We’ve all heard a great marker song. You know, those songs that take you back in your memory to a place, an event, a relationship… Where I think science tells us smell is strongest connection to memory, our interaction with music has got to be number two in that respect. If I were to guess how it all works, I’d say that our mind makes a roadmap during the experiencing of a significant event. We seem to have a kind of unbelievable ability to notice what else was important to us at the time of an important event we want to remember. A song can easily become a landmark on that roadmap.
Think of that first dance you had to your favorite song with the one you were crazy about at the time. That song is forever imprinted as a marker of that experience. Hearing the song in the future will take you back, but at the same time it kind of leaves you with that nostalgic feeling. It might even be a depressive experience, giving you a sense of loss and regret. The emotions can be powerful. In these cases the emotions are not really about the song, but rather about the event they are marking for you.
An example of one of these event marker songs for me is the 1988 Calgary Olympic song, Winter Games by David Foster. This song always takes me back to being a kid in Calgary during those olympics. It was a memorable time.
I find music has this power for me not just for marking events but for marking ideas and themes I value. If event marking songs are good, value or idea marking songs are perhaps great. These value or idea marking songs can sometimes even draw you to something that you begin to value as the song introduces you to it. Some songs for me bring forward into my mind a concept that perhaps I value, but maybe I haven’t been thinking about lately. The greatest in this category bring you to a new value altogether. If I could write songs in this category all the time, I’d be very satisfied as a songwriter. I’d say this is nearly the highest level in the Universal Greatest Song Level System (that I just invented 🙂 ). An example of this for me is “So Far From the Clyde” by Mark Knopfler. The song masterfully tells a sad story about the death of a ship in a ship breaking yard. When I first heard it, I have to admit it evoked real emotion. A tear even. I experienced a sadness I was surprised I could even have about a boat dying. It’s a great song. There is just something sad about it.
Warning: this is kind of an odd video in that the band footage in it is not from Mark Knopfler singing this song, but another song. Sorta weird, but the sound track is the point, so have a listen.
So where a good song might serve as markers of events and a great song might mark ideas and values strewn throughout your lifetime, a truly great song – perhaps the GREATEST song doesn’t serve as a marker for something else, but rather MAKES the moment worth marking in the first place. They are moment MAKERS and not just moment MARKERS. Do these songs even exist? I like to think that they do. If I think hard enough, maybe I could come up with one. Regardless if they do and if I actually have one as an example, I like to think that the idea of this elusive kind of song is out there calling songwriters to try and write one. Songwriters should have the writing of this song as the ultimate goal. I’m not sure songs like these would have a universal effect for all people though. These songs might fit only certain listeners depending on the song. The emotion this song would evoke is not about an external thing, but the emotion kind of lives right in the place inside you where you experience that song. Our emotions are quite individual, so it could be the greatest song ever for you just isn’t ever going to be the greatest song for me.
The Greatest Song Ever will create in you it’s own value. When you live out that value in your life, the song echoes from somewhere inside.
Do you think The Greatest Song Ever exists?