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FRED FIRST: Music, Memories and Meaning

How old were you when music came into your life?

I told you recently about the essential place in my life that music holds.

For the first time in decades, I have a piano (digital keyboard) in the house. For the past three months, I play a bit (or more) every day and time flows around me and I am centered and at peace for those few minutes.

I purchased a “lesson plan” for combining sight reading and playing by ear, but it is the latter where I spend my time, in between the packing and prep for the August move.

The lessons can wait until the short days of winter, and the cabin fever to come (I shudder to think…) living in a tiny apartment, in our new containment that will eventually, hopefully, come to feel something like home. But I digress.

I will never run out of songs to attempt to play by ear (and by YEAR!) And so I wanted to share a resource, and ask you a question.


First, to answer the question, you need to be considering the decades and years of popular music during your life–from early childhood at least until early adulthood.

Go to the decades dropdown at Music Outfitters. Bookmark it! Click on the decade you were born, then the year. This would have been the music your mother listened to as your fetal ears became able to hear music. Looks like this:



What are the earliest songs that you paid attention to as a child, adolescent or teenager; melodies and lyrics that you leaned into when you heard them, were touched in some way by the words and the beat and the shape and effect the song had on you then?

As I began to explore my music history in this way just a few weeks ago, starting in 1950 when I was two years old, it was the year 1953 whose songs I deeply heard and recall. I think I know why.…

YOUR HIT PARADE came on Saturday night at 7 (on the round black and white set with the glowing tubes inside) when I was put to bed. I listened. At the time, I was in love with Jane Ann from the preschool clutch that met just down the street every weekday. (Sadly, the affair ended when we went into different first grade classes.) So love songs, even at age 5, were poignant and drew me in.

Perry Como, the Ames Brothers, Les Paul and Mary Ford, Nat King Cole and Tony Bennet established my musical first memories. Hearing those tunes takes me back. (The video of the show, however, is a bit much.)


Scroll through the popular music of your early years–of kindergarten and early grade school. Nothing there? Keep going.

Most of my peers I have asked this question give high school as the beginning of their attention to music that became really important in their lives. We lived through quite a few transitions. Popular music evolved quickly, from R & B; early Folk; Rock and Roll; MoTown; The British Invasion.

So look at the list of songs from your first year of high school. For how many can you sing at least some of the lyrics? Which ones did you play on the guitar or piano and sing in the shower or around a camp fire circle?


I am working my way through the decades and the years, scanning the list on my iPad, always there on the music rest on the Roland keyboard. I can approximate in the key of C the tunes I remember, and this is enough of a challenge and source of pleasant nostalgia to take my mind off the mountain of boxes and plastic crates that oppress me.

I’d love to hear about your musical beginnings and early memories. Share them with your family if you haven’t.

I came across some related sidebar topics I may toss out as “notes” on Substack later this week rather than add more to this post that is already TL;DR.

– Fred First is an author, naturalist, photographer watching Nature under siege since the first Earth Day. Cautiously hopeful. Writing to think it through. Thanks for joining me. Subscribe to My Substack HERE

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