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What’s the Soundtrack of Your Life?

What's the Soundtrack of Your Life

There is one question I always dread…

“What kind of music do you like?”

To me, that’s like asking, “What kind of words do you read?” Too wide to encapsulate and always changing. But when it comes to the songs that make up the soundtrack of my human development, well, that is easier to share. Here is the shortlist — and I’d love to hear yours.

Soundtrack from Disney’s Oliver and Company
Age 4
The year is 1988. This period of life is dominated by tunes sung by anthropomorphic animals. But none is more seminal than Disney’s Oliver and Company. The cassette plays over and over in my Muppet Babies boombox until the tape sounds wonky. I choreograph dances to every glorious song, featuring leaps and high kicks, and force any and all visitors to watch me. This is what happens when you don’t have siblings.

Les Miserables, Original Cast Recording
Ages 5-16
Broadway show tunes dominate the speakers of my mom’s car as we drive to and fro, from school to ballet to piano. I learn every word to A Chorus Line, Phantom of the Opera, and of course, Les Mis. The very adult references fly over my head. (To my ears, ‘Lovely Ladies’ is not a song about prostitutes, but about ladies so lovely they must be immortalized in song!) Thirty years later, I listen to the original cast recording for old time’s sake and discover the song I now identify with is no longer the lovesick teen anthem ‘On My Own,’ but rather ‘I Dreamed a Dream,’ the lament sung by the character Fantine as she is fired from her factory job and thrown onto the streets of Paris, where she reflects on life’s disappointments and eventually dies. Wow, I think, I’m getting older.

Alanis Morissette, Jagged Little Pill
Age 10
Middle school. Somewhere in New Jersey, I’m wearing a thermal shirt with baggy overalls and sneaking black lipstick into my backpack. Alanis Morissette is the first person to teach me that not only is it okay to be angry, it is also okay to express it. In fact, it is okay to be a lot of things — mournful, rueful, acerbic, clever — that may or may not be ‘pretty.’ It is a most welcome lesson.

Aerosmith, I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing
Age 13
Freshman year of high school. I chat with classmates on AOL Instant Messenger, deep into the night, using screen names that make little sense (‘DerangedPudding’ and ‘FuriousMango’). I cry many melodramatic tears about things I have long since forgotten. In the background, this song plays on repeat, along with various others from Dawson’s Creek. It is not a high point, musically or emotionally.

Whitney Houston, One Moment in Time
Age 17
I sing this — the official song of the 1988 Olympics! — all by myself at my high school graduation. (Ah, to be 18 and still brave enough to sing in public.) There is so much pomp and so much circumstance. If I could, I’d go back and tell myself that yes, as Whitney says, there will be many times where I am ‘more than I thought I could be.’ But often, these moments look different than we expect.

The Shins, New Slang
Age 18-21
I arrive at college in the fall of 2002. Everyone listens to indie music and watches pretentious films (or at least pretends to). There is a weird band that plays weird songs at campus events. They are called Vampire Weekend. If you walk through a dorm at any time of day, you are sure to hear The Shins drifting from beneath someone’s doorway. This song underscores all social interactions in the years that follow. No one understands the lyrics (‘dirt in your fries?’) but we love it anyway.

Hilary Duff, Come Clean
20s (and beyond)
One day, while doing laundry, I hear a melody drifting out of my roommate’s bedroom. It sounds like the anthem of a candy-coated cherub. I burst into her room, where she looks like she has been caught holding horrible, terrible drugs. ‘THIS SONG. YOU LIKE IT TOO?’ I exclaim. ‘YES!’ she says, equal parts relieved and embarrassed. ‘IT’S JUST. SO. HAPPY!’ From then on, we refer to it as our ‘secret song’ (including in a text I sent as I was writing this). This is the first of many ‘secret songs’ — music you hate to love, and love to share with others who feel the same. Every now and then, I’ll sneak it onto a playlist as I’m tidying the apartment and find it hasn’t lost its magic.

Billy Joel, She’s Always a Woman
Always and Forever
In my thirties, the music I most identify with is what I’ve bundled under the umbrella of ‘Dad’s Car Music.’ This includes but is not limited to: Fleetwood Mac, Simon and Garfunkel, Hall and Oates, The Rolling Stones, Phil Collins, The Police. But the song that always slays me is ‘She’s Always a Woman’ by Billy Joel. The ballad (about Billy’s then wife and manager, Elizabeth Weber, who was known as a tough businesswoman) has inspired much discussion and debate, with some saying the lyrics are misogynistic or the subject of the song is too ruthless. To me, it’s about seeing someone so fully that you love them despite — and even because of — their ‘flaws.’ It is a love song to one’s totality, almost as poetic and complicated as romance itself.

What is the soundtrack of your life so far? What songs have meant the most and why? Would love to hear…

P.S. My life in perfume and 22 songs to make out to.

(Photo from LIFE Magazine, 1950.)

  1. Anna says...

    I raaaarely comment, but I just love this post so much! Thanks for sharing, Caroline!

  2. emily swinerd says...

    That question is a terrible one! on the first day of a new job at 23 a nice guy tried to start a conversation with this. I was nervous, hello it was my first day in a proper job and he asked the worst question! to my shame and continual disappointment, I replied, ‘I don’t like music.’

    He hardly spoke to me again. I understand. but if he had spoken to me again he would have found out that I like most genres of music and can’t define why I like it!

  3. Amy says...

    Love this! Age 5-15 Michael Jackson and Madonna, cool and the gang, Cindy Lauper, Debbie Gibson
    High School Pearl Jam, Green Day, Billy Joel, Phil Collins
    College Nathalie Merchant, DMB
    The 20’s U2, Keb Mo, John Coltrane
    30’s Pink, J Lo, Sarah machachan, Coldplay
    40’s Maggie Rogers, John Mayer, jack Johnson,

  4. ANA says...

    I remember, by flash tight now (I am 36):

    1. DON’T SPEAK – from No doubt
    2. all hits from Michael Jackson, Whitney
    3. NEVER EVER – from All saints
    4. IRONIC – Alanis Morissete
    4. DON’T LET GO – from En vogue
    5. LIVIN’ ON A PRAYER- Bon Jovi
    6. complete soundtrack from movie AMELIE POULAIN
    7. all songs from BAJAGA & BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN
    8. and the one who always connects me, myself and I: it is one of the most hartbreaking songs and when I hear this melody I see my life from the start to the end…it tells me how is life special, unique, filled with mindfulness and bittersweet.
    U should ALL listen to this one: ZREJLO ŽITO:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HpbKeIY0bkQ

    in between also hits from Destiny’s child, Waterfalls from TLC and Allyah…and all from Motown…ah, music shapes my life!

  5. Liz Jackson says...

    “You and me togeeeeether will be, foreeeeever you’ll see. We’ll always be goooood company!” ;o)

  6. Aideen says...

    Not the soundtrack to my life, but the piece of music that would play over the movie version of my family dynasty bio-pic – Woodbrook by Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin https://youtu.be/I0XHs2k5CMY It is very tranquil, sometimes giddy, with moments of drama, for me it is our Kinsella Clann in musical notes. 🎶

  7. Nicole says...

    This reminds me of what has become a recent Dutch tradition. Every year, a Dutch radio station plays the 2000 songs most voted for by the public. They start the day after Christmas right until the strike of midnight on New Year’s Eve. You can submit your top 30 and they make a list from the submissions. Only being able to choose 30 songs is challenging tbh. My list always includes Madonna/Lionel Ritchie and before 2018 Michael Jackson as well because I heard them on the radio growing up in the eighties. Whitney Houston (I will always love you reminds me of one of my first “boyfriends”) I can totally relate to your story about Alanis Morissette. I also had a Bon Jovi phase in the early nineties btw. Then during college mainly Christian music such as Hillsong and a lot of Dutch music. U2 and Coldplay during my late twenties/early thirties. And now I am into John Mayer and singer-songwriter kind of music but because my kids like artists like Katy Perry and Ariana Grande I can also be seen singing “ one last time” while driving.

  8. Siobhan says...

    That Aerosmith song – the soundtrack to an at-the-time extremely traumatic breakup. I was 14 and we had been “going out” (ie hanging around the park with about 10 other friends) for about 3 months. Somehow this song became very important to processing my devastation. Hilarious and heart-aching to think of it now – teenage feelings are so intense! And any time I hear this song I’m right back there!

  9. Kate says...

    What is it about Dad’s Car Music?!?!?!?!?!? It is so formative for me too. The Beat, XTC, Peter Tosh, Elvis Costello, Van Morrison, Sinead O’Connor, Tori Amos, Steely Dan, Kate Bush. Feeling so cool getting to choose the cassette, finally old enough to ride in the passengers seat with the windows down in the old Saab with the sagging ceiling fabric held up by thumbtacks.

