music and adolescent romance. If you’ve ever had a childhood sweetheart, it will be hard not to picture them while listening to this song.

In a record all about looking back on growing up, Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs hits the nail right on the head. It begins with a childhood tale and then proceeds to hammer it home. Win Butler admits every time he thinks he has ‘moved past’ feelings for his childhood home, they catch him again. As if that wasn’t enough, the band worked with Google to create an interactive music video that makes it even more personal, meshing ‘We Used to Wait’ with photos of your childhood home. You can find it here. Prepare the tissues if you watch it.

Gaslight Anthem also trades heavily in nostalgia. All of their songs are told in past tense, telling stories of lost loves and better times. The whole of American Slang could be on this list. One that hits especially hard is their early song Navesink Banks. In it, the narrator walks down by the decaying New Jersey shipyards near his childhood home and says wishfully, “Ah Maria, if you’d have known me then…” In reply, Maria just says, ‘Listen baby, I know you know.’ It’s a powerful moment that says there’s a place for nostalgia, but you have to live in the moment.

Hip hop hasn’t been as quick to embrace nostalgia is it’s a younger genre. Nas’s Memory Lane is noted for its realistic depiction of life in the projects. In the first verse, Nas waxes lyrical about the good parts of growing up, yet after the chorus he is suddenly consumed by memories of lives that had been lost to drugs, prison and street fights. There are no rose tinted memories. His memory lane is gritty and unforgiving, yet he finds himself reminiscing about it anyway.

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