Music Is A Time Machine

Next stop, Funky Town. Woot, woot!

Next stop, Funky Town.
Woot, woot!

I have discovered the secret to time travel.

I was in a store the other day when the radio played Build Me Up Buttercup by The Foundations.  I wasn’t the only person who started singing along.  I could hear some guy a couple of aisles over, faintly but clearly, “da-dum, da-dum, da-dum, da-dum, WHY do you build me up…”

Build Me Up Buttercup is not a musically important song; in fact it’s pretty lame. That doesn’t matter.  When I hear that song I am 9 years old again, up in my bedroom listening to the top-40 on my sister’s transistor radio and singing along at the top of my lungs.

Music is a time machine.

Certain songs have the power to instantly transport us back to specific places in our past.  Whether the music is any good is immaterial – our memories are what matter. Take the song Mairzy Doats. You’d have to go a long way to find a sillier song. But when I hear it, I find myself back in Jeanne Cain’s living room the summer we were 10. Her parents had that record and we replayed the tricky parts over and over again, determined to figure out what the heck they were saying. I still know all the words.

I think the most powerful songs are those we learn during puberty.  Something about all the growth and hormonal upheaval going on causes the music of that time to become hardwired into our DNA.   It is a time for discovery, and finding “your” music is a big part of the process.

When I hear What’s Going On by Marvin Gaye, I have to sing along.  Passionately.  My middle-aged, white, establishment self may be scrubbing pots at the kitchen sink, but in my heart I am a 12-year-old militant, looking for something to protest.  Right on, brother!

When I am old and senile, drooling in my chair at Shady Acres and unable to remember my own name, I will still know all the words to Stairway to Heaven.  When it plays, I will be in 7th grade again, playing spin the bottle in Keith O’Brien’s basement and experiencing my first kiss.

On my deathbed, moments away from meeting My Maker, if someone plays In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida by Iron Butterfly (the first album I owned,) I will be back in the gym at a high school dance. I will rise up…then stand around and shuffle my feet awkwardly. Although it was great to listen to, you could never really dance to that sort of music.

My favorite song, Roundabout by Yes, transports me to college. I do believe that song would bring me back, even if I had already passed over to The Other Side. Yea, verily, it would tear the veil of death! But that probably wouldn’t work if I was already embalmed. And it would be a limited time thing that would only last the length of the song.  Then it’s right back to dead.

Music is a time machine and it doesn’t cost a thing to hop aboard. Your ticket is a pocketful of great memories.

What songs punch your ticket to ride?

*Special thanks to my good buddy, blogging goddess and PhotoShop pro Miss Darla from She’s A Maineiac.  She used her mad skillz to take the disco-Peg picture she ran in her 6/13 Blogger of the Month post (why can’t EVERY month be Peg-o-Leg month?  Just sayin’…) and drop it into this time machine picture.


About pegoleg

R-A-M-B-L-I-N-G-S, Ram...Blin!
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83 Responses to Music Is A Time Machine

  1. So true, Peg. Music invokes memories from long ago. I can still sing every word to Bob Seger’s Ramblin Gamblin Man. And, the Jeep song from Camp Oak Hills. 🙂 See you this weekend I hope!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. fenifur says:

    Very true, people who have dementia symptoms can often remember all the words to songs from their younger days – and even people who’ve not spoken a sentence for a year+ can still sing, mysterious but amazing 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • pegoleg says:

      I didn’t know that – fascinating!


    • k8edid says:

      I was going to say the same thing. I was a nursing home inspector for ten years and the greatest thing I ever saw was an elderly gentleman with dementia who did not speak. During music time, he clasped the hand of his lovely wife in the next wheelchair, and sang every word to “Let Me Call You Sweetheart”. I cried. She pulled her hand away and smacked him. Told him to “act his age”. It was priceless.

      Anything by Bob Seger (but especially Night Moves), Ticket to Ride, and We Are Family are “my jamz” as the young kids say.

      Are you going to be in Michigan this weekend? I ate at “our Wendy’s” the other night…they finally took down the posters with our faces on them!

      Liked by 4 people

  3. Al says:

    Great stuff, Peg. I’m trying to imagine a life without music. Nope, can’t do it. Like you, there are songs that commemorate every stage of my life, but I think “Georgia on my Mind” is my first big “romantic” memory. I was on a hayride in high school and got my first kiss from Holly Whitehead. Only dated a couple more times and never heard from her after school, but she pops up every time that song plays. Time travel indeed!


    • pegoleg says:

      Isn’t it funny that we can remember those key moments and people in our lives, no matter how many years ago they were? I have a bad memory – really not good at all. But songs and scents, almost more than songs, can take me back to very specific times in an instant.