  10. I have a very odd soundtrack so far, lol
    Elementary school= old school musicals like The Sound of Music, the Music Man, anddd lots of Usher, haha! Also Jimmy Buffet because my parents are huge fans..
    Middle School= more Usher…and more musicals like Legally Blonde the Musical, My Fair Lady, and Grease
    High School= I was in band, choir, marching band and show choir, so if it wasn’t Broadway, I wasn’t listening to it.
    College to now= realized I love some classic rock like Queen, Rolling Stones, and some more goodies like The Beatles, Elton John, Carole King, Frank Sinatra, jazz/big band…BUT of course all of the Broadway! (with a sprinkling of Lady Gaga :)

    Libby
    https://premedwearspearls.blogspot.com/

  11. Susan says...

    Life in a Northern Town and Don’t Dream it’s Over take me right back to high school days in the 80s.

  12. Susan says...

    “Always a Woman” would play on the radio when I was a kid and it TERRIFIED me – “carelessly cut you and laugh while you’re bleeding…” I felt the same way about Hotel California, with its beast and the hotel that would trap you there forever. I love hearing these songs now and they make me feel kind of nauseous remembering how they scared me, but I also love them at the same time.

  13. Sukhie P says...

    hahaha, Jenny. I relate so hard. One time my college therapist suggested that, in addition to cognitive behaviour therapy, cutting down on my consumption of The National, JM Coetzee, and Susan Sontag would also probably help. I kept the Sontag, but switched out the other two, and felt a remarkable difference. Still spent way too many years in trendy but ineffective bralettes tho

  14. Lucy says...

    I’m 36 if this helps…

    Obsessed with all Disney as a kid, and all oldies because of the radio driving with my mom.

    Les Mis, Phantom and Joseph and the amazing technicolor dream coat!

    Free day, vanilla ice and ace of base in 6th grade

    Aerosmith, Boston, Dixie Chicks, Dave Matthews, classic rock in high school

    College- Britney, JLo, Kanye, Usher (all the hits of that day!)

    20’s- U2, Bruce Springsteen, Keane

    30’s- Motown, still Bruce, revisiting U2

    • Y says...

      Bruuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuce!!!!!

  15. Katie says...

    Very random favourite music memories from my childhood- I cried every time the Littlest Hobo theme song “Maybe Tomorrow” came on at the end of the show.
    “The Log Drivers Waltz” is a Canadian folk song that played on the TV when I was a kid.
    I really loved Sesame Street’s Pinball number count song.
    Sharon, Lois and Bram.
    My dad had an 8-track tape of Trooper’s “Hot Shot” album. We listened to it over and over on a family road trip to South Dakota. One of my favourite childhood memories.
    Everything Disney ❤️
    I love music. But one of my favourite bands of all time is Dave Matthews Band!!!

    • Susannah says...

      Haha Katie! This is the ultimate Canadian list. I said “Littlest Hobo!” out loud and my husband walking by started in right away, “There’s a voice…”

    • Meghan says...

      So many Canadian classics! I am absolutely humming “Log Driver’s Waltz” right now.

      Sharon, Lois and Bram! Also Mr. Dressup, Fred Penner’s Place (word bird!) and Charlotte Diamond. Always Charlotte Diamond.

      And of course, Raffi. I taught my 2 year old niece “Baby Beluga”. Now she keeps asking for “baby boo gaga”.

  16. Jenny says...

    There is an entire, embarrassing chapter of my life when I shuffled around NYC, earnestly listening to the National and really feeling it, man. It involved a super-precise scissor over comb undercut from Massimo on Orchard Street, frenzied application writing that made me feel I was selling out my family for tragedy porn, bralettes, the poetry of Hart Crane, and the weird Seasonal Polar seltzer flavors everyone hates (mojito, faint eau de turtle, mist of toothpaste). Thank you, the National, for your stressed-out benedictions for Very Serious women in their 20s

    • Sukhie P says...

      hahaha, Jenny. I relate so hard. One time my college therapist suggested that, in addition to cognitive behaviour therapy, cutting down on my consumption of The National, JM Coetzee, and Susan Sontag would also probably help. I kept the Sontag, but switched out the other two, and felt a remarkable difference. Still spent way too many years in trendy but ineffective bralettes tho

  17. Jessica says...

    Ha! Great question! My answers, in an overly long essay:
    Early childhood: The Slipper & The Rose.
    This totally under-appreciated and strangely nuanced take on Cinderella (marrying an unknown local causes international political problems!) was written by the Sherman Brothers, also known for writing all the songs in Mary Poppins. It’s cheesy, it’s amazing, and it stars Richard Chamberlain singing about the use of the Royal We. I watched it endlessly on repeat off an old VHS taped from TV.

    Late childhood: Whatever my older brothers were listening to, but primarily Duran Duran.

    Early Teenhood: Janet Jackson, Rythm Nation.
    This album was the first music I bought for myself. It was socially conscious! It had beats that totally slapped (are the kids still saying that?). The videos were great! It also was the gateway for all of the FANTASTIC socially conscious R&B of the 90’s that I never stopped listening to – even after I discovered Depeche Mode and Nirvana and all that. Janet was the entry point for TLC, Aaliyah, and my forever favorite, En Vogue.

    Late Teenhood: Charles Mingus, Ah Um.
    I had the most amazing dance teacher in High school – Reginald Ray Savage, who has a dance company to this day in Oakland California. His energy, enthusiasm and pure style instilled in me a deep life-long love of jazz music. Mingus’s album was always the peak of that love – and still is. I choreographed a thing in college to one of the songs that was the pinnacle of my short-lived (but not shabby) choreographic career.

    Early 20s: Kruder & Dorfmeister, DJ Kicks
    I returned from college to the absolute height of the Dot Com-fueled profligacy and dissipation of San Francisco in the late 90’s. Warehouse parties (read: raves) and weird, hilariously dangerous robotic demonstrations in abandoned lots from Survival Research Laboratories. Martinis served in oversized glasses and everyone with more money than they knew what to do with from jobs writing copy for Ask Jeeves or what have you. The chill room, the restaurant with the architectural food and the party where you took a little e and ended up in a cuddle pile with 3 friends and four people you just met? All to the soundtrack of downtempo electronica, of which K&D was the pinnacle.

    Late 20s: Limon Y Sal, Julieta Venegas
    In southern california for an ill-advised trip through law school, I discovered Mexican indie rock – along with everyone else who listened to KCRW. And yes, I listened to all the regular indie rock – the Hot Hot Heat, the Mates of State, Pete Yorn, Bloc Party (which, I’ve noticed, seems to be influencing a lot of new stuff) – but listening to Mexican indie rock made me feel more sophisticated and worldly. It was the perfect music for renting under-appreciated (not for long!) mid mod houses in Palm Springs and trying to forget that my comedy-turned-NPR writing boyfriend just broke my heart.

    Early 30s: Devotchka, How it Ends
    I moved to Portland, OR, to escape the law and landed among a group of young bohemians who seemed to be playing hooky every day and listening to hipster sea shanties played by some band or another every night. You could only call it bonhomie: Spontaneous picnics, short lived romances, shameless femininity, flowers in our hair and music that involved fiddles sung throaty to the rooftops. Everything felt like a discovery – and adorably provincial – all at the same time. Of course, it couldn’t last, but the friendships did.

    Late 30’s: Mandolin Orange, This Side of Jordan
    The strangest thing happened in my late 30’s – I met my husband and started on the life I live now, selling fruits and vegetables, being a family, being a wife. Everything changed and mellowed with surprising speed. The summer after we met I took my now-husband to Pickathon, a local music festival, and kinda blew his mind. He found Mondolin Orange – a now-husband-and-wife – playing on the smallest stage and loved them and made me listen to them. Their sound – the gentleness and hominess of it – defines the life we started together: visiting farms, taking hikes, kissing scraped elbows, growing a garden, making dinner and singing our kid to sleep. It’s not really exciting, it’s a bit boring even, but I love it and we love each other.

    Now: The Beths, Future Me Hates Me
    Inevitably, the slow pace of a wonderful life creates a little restlessness. I don’t want to change anything, but I spent a lot of years on my own (I didn’t get married or have a kid until I was 40!) and I sometimes miss the independence and the indie rock shows. Listening to the Beths (or Alvvays or Lucy Dacus) is like listening to an earlier era of my life – full of crushes and self-doubt and hipster cool. And frankly, with the whole world shut down for a pandemic and the future uncertain and maybe another economic depression on the way, listening to lady rockers shred while they worry about some random and likely unworthy dude is a charming distraction.

    No one will read this whole thing, but it was fun to write, so thanks for the excuse to ramble down memory lane!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      loved reading this, jessica! and so much new-to-me music.

    • Valeria says...

