Memory melody

Anyone listening to Radio One on Bank Holiday Monday will have been taken on an impromptu trip of nostalgia.  For the whole day we were treated to the 150 top-selling records of the millennium so far, i.e. since 2000.  Mixed in with modern classics such as Adele’s ‘Someone Like You’ (No.2) and Jay Z’s ‘Empire State of Mind’, there were songs that hadn’t graced the airwaves for nearly a decade.  Westlife’s ‘Uptown Girl’, the Bob the Builder Song, and S-Club 7’s ‘Don’t Stop Movin’ were just a few of the random tracks that popped up, and every single one of them conjured up a series of images and memories that I hadn’t thought of for years.

And this got me to thinking: what is it about music that is so evocative?  Music can bring to the fore emotions that a photograph can’t.  While one picture may sum up a brief moment in time, a song can recall a whole summer holiday, or an entire relationship, or a particular person.  For example, Aviici’s ‘Levels’ will never fail to make me think about my ski season, and Jimmy Eat World’s ‘Drugs or Me’ will always haunt me with a certain destructive relationship.  Some people only need to hear the first few seconds of Eric Prydz’s ‘Pjanoo’ to be filled with memories of a particular holiday in Ibiza, and others will always associate Elton John’s ‘Candle in the Wind’ with Princess Diana.  So why is this?  I think it has a lot to do with the fact that, music videos aside, songs are essentially blank canvases on which we can paint our own pictures.  It’s a bit like reading a book: by just having words in front of us, or a melody in our ears, we are free to conjure up as many images as we like, and it will be all of our own making.

There are also the songs that don’t have a person, time or place attached to them, but just emotions.  We all have our own miniature playlists, whether they’re on our iPods or not.  ‘Happy songs’, ‘I’m Angry songs’, ‘I just broke up with my boyfriend and want to wallow in chocolate and Kleenex songs’… the list goes on.  A more qualified and technical person than I could go on about major and minor keys, and how these affect our moods, but I’m happy with a simple explanation of lyrics and melody.  Who can’t feel uplifted when listening to Naked and Famous’s ‘Young Blood’, or melancholy when the aptly-named ‘Symphony of Sorrowful Songs’ by Gorecki floats from some speakers?

In short, music makes us feel, and it can make us feel anything.  If given the choice between listening to music or watching a screen for the rest of my life, I wouldn’t give a second’s hesitation.  Music can make me feel things in a way no film nor TV show ever could, and what I love is the fact that we can absolutely control it.  I want to feel happy, therefore I shall listen to Paulo Nutini’s ‘Pencil Full of Lead’.  I want to get pumped up for a night out, therefore I shall listen to anything from Daft Punk’s ‘Alive’ recording.  I feel like punching something, therefore I shall listen to a bit of My Chemical Romance.

Getting down to the nuts and bolts of it, music is real and honest, as opposed to fantasy worlds portrayed in films.  Without sounding too born-again about the whole thing, we can put faith and trust in music.  Critics could go on about auto-tune, miming, and all the rest of it, but at the heart of it, what you hear is what you hear, how you feel is how you feel, and no amount of mimicry or pretending can get away from that simplicity.