More than a feeling: How certain music can instantly transport us to a time and place.

October 1, 2010

Do you feel it?

Once again, this morning I had the privilege of riding my bike to work along Chicago’s glorious lakefront. Temperature in the high 60’s, not a cloud in the sky, and the wind at my back, I could not have asked for a better day -not just to ride in but to be alive. The moment was especially poignant given how few such days likely remain for us in the Windy City. Winter looms with its sub-zero temps and interminable gray skies.

But not today! This morning rocked.

Speaking of rock, I want to write about another key ingredient embellishing my morning commute: music. This morning a pod of classic Yes songs enhanced my ride on the sparkling lakefront. For those unawares, Yes was (and still kind of is) a signature prog-rock band from the 70’s. You would know them from their signature hits, “I’ve seen all Good People” and “Roundabout.” But if you were a pot smoking, nerdy white kid you knew their catalogue far more intimately.


While listening to Yes’s \"Siberian Khatru\" I had a vivid recollection of a moment in time: a Saturday morning at my best friend’s college apartment in Madison, Wisconsin. I see the sun streaming in through dusty windows. I feel the scintillating buzz from Cooper’s ubiquitous stash of Hawaiian Sinsemilla. I hear the crackling pops of a diamond needle on vinyl registering over Coop’s exquisite Pioneer stereo…The memory in indelible; I have it every time I listen to Yes.

That got me thinking about other such music-induced memories and how vivid they can be. For instance, I cannot listen to U2’s popular 2004 release, “How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb” without thinking of the week I spent in Helsinki pitching the Nokia business. We were staying at a small hotel and, as I am a runner, the concierge directed me to a public gymnasium nearby. (That far north the nights lasted forever and so it was too dark to run outside.) Thus I remember jogging on a treadmill in an empty and darkened gym in Helsinki and listening to U2’s new album. I do not fully understand the correlation between that record and that location but I do know I cannot separate the two.

Likewise, whenever I hear Boston’s symphonic “More than a Feeling” I am immediately transported back in time to the now-defunct Rainbo ice-skating arena in Chicago. It was there I kissed my first girl, a curly-haired blond named Kathy. Saturday night comprised skating around in circles, more or less to the din of top 40 over the arena’s faulty sound system. Occasionally, they’d dim the lights for a ‘couples skate’…I close my eyes and I slipped away… Can’t you hear it? I can.

Author’s note: “Crazy on You” by Heart also takes me here…and to second base!

Advertisers have long known music’s magical power, which is why music is such a critical part of so many campaigns. For better or worse, if a tune transports someone to a brand and makes an indelible connection that’s kismet: whenever we hear the music we feel the brand. I’ve written about music and marketing before, in particular the love/hate relationship we have with jingles..

Let’s have some fun. Is there a piece of music that takes you to a specific time and place? I told you three of mine. Can you share some of yours?


16 Responses to “More than a feeling: How certain music can instantly transport us to a time and place.”

  1. mark cooper said


    I saw your facebook post and immediately hit the link. I agree, music is like a sense memory as it can take you to another time and place immediately. Not only that, but songs can stir up emotions that you associate with an era or event. It is somewhat ironic that the posting drew me in so strongly, and low and behold I was referenced! Take care dude!

    • SRP said

      As the kids like to say: OMG!
      Watching you carefully pull out albums, dust them and place on the turntable is a memory I’ll never forget. Although, now that I think of it you were more a Dire Straits guy than Yes 😉

  2. Ah… Music and moments! I loved this post, and that makes me want listen to some music related to some strong memories… 10 years ago, being in a car trip from Omaha, Nebraska to the Iowa border so my 23 years old girlfriend and I could buy alcool after midnight, listening to “It’s my life” on the radio. Despite the fact I lost my watch that specific night, we saw a meteor, laid near a corn field. Memorable.

    I can’t help listening to the Paul Anka’s cover of this song now… thank you Steffan.

    See you tomorrow!

  3. MrWisdumb said

    I read a whole fantasy series to Rush’s Moving Pictures, and now everytime I hear anything from that record I am instantly transported to a world of cursed swords and magic.

  4. Michael C. said

    Music is second only to scent in its ability to transport us — usually to the past.

    Too bad advertisers don’t have that arrow in their quill.

    Two albums can take me back to my freshman year of college (and all that entailed): Laurie Anderson’s “Big Science” and Talking Heads’ “Remain in Light.”

    I’ll let you do the math.

    Great post — couldn’t NOT click on the link this morning.

  5. jim schmidt said

    every time i hear “london calling” by the clash i’m taken back to the aragon ballroom and the feeling i had when i realized that punk rock was going to be a knife in the heart of the prog rock that had destroyed rock and roll in the 70’s. 🙂

  6. Joe said

    ‘Barracuda’ by Heart still gets me pumped as does any thing from ac/dc pre-1983.
    In fact my list of classic rock is way to long for this post. My first two vinyl albums were Kiss “Double Platinum” and Aerosmith “Rocks” Still listen to the latter. Unfortunately there are also some records I love but cannot listen to anymore because they bring me back to not so good times which kinda sucks.

  7. jim schmidt said

    Genesis was awful as well. The level of pretentiousness in prog rock stifled any real creativity. Those who started prog rock–Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Yes, Genesis– took Sgt. Pepper as some kind of clarion call to bring art to rock. It was anything but–it was just the greatest rock band in history going through another phase. One they immediately deserted when they created Let it Be and Abbey Road. The prog bands were the worst thing to happen to rock since the horrible wimpy pop of the very early 60’s: ie, Brenda Lee and the rest.

  8. tracy said

    Specific indeed, transported straight to a split-second of a moment in a time. These songs are among the ones that do it every time…

    Journey (“Don’t Stop Believin'”): the back of the school bus in elementary school.

    Toad The Wet Sprocket (“All I Want”): an auditorium during freshman orientation.

    Inexplicably: Barenaked Ladies (“One Week”): the parking lot of my old job, at dusk.

    Fiona Apple’s “Criminal:” the old agency bar and liquor.

  9. mark cooper said

    Steff, you are right. Back in our days of watching the sun rise over the majestic beauty of the Saxony apartments, I wasn’t so much a Yes guy. I was more into the Police, Dire Straights, etc. and we used to listen to some Tom Scott and other jazzy shit. Our buddy Michael got me into older Yes a few years later.

  10. Freddie Steele said

    Whenever I listen to the Donald Byrd/Pepper Adams Quintet sing the beautiful melodies of the Out Of This World album featuring Herbie Hancock, I’m back in the van my family and I had rented to drive the Greek countryside over summer. I can still see the local tavernas as we pass them by. And I can remember strolling the dirt pathways of the hot dry land, belting up my own musical meditations through my saxophone in time with the twisting melody lines from the trumpet/baritone saxophone duet, musically praying to the ancient monesatries perched upon God-sized rock formations. Bliss.

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