The other afternoon, much to my chagrin, I busted out the lyrics and melody to a song by Wilson Phillips called "Impulsive." Yes, I did own their album and, yes, that song would be considered a '"deep cut." Not to worry, I have their mega-hits "Hold On" and "Release Me" committed to memory, as well. And how did these gems find their way back into my conscious mind? How else? Watching someone sing them at karaoke! Ugh. Thanks to an entertaining and whiskey-filled evening, I now spend my days with the sweet, sweet melodies of Carnie, Wendy and Chynna.
We all know that setting anything to music is an excellent — and sometimes inadvertent — mnemonic device. It accounts for how we learned the ABCs, why we remember the entirety of the Free to Be You and Me album and why the surviving members of Blind Melon still receive royalties. (The bee girl? "No Rain"? Anyone?) Music is memory's ally, whether we want it to be or not.
Read and see more, after the jump.
Thanks to the power of melody, we can charm our lovers by recounting the words of Sam Cooke or Otis Redding, but not those of e.e. cummings and Frank O'Hara. But that's not such a bad trade-off, nor is it a wholly egregious one. What's worse is sitting around a table with friends being able to recall countless commercial jingles with ease, while it's likely that none of us could recite a passage from the most recent books we've read. (If only I could have set Cormac McCarthy's The Road to the tune of Wrigley's Doublemint Gum, I'd be able to tell it back to you verbatim. Next time.)
Nevertheless, as a music fan, I'd hardly call it a liability to have so many songs memorized. In actuality, it's more of a point of pride. Still, if someone were to ask me to sing a string of songs in a row, I don't know which ones I'd actually know in their entirety. I feel like I could recall large chunks of lyrical material by The Jam or The Clash, by David Bowie or Led Zeppelin. And even though I do have at least a few of those artists' entire songs memorized, I would probably instead sing Madonna and Wham!, Duran Duran and Fleetwood Mac, artists whose work I've known since my elementary and middle-school days.
But why? I suppose the fact that I would be able to draw more from the beginning of my musical knowledge is a testament to long-term versus short-term memory. After all, I spent my younger days in a slightly more obsessive frame of mind. As a kid, having a song fully memorized was akin to constructing a suit of armor; it's what you wore to shield you from the mess and confusion of adolescence. The intricacies of the songs were your friends. They were your secrets.
A song from my youth for which I know all the lyrics:
These days, except for a handful of massive pop hits — a genre for which there's a formula for getting songs stuck in the listener's head — I don't know too many current songs by heart. I probably have more Beyonce and Britney memorized than I do Wilco or The Black Keys. Then again, I could likely sing you a good portion of The Magnetic Fields or The Shins.
But you'd be surprised at what songs you actually know, as opposed to what songs you think you know. Challenge yourself to sing an entire tune by heart. It's likely that you can recall a tune from your youth with more clarity than a song from one of your current favorite bands. Which doesn't mean you like that new band any less; it might just mean that these days you're much busier, and that you have better things to do.
What songs or jingles do you think you could recite or sing almost in their entirety? Suffice it to say, they might not even be songs you like.