The Playground

The Simply Music blog

What Song Opens Your Memory Floodgates?

Found in: Miscellany & Merriment, Music & Memory

All it takes is a song. Not just any song though, THE song… The one that grabs your attention when you’ve had the radio on for hours but have to drop everything right now because it’s transported you back in time.  It might be your ‘wedding’ song or a track on the first album you ever bought.  Whatever it is, it’s powerful enough that not only do you remember the event, but you also feel it.

“No matter what kind of music resonates in a person’s mind, it turns out to be one of the last things they’ll forget should dementia strike” – Oliver Sacks

Research suggests that the brain’s medial prefrontal cortex serves as a hub where music, memory and emotions meet. If this is true, it explains why we are connected emotionally when hearing a song related to an experience. Even more important is that it is one of the last regions of the brain to be affected by dementia.  Embracing this knowledge is what Music & Memory is all about.  Creating personalised playlists on digital devices, this program connects people with Alzheimer’s and other cognitive challenges to their individual histories, long lost memories and identity.

To get the best results, the right songs on your playlist are crucial. So, to get the conversation started, we asked ‘what song opens your memory floodgates’? We’ve shared just a few of the responses we received, but would also love to hear yours too:

Song – Boys of Summer by Don Henley

Memory – Robin Keehn in Washington, USA

University days is where this 1984 hit takes her. Riding her Trek road bike six miles in the warm sun every day to the University of Washington, while studying Intensive Russian… not at the same time, of course!


Song – Tea for Two

Memory – Maureen Karpan in San Jose, USA

Memories of standing in her Grandma’s kitchen with rooster wallpaper, doing the dishes after a dinner of Pasta Fazool and singing together are evoked by this show tune. Her Grandma loved musicals and Italian opera. So every other year, she would take Maureen 200 miles to Minneapolis in a Prop plane to see an opera. To this day, Maureen remembers every word of ‘Tea for Two’ and this song brings back everything she loved about her Grandma.


Song – Toora Loora Loora

Memory – Jacqui Graham in Burns Lakes, Canada

A beautiful sensory memory, it is her father playing Irish lullabies on the harmonica at the end of her bed that open her musical memory floodgates. Being snuggled under the warm quilts in the quiet darkness, drifting off to his clear tenor voice, the rhythmic tapping of his foot, and the spicy scent of his aftershave lotion. The world was a safe place.


Song – Handel: Zadok the Priest, Coronation Anthem No. 1

Memory – Stephanie Mitchell in Victoria, Australia

This piece transports her back to her early teens and staying in her country holiday house. Completely bored out of her mind, she remembers hearing this music and being immediately uplifted. To this day, this piece is a source of joy.


Song – Some Nights by Fun.

Memory – Mel Karajas in Melbourne, Australia

Not too deep in the archives just yet, this song is finding its place in not only my memory bank, but also that of my sons (6 and 3yrs). My Mum adores this song and sings it with gusto at family dinners. She stamps her feet and does the (air) drumbeat just like Nate Ruess. Every time I hear this song, it makes me think of her in the lounge room, giving everything she has to the moment. When my boys hear the song, they immediately say “that’s Baba’s song!!” I just love that one song has powerfully impacted 3 generations of my family.

Do you have a song that opens up your memory floodgates? Feel free to share your song and memory in the comments.