Sweet Child o' Mine: Those music memories that take us back

Que sera, sera. Whatever will be, will be… sang the lady on the mike. Dazzling in a sequinned dress, she moved from person to person, touching them gently on the shoulder and encouraging them to join in.

“Not this one again,” said the lady sitting next to me, “they always sing the same songs”. Such was my experience on a recent visit to a nursing home. It got me thinking that one day when the kids shuffle me off to an aged care facility, what songs will they be playing then? It won’t be Doris Day, but it could be Jeff Buckley, Nirvana or even Salt-N-Pepa.

Sometimes music can take you back to a time and place. When I hear Sweet Child o’Mine by the Guns and Roses, I’m taken back decades in the blink of an eye. Whenever I hear that song I grin from ear to ear, remembering a high school friend who would dance her best Axl Rose impersonation with arms pinned to her sides as her legs slithering side to side to the beat.

Why do I feel so good when I hear an old favourite and why do I remember so well the music that I loved as a teenager?

Music sparks neural activity. We feel good when we hear our old favourites as they stimulate the brains pleasure circuit, flooding our system with an influx of feel good hormones. As our brains undergo rapid development during our teens years, the music we loved during that decade seems to become hard wired into our brains. Certain songs become connected to certain events, people and places and remain this way in our long term memory. We might remember the song of our first kiss, songs that played on repeat at a friend’s house, songs we danced to at the local night spot and the soundtrack of our favourite movie. We remember so many of these little details as apparently memory storage increases during times of change and growth in personal identity. They call it the reminiscence bump!

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Music can tap deep emotional recall, well into our twilight years. Unlike speech and remembering peoples’ faces, which are found in specific parts of the brain, when we listen to music, the brain lights up in many different parts, keeping those specific memories distributed (and saved) all over the brain.

Although I may increasing double guess my passwords, there’s comfort in the thought that some things will remain forever hard wired into my grey matter. Even when I’m 80, I’ll still be able to sing the lyrics…

She’s got a smile that it seems to me
Reminds me of childhood memories
Where everything
Was as fresh as the bright blue sky
O, Sweet child o’ mine


What is your most favourite song? What lyrics do you just have to sing when you hear the tune? Tell us below.