Lyrics, Songs and Memory

It still amazes me that after 40 years, I can still remember the words to the song Wildfire by Michael Martin Murphey or Barry Manilow’s Copacabana. Why can I remember those lyrics so well yet I can’t remember what I did yesterday or what the heck is the tennis score.

Science says that as we get older our brains find it harder to take in new information. This is not to say that our brains aren’t capable. An article in Scientific American by Paul Reber states that our brains can hold the equivalent of 300 years of continuous TV. So we know it is possible. With that being said, emotion plays a large role in recalling lyrics. The more associations we have, the easier it is to retrieve a song. The brain recognizes the emotional reactions of songs as important and stores it. That is why all those childhood songs are securely lodged in our brains.

“Her name was Lola; she wore a diamond….”   I digress.

Repetition is key to storing memories such as lyrics. We liked the songs, therefore, we listened to them many times. The additional key is rhyme. Rhyming gives our brain something to attach to. Also, where you were when a song comes on can give your brain the association that it needs.

In our current pop culture, we are bombarded with new releases all the time. Just when I get the words to a song I like, a new one grabs my attention and the old one is filed away. I can retrieve most of the lyrics again, but usually there is not an emotional connection. Maybe that just comes with hormonal adolescence. Either way, our brains’ neurons make connections and as we get older it gets harder to get rid of old connections for new ones. I think it is all about ‘Who was there first.’

‘Who was there first’ was the Eagles, John Denver, Earth, Wind and Fire, Olivia Newton John, the Bee Gees, and any disco music. I don’t have a lot of room for Drake, Twenty One Pilots or Fetty Wap. But I have made room for Adele, Zac Brown and a few others.

Songs are basically forms of oral storytelling. They can drum up emotions and connect you to a certain time and place. I like remembering those times. And the fact that I can remember anything now is a bonus.


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