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Top 21 Songs About Nostalgia

on September 03, 2019, 1:00pm

10. Van Morrison – “Brown Eyed Girl”

vanmor Top 21 Songs About Nostalgia

Beneath its cheery pop sensibilities, “Brown Eyed Girl” is a downbeat breakup song. Van Morrison’s words are those of a man reliving a failed relationship from its gleeful beginnings (“Laughing and a running hey, hey/ Skipping and a jumping”) to its final laments (“So hard to find my way, now that I’m all on my own”). He jumps from present to past tense, addressing both himself and his ex during the iconic chorus: “Do you remember when…” It’s a template nostalgia song, which juxtaposes its romantic sentiments against sha-la-la‘s and snappy hooks. –Jon Hadusek

09. The Smashing Pumpkins – “1979”

 Top 21 Songs About Nostalgia

One of the most iconic and popular Smashing Pumpkins songs is a result of a memory: Billy Corgan driving through Chicago during a powerful storm, stopped at a traffic light and waiting for the light to turn green. That feeling of anxious anticipation is universal, simultaneously hopeless and hopeful, full of promise and completely out of reach. “1979” doesn’t capture the moment when life is full of possibilities, but rather the decades-later reflection on that moment, when you realize and mourn the endless possibilities you never got to live out. –Chris Bosman

08. Joni Mitchell – “A Case of You”

joniblue Top 21 Songs About Nostalgia

One of several emotional highlights off 1971’s Blue, “A Case of You” captures Joni Mitchell amidst a tragic obsession with bruised love — the sort that soaks the soul and never washes off. “Oh you’re in my blood like holy wine,” she sings. “You taste so bitter and so sweet.” It’s a complicated affair, but one that Mitchell’s wont to revisit, and she makes no secret of this. She revels in the memories, meditating and trailing on words as if she’s within a breath of the times. Later on, a similarly barbed passerby warns: “Go to him, stay with him if you can/ But be prepared to bleed.” Sound familiar? This is a sordid, relatable tale of love that’s long survived as Mitchell’s magnum opus and a jarring reminder that sometimes nostalgia gets the best of us. –Michael Roffman

07. Lynyrd Skynyrd – “Tuesday’s Gone”

lynyrd Top 21 Songs About Nostalgia

Here our protagonist works off his blues by hopping trains and traveling through the South. Unlike Sebastian Bach in “I Remember You”, Ronnie Van Zant is in denial. He has no interest in accepting the finality of his heartbreak and looks back on the situation with sad, scorned romanticism: “Tuesday, you see, she had to be free/ But someone I’ve got to carry on.” Lynyrd Skynyrd wrote a few songs that qualify as nostalgic, but “Tuesday’s Gone” is the best example. It’s about coping with nostalgia — averting it, drowning it out with booze and distractions. –Jon Hadusek

06. Don Henley – “The Boys of Summer”

boysofsummer Top 21 Songs About Nostalgia

“Don’t look back. You can never look back,” cautions Don Henley on his 1984 hit, right in the midst of doing a whole lot of exactly that. “The Boys of Summer” might paint an image of idyllic youth, of riding with beautiful people in cars while the sun poured down, but it’s grown around a kernel of yearning for a time when music wasn’t so ruthlessly consumed. There’s that Deadhead sticker on a Cadillac (later transmuted to a Black Flag sticker in the Ataris’ 2003 cover), a symbol of a generation’s ethos flattened to a souvenir. There’s that feeling that loving things before adulthood is less complicated, less contradictory—but once you’ve crossed over, you can never go back. –Sasha Geffen

05. The Notorious B.I.G. – “Things Done Changed”

readytodie Top 21 Songs About Nostalgia

“Things Done Changed” upped the stakes on nostalgia. For white, middle-class America, nostalgia takes the form of innocuous sentimentality and daydream escapism to a simpler, pre-cubicle time that had better breakfast cereals and the right Thursday night prime-time lineup. But when Biggie says, “Turn your pagers to 1993,” he’s not merely springing the clocks forward from a more innocent time of “Gazelle shades, corn braids,” and “summertime cookouts.” He’s showing us the transformation from civilized life to certain death, from a once functional community to a decaying, youth-led war zone, where “they [parents] even fuckin’ scared of us.” Biggie’s nostalgia, rather than basking in the warm glow of the past, shines a light on the deadly problems of the present. –Matt Melis

04. The Beach Boys – “Caroline, No”

 Top 21 Songs About Nostalgia

The original closing track of Pet Sounds ends with dogs barking and a passing train. That train, though, is what makes all the difference — it’s a visual metaphor for the cruelties of time. “Caroline, No” is the bi-product of Brian Wilson and lyricist Tony Asher, who both came together to orchestrate a tale of crumbling innocence. The ballad’s haunting in that Miss Havisham brand of decadence, where things sound so grand and shiny and yet… lonely. Words get sketchy (“It’s so sad to watch a sweet thing die”) and downright depressing (“Things that made me love you so much then/ Could we ever bring ’em back once they have gone”), but isn’t that what nostalgia’s all about? Essentially, we’re peeping toms to the past, whether it’s our own or something we’ve read in a book or seen in a film. Focus too closely and you’ll one day wake up and find things have changed and all is lost. It’s difficult to disagree with Wilson and Asher’s conclusions here: Time really is a bummer. –Michael Roffman

03. Otis Redding – “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay”

dockofthebay Top 21 Songs About Nostalgia

You can point to a million existential indie rock anthems about how you can uproot your whole life, change everything about yourself, and still come out of it, crushingly, as the same person. But “The Dock of the Bay” is the original, and the standard-bearer. Leave from Georgia, go to San Francisco, and still “Nothing’s gonna change/ Everything just remains the same.” That’s a powerful enough sentiment, but the song’s history– recorded days before Otis Redding’s untimely and tragic death, released shortly thereafter, focuses the song’s sharp sadness to needlepoint, a rapier that cuts to the bone via Steve Cropper’s immaculate guitar work and Redding’s iconic (and accidental) whistles. It’s a de facto post-script to Redding’s incredible talent. –Chris Bosman

02. David Bowie – “Heroes”

heroes david bowie Top 21 Songs About Nostalgia

There’s a reason “Heroes” occupies the centerpiece of Stephen Chbosky’s novel and film The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Originally inspired by the image of a couple kissing by the Berlin wall, David Bowie’s most triumphant and arguably best song easily slides behind any memory of feeling young and invincible. It’s the song you wished you had blasted in your car while joyriding around with your friends in high school, even if you never actually did. It’s the song that’ll let you believe your teenage years were the stuff of legend—or, at the very least, fiction. –Sasha Geffen

01. The Beatles – “Yesterday”

yesterday Top 21 Songs About Nostalgia

Most days pass by and nothing much happens. They’re calendar pages that seem to pass through with nothing more than a strong wind and little else to mark them by. But some days uproot entire lives. “Yesterday” is a meditation on the aftermath of being left by someone you love. It’s skeletal, uncertain, and traffics in a bit of denial in the most human and communicable of ways. Its lush yet understated string section serves as a warm, enveloping hug, its barely two-minute run time deep diving into the exact moment of wide-eyed, crestfallen sadness that comes before the second-guessing, the resurrection attempts, the slew of ill-advised communications. All it wants is to turn the clock back one day, to a day where nothing much happened. –Chris Bosman

Find the complete playlist via Spotify below…