Trigger Songs, Goose Bumps and the Power of Music

Janis Joplin
Janis Joplin (Photo credit: MusMs)


I had one of those goose bump moments yesterday.

One of those fuzzy moments, like the ones you occasionally experience when friends post those schmaltzy videos on Facebook, of people or fugly animals doing something uber-amazing or inspiring, and you are guilted into watching it, or worst, having to ‘like’ it.

And of course you are overwhelmed and awed by their achievement, (although that feeling often turns into one of inadequacy, when you remember that you have nothing vaguely comparable to offer in the realm of the spectacularly impressive or altruistic from your own existence).

Or is that just me?

Music has the power to create those goose bump moments too.

Yesterday morning had not been a good one, so maybe I was due a special moment, or at least a moment to remind me to smell the f*cking roses, which I’m not particularly good at.

But music often provides those moments for me.  A particular song can take me back instantly to remind me of the good stuff that has happened in my life; you know, before the shite stuff kicked in, forcing me to fall into my bed in a mass of self-loathing.

Doesn’t everyone have ‘trigger songs’? Songs that make the hairs on their arms stand up on end, as they evoke a memory, a defining moment in their subconscious from the past.

For example, Stevie Wonder’s ‘Isn’t She Lovely’ reminds me (along with millions of other parents of little girls around the globe) of the birth of Nerd Child. ‘My Cherie Amour’ was the trigger song in Silver Linings Playbook for the protagonist, Pat, evoking the painful association between his wife and her infidelity.

Trigger Songs.

So yesterday, while I was swearing at the traffic somewhere between Palm Beach and North Sydney, flicking impatiently between 2Day Fm and Smooth, (because although I like to think I’m cool enough to cope with hip hop and rap, ‘Smooth FM’, with its injection of Buble schmaltz and cheesy DJs, just about always hits the spot), this song came suddenly filtered in:

‘A world so hateful, some would rather die than become who they are….’

And it was undoubtedly one of those goose bump moments from the first notes on the piano; although this is not the post to air my opinions regarding gay rights and equality. Listen to the lyrics. It’s one of the reasons music exists.

It was like the first time I heard ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas’, ‘Imagine’ or ‘My Way’, or when I watched Coldplay play ‘Fix You’ live, or all those other hundreds of moments where I have experienced my legs turn to jelly and my heart become a melancholic mess.

And it made me reflect on some of the other significant trigger songs in my life; songs that symbolise a moment in my life, trigger a mood or a feeling:

Donny Osmond’s ‘Puppy Love’ was my first introduction to hot men music. That wholesome American beauty, those large and perfectly aligned set of gnashers, (even before the days of ‘whitening’); the handy set of cloned, white-teethed, back up brothers; just in case I couldn’t have him…..

And while I remained staunchly loyal to Donny, my peers were switching their Osmond loyalty to the Scottish band, the Bay City Rollers. I defy anyone to NOT break down and ball their eyes out in that moment in ‘Love Actually’ when Liam Neeson plays his wife’s posthumous video to the tune of ‘Bye Bye Baby?

Stevie Wonder’s Hotter Than July was my first cassette, given to me on my sixteenth. It was my last summer of innocence; a time when English summers were still hot, and I was hot for boys.

And that need for a relationship became paramount to my existence at sixteen, when ‘Guilty’ by Barbara Streisand and the Bee Gees was released. I was that femme fatale. I WAS Barbara. I knew every word of that album by heart and terrified the kids I babysat, swanning around their living rooms with my hairbrush microphone in hand, adamant that one day soon, I too, would become that ‘Woman in Love’.

And I did.

‘And Then There Were Three’ by Genesis, became the background mantra to those early, frantic mating explorations with my first true love. (His choice, not mine).

Van Morrison, Bob Dylan, The Doors, the Beatles and Janis Joplin, I apologise for so belatedly allowing you entry into my musical conscious during my university years, when I finally appreciated the musical arrogance of my parents’ generation. Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet couldn’t truly compare. And my understanding of the power of music to feed the soul truly developed; along with a new attitude, opinions, an understanding of equality and…. some learning, (and a few other things too, that weren’t quite as holistic).

That journey was unfortunately thwarted in my early thirties by the appearance of my offspring. Trigger songs in that period of my life included Noddy, Thomas the Tank Engine and Bob the Builder. And on the rare occasions when I managed to stay up later than 9pm, Norah Jones and Celine Dion kept me sane.

Yet the same child who hyper-focused on Noddy throughout his early years, has reignited my love of music in my forties, and introduced me to albums I believed I was far too senior to enjoy. How did I miss Guns N’Roses,  the Arctic Monkeys, Eminem and the Libertines? Who would of thought I would go to my first Greenday concert at the age of forty-four and get all hot and bothered over Billie-Joe Armstrong singing ‘Time of My Life’?

A few of the trigger songs of my life so far.

What are your trigger songs?

6 thoughts on “Trigger Songs, Goose Bumps and the Power of Music

  1. Nirvana’s “Teen Spirit” takes me right back to January ’91, right down to the anxiety I felt at the time while having boyfriend trouble, I love it because it’s such a powerful trigger, but hate it because it was not such a good time for me. In particular it triggers one boyfriend-stealing bitch. And I’m now 38 😉
    Great post, I couldn’t live without music. And my teen sons also love to play me new stuff. We all went to see The Lemonheads’ Evan Dando (remember him?) recently for his first over 18 gig.


    1. Nirvana is on my ‘to listen to’ playlist. You’re right, not all triggers are good ones but I still think they’re important because they remind you how you’ve come through that part of your life when at the time it seemed like the end of the world. Will search ‘The Lemonheads’.


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