'More than a feeling': Sometimes when you hear a song, it takes you back | Mark J. Price

I don’t like to brag, but I have a special gift. It’s a super power, really.

I have a freakish ability to associate certain songs with specific memories. Sometimes when I hear a particular tune, it catapults me to another time and place. For a fleeting moment, I return to the past.

Petula Clark’s 1964 hit “Downtown” is one of the first songs I remember hearing as a child, although it must have been several years after it was popular: “When you’re alone and life is making you lonely, you can always go … downtown!”

Mark J. Price, Beacon Journal reporter.
Mark J. Price, Beacon Journal reporter.

What makes it so memorable is that I was in downtown Akron when I first heard it. I was shopping with my mother — I don’t know if it was at O’Neil’s or Polsky’s — and we were strolling along Main Street, looking in store windows on a chilly day, when that song played over the loudspeakers.

“Just listen to the music of the traffic in the city. Linger on the sidewalk where the neon signs are pretty. How can you lose?”

Downtown doesn’t look the same as it once did, but in that fragment of a memory, it’s as colorful as ever.

There are times when car radios seem to offer a running commentary on life. One afternoon in the 1980s, I was driving through North Hill on East Cuyahoga Falls Avenue when I stopped for a funeral procession near Gorge Boulevard. As the hearse rolled past, Blue Oyster Cult’s “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” drifted up from my speakers.

“Seasons don’t fear the reaper. Nor do the wind, the sun or the rain. We can be like they are. Come on, baby, don’t fear the reaper.”

It felt like a scene from a movie.

I remember hearing Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze” in Detroit, Madonna’s “Lucky Star” in Myrtle Beach, Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” in Manhattan, Eric Carmen’s “Hungry Eyes” in Downers Grove, Illinois, and Toby Keith’s “Should’ve Been a Cowboy” in Las Cruces, New Mexico.

For years, I had to change the station whenever “Head Over Heels” by Tears for Fears came on the radio. The flashback was too painful.

That was the first song I heard after my college girlfriend and I broke up. Moments after we parted, I sat teary-eyed in my Pontiac 1000, preparing to drive away from Kent State, when I absent-mindedly turned on the radio.

“Something happens and I’m head over heels. Ah, don’t take my heart, don’t break my heart. Don’t … don’t … don’t throw it away.”

Sigh.

There were gleeful moments, though.

In the early 2000s, I had to drive all night to a friend’s wedding in Brooklyn, New York. I chugged caffeinated soda and rolled down the windows to let fresh air hit my face so I could stay awake on the long trip. Somewhere in the darkness along Interstate 80 in the mountains of Pennsylvania, I found a rock station on FM.

What was it playing? “No Sleep Till Brooklyn” by Beastie Boys. I kid you not.

I sang along and made it to New York City by dawn.

Perhaps you were there in September 1986 when the Goodyear Airdock rolled open its giant doors to the public for the first time in more than 50 years. At least 150,000 people attended the kickoff event for the United Way’s annual campaign.

As the doors parted, the majestic fanfare to the Richard Strauss work “Also Sprach Zarathustra,” perhaps best known from Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 movie “2001: A Space Odyssey,” blared over the loudspeakers at ear-splitting decibels.

“Dun ... Duuun …. Duuuuun … DUN DAAAAAH.”

Completely unforgettable.

You also may have been in the crowd at First Night in downtown Akron on Dec. 31, 1998, when 30,000 revelers counted down toward midnight.

Before the fireworks exploded near Canal Park, the jubilant crowd sang along as Prince’s “1999” made us forget the 10-degree weather.

“They say 2000 zero zero, party over. Oops. Out of time. So tonight I’m gonna party like it’s 1999.”

I associate songs with grand events and tiny moments. Here are a few that spring to mind:

● Stevie Wonder’s “Living for the City” (singing in music class at Portage Path Elementary).

● The Stampeders’ “Sweet City Woman” (watching “The Hoolihan and Big Chuck Show” on Friday nights).

● Elton John’s “Philadelphia Freedom” (skating at the Akron Rollercade).

● The Eagles’ “New Kid in Town” (staying up late at a Portage Lakes sleepover).

● Pat Benatar’s “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” (attending pep assemblies at North High School).

● The Doors’ “Light My Fire” (floating down the Mohican River on an inner tube).

● Don Henley’s “Dirty Laundry” (going to journalism school at Kent State).

● Loverboy’s “Working for the Weekend” (playing the jukebox at the Hamburger Station).

● Billy Idol’s “Rebel Yell” (enjoying spring break in Fort Lauderdale).

● Young MC’s “Bust a Move” (dancing at the Trolley Stop).

● Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” (dating my future wife and dancing at our wedding).

There are hundreds more. Maybe thousands.

Truthfully, it’s a pretty useless super power. I wish I could remember some of the really important things that I’ve long forgotten. But you take what you’ve got.

In the song “More Than a Feeling,” Boston summed it up nicely: “I looked out this morning and the sun was gone. Turned on some music to start my day. I lost myself in a familiar song. I closed my eyes and I slipped away.”

It is more than a feeling.

Is there a certain song that reminds you of a specific moment in time? Feel free to share at  mprice@thebeaconjournal.com or Mark J. Price, Akron Beacon Journal, 388 S. Main St., Suite 720, Akron, OH 44311.

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This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: Sometimes when you hear a song, it takes you back