      I read it and loved it. I don’t know most of your music choices, but I can relate so much with your story that I will listen to all of them. Thanks Jessica for sharing.

    • Amber says...

      So thrilled to find another The Slipper and the Rose fan!!

    • Jessica says...

      Well, shucks, guys! Thanks for reading! I hope you find something good to listen to.
      I clearly have too much time on my hands – and am a little too enthusiastic about the word “pinnacle.” (I have time to write but not copy-edit, apparently!)
      And Amber, I’m re-watching it now, and it’s so so good! The dry humor! The political machinations! The exasperated fairy godmother! It holds up really well.

  18. Amanda says...

    About a year ago, I made a nostalgic Spotify playlist with all the songs that remind me of my life’s milestones. It’s a mix of really great, classic songs, as well as really embarrassing, classic songs. I’ll put on the playlist when I’m feeling reflective, and I recently found myself ugly crying to “A Thousand Years” from the Twilight soundtrack. It might not be the best song, but it’s definitely one of my life’s songs!

    • alison says...

      Why is that song so good!? I’m so embarrassed that it’s in Twilight because that I love it so much :) My sister and I have a ongoing joke about Christina Perri songs where we can’t understand why they move us to tears (have you heard “Arms”? Talk about ugly crying!)

  19. Andrea Patton says...

    I really really really enjoyed this post. I think I’m going to make this the topic of conversation for my next happy hour zoom call with girlfriends- have everyone share their own. Thank you for keeping content fresh during these tough times! I know its hard to stay creative when we are stuck at home!

  20. Emily says...

    Fun thing to think about!

    My childhood soundtrack is all the old school country musicians-Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, Johnny Cash, Hank Williams as well as John Denver. Many of those musicians regularly appeared on The Muppet Show-which also occupies my young childhood soundtrack.

    When I began to buy and choose my own music I gravitated toward Michael Jackson, Madonna and Cyndi Lauper. I must have worn She’s So Unusual out I played it so much.

    My college soundtrack is a mix of folk and country-The Indigo Girls, Emmylou Harris, Ani DiFranco, etc.

    Well into middle age, I’ve continued to listen to those women and grown extremely fond of the Avett Brothers, Brandi Carlile, Lori McKenna and become a die hard fan of John Prine, who my dad also always loved. He reminds me of my dad . Prine’s songwriting is unheralded and uniquely American. Sadly, he just died of Covid19-the world has lost a generous and kind musician. Lately, he’s been on repeat in our home as we will miss him very much. If you haven’t listened to John Prine please do. I’d be hard pressed to recommend his best song-you might already know the song Angel from Montgomery, made famous by Bonnie Raitt and long a folk favorite. But you should also take a listen to some other songs-Long Monday, Clay Pigeons, Summer’s End, Jesus the Missing Years, Souvenirs…I could go on and on

    xo

    • Kirsten says...

      I’m not alone! My only soundtrack from my very earliest years is a tape of super old-school country songs. I loved it. Oh, and also Enya’s “Sail Away”

  21. Kelly says...

    Anything my two sons sing or play on the piano. Sometimes my heart feels like it might explode but they are My Music.

  22. Lisa says...

    Despite growing up on different continents, we overlap a lot of songs!
    My childhood was REM – this is what happens when you have older siblings. I vividly remember Alanis’ album coming out, because my Art teacher couldn’t STAND her and went on about that “old Alanis woman”.
    New Slang is the song of my post-grad life, when I moved to London. I remember listening to it on repeat as I sat on my own in my new flat playing a flying dinosaur computer game, trying to make sense of my completely new life, the death of a long term relationship and just everything changing.
    Chocolate by Snow Patrol – first day at the first job of my career.
    Aba (father) by Eviatar Banai – I listened to this non stop when I was going through fertility treatment. Only afterwards, I found out the translation of the lyrics, and this line in particular still makes me well up – “I want to be sure with all my heart that this journey will have a good ending” (it did). https://lyricstranslate.com/en/%D7%90%D7%91%D7%90-aba-father.html
    Coronavirus isolation – what my children call the “silly song” Love Me Again by John Newman, played every evening almost so we can dance around the living room together

  23. Joan says...

    Caroline, love this! Also, I’ve been meaning to ask for months now, where did you get your shelving unit from your holiday packing post photos? I’ve been searching and searching but haven’t been able to find it. Thanks so much!!! https://cupofjo.com/2019/12/holiday-packing/

  24. Audra says...

    Caroline, this was so relatable! Not only because we’re around the same age, and your songs/time periods resonate with me, but I’ve also thought about this topic. I made a Spotify playlist called “The Shape of Me”, and it contains all the defining songs of my life on it. Some examples:

    Age 7: My friend and I making up a dance to Billy Joel’s “Uptown Girl” in my backyard.

    Age 12: Listening to “I Want it That Way” by the Backstreet Boys in room, never understanding what the lyrics meant, but knowing I would marry Nick Carter when I grew up.

    Age 16: Riding in my first serious boyfriend’s yellow mustang with Foo Fighters’ “Everlong” on the radio.

    Age 20: Going to a Regina Spektor concert with my friend who had an extra ticket and hearing the song “Samson” which gave me chills and still does.

  25. Lauren C. says...

    Age 4-10: the soundtrack from the Little Mermaid; songs my mom consistently sang from the time we were babies –Edelweiss; You are my Sunshine; Doe a Deer; Few of my favorite things (basically everything from the Sound of Music).

    Teenage Years: More than a Feeling (by Boston); Bruce Springsteen (thank you, Dad); Third Eye Blind (all songs).

    Studying Abroad my Junior Year of College: Blonde on Blonde (Nada Surf); Hips Don’t Lie (Shakira) — was in EVERY club.

    20’s: Wagon Wheel (Old Crow Medicine Show); Home (Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zero’s)

    Currently (and now that I have a child): ALL the lullabies my mom sang that I now sing on repeat (my 3 year-old’s favorite is Edelweiss); Brandi Carlile (every song, forever and ever).

  26. Mina says...

    The Killers – Be still.

    When times get tough, it calms me down and puts perspective to everything.

  27. Mary Kay says...

    Yes! For me, Dad music will always mean Elvis Costello, REM, and Lucinda Williams. I can close my eyes and be right there, in the back of his Jeep Cherokee, windows rolled down so the dog could hang his head out, listening to Car Wheels on a Gravel Road.

  28. Sarah says...

    There was definitely a Sarah McLaughlin stage when I was a moody 14 year old! I’ve probably taken a turn with every genre over the years. It’s okay to just enjoy music. It doesn’t need to be defined.

  29. Hilary says...

    OMG yes DAD MUSIC! My brother and I have been calling a category very similar to that Dad Music for years. Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, The Beatles, Phil Collins and inexplicably, the song “Ridin’ through the desert on a horse with no name” from the band America. But only that one song! The rest of their canon = trash. But that one song is my dad’s ultimate fave. He’s a quirky man.

    But here’s what I wonder – what will my daughter think of as Dad Music or Mom Music? My parents’ music is so connected to them because those are the tapes and CDs we owned. Now, with spotify, I’m afraid this hilarious and special sub-category of music will be lost since we can listen to literally any song ever. How will my daughter know that the soundtrack to Pride & Prejudice AND all things Queen are both essential listening for being a human?!? How, I ask you?!

  30. Ailsa says...

    Caroline!! I ALSO listened to Les Miserables constantly, from an absurdly young age (4). I specifically remember singing ‘Lovely Ladies’ at the top of my voice from the back seat of the car, while in the front my parents were like “…”
    I assumed they were awestruck by the possibilities of my budding talent :)

  31. jen says...

    Childhood: Motown. specifically Aretha Franklin. There was no kiddie music in our house!
    Middle school: Prince & Madonna are the two that come to mind instantly. Duran Duran, Wham!
    High school: so.much.hip hop. Salt N Pepa, more Prince, En Vogue, Missy Elliot, Beastie Boys, and Bob Marley/Ziggy Marley,
    College: MORE hip hop with some grunge throw in. Cypress Hill, more Beastie Boys, Snoop, De La Soul, Tribe Called Quest, The Roots, Widespread Panic, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Smashing Pumpkins, Soundgarden, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Lenny Kravitz. (so much Lenny), INXS.
    Grad school: alt country like Whiskey Town, more Widespread.
    Grad school to 2010: Lauryn Hill, The Fugees, early Jay-Z, Kayne (before he went cray), Common, Mos Def, Beyonce, Jill Scott, Alicia Keys then a gradual progression to alt rock as hip hop/r&b got mediocre. There are outliers, obviously. JT, Lady Gaga, Foo Fighters, Florence & the Machine, The White Stripes, Rihanna, Pink, N.E.R.D, Pharell., The Strokes.
    2010+: Janelle Monae, Jack White, XX, Vampire Weekend, Avett Brothers, Lorde, Alice Merton, The Civil Wars, Kimbra, Lizzo, Mo, Of Monsters and Men, Sia, Sylvan Esso, Sza, Tove Lo, Banks.

