One of my favorite internet memes is one where a disk jockey is shown hard at work taking requests. He is saying something like “OK you want to hear a song, you can’t remember its name or who sings it! Ummm, I’ll get right on that for you!”
That one slays me every time I see it. As it does for everyone who has ever slung a disk on the radio or DJ’d an event. We all love our music even if we forget that “We’re caught in a trap” is really Elvis Presley’s “Suspicious Minds” of that “Faded Photographs” is “Traces” by the Classics IV.
The problem seems to be getting worse as my listeners and I get a little older. My memory has become like a steel trap; all stuck and rusty! When I was a young pup, I could immediately connect “The purpose of a man is to love a woman” with Wayne Fontana and the Mindbender’s “The Game of Love”. I must admit that there was the additional motivation of the young lady standing there in bobby socks and blue jeans waiting to hear her song. But today with a memory like a sieve I have to work harder at it. Usually I can get there by singing it to myself.
This works because usually the “remembered” title is either the first words of the song as in “Faded Photographs” or is from the song’s “hook” as in “We’re caught in a trap.” Singing it usually brings the singer or group into focus in my mind and that is half of the battle, because I can then type the artist’s name into the search feature of my playback software and when I see the list of songs he or she has recorded, I can pick the correct one from the list and add it to my queue. Unfortunately, the search engine provides for a search by artist or title only. If I don’t know either it won’t help.
Most of the time, I can get to the correct song immediately because like the two examples above a lot of folks remember their songs the same way. Another example of this is The Cowsills’ 1967 hit single "The Rain, The Park & Other Things" which is often requested as “I Love The Flower Girl” again remembered by a phrase from the hook.
A variant of this problem is when someone sends me a request via a written note that could be more than one song. “Stairway to Heaven” is a great example of this. It could be either Neil Sedaka’s 1960 song that peaked at number nine on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart, or Led Zeppelin’s smash hit which was released in late 1971. The person who wrote the note is not longer around for me to ask which one, so it is now a guessing game. If I am clueless, I usually opt for the latter song. The method to the madness is if the person wanted the original one, they are aware of the later song and that lets me off the hook a little. Since there are 11 years between these two, the reverse is not always true.
In recent years more and more frequently after trying all my tricks I have to say “I got nuttin!” I’m completely stuck; it just won’t come to me. The fact that I’m still selecting songs and playing them doesn’t help either. The further I go the less likely I am to come up with the correct song. So there is a sense of urgency to figure it out quickly.
All is not lost, there is a last resort! The best engineering and scientific minds in our culture have put together something that works almost every time; the Internet! I just open a blank tab on my WWW browser and type in the phrase that was given to me and voila, “I Love the Flower Girl” comes back as “I Love the Flower Girl” but it also comes back as “The Rain, The Park and Other Things.” After smacking myself in the middle of the forehead I go find the song and load it into the queue. The older I get, the flatter my forehead is getting. Once in a great while, even the internet fails me and I write the song snippet down on a piece of paper. Usually in the middle of the night a couple days later, I’ll sit bolt upright in the bed and smack myself in the middle of the forehead because I just remembered the name of the song. Somehow that smack makes the song stick in my brain until morning.
One of my favorite sayings is that I wish I could empty my brain of all those old song lyrics so I would have room for something else. I say that but I don’t really mean it. There is nothing like the feeling of driving down the highway with a great oldie playing and singing along with it at the top of my lungs. It is a good thing that we have air conditioning and windows and that no one else can hear me sing in the key of “R”. “Oh give me the beat boys and free my soul, I wanna get lost in your rock and roll and drift away.” Oh MY!