Music can be an incredibly nostalgic experience. I’ve found particular songs that are so closely associated with a certain memory that it’s difficult to separate the two, and songwriters often revisit moments from their past in song form.
Many musicians have even written songs about memories themselves – good memories, bad memories, the act of remembering and the act of forgetting. Memories are rich material for music.
There are plenty of these songs to choose from, but here are 21 of my absolute favorites.
21 Top Songs About Memories
“Thnks Fr Th Mmrs” – Fall Out Boy
If that title looks a little strange, you can thank the critics who complained that Fall Out Boy’s song titles were always far too long. The band pulled the vowels out of “Thanks For The Memories” in a jokey response.
The song itself tackles a parting of the ways after a dysfunctional relationship, with the protagonist sarcastically thanking their ex for the memories that they’re left with. It incorporates a line from the acclaimed play Closer by Patrick Marber: “He tastes like you only sweeter.”
“Always Remember Us This Way” – Lady Gaga
From the musical romantic drama A Star Is Born, this is one of the rare songs about memories that is Grammy-nominated. The track captures a golden period early in a relationship that the singer believes will forever encapsulate the couple, even if the relationship one day ends. Gaga’s powerful vocals have been greatly praised, as has the track’s emotional build.
“As It Was” – Harry Styles
The smash-hit of summer 2022 describes a personal transition in which the singer looks back on how things used to be and mourns the change that he’s going through. It shows the dark side of living in one’s memories and how it can lead to a feeling of isolation.
The track earned a Guinness World Record for the most streamed track on Spotify within 24 hours by a male artist. It features an intro from Harry’s goddaughter, who opens the track by saying “Come on, Harry, we want to say goodnight to you!”
“Supercut” – Lorde
In the class of songs about memories is Lorde’s song “Supercut”. She can’t stop seeing every detail of a past relationship in this upbeat track from 2017’s Melodrama. In her memories of the relationship, she sees a ‘supercut’ of positive moments, forgetting anything unpleasant or all the things she may have done wrong. Although she knows that her memory is unreliable, she can’t help remembering things this way.
“When We Were Young” – Adele
Adele looks back on memories with a loved one in this soulful ballad. Watching them charm a room, she is reminded of when the two of them were younger and realizes that they haven’t changed much since those days.
She expresses not just a fondness for those memories, but a desire to hold onto this one as well. There’s also a fear of aging and the passing of time expressed in the track, which exacerbates the singer’s desire to freeze the moment.
The track was written after Adele had been struggling with writer’s block for some time. She later expressed that “When We Were Young” was her favourite track from 25.
“I Will Remember You” – Sarah McLachlan
Often used ‘in Memoriam presentations, McLachlan’s melancholy ballad instructs the listener to remember, but not to waste too much of life crying over memories. The sentiment can apply both to relationships and loved ones who have passed on – be grateful for the good times, and don’t live forever in the loss.
“In My Life” – The Beatles
One out of this list on songs about memories is this classic Beatles track. It celebrates all the memories that make up a life, whilst acknowledging that new love can eclipse everything that went before. The original song was actually far more specific, describing Lennon’s personal references and taking its structure from a bus route through Liverpool. However, Lennon scrapped this in favour of more general reflections.
“Summer of ‘69” – Bryan Adams
“Sumer of ‘69” is an instantly nostalgic summer jam, guaranteed to throw anyone back to their adolescent summers. Adams reminisces about a summer relationship that ultimately ends when he leaves to pursue his dreams. However, he still remembers that summer as “the best days of my life”.
Adams and fellow songwriter Jim Vallance have expressed disagreement over the meaning of the song’s title. According to Vallance, the ‘69’ in the title is just a reference to the year. Adams seems to think it has a very different meaning…
“Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life)” – Green Day
Some of the songs about memories are about ex-partners just like this track – it was written about an ex-girlfriend of Billie Joe Armstrong who moved away. Angry that she had left, Armstrong opted to name the track “Good Riddance”. However, the lyrics of the track ended up being much more sentimental than the title would suggest, with Armstrong reminiscing on their time together.
The album version of the track features Armstrong messing up the guitar twice before the song starts and swearing under his breath. Radio versions of the song left this part out.
“(You Want To) Make A Memory” – Bon Jovi
Two lovers reconnect in this Bon Jovi track. They think back over old memories and decide whether or not to make new ones. The theme of memories is appropriate – the track ended up being the last of Bon Jovi’s singles to break the Top 40 on the Billboard Hot 100.
The storyline of the music video is based on the 1990 film Ghost and tells the tale of a couple who is not together anymore, inspired by personal struggles in the lives of members of the band.
“Nineteen” – Dylan
Included in this list of songs about memories is pop singer Dylan’s reflection on her memories of a summer. At that time she had no responsibilities, places she needed to be or people depending on her. She recalls how, that particular summer, she was wrapped up in her relationship and prioritised having fun over everything else. Looking back on at all now, she knows it could never have lasted. “Loving young is such a waste,” she sings. But she concludes that the memories are worth it, and that she would “do it all the same”.