  32. Emily says...

    Recently my husband and I took one of those ‘post a song a day’ prompts thats going around social media and we did it with each other. We sat down with a puzzle and alternated playing out picks for “song that makes you sad” or “song that must be played loud” and I found myself learning SO much about the man I’ve been married to for the last 10 years. I especially loved every time we said “I totally know which one you’ll pick for this” and we were dead wrong. Heres to music that tells the stories of ourselves!

  33. Noons says...

    Last October, while in active labor with daughter, the nurse said we could put some music on if I wanted. I asked my husband to put on the instrumental bedtime playlist I had made for our boys because I thought it’d be soothing. The first track that played was the opening song to The Last of the Mohicans, which is a powerful song. The med student goes “this is the most epic thing I’ve ever been a part of!” Haha.

    The next song was the Sesame Street “One Banana”! We all started laughing because I’d accidentally put that on the playlist. It was quite an interesting playlist to a big moment in my life.

    PS- The med student was on her 4th day shadowing my OB & ended up delivering my daughter because my doctor didn’t make it in time. So, it probably was one of the most epic things she’d done yet ;)

    • Debra R Simon says...

      As a current Pediatrician, and former terrified Med student, this brought a huge smile to my face! As did your article, Caroline! Thank you Cup of Jo, for being a daily dose of brightness, here in the hospital :)

    • Siobhan says...

      My boyfriend has music on when he’s working and I always laugh when “Moving Right Along” from The Muppets drifting from his office, usually in between The National and Bruce Springsteen! Our one year old son loves it so it’s on heavy rotation in our house!
      Thanks for sharing this, it really made me smile! AndI’m sure that med student will be telling your story for years to come!

  34. Julie says...

    Childhood: The music to Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Disney’s animated Robin Hood, Labyrinth, Madonna (who I used to beg my mom to see in person), E.L.O., and Bruce Springsteen.

    Teenage years: Tori Amos’ entire catalogue, David Bowie, the soundtracks to Les Mis, Into the Woods, Jesus Christ Superstar, and Rent, Pearl Jam, Garbage, Alanis.

    My 20’s: Radiohead, Tom Petty, lots of Indie bands, Bjork, and I have a very specific love of Arcade Fire’s album Funeral. When I moved out of my mom’s house and into my first apartment in a small neighborhood in Philly, I used to take my Walkman (I was late to iPods) and a book and sit at a local coffee shop and listen to that album while reading. It made me feel grown up.

    30’s and now just turned 40: I have spent these years with my husband, driving the 2 hours to Baltimore to visit his family, sitting on our deck and drinking wine, going on road trips, reading inside when it’s rainy-all of it has been set to a playlist I keep called “US!” It’s over 500 songs now, all of our combined favorites that I mess with depending on our mood.

    But when in doubt, I put on Tom Petty’s Wildflowers and listen from start to finish.

    • Meredith says...

      Reading your comment and Wildflowers just came on the radio (WXPN out of Philly) for earth day. What are the odds?

  35. Sarah says...

    Oh, Caroline. I, too, loved Come Clean but had no one to secretly share that love with. I renamed it in my iTunes so it would not be identifiable from a casual over the shoulder glance at my most played list. I’m trying to remember what I called it… I think it might have been “meh” which must have been my way of summarizing my love/hate for it.

    My Les Mis equivalent might have been the Tarzan soundtrack. I recently found You’ll Be In My Heart on YouTube, and the top comment says, “Phil Collins didn’t have to go so hard on the Tarzan Soundtrack but he did that… He did that for all of us.” I thought that was pretty spot on.

  36. Jaimie says...

    maybe someone will have mentioned – but if you enjoyed this you might enjoy the bbc’s “desert island discs” podcast. it’s basically this prompt and they’ve been doing it since the forties! the whole archive is available too.

    • Jo Kelly says...

      thanks for the podcast!!… can’t wait to listen.

  37. Genevieve Martin says...

    Haha so funny I was nominated yesterday at work to share this! Have you heard of the radio programme “Desert Island Disks”? It’s very famous and long running in the UK on BBC radio 4. They interview famous people about the 8 tracks they would take if they were marooned on a desert island. (They also get to take one book and one luxury item!)
    We have been nominating someone each day and sharing while we are all working from home. Just a written version not an actual interview :)

  38. ETB says...

    Nearly every weekday morning, no matter where I’ve lived, I tune in to KEXP, 90.3, a seattle radio station, for John in the Morning. You can stream it online as most people around the world do.

    It is literally the soundtrack to my mornings from 8am – 12pm CT (6am-10am PST). In the car, on the train, always there; a comfort.

    John keeps us going with great music, humor, and real talk about the state of the world. As an independent radio station, he can say what we need to hear right now, reminding us we are not alone.

    • Diane says...

      Yes to KEXP! I have lived in Seattle for 32 years and the spirit of indie radio has always been alive and well here. We live minutes away from where KEXP broadcast and when they do gatherings (like the Prince Tribute right after he passed it was one of the most moving community events I have experienced). John in the morning is our favorite, but Michelle Myers dance parties on Friday nights is pretty awesome too :)
      And Radiohead, Arcade Fire and LCD Soundsystem will always be a big part of my soundtrack no matter my age (now 55).
      Thanks CoJ for being so awesome all days!

  39. Molly says...

    Enjoying reading the comments. I was all over the place throughout the years.
    As a child: Raffi, Aladdin soundtrack, Cat Stevens, Grateful Dead (influenced by my dad)
    Early teens: Dave Matthews Band, Dispatch, John Mayer, Ben Harper
    Late teens: Mighty souls of Mischief, Gangstar, Mos Def, Ugly Duckling
    College: Modest Mouse, Fiona Apple, Built to Spill, Elliott Smith, Sufjan Stevens
    20’s: MGMT, Passion Pit, Vampire Weekend, Grizzly Bear, Fleet Foxes
    30’s: Definitely some dad car music mixed with Phoebe Bridgers, Aldous Harding, soul and motown

  40. I loved this post! Thanks so much Caroline for giving us something fun to think about and opening the door to sweet, sweet nostalgia. :)

    Also, the Soundtrack to Oliver & Company is the best.

  41. Daniela says...

    Such a fun read and a fun prompt to think about!

    Early 1990s – a mix of whatever my parents like, Led Zeppelin and The Beatles stand out as favorites.
    Mid to late 1990s – I love Metallica which did not fit in with my peer’s music tastes.. I did also like Spice Girls and boy bands like Five though!
    Early 2000s – I was obsessed with Green Day and going to rock shows. My best friend and I had every Green Day album and got their DVD the day it came out in 2005.
    Late 2000s – I was really into screamo, emo music.. In Flames, Nightwish, etc. I wore a lot of black and converse in my late high school days.
    2010s and beyond – I have no idea how to explain my music taste. Still love the classics, but also love EDM (love DJ podcasts) along with softer, dreamer music. It’s an eclectic mix :)

  42. Scarlett says...

    “Dad’s Car Music” YES. I attribute much of my early experience with music to the stuff I’d hear while in the car with my dad.

  43. Up & Up from Coldplay!

  44. swishmusic says...

    You had me at New Slang and Always a Woman. How is it that the mention of music can stir so many feelings??!! Love this article Caroline, as I do all your others.

  45. Lin says...

    Love this! All of my memories are accompanied by music.

    Early Childhood: Definitely the Dad car mixed tapes–Simon and Garfunkel, Billy Joel, Elton John

    Elementary years: Olivia Newton John! The Grease and Xanadu soundtracks were my world. Every song popular on top 40 and later, MTV

    Middle School: The Monkees when they experienced their second heyday after being played on MTV.

    Teen Years: Moody, too “cool” for pop music. I was all about Depeche Mode, New Order, Talking Heads, The Cure, The Smiths

    College and Twenties: Grateful Dead! Followed them every summer for years. Phish, Widespread Panic, Leftover Salmon

    Thirties: All of the different bands I loved throughout the years.

    Now: I’m a parent of teens and their music totally influences my own. At the same time, I try to expose them to some of the great older bands. The Strokes, White Stripes, The Black Keys, Girl in Red, Billie Eilish, everything on the Alt-Nation station that we listen to as I drive the kids to activities, but also David Bowie, The Kinks, Beatles. Lots of Broadway thanks to my teen: Hamilton, Be More Chill, Mean Girls, Beetlejuice, In the Heights, Hairspray, Les Mis

    • Blair says...

      My eyes about popped out of my head at your College Years music. Widespread Panic, Dave Matthews Band and Phish were followed, numerous concerts attended and lots of memories made to this music over the 4 years I attended college. The music I introduce to my children are Prince, The Band, The Righteous Brothers. I love when my 4, 6 and 7 year olds break out singing all of the lyrics to these songs!!!

