By Kailey Shanks |

There’s a phenomenon called flashbulb memories – an appropriate name for the vivid, enduring memories that often include details like where we were and what we were doing.

There’s also a thing I like to call music memories. Not exactly a scientific term, but I think it should be coined. 

The first music memory I consciously recalled was when I was sitting on the couch with some friends. One of them asked which song evoked the strongest emotion. Surprised by myself, I immediately had an answer: “Hey, Soul Sister” by Train. 

When the first note plays, a scene transpires in my mind. It was 2010 and I was in Florida for my aunt’s wedding. I was shocked that the white fluff covering Destin’s beaches was not snow, but sand. Galveston, the extent of my beach experience, didn’t hold a candle to these gorgeous shores. I remember my mom singing along to “Hey Soul Sister” as she walked beside me. When I hear it, I feel a knot of nostalgia in my stomach and remember my family. 

Listening to music engages the parts of the brain responsible for emotions and memories. If you’re interested in the science behind music and memories check out Amee Baird and Séverine Samson’s study about using music to help patients recall memories. Or watch the movie The Music Never Stopped. It tells the story of a man who vividly recalls his past through music after a brain injury.  

Some songs remind us of certain people or places, but few transport us to exact moments in time. I decided to ask more people to see if they had similar experiences.

“Standing Still” by Jewel. This was my favorite song when I was the ripe old age of three. I would close my eyes and spin when it played. My mom has videos of me listening, completely entranced in a world of my own. There’s something about the rhythm that captivated me. 

“I Saw the Sign” by Ace of Base. My mom was instantly taken back to the week before she got married. She was listening to it in the car with her family. I, on the other hand, immediately think of the Barden Bellas a cappella performance- a generational difference perhaps. 

“North” by Sleeping at Last. My friend Michaela gets sentimental everytime she hears it. One night her brother’s fiancee, Haley, played the song on her record player. Her brother joined them and they spent quality time together. She remembers exactly what the room looked like- all the way down to the comforter. She said it was such a peaceful moment with people she loved. 

“I Like It” by Enrique Iglecias. My friend Justin listened to it every day at 6th grade cross country practice. He added Enrique looked just like his coach so it was destined to play. 

“When I Die Young” by The Band Perry. My friend Paige laughed when I asked her which song takes her back. She said she remembers it filling the cafeteria at her middle school dance. She dreaded the moment slow songs played and everyone felt obligated to dance with their crush. A boy wanted to ask her to dance. She cringed as she recalled his friends awkwardly glancing at her. She didn’t dance with him because boys had cooties- duh. 

“Eye On It” by TobyMac. My brother blasted it in the car before every baseball game. I now have the same association. Thanks Tanner. 

“I Go Back” by Kenny Chesney. My roommate Alicia remembers when she was 5 years old looking out the car window at Virginia Beach. She remembers the specific traffic stop when she thought, “I’m gonna remember this song.” The lyrics go, “we all have a song that somehow stamped our lives. It takes us to another place and time.” Kenny really nailed it.

Young or old memories, repetitive tasks or once in a lifetime experiences: these moments have shaped us. All I know is that when I asked someone about their song, their eyes lit up as if they were reliving their memories. Our songs make us feel an emotion that only their melody replicates. 

Maybe it’s so powerful because we not only remember how we feel, but who we were. When Alicia hears her song, she is 5 again. My mom is surrounded by her family. My brother wants to play baseball. When I’m listening to my song, I feel like nothing has changed since the moment I first heard it. Time machines do exist.