“All Too Well” – Taylor Swift
Taylor Swift remembers one of the relationships that had the biggest impact on her life in ‘All Too Well’. She can’t help but recall every little detail of the relationship, even though it’s all over, and feels that the man she loved must also remember it “all too well”.
The memories of meeting his family, driving in his car with him and dancing around the kitchen are painful, but she can’t seem to help reliving them over and over again. After the original release of the track, Swift mentioned in an interview that the original version of the track had been about ten minutes long.
For years after, fans clamoured to hear the extended version of Swift’s famous break-up song. When she rereleased her album Red, Swift finally gave fans the 10-minute version of ‘All Too Well’, along with a short film starring Sadie Sink and Dylan O’Brien.
“Moments Of Pleasure” – Kate Bush
One of my favorite songs about memories is this Kate Bush song. It cycles through a collection of memories with departed friends in this beautiful orchestral ballad. Leading us through these moments like flicking through a photo album, laughing over some and crying over others. Some of her friends mentioned include guitarist Alan Murphy and lighting engineer Bill Duffy.
Bush’s mother died shortly after this song was written. Bush included a saying of her mother’s in the track – “Every old sock meets an old show”. She later recalled how, when she played the song for her mother, her mother had been greatly amused to hear the saying included. This added one more happy memory to ‘Moments Of Pleasure’ even after it was finished.
“Memories” – Maroon 5
Maroon 5 find that a few drinks make them pretty nostalgic. They’re raising a glass to everyone that’s still with them and everyone that they lost along the way. One thing that their memories do remind them of is that everything always works out in the end. Frontman Adam Levine has dedicated the track to everyone who has ever experienced loss. It was inspired in particular by his former manager and childhood best friend, Jordan Feldstein, who passed away in December 2017.
“Photograph” – Nickelback
In the company of these other songs about memories is this Nickelback track. Here, they find themselves reminiscing over old photographs, which leads them down memory lane. They introduce us to old friends, show us where they used to live and go to school, and even reveal their criminal records. Staring at the photo album on their bedroom floor, they say goodbye to their past and look ahead to the future.
The details in ‘Photograph’ are all based on singer Chad Kroeger’s childhood, including the old arcade where he used to hang out and the first girl he ever kissed. The song was actually inspired by a specific photograph of Chad and the band’s producer Joey Moi, which he holds up in the song’s music video.
“I miss you, I’m sorry” – Gracie Abrams
Indie pop singer Gracie Abrams wonders if her ex has happy memories of their relationship like she does. They promised each other forever, but their relationship ended up fizzling out almost without explanation. Now she’s left with just the memories and her confusion over how everything ended, wishing everything didn’t keep leading her back to the two of them.
“Memory” – Jennifer Hudson
This is one of the classic songs about memories and many artists have covered ‘Memory’ over the years, but Jennifer Hudson’s version is one of the best. Although the film adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats that the song comes from was critically panned, most reviewers agreed that Hudson’s ‘Memory’ was the film’s high point.
‘Memory’ is a melancholy ballad about how quickly present happiness can fade into just a memory. The character who sings the song in Cats, Grizabella, is remembering her days as a glamorous dancer, and wishing that she could somehow get her youth and beauty back.
“I Remember” – Damien Rice
Damien Rice can clearly remember the first time they saw the person they love – every part of the moment is seared into their memory. Now they just want them there all the time so that they don’t have to resort to memories when the two of them are apart. The song opens with the vocals of Lisa Hannigan, singing a quiet nostalgic love song, before Rice transitions into a busy, noisy expression of intense emotion.
“Kids” – Ben Rector
In the group of songs about memories is this Ben Rector ditty where he remembers his youth and reflects on how little he knew in ‘Kids’. Looking back on his touring days, he chuckles at the memory of how they would stop and sleep anywhere, and how lost they were in LA. Now a father in a loving and stable relationship, he feels far more grown up. However, he knows that one day he’ll look back on this moment and think of himself as a kid then too.
“Centuries” – Fall Out Boy
Fall Out Boy beg the listener to utilise their (very) long-term memory in ‘Centuries’. The song was inspired by the joy and energy the group felt touring, and a desire to “scream back” at the world. It describes the feeling of the band just before they stepped onstage, going from Davids to Goliaths as they psyched themselves up to perform.
“Memories” – Conan Grey
In the company of these other songs about memories is this one where Grey wants to be allowed to sit with his memories rather than be confronted with reality. After a breakup, he laments the fact that his ex keeps turning up at his front door when he’s trying to get over the relationship. “I wish that you would stay in my memories,” he tells them. He needs them to stop playing the victim and stay decidedly in his past.
Our memories can be wonderful places, shifting scrapbooks of our time on Earth that help us to keep loved ones alive and stay in our best days. However, it’s important to remember that memories stay in the past, and living in them doesn’t do anyone any good. The future can be a wonderful place as well.
Caitlin Devlin is a music, entertainment and lifestyle writer based in London. When she’s not creating playlists for Repeat Replay, she’s reviewing gigs and interviewing artists for Ticketmaster UK and thinking about what her Spotify Wrapped will look like this year.