Music and Memory

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Over the past year I’ve been hitting the library hard, listening to CD’s that I don't own. It’s a lot cheaper than buying CD’s and I am able to experiment with bands I’ve always been interested in but not willing to invest the $$$ and going back and re-visiting albums I always loved but never converted from LP to CD.

Recently I accomplished the latter by tracking down Graham Parker’s Squeezing out the Sparks and Like This by The dBs. Both were albums that I loved in the early to mid-eighties. (Graham Parker even earlier). Both albums were full of hook-filled pop songs that for some reason got classified in the “punk rock? or “new wave? genre. Both albums are critically acclaimed but not huge sellers (Squeezing Out the Sparks is 335 on the Rolling Stone top 500 albums). I never got either album on CD and I would say it’s been over 20 years since I heard Like This and probably closer to 25 years since I’ve heard Squeezing Out the Sparks. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a song on The Current, movie soundtrack or Wendy’s commercial either.

What I found interesting is that even though it’s been more than 20 years since I heard these songs, I knew them note-for-note as if I had listened to them every day! I knew exactly the chorus, the beat, the hooks, and what the next song would be. It got me thinking about music and memory and how our brains can remember some things quite easily and others, not so much. I think if I looked at a text book or course syllabus from a college class I took at the same time I was listening to these albums, much of it would seem like new.

I did a little research on music and memory and found out that music definitely helps with memory. Research has indicated that simple melodies get “stuck? in our heads easier than more complex ones. Evolutionary biologists theorized that simpler tunes helped the ancient profession of the bard sing and remember oral histories. It has been shown that the more predictable the tune, the easier it is to get stuck in the head. When subjects are asked to remember a song in their heads, the same parts of the brains light up except fainter and the primary auditory cortex is not activated as much. In fact there is an interesting anecdote of a woman with chronic dementia who could not remember integral portions of her life such her place of birth, her place of residence for the majority of her life, or if she had had a short career singing on the radio. Despite this extreme dotage, she could remember every song she had sang perfectly!

Just when I was all smug in my music and memory research I came across another example that threw everything back into the mixer. The band Buffalo Tom was in town this weekend and although I didn’t go, it was a band I always kind of liked. I remember an early song by the band called Birdbrain which I thought was really cool. I’ve always meant to track down that song because I thought it was so good and would lament when KOUM or The Current would play a Buffalo Tom song but not that song. So anyway, the visit to First Avenue finally motivated me to hit the library looking for some Buffalo Tom music. I picked out a greatest hits type album and immediately found Birdbrain. Talk about your disappointment. It was not at all how I remembered it and couldn’t believe I’ve pined for that song over so many years. Just shows how sometimes your memory can deceive you.

Anyway, any songs out there you thought you liked but after hearing it you don’t know why?

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This page contains a single entry by Freealonzo published on February 6, 2008 10:04 AM.

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