  4. Carrie Rubin says:

    Music is definitely a time machine. Great analogy. So many songs take me back to specific memories. Many of them harken back to when I was pregnant. There was a Cranberries CD I listened to repeatedly when pregnant with my second son. To this day when I hear a song from it, I can practically feel the morning sickness, the little flutters of kicking, my rounded belly. Not that I want to relive those things (!), but it’s amazing the connection between music and memories are brains have.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. lisaspiral says:

    I think that’s why music seems so successful at helping dementia patients. Songs always take me back!


  6. susielindau says:

    That totally happens to me! I hear America’s Horse With No Nane and I’m back in my parents’ living room playing along with my guitar.
    How did I miss Darla’s post?


  7. dmswriter says:

    So true! Every time I hear the Bee Gees squeak out “Stayin’ Alive,” I’m immediately transported back to 7th grade and my friend’s basement, where we sang along. “Uh, uh, uh, uh, stayin’ aliiiiiiiiiive,” I developed my favorite music in high school – Rolling Stones, Bob Seger – and never really looked back. And I so agree that belting out obscure songs is the best way to drive teenagers into submission. Works every time around here!


    • pegoleg says:

      My kids know most of those oldies as well as we do from years of being forced to listen. I think they rather like them!

      Love most of the disco songs. I was a senior in high school when that movie came out, and the drinking age was only 18. I’d say I have fond memories, but I spent the last 2 months staggering from graduation party to party to the disco, so I don’t remember THAT much.


  8. Deborah the Closet Monster says:

    Build Me Up Buttercup is also powerful to me, as another song I’d belt out with my mom! It’s almost right up there with Cecilia.

    There are a few others my mom had nothing to do with: Runaway Train, songs from The Breakfast Club, Stay. I’m sure there are more, but these are the ones that come to mind.

    Oh! And Everclear! That was the soundtrack to my first year or two having girlfriends, and my first LA experience.


    • pegoleg says:

      I love Cecilia, too. Don’t know why, but it was the times.

      Do you identify with The Breakfast Club? Which character the most?

      I never listened to music with my Mom, but certain really old songs remind me of my Dad.


  9. Seasweetie says:

    Oh my heavens, this is so true, and your post itself brought back memories of my Mother singing Mairzy Dotes to me – I never knew it was recorded by anyone. But there are so many songs that throw me right back into the moment 10-30-40 years ago… “Leather and Lace” by Fleetwood Mac riding on the T from Boston to Cambridge to work after my college classes… slam dancing before it was a thing with my brother when I was about 6 to the Beatles “Polythene Pam”… REO Speedwagon’s “Roll with the Changes” driving to Old Sturbridge Village on a date with my first college boyfriend…Kenny Chesney’s “Because of Your Love”, which represented the happy parts of my final failed relationship before I met my new husband…I could go on and on…


    • pegoleg says:

      Yeah, Mairzy Doats was a big deal in the 40s I think. WAY before our time. 😉

      Isn’t it funny that most songs take us back to happy times, not sad? Wonder why that is?


  10. Victoria says:

    I don’t have to tell you this because you already know, but man this is so accurate!
    Meat Loaf, Mango Groove, Shania Twain, Santana, the My Fair Lady soundtrack, Dire Straits, and a hundred other arbitrary songs/artists make up the last seventeen years of my life. Whenever I hear certain measures I am eight, dancing in the kitchen, eleven, borrowing my dad’s iPod, thirteen, playing Phase 10 with my crush… it’s just crazy


  11. Elyse says:

    This is a wonderful post, Peg. And you are absolutely right. All the old Motown hits get me, and the old Beatles stuff, including my first singing engagement in the Rhinehardts’ basement singing PS I Love You (YoooOOOoooOOOH!).

    But you know, Peg, this could be how you make your millions. Get AARP to promote individualized CDs — Peg’s Pauses(?) — that can be played over and over at the deathbed, to let folks hang on until all the family is there. Or until they scream “NOT AGAIN! I ALWAYS HATED THAT SONG!” Or something.


  12. Relax says:

    Love it. And by now, you know they’re singing, “Mares eat oats and does eat oats, and little lambs eat ivy; a kid’ll eat ivy, too — wouldn’t you?”


    • pegoleg says:

      Now everyone who ever wondered what the heck they were saying can know. You’ve performed a valuable, public service.


      • Relax says:

        Well, if there are any actual verses to that little ditty, we’re all sunk; hence, I have kept it (and the stunning ear-wiggling ability) off of my resume.


  13. Dana says:

    Backwater by Meat Puppets is my jam! So many great memories! It was like two seconds before Grunge really took off.

    “Some things will never change
    you stand there looking backwards, half unconscious from the pain
    it may seem rearranged
    with the backwater swirling, there are some things that will never change”


  14. Nothing takes me back to my childhood more than the Beatles album “Help!” I’d sit in my grandma’s old rocking chair and listen to that record from start to finish over and over again and stare at the record sleeve photos imagining John was my boyfriend. Today, whenever I hear a Beatles tune I feel all safe and warm and fuzzy.