    • Denise says...

      We’re about the same age ;-) I am very proud to have passed on my early musical tastes to my kids as well. And I’ve been to both the White Stripes and Machine Gun Kelly in the past year. Damn it, I’ve still got it!

  46. We are about the same age and I identify with so much of this! I would add, though, ‘angry girl music of the indie-rock persuasion’. I was a big 10 Things I Hate About You fan! That pretty much sums up the playlist I listened to today (angry-ish ‘90s women) and um, it was awesome.

    I’m 36 and Dad’s car music features HEAVILY in my life now. So weird.

  47. Yuna says...

    I’m in my 20s and it’s everything by these female artists: Feist (specific songs: Mushaboom, So Sorry, Feel It All, Let It Die), The Greatest by Cat Power, Norah Jones, and Fiona Apple (holy smokes her new album that just came out!!).

    I tell people music by the artist Feist is literally in “my blood.” Her songs take me somewhere else into the future and past while creating a feeling that makes my gut flutter. When I was in middle school, I came across a song by Feist for the first time (or so I thought) and instantly felt so inexplicably moved. A few months later, I found my ultimate favorite Feist album in a CD form in my mom’s room and was shocked cause Feist wasn’t very mainstream. I found out then that my mom used to play Feist in the car when I was a baby to calm me down. I feel as though Feist has a special spot in my subconscious (and I quietly thank my mom for starting me off so young with strong-indie-rock-female-artists). So strange how certain music can feel so sublime.

    • Clare says...

      I love this story Yuna! When I was in high school, one of my friends and I both babysat for my little cousin (at separate times) and we discovered we’d both sang “Such Great Heights” by the postal service as a lullaby. I wonder if he’ll ever hear it one day and be brought back to babyhood.

    • MJ says...

      New Fiona Apple is so good!

    • Siobhan says...

      Oh I love this! You’ve inspired me to be really thoughtful about what I play when my son is around – a good reminder that they absorb so much more than you realise!

    • Lauren says...

      Yuna, Just because I love all the women you named, let me add to your list…Joan Armatrading’s Love and Affection–so heartfelt! Beth Orton, the Be Good Tanyas, Po’ Girl. <3

  48. Sarah says...

    Age 5-7: Titanic Soundtrack (Saw the movie waaaayyy too young and used to pretend I was Rose and Jack survived and we toured elementary school assemblies together to talk about world history) (I guess that was imaginative, but also very suburban), Spice Girls, Shania Twain, Faith Hill, Britney Spears, The Beatles

    Age 10: Avril Lavigne

    Age 14: Jonas Brothers, Fefe Dobson, Liz Phair, Franz Ferdinad, Blondie

    Age 16-18: Regina Spektor, Laura Marling, Kate Nash, Adele, Johnny Flynn, Florence and the Machine, Vampire Weekend, Rilo Kiley, Arcade Fire

    Age: 18-25: Joni Mitchell, Taylor Swift, Lorde, Margaret Glaspy, Fiona Apple, Belle & Sebastian, Jenny Lewis

    Currently: Waxahatchee, Mitski, Harry Styles, The Beths, Carly Rae Jepsen

    Always and Forever: Laura Marling, The Beatles, Joni Mitchell

  49. Midge says...

    Too many songs to list, but a few snapshots:
    Oingo Boingo “We Close Our Eyes”— driving the L.A. freeways late at night during college.

    The Mamas and the Papas “Dream a Little Dream”— spontaneously dancing in the kitchen the night before my now husband left on a six-month trip (which he cut two months short to show up at my office with a bouquet of red roses).

    The Beatles “Across the Universe”— the song that magically manifests at moments of transition.

    I could go on and on. I love thinking about this!

    • Tricia Benson says...

      Oingo Boingo yes!

  50. Jacy says...

    I was always listening to Death to the Pixies when I met my husband.

    • Sarz says...

      He’s a fan too, I hope? I saw them on their Dolittle reunion tour, and saw an awful lot of what looked to be couples in the audience. We’ll call this a victory for…unconventional romantic music. 😉

  51. Alex says...

    Dad’s Car Music. Hahaha! I have the exact same affinity for this genre. My soundtrack:
    Elementary school: MC Hammer and Madonna
    Middle School: Radiohead – Pablo Honey
    Highschool: Radiohead – OK Computer
    College: Radiohead – KidA
    Early 20s – Ryan Adams (I blame my ex boyfriend)
    Late 20s – Patti Smith (graduate art school in NYC)
    Entire 30s – Prince, Beyonce, and Dad Car Music

  52. S says...

    This post is delightful! I think my list is probably pretty esoteric:
    Childhood – Musicals and Klezmer music my parents played in the car
    Tween – *NSYNC, Backstreet, Spice Girls and the like
    High School – Guster and Shlomo Artzi (my sister brought back his CD from Israel)
    College/law school – 80s songs the dive bars played (Living on a Prayer, Don’t stop Believing, Come on Irene…) & the eternal closing song “the Gambler”
    30s in Nigeria – Afrobeat hits by PSQUARE (testimony), Skales (shake body) and Olamide (bobo) and the eternal expat-in-Africa party songs — Shakira’s Waka Waka and Danza Kuduro

  53. Savannah says...

    On the way to my first baby girl’s first pediatrician’s appointment, I sat in the backseat next to her car seat and Tim McGraw’s “Something Like That” came on the radio as we drove over the overpass. I was immediately brought back to the summer of 15 years before and my first kiss on a hill overlooking the lake at summer camp (not with her father). And as a general vision of my life flashed before my eyes, I was filled with this hope for her to have a lifetime of amazing memories set to songs.

  54. Maria says...

    Earliest album I ever remember listening to is The Carpenters. BeeGees, Abba, Whatever poppy stuff was out there, I listened.

    Yes, The Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix – probably ages 8-13 (yes, that young, I had older sisters really into music – and let’s face it, I STILL listen to all this music now).

    Teen years – ALL the 80s: New Order, The Psychedelic Furs, etc… THE POLICE were my everything! (and my very first concert).

    Twenties – now I’m married (yes, young!) and STILL listening to all the music of my youth, all blended together. Also my husband is a musician, so always lots and lots of concerts, live music venues big and small.

    Late 20s-early 30s – start getting into Jazz and Grunge – fall in LOVE with Pearl Jam ( I often refer to them as The Police of my adulthood, or to people who know me from my younger years, that The Police were the Pearl Jam of my youth, so they work vice versa :)) HUGE Rage Against the Machine fan and still am. Also dip my toe into a bit of Classical music love, but always remain a novice.

    Late 30s – 40s – discover Modest Mouse, Death Cab for Cutie, The Strokes, Kings of Leon – so my musical tastes widen a bit more but still encapsulate all my former loves.

    40s and beyond … still listen to it ALL (well except the poppy BS of my early childhood, haha) and love it all. Music is a great passion that threads through my entire life. Concerts meant to attend this year: Pearl Jam (sadly postponed) Steely Dan, Rage Against the Machine and Incubus … hope they all can happen!

    • Jo Kelly says...

      loved reading this! I’m beyond my 40’s too and identified with so much! The Carpenters, BeeGees, and don’t forget Simon & Garfunkel.. and YES to listening to our teens’ music!… they continually tell me it was such a big deal that I’d listen to Alexis on Fire (screamo stuff!) and whatever they wanted while driving home from volleyball practice (yes, Death Cab for Cutie, Destinys Child, etc). … I still look to them for new music, but now more than ever they are pushing songs my way that I used to play while cooking dinner, like Jars of Clay, James Taylor and more… they get all sentimental about it and it warms my heart:) nothing like music to unite us

  55. Meghan says...

    soundtrack to Romeo + Juliet, always and forever

    • Meg says...

      OMG – yes!! This was the soundtrack to 9th grade for me. I haven’t thought about it in ages. Thanks for the reminder.

    • MJ says...

      YES. That and the Empire Records soundtrack.

    • Meghan says...

      MJ, thank you so much for reminding me about Empire Records – how could I forget?! Gin Blossoms, “A Girl Like You”…so GOOD!

  56. Em says...

    This post is perfection.

  57. Annie says...

    We overlapped at Columbia by a year! You were a senior the year I was a freshmen :) I didn’t realize you had gone there too! To this day I think of Hamilton Hall whenever I hear the lyric “and I’m sleeping on the balcony after class.”

    • Barbara says...

      Funny. I also went to Columbia. I had no idea that Caroline had gone. I graduated 10 years before she did and moved back to the Boston area, but I also love New Slang by the Shins.

    • Barbara says...

      As far as my own playlist goes, Tom Petty’s Full Moon Fever album came out freshman year and since then Tom Petty has always been on my list.

