Music The Memory Maker

By Harry Hallman

It’s kind of funny and a little bit odd how music can elicit long ago lost memories. At least we think they’re lost until the song plays and they pop into your mind. Music has long been associated with generating moments of nostalgia. These moments are generally unique to the listener because they reflect part of their personal history. Sometimes, something glorious happens, and you share these nostalgic moments with a friend or loved one. Boy, does that increase the happiness level?

Other times a song may have a great emotional effect on you, but you can’t pinpoint any specific memory association. Two pieces of music make me tear up, and I am not sure why. They are The Marine Hymn and the U.S. Army’s Caissons Go Rolling Along. These are not tears of sorrow but rather tears of pride. I was born one year before World War Two ended, and we had an RCA television set by the time I was five years old. Looking for things to televise, producers relied on older movies, of which many were war movies. Perhaps it was this association with movies such as Battleground and John Wayne’s Sands of Iwo Jima, both 1949 movies that were often on TV in the mid-1950s during my impressionable pre-teen years.  

As I said, most of your music nostalgia is personal for you and, of course, so is mine. By way of example, I have created a nostalgia playlist and will explain which memories the song generates for me. I would implore you to create your own playlist and play it when you need an emotional boost.

Rock Around the Clock- Bill Haley and His Comets 1955:

In 1955 Rock Around the Clock was the anthem of the rock and roll generation. My generation. It was a time when many from the older generation saw rock and roll as a bad influence on teenagers. Some called it Devil’s Music and band it from schools and dances.

The school year was ending, and I was to graduate grade school and join the teenagers in Jr. High in the fall. I was nervous and happy at the same time. The entire school was at our final assembly, and after we recited the Pledge of Allegiance, said a silent prayer, and the music class played their renditions of O Solo Mio, and Somewhere Over the Rainbow, graduates were highlighted. At that time, I was the captain of the safety Squad and was called out along with the class president and other student officers. It was a prideful moment. The final song played that day was Bill Haley’s Rock Around the Clock. For me, it was a sign of acceptance of our music and our generation. It made me less nervous about attending Junior High School, and I was excited about moving on.

Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White by Perez Prado 1954:

My mom bought an entertainment center sometime in the mid-1950s. That center was basically a piece of furniture with a record player, a radio and storage for 45 and 33 RPM records. One song my mother loved to play was Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom. She liked the Latin beat. If I were around, she would make me dance with her. It was generally the Cha Cha, even though I think the song was a momba. The Cha Cha was easier. Because of that, Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White always make me think about my wonderful mom.

That’ll Be the Day- Buddy Holly 1957:

In 1957 Buddy Holly’s That’ll Be the Day was at the top of the charts. Every kid in the neighborhood could sing the lyrics. It was so popular that it created, at least in my inner-city Philadelphia neighborhood, a special refrain used when someone asked you for something.

Hearing that song takes me back to rainy summer days when my friends and I would play cards under a corner store awning.  I can even smell the cool rain hitting the hot asphalt and concrete.

A friend would ask, “Hey, got any money to buy smokes?” The reply would be, “That’ll be the day.”

You Send Me- Sam Cooke 1957:

At age 13, my hormones were starting to rage, and this song reminds me of how that felt. I remember I liked a girl from a couple of streets away. Her friend told me she liked guys who dressed up. My only dressy clothes was the suit my mother bought each Easter. I put on the suit and knocked on her door. It didn’t go as I thought, but I was proud that I tried, and it gave me a good memory.

Telstar- The Tornados 1962:

When we ushered in 1962 on New Year’s Day, I had no idea how pivotal the year would be for me. I was seventeen years old, had my driver’s license, and bought a 1950 black Ford for $50. I was on top of the teenage world. By summer, I had a job as an apprentice plumber making $1 an hour.

By October, the country was embroiled in what was called The Cuban Missile Crisis, and we were at risk of a nuclear war with Russia. I quit my job, sold my car, and joined the United States Air Force in November of 1962, and that influenced what the rest of my life would be in a good way. That is what I remember when I hear the song Telstar.

Surfin USA- Beach Boys- 1963:

By the summer of 1963, I was stationed at March Airbase in Riverside, California. The Beach Boys were among the hottest groups, and the Beatles were just starting. Of course, all the things the Beach Boys sang about were on the very west coast, and I wanted to try them all. I never surfed, but I saw a lot and enjoyed the Southern California lifestyle. Well, as much as a meager military salary allowed. I experienced the great parks, the beautiful beaches, the fantastic attractions such as Disneyland, Catalina Island, San Diego, and even had a couple of trips to Mexico. That is what I remember when I hear Surfin USA.

500 Miles- Peter, Paul, and Mary- 1965

One year later, during the summer of 1964, I was just starting my first year of two at Tan Son Knute Airbase in Saigon, South Vietnam. My job was to process films shot by the very secret U2 Sky Planes. I processed films and prints for combat recon aircraft in my second year.

Life in Asia then was very different from that in the USA. For one thing, nobody wanted to blow you up in America. Still, it was fascinating and often strange. I was fortunate not to be a combat soldier, traversing the jungles where two-foot centipedes and the VC were trying to kill you. I have the most profound respect for those heroes.

As interesting as Vietnam was, there was no doubt that most of us deployed there had homesickness and missed our families and way of life. In 1965, Peter, Paul and Mary released a song titled 500 Miles. It was about the lament of a traveler far from home and out of money. We used to sing the song and replace 500 Miles with 10,000 Miles.

When I hear the song, I always get a feeling of pride that I did my service, happiness that I got to come home when many did not, and thanks for the experience.

I could go on and on, but how about you? What songs tickle your nostalgia bone?

Play List on

Rock Around the Clock- Bill Haley and His Comets 1955:

Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White by Perez Prado 1954:

That’ll Be the Day- Buddy Holly 1957:

You Send Me- Sam Cooke 1957:

Telstar- The Tornados 1962:

Surfin USA- Beach Boys- 1963:

500 Miles by Peter, Paul, and Mary- 1965


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