    Music has an amazing way of waking up our brains. Along the same lines as the dementia comments, I worked with autistic kids and one in particular I worked closely with for about four years. He was on the extreme end of autism and the one thing he’d connect with is music. I remember him belting out certain tunes perfectly when language failed him. Powerful stuff.

    Liked by 1 person

    • pegoleg says:

      I didn’t know that people with problems could with music that way. Powerful indeed.
      And I suddenly remembered the same summer we learned Mairzy Coats we played the Beatles’ Norwegian Wood over and over in her dining room where the record player was. But we called which Beatle we were going to BE. I vividly see her playing air drums.


  15. Damn…

    Now that the pressure’s on – I can’t think of a single favorite song to start belting out. I can tell you that right now, in the soundtrack inbetween my ears, I’m hearing something trancy from Shpongle.

    I never should have introduced my earworms to my young-adult kids…


  16. Man, is this ever true! Let me hear ” Lying Eyes” and Im 17 years old, on the beach with my boyfriend Kevin.


  17. PiedType says:

    So true, so true. There are many songs from the late 50s and early 60s that take me instantly to specific times and places. They often play oldies at my supermarket, but few go that far back.


  18. Ya definitely! A most excellent post. (And by the way, every month IS peg-o-leg month as far as I’m concerned).

    Songs from the 80s are the most time pull-backs for me because I turned 10 in 1980, so the 80s were my whole puberty and teenage years.

    Aside from that, songs that resonated with us during times where we were very happy, or going through very difficult times, can do that wrench back in time thing.


  19. mary says:

    My sad song was “All By Myself”, still get sad when I hear it. So many songs! I will have Iron Butterfly ready for you when you need it.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. The Cyndi Lauper song “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” always makes me smile. If I’m somewhere I can dance and not embarrass myself, all the better.
    Great post!


  21. Jennifer says:

    This article reminds me of a story my mother told me. It’s a bit sad, so I apologize in advance. My mom is a nurse, and early in her career she worked for a short time in a psych ward. One of the patients there was a Japanese woman who never spoke or interacted with anyone. Around the same time, that song “Sukiyaki” became popular. My mom became convinced that if this Japanese patient heard this familiar tune (which was a popular Japanese song first, though the lyrics are completely different), she would react in some way. Sadly, the woman showed no sign of recognition and my mother’s career in music therapy was over before it even began. But I always thought she had a decent idea, since music can be such a powerful trigger for our memories.

    I grew up in the 80s, so I try pretty hard not to remember most of the music from my youth. Occasionally, though, I am surprised by a strong reaction to some random 80s song that comes on the radio and transports me back to a school dance or a friend’s living room.


  22. “Chameleon” by Herbie Hancock takes me back. I’m not too proud to do “the bump” with innocent bystanders.


  23. I love Build Me Up Buttercup! Ridiculously inane lyrics but an incredibly catchy tune. It was classified as an oldie the first time I heard it, but it’s still a favorite. Then again, even stuff from the 80s is classified as an ‘oldie’ these days. Sheesh!


  24. Buttercup! That is one that will make you smile and sing it all very loud.
    Music does do something for the brain – they are finding some brain damaged patients can sing while they cannot speak coherently. Alzheimer patients also seem to get jump started by music.
    Fun post


  25. This is certainly the truth. I have music still in my library that rings my bell and would likely get me off the table, early Santana, Black Magic Woman being one such song.


  26. It’s a scientific, proven fact: The music we listen to in out youth is the music that stays with us the rest of our lives. There’s something chemical that happens. After a certain age, new music doesn’t appeal to you anymore. I never wanted to be that guy. Some old goat who complains that music isn’t what it used to be. But do you know what? Music today SUCKS. Rap SUCKS. Any song that uses an auto-tune SUCKS.

    If you’re going to imbibe in Roundabout, you’d better dig out that old bong from the storage closet.

    I’m sorry…what was the question?

    That graphic up top has Darla’s fragrance all over it.

    Liked by 1 person

  27. Hi Peg! Catching up on my reading – I am soooo behind! Darla did a spectacular job on that image! 🙂 You are absolutely right about songs and lyrics being hardwired into our DNA. That’s how I learned the Lord’s Prayer, by listening to it in song form. Songs that come to mind are, ‘Life Is A Rock (But The Radio Rolled Me)’ by Reunion and ‘Everybody was Kung Fu Fighting’. I loved those as a pre-teen! I’ll be singing and dancing to Brick House when I’m at Shady Acres. 🙂


    • pegoleg says:

      My little brother was into Kung Fu Fighting, complete with lots of energetic moves. Brick House makes me want to get up and dance for sure. I’m behind, too. I’ll be knocking on your door right quick!


  28. pattisj says:

    Yes, we already have the Time Machine. Anything early Beatles reminds me of our middle-school music class foursome doing our rendition of one of their songs.


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