      Vampire Weekend was clearly before my time, but the Spin Doctors went to Columbia. I don’t know if it existed when you were there, but there was a disco in the basement of Carman called The Plex. The Spin Doctors played there to a crowd of about 25. I was there and we thought they were terrible.

      I also saw the Village People on campus for $1

  58. Abby says...

    It’s almost eerie how our music and timelines line up! I wonder if this is true for any generation – the years and songs shared across so many people. The power of music as a commonality stuns me.

    • Megan says...

      Also came here to say this! 1985 here and jagged little pill was my first CD and I played it about a million times.

  59. Laura says...

    Grade School: Nutcracker Suite (ballet devotee). Simon and Garfunkel, always. Everly Brothers.
    Pre-teen: Grease soundtrack (was 12 when it arrived in theaters).
    Early teen: Fame soundtrack. Firebird Suite. Pictures at an Exhibition (Mussogorsky). Anything by Rush.
    Mid Teen: Bowie’s Let’s Dance. ASIA. Duran Duran.
    Late teen and college (circa 1984-89): Madonna. Yes. Emerson, Lake & Palmer. Peter Gabriel SO. Culture Club. Eurythmics.
    Early married years: George Michael Freedom ’90. Sting. C&C Music Factory.
    Childrearing years: Fleetwood Mac. Counting Crows. DMB. Elton John. Beatles. Endless Disney soundtracks. Brandi Carlile.
    Empty nest years: Devotchka. Elbow. Decemberists. Gregory Alan Isakov. Andrew Bird. FKA Twigs. Anything played at Jazzercise, which I am missing terribly right now.

  60. Michaela says...

    My mind was blown when I listened to the Oliver & Company song and thought, “this sounds so much like Billy Joel, no wonder I liked that movie as a kid” — and it IS Billy Joel! Thank you for that fun realization and trip down memory lane.

  61. Jess says...

    Allman Brothers- Jessica
    Green Day- Basket Case
    Bonnie Raitt- Something to Talk About
    Dire Straits- Money for Nothing
    Shania Twain- Man! I feel like a woman!
    EMF- Unbelievable
    Warren G- Regulate
    R Kelly Ignition (Remix)
    Wilco- You and I
    Crosby Stills and Nash- Southern Cross

  62. Kim says...

    That Aerosmith song is one of the only songs on my NEVER AGAIN, I will walk out of wherever I am if it starts playing, nightmare song list. It played over and over in my head for days during that era of the Armageddon movie (first coed sleepover sometime in high school) and drove all appreciation of Aerosmith out the window (except for really old Aerosmith- like Dream On.)

    Oliver was the best. My siblings, cousins and I also choreographed crazy dances to the soundtrack.

  63. Gail says...

    Here’s what I remember best:
    Pre teens: Mostly the Beatles! Yes, when they were all still alive and still a group.
    Early teens: Elton John – I was just COMPLETELY smitten!
    Later teens: Queen, Tom Petty, Molly Hatchet
    Twenties: The Cars, ELO, Robert Plant (solo, not with LED Zeppelin), more “alternative“ stuff like Berlin, Peter Gabriel, Bowie. Started watching a LOT of MTV in my early and mid twenties. When they used to actually play videos!
    Thirties onward: mish mash of vintage rock, jazz, blues. Even good country (e.g., Johnny Cash). I’ve definitely noticed that as I’ve grown older my music likes have broadened. I think you get to a point where you recognize and appreciate a good song when you hear it, no matter what the genre.

    Thanks for this little walk down memory lane!

    • Gail says...

      Forgot to mention The Police in my late teens and 20s. And then after they broke up some of the earlier Sting solo work (Dream of the Blue Turtles) in my late 20s.

    • Laura says...

      I think we are in the same age bracket! Great list. LOVED Elton with Kiki Dee, wanted her hairstyle so badly. And Olivia Newton John’s. And Peter Gabriel got me through college.

      YES to broader tastes later in life. Having adult kids to influence and expose you to really eclectic stuff is amazing.

    • Gail says...

      Laura, I actually got an Olivia Newton John haircut in my teens. All my school friends were envious!

  64. BACKSTREET’S BACK ALRIGHT!

  65. marcella says...

    Love this, it’s funny reading about “Come Clean” because I was in 4th grade and had the CD and would play in my CD player and never played it because I didn’t like the beginning so I would always skip it! Then one day I listened to the whole song and I loved it LOL. I heard a This American Life podcast one time about how the music we listen to when we’re 19-20 years old really sticks in our brain for decades or something because that’s when we go through a lot of changes in life (I think). If anyone else knows of that podcast please link it lol. For me that was freshman year of college spring break – listening to Real Estate because I thought I had a boyfriend hahaha fortunately for me now it did not work out!

    • marcella says...

      and yes re: dad car music. When I studied abroad in Spain in college I heard “Take It Easy” by the Eagles coming from a radio somewhere and it made me miss my dad!

  66. CS says...

    Lovely post! I love Billy Joel, and through various points in my life his songs are just the right fit to give me that “second wind” I need.

  67. Amanda G says...

    This is fun. Getting my mind to think a bit differently right now.
    Age 4-8: Pat Benatar, specifically Shadows of the Night. Knew by heart and would sing with my neighbor to her moms cassette tape on her bed with hairbrush microphones.
    8-10: Ace of Base, ChumboWumba, Sheryl Crow
    10-14: Spice Girls every day all day.
    12-15: 70’s-90’s country, Insane Clown Possie. My sister drove me to piano lessons.
    14-18: Bon Jovi, Elvis, Elton John, Billy Joel, Phantom of the Opera, classic rock, classic country(was the only radio station that came in while I got ready in the morning).
    18-22: Whatever was on the radio and a good dancing song.
    22-sometime I hit that stage where I dont like “new music”, mainly country. Went to go see Gordon Lightfoot at the Casino.
    30-33: Classic big band & Rat Pack( fall and winter), Classic country, Oldies(spring to summer)
    Im now officially my mom who never listened to anything new past her late 20’s.

    • Courtney says...

      Ohmygosh the Phantom of the Opera cast recording! I completely forgot I played that on repeat for a year! Also ChumbaWumba HAHAHA “I get knocked DOWN…”

  68. Kaitlin says...

    There’s a 30 Day Song Challenge on Instagram right now that has made me reflect a lot on what albums and songs have fed my soul.

    I joke that growing up, there were three artists who played on the 5-CD player (1993-2004) in our house: Yanni, Chris de Burgh, and Andrew Lloyd Webber. Thank God for the Phantom of the Opera cast recording!

    What’s interesting to me is the music that I return to in key periods of my life: During times of grief, I listen to Leonard Cohen and Dashboard Confessional. During anxious periods (basically the last 30 days), it’s a steady stream of other punk pop (think Jimmy Eat World) and musicals. When my mind is at easy and able to think about the future, that’s when I can turn my attention to new music.

    Oh, and the first year of parenthood: 100% supported by Bruce Springsteen’s Stolen Car. Who knew that song would be a lullaby?

  69. Erin says...

    Ha! I LOVED Oliver and Company (and also owned the soundtrack on cassette) as a kid! “Why should I worry?! Why should I caaaaare?” This + making up dances + Babysitters Club + Little House on the Prairie = my childhood. I think we would have been friends, Caroline! :)

  70. Young Childhood:
    •Beatles – from my diehard baby boomer father
    •Men at Work- from my young Australian step father
    •Mozart- from my mother

    Tween:
    •N*Sync
    •Dream (?!?!)
    •The Scooby Doo Soundtrack (?!?)

    Teen:
    •The White Stripes
    •The Strokes
    •Beach Boys
    •So much 60’s and 70’s rock.
    •Beirut
    •Girl Talk

    Adult:
    •Still the White Stripes
    •Sam Cooke
    •Animal Collective
    •Shannon and the Clams

    Force-fed and eventually absorbed influences from Lovers:
    •The Mars Volta
    •The Grateful Dead
    •Fuckin’ House Music (?!?!)

    • Brooke says...

      Yesss I was a Tween Queen.

      – N*SYNC
      – BSB
      – Dream Street
      – B*Witched
      – S Club 7
      – Aaron Carter

  71. Karina Vasquez says...

    I don’t know about soundtrack to my life…I’ve lived quite a few, but if you’re looking for something eclectic and perfectly organized, the FX show, Better Things, has one of the dopest mixes I’ve ever listened to (on repeat).

  72. K says...

    Dad’s Car Music! Exactly.

    I made a list like this too but stopped in 2015 (when I was 24), I guess that’s the last time the music I listened to felt so contextual to me?

    One of mine is listening to Fiona Apple nonstop summer of 2012 at night when I couldn’t sleep.

