I often wonder why it is that certain pieces of music will make us think of different people, places and ideas. Is it because of certain musical elements? Memories that we associate with music we heard during different times? A combination of both. I don’t know the answer, but here are seven songs that move me to tears.
The Song That Made Me Fall in Love with Music: “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” by Frank Sinatra.
A live recording of this song from the “Sinatra at the Sands” album with the Count Basie Orchestra was on a Sinatra compilation album that my dad used to play for my siblings in his car. I was five years old the first time I remember hearing this song, and that was the first time I felt the way only big band swing can make me feel.
Frank Sinatra was always my grandfather’s favorite singer, being the very little Italian that we are, and he became my family’s favorite. Whenever I hear this song, I’m reminded that thanks to Frank, I’ll always have my grandfather and my whole family under my skin.
The Song That Was My Childhood Lullabye: “Don’t Know Why” by Norah Jones
I am the oldest of three siblings, the youngest being my sister who is four years younger than me. When she was an infant, the only thing that would put her to sleep was Norah Jones’ “Come Away With Me” album that we would put on a CD player in her room. Being that my brother and I slept in a room just a few feet over, that album would put us to sleep too, and “Don’t Know Why” was the first song on the album.
Jones’ silky smooth voice is passionate enough to ease a young child to rest and make an adult feel every lyric. I cannot hear this song without thinking of my wonderful childhood and fighting back tears.
The Song That Makes Me Think of My Mom: “Daughters” by John Mayer.
My mom adores John Mayer. My whole family knows his “Live at the Nokia Theatre” album like the back of our hands for that reason, but this song has always been my mom’s favorite. She’s the child of divorce, so the fact that the lyrics are centered around a daughter really resonate with her.
Over this past summer, we had a big party in our backyard to celebrate my brother graduating high school, and for a moment during that afternoon, I looked around at how much our family had grown up and how much things had changed and I felt a little depressed. But then I heard “Daughters,” a song that has played at every party our house has ever had, and I was put at ease. We will always still be us. Everything is just fine.
The Song About Love: “If I Ain’t Got You” by Alicia Keys
Musically, what is so beautiful about this song is that it is incredibly timeless. It sounded perfectly fit for Alicia Keys to sing it, and if it had shown up on an Ella Fitzgerald record a half of a century or so ago, it would not have seemed out of place there either. If there even is such a thing as a perfect love song, this might be it.
Keys apparently penned this song based on the emotions she was feeling after the Sept. 11 attacks, and she puts into just two verses and a chorus something that love songs have been trying to do since we started making music.
The Song That Connects Me: “You Can’t Stop the Beat” from Hairspray
As a chubby Irish kid from suburban New Jersey, it’s quite odd to think about how much I love the music of Motown and the ’60s — but I do. And when my whole family went to see the 2007 film version of Hairspray at a big cinema down the Jersey Shore, I was entranced. I was seven years old, sitting next to grandmother, who had always dreamed of being a showgirl herself. We both adored the upbeat music and positive message of the whole show.
She passed away when I was a freshman in high school, but about a year and a half later, when I was in my high school’s stage production of “Hairspray” as the mother, Edna Turnblad, I felt closer to my grandmother than I ever had before. People said that even in my wig and all of my makeup, I looked just like her. She may not be with us in this world any longer, but we are always connected, and the beat will never stop between us.
The Song About Hope: “What a Wonderful World” by Louis Armstrong
Everybody knows this classic, most famously done by Satchmo, as a happy little tune, but if you take the music out, it actually sounds quite sad, with a descending baseline and a handful of minor chords. But that’s exactly the point. The world we live in can be horrifically sad and full of disappointment, whether it be from natural disasters, like hurricanes, or human horrors, like racism. But that is in direct contrast with the lyrics of admiration for the world sung by Louis Armstrong, a man and voice so closely associated with positivity and happiness even after suffering atrocities as a black entertainer in early 20th-century America.
All of the musical phrases with minor chords eventually resolve to a nostalgic F major, as if to say that despite all of the horrific things in our mundane and imperfect world, it is somehow beautiful and even divine.
The Song About Joy: “September” by Earth, Wind & Fire
I can tell you exactly where and when I first heard the music of Earth, Wind & Fire, but I could never describe to you how I felt, the way my soul sang along. I will tell people that “September” is my favorite song, and when they say “Oh, me too,” I want to say, “No, you don’t understand.” It’s the soundtrack of my very being, and it’s the reason I took up playing horn instruments in high school band. Being in high school band helped form the friend group that I still have today. I would not be the same person without this song.
What makes this song so special is that does more than make you want to dance. Both the verses and chorus are in A major but not without hints of F# minor, as if to say that the joy the song makes you feel, or any joy in life for that matter, cannot be felt without acknowledgement of what is wrong in the world. Joy is positivity in light of negativity. “September” is a philosophy in the form of one of the catchiest songs ever written. It will hopefully be played long after I’m gone.
So, these are just seven of many songs that move me to tears. Perhaps this will inspire you to think about the music that you love and understand why it moves you in the way that it does.