  73. Caitlin says...

    I also started college in 2002 and New Slang, Jagged Little Pill, and I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing are all solidly on my list. Would also add Wonderful Tonight, Eric Clapton (song I’d imagine dancing with my middle and high school crushes to), American Pie and We Didn’t Start the Fire (obsessed with learning the lyrics to both in elementary school), and of course, the Annie soundtrack.

  74. Kristin says...

    We have very similar taste in music over the decades! And let me just say, the original London cast Les Mis recording is still the only one I’ll listen to!

  75. Kamina says...

    I don’t think I’ve ever related so hard to anything on CoJ! Caroline, we must be a similar age because your life soundtrack and life stages match up so perfectly to mine. The broadway musical soundtracks! Alanis Morisette and secret black lipstick! Music nobody understood but pretended to like in college! I feel seen.

    The only thing I’ve listened to for my entire life is The Beatles, “A Hard Day’s Night”. It’s the first album I remember loving as a little kid and I still play it at least once a week (I’m in my 30s now).

  76. Katie Niersbach says...

    Oh man!! This is such a delight. Oliver and Company?! Way too frequently getting ready for work in ye old office days (mom of two young boys) I channeled Perfect Isn’t Easy – “girl, we got work to do…” And Dad Music for the win. Thanks for the smile!!

  77. Leah says...

    Tori Amos. I started listening to her in my 20’s. She’s 3 years old than I am, so we’ve kind of been through similar phases in life and her music has evolved over time. To this day, her music helps me through grief and heartbreak and is also what I listen to for peace and joy.

  78. Meg says...

    What a wonderful post. I was just two years ahead of you, Caroline, so many of your songs resonated with me. It was fun to think back on my own discography. Thanks for the trip down memory lane! <3

  79. jane says...

    childhood: my parents had a bunch of old movie soundtracks: the sound of music, grease; those two stand out because we memorized every song, the amazing motown of my father and the classical of my mother
    teens: foremost was David Bowie, along with the velvet underground, queen, classical (I loved cello) and ambient Brian Eno
    20’s: more David Bowie but hugely loved the Cocteau Twins, Love and Rockets, ; jungle, drum and base, trip and hip hop like massive attack, Billie Holiday
    3o’s: Kruder/Dorfmeister, Digable Planets, Tortoise, the jazz of the little known Skerik, even more drum and bass, funky porcini, ooo the 3o’s were so good. Nothing’s been as good since . . . ;_; Hopefully more to come

  80. Nicole says...

    Oh my goodness, I love this! What a fun quarantine exercise to work on. Caroline, yours is concise and eloquently put, my list is all over the place.

    From my childhood- Raffi! Plus, all the music my dad listened to: The Beatles, so much Motown, SO much Bob Dylan, and my favorite, favorite- Sam Cooke.

    So many songs from junior high stand out – I Swear (all for one), all Boyz II Men songs, November Rain (making out at a dance- why??? Longest song ever).

    HS- Doin’ It by LL Cool J. Not cause I was, in fact, doin’ it (I was a hardcore virgin), but because that was the only tape I owned and I played it nonstop in my beater of a car. Also, ALL of Dave Matthews Band, but especially Crash into Me. And, Brick by Ben Folds Five.

    College- oh so many songs can bring me right back. So many nights singing Living on a Prayer and Don’t Stop Believing. Ignition came out just as I hit senior year spring break, and gosh how I loved that song (despite R Kelly….) Also, Wish You Were Here and After Her by DMB (oh, college love).

    Later 20’s- all hip hop/R and B- Nelly’s Hot in Herr was a favorite hahah, along with many other dancing (grinding!) songs- Pony, Too Close, etc. Also, Mr Brightside by the Killers and Last Night by the Strokes.

    30’s- oddly, Taylor Swift’s Love Story became my friends and my favorite sing a long. Many a boozy night screaming these lyrics. Also, Girl Talk on repeat.

    Currently (late 30’s) – I have come full circle! Back to Raffi (I have a 1 and 3 year old) and also trying to introduce my kids to the greats, like Motown, the Beatles, etc (all of my parents’ music, basically). Life is funny like that!

  81. Jessica Mollick says...

    Love this post! I went from Britney Spears in middle school, to pop-country (big Jessica Andrews, Faith Hill, phase), to J-pop (Utada Hikaru, Ayumi Hamasaki), to Indie (The New Pornographers and The Shins), to British Punk/Indie (the Smiths, Jesus and Mary Chain, The Clash) and now I pretty much listen to all of that along with lots of “Seattle/Portland” music like Fleet Foxes, etc and 60/70’s music

  82. HeatherS says...

    YES Hilary Duff Come Clean! The whole album (Metamorphosis) was my deep, dark secret that helped me get through a bad breakup. I personally played So Yesterday and Come Clean on repeat and it helped. Plus, Billy Joel any day, all day. I’m with you! Love it.

  83. Katie says...

    Anything and everything by The Avett Brothers. The best.

  84. Barbara says...

    Childhood – anything sung by Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen.
    Sometime in grade school – together again By Janet Jackson. The first song I was obsessed with on the radio.
    Middle school – unfortunately that first CD from blink182 that I brought to my first year at overnight summer camp. And Britney’s first cd, which my dad bought me as a surprise one morning and it made MY LIFE.
    High school – name, goo goo dolls, which my boyfriend (now husband) recorded himself singing while playing the guitar. And a lot of Linkin Park.
    College – gosh, so much Ben Folds and Jack Johnson.
    Grad school – lady Gaga just dance, and Ke$ha
    Always and forever – Tom petty wildflowers, jackson Browne, and Fleetwood Mac.
    Recently – sweet baby James from James Taylor (the inspiration for my first sons name)

    • Ada says...

      Lots of Taylor Swift. I feel like I’ve grown up with her music (and with her).

  85. Erin says...

    For our 10 year first-date anniversary, I gave my husband a CD with a song matched to every year :)

    Childhood: Paul Simon’s “Graceland” and the Stand By Me soundtrack.
    Teen years: Dave Matthew’s band. My friends and I even attended a multiday concert after HS graduation.
    College years: Shakira’s “Whenever, Wherever” Runner ups: Abba and Jackson Five (my running soundtrack). Elliot Smith and Belle & Sabastian.
    Ex-LTR: Gotye’s “Somebody that I Used to Know” sums it up.
    Thereafter: “Dancing Daze” by Avett Brothers. One of the reasons that I love their music is that we’ve ‘grown up together’, but this song holds particular meaning for me and my husband and it became the song of our wedding.

  86. Kelsey Wright says...

    Wow, I love this post. I’m so amazed at how music connects to us and can mark our lives. I really relate to your song selections for your 30’s. Music is the best way for me to connect to my otherwise quiet and introverted father. We often send text of songs and usually mine are songs I’ve discovered from his era. He will tell me how that song makes him feel or where he was in life when it was popular and I love those reflections.

    HIGHSCHOOL- An era for me heavily influenced by Dashboard Confessional albums specifically The Places you have come to fear the most. It encompassed all those teenage years so well.

    18- mid 20’s- Landslide By Fleetwood Mac. A song I always cling to when I feel sad or happy and has always mirrored for me the process of dealing with change especially as we age and navigate getting older.

    26-30- Angel from Montgomery by Bonnie Rait and John Prine. A song that makes me feel seen. I close my eyes and listen to this song as I feel the warmth on my skin. This song has a way of carrying me away and making me feel present simultaneously.

    I have to stop myself there otherwise I’ll carry on but so inspired by music and how it carries us.

    • Erin says...

      I still love Angel from Montgomery covered by Bonnie Raitt. So moving. And John Prine just passed away from complications of COVID-19, RIP. Such a great songwriter

  87. Cate says...

    THE defining band of my life starting from age 14 and running to now (age 30) is Interpol. They had such a massive impact on me as a young teenager – dark, gloomy, smart, stylish…everything this suburban teen was not. They’ve stuck with me ever since.

    I was raised on the Beatles and classic rock. College was the Strokes and Yeah Yeah Yeahs. My twenties were MGMT, Tame Impala, and Fleet Foxes.

    Caroline, we went to the same college a few years apart. I also had that weird band called Vampire Weekend floating around (they’d just graduated), and I thought they were so bad when I saw one of their campus shows that I walked out. I’ve come to realize I’m not great at predicting music trends lol.

  88. YES YES YES TO DAD MUSIC. What is it about Dad music? I feel seen by this post Caroline :)

  89. Becky says...

    My mom listened to Motown, my dad, Jim Croce and I love both to this day. But I’ve also have had a deep love for George Michael, Bruce Springsteen, and Queen since childhood.

  90. Mouse says...

    Bach, Bach, Bach. Handel’s Messiah. Mozart.
    Joni MItchell, Richard Thompson, Bonnie Raitt. Lucinda Williams.
    And more Bach, esp St Matthew Passion now.

    • Sarz says...

      Yes, Mouse! Every single name here is a match with my list.
      Despite Fairport Convention being at their most visible when my father was in his 20s, can you believe I just introduced him to Richard Thompson? I think I officially brought him into the fanclub with his cover of Oops I Did It Again. ;)

  91. Madylyn says...

    I go back and forth on my favorite song depending on my mood and the season. However, there has always* been one song that I feel embodies my personality specifically well is At Home by the Crystal Fighters. If my essence could be distilled into a song, this would be it! I like sharing it with people- I see it as a way for them to get to know me in a new way.

    *since I first heard it at least :)

  92. The other day as I was sitting in a kayak near (but not too near) friends we heard someone pull their kayak out of the water and onto the dock. As the kayak rocked onto the dock, we heard the tinkling of six or seven beer cans move down the length of the kayak.

    I said “I’m pretty sure that’s the soundtrack of my life.”

    • sukie says...

      hahahaha

  93. Amy says...

    I loved reading this and all the comments.
    For me,
    -Early childhood: the Sound of Music soundtrack (and various other songs from old movie musicals)
    -Middle school: Hanson!
    -High School: Fiona Apple (still the master of dark, moody songs to me) and then a revelation: Joni Mitchell
    -College-20s: Joni Mitchell, and lots of acoustic/folky/modern bluegrass stuff (Nickel Creek and anything touched by Chris Thile), Regina Spektor
    -30s/now: Aoife O’Donovan, Jenny Lewis, Father John Misty, Lizzo, some Taylor Swift (!), Billie Eilish…and still, Joni Mitchell.

  94. Allison says...

    Billy Joel sang the top bop “Why Should I Worry?” from the Oliver & Co. soundtrack – full circle!

  95. ANN FOLEY says...

    John Mellencamp forever! I especially love his “newer” (now 20 tears old!), not on the radio stuff. So great.

  96. jenny says...

    2-4 dolly parton, john denver
    5-8 add jimmy buffett, simon & garfunkel
    9-12 80s pop wham, madonna
    13-15 duran duran, tears for fears
    16-18 rem, new order, bob marley
    18-25 dave matthews, indigo girls, rem, 10,000 maniacs, counting crows
    26-30 john prine, more rem, cowboy junkies, the shins!, paul simon
    30-48 avett bros, vampire weekend, paul simon (graceland is my desert island album).

    • Gail says...

      Ah… Duran Duran! Loved them! Went to one of their concerts when I was about 25 and except for the moms who brought their younger daughters I was about the oldest person there!!

  97. Sophie says...

    Alanis was so formative for me too, aged around 10-12. When I saw her love in Sydney two years ago I wept (wasn’t allowed to go to her concert when I was 10 😂).

    I’ve realised that the songs that really speak to me are ones that tell a story. Add in a crescendo, even better for when you want to sing along and let it all out!

    I’ve just discovered an incredible new song by an Australian country singer/songwriter – I’m listening to it every day and it really grounds me, especially when things are up in the air. Look up Raechel Whitchurch – I Found Home on Spotify … It’s amazing!

  98. Kimmie says...

    Truthfully – my sister’s spotify playlist. She is skilled at creating amazing playlists for any moods and we have such a similar taste in music. She’s always finding new artists too, so she expands my repertoire!

  99. Becca says...

    My friends and I make themed playlists for brunches whenever someone hosts one. This was the theme for one of the brunches. We each made a 10-song playlist that represented our lives (however we wanted to interpret that) and it was lovely to hear everyone talk about what their songs meant to them.

    The only song I can remember I put on mine was “King of the Road” by Roger Miller, which my dad used to sing to me to help me fall asleep when I was little. Weird choice for a lullaby, probably, but I still feel safe listening to it.

    • Ellen says...

      How wonderful!

    • Betsy says...

      I can relate to weird lullabies. I used to fall asleep in the car to Ronny Milsap’s Smoky Mountain Range.

  100. I’m a lifelong classical music lover…currently can’t get enough of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherezade. I got to hear it live in concert last year and it was seriously life-changing.

  101. Age 2-3 – Every little thing she does is magic. My earliest musical memory
    Higher single digits – my dad’s Irish music that I kind of hated and classical music I had no interest in over 13(!) years of studying cello and music theory
    Age 13 to 15ish – Spice Girls
    Age 16 – a totally solitary endeavour discovering my own tastes – Billie Holliday stands out most but a lot of Stevie Wonder and Frank Sinatra too
    Age 17 through college – a lot of R&B and house music but privately loving disco (so uncool at the time) and American 90s soul.
    Mid 20s – a deep dive into film scores, listening to Movies and Musicals, a radio show on RTÉ’s Lyric FM. I also lived right around the corner from the National Concert Hall in Dublin and the RTÉ Concert Orchestra had a great programme of events for me at that time
    Age 32 to present – had my first baby, moved away from the NCH, became a hermit, and have continuously replayed all the music of my previous life stages, everything except my dad’s traditional Irish stuff. Now my daughter loves Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing and Frozen songs so she’s a chip off the old block!

    • Forgot to add to the film scores that our wedding was entirely film music, walked up the aisle to Forrest Gump, my sister sang Joyful, Joyful from Sister Act 2, and we asked our string quartet to source the sheet music for the piece Married Life from the then newly released Up. The music is a really fond memory from our wedding that I know nobody else really appreciated, it was totally for ourselves. We had picked out a Jakob Dylan song from the Friday Night Lights soundtrack for our first dance but we ended up dancing to a song from the Irish film The Commitments instead

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      what great wedding songs!!! and i love the commitments!

  102. RR says...

    Love this! I laughed out loud at the age 10 entry — I was 13 when Jagged Little Pill came out, and I wore a thermal shirt and overalls for my 8th grade school picture! Also listened to that album like it was going out of style.

  103. Erica D says...

    This is such a fun read!

    2nd grade – Dirty Dancing Soundtrack (yes, my mom let me watch it, much to my grandfather’s astonishment when he walked in on my viewing!)
    4th grade – En Vogue and C&C Music Factory
    8th grade – Head Over Feet, Alanis Morrisette and Daughter, Pearl Jam
    High School – Semi-Charmed Life, Third Eye Blind and Freshman, The Verve Pipe, ALL THE BRITNEY
    College – Country Grammar, Nelly and Hey Ya, Outkast
    20s – Guster, Keane, Modest Mouse, Death Cab for Cutie
    30s – POP, baby! Taylor Swift, Katy Perry, Miley!

  104. Anna says...

    Wow! I love this. Especially „my dad‘s car music“:-)
    My dads car music was Dire Straits and the song of my life is probably Tunnel of Love by them along with Michael Jackson’s Beat it.
    My guilty pleasure must be Take That‘s Back for Good!

    • Valeria says...

      Age 2-8. Ravi Shankar, as my father was all into Indian music and playing sitar. “Alla fiera dell’est”, a song by italian songwriter Angelo Branduardi is one of my earliest memories, as I can remember being in my father’s arms lulling me asleep.
      Age 8-11 Cindy Lauper, Eurythmics, Terence Trent D’Arby were my favorites (guess my age), while my class was split in two armies, Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet, and my best friend Alessandra was Madonna’s devout. I still can’t help letting dinner burn to sing and dance if any, ANY, 80’s song is playing.
      Age 9-13 I know it’s overlapping but discovering the series Fame was a turning point and meant so much in recognizing myself in those stories and characters. Be your musiiiic, you’ll be my musiiiic…
      Age 14-19. At 14, my guitarist new classmate used to sing to me a few times Romeo and Juliet by Dire Straits and Every breath you take by Police. On the phone. And then he started kissing and dating all the girls in our class (almost) except me. Big crush, little heart broken, for years.
      Age 20-30. All the music came in me, in waves and from the independent radio station I started listening, linking my world to THE world. It’s weird to acknowledge what still plays in my ears from those days: “Because the night” that my theater mate and I used to sang in a play about women we reharsed a lot and never perform for a public; “L’elisir d’amore” and all the others lyrical operas my grandmother used to listen, and me with her each time I went visiting her. Things unfinished and beloved people gone. It means something.
      Age 30-now “This magic moment” by Lou Reed is starting to date my love 13 years ago and still is. “Tougher than the rest” from Bruce Springsteen is having my first boy 8 years ago. Mumford and Sons music was deliberately choosen by him as babysitter when he was 2yo (Marcus, seriously, we owe you a lot, come ask for your money if you need), and “Chandelier” (neri per caso version) and “Viceversa” by Francesco Gabbani are so so good sang by my 3yo these days.
      Thanks for asking us, Caroline, it felt wonderful to made this journey!

  105. amy says...

    love.

  106. Ashley says...

    I love that this includes The Shins! I wrote a paper in college on the meaning behind that song, ha.