Only a Memory

Memorial Day 2022

Photo: courtesy U.S. Army by Elizabeth Fraser

Once again the unofficial start to the summer season has begun in clouds and rain. Maybe that’s fitting, given recent events.

This year, I think, we ought to also remember the innocent victims, the students and congregants and clubgoers, who also were part of the fabric of our country. Their loss is no less a national wound than anyone who died in combat.

If you are a veteran you may disagree with me. I am not diminishing your service, or that of your fallen comrades. I  respect your time and the risks you took and I am grateful that you served. But we’ve allowed our streets, schools, entertainment palaces and houses of worship to become target zones. And in so doing, we have necessarily expanded the pool of lost lives.

There are, today, dozens of families in New York and Texas left with sure-to-fade memories and the certainty that future dreams will never be realized. Songwriters seem to know that. So, here’s a set of memory songs and a playlist for Memorial Day 2022. If your fave isn’t here, I may have included it there.

In Memory of Elizabeth ReedThe Allman Brothers Band (1970)

Anything, Proust reminded us, can trigger a flood of memories. We don’t always need words to evoke the past. We don’t even necessarily need our own past, at least when it comes to a song title. This early instrumental from the band that created Southern Rock as a genre, legendarily drew its title from a headstone in a Macon, Georgia graveyard. Yet to me, it’s always sounded very personal and evocative.

Memories FadeTears for Fears, (1983)

I was never a big fan of synthesizers. It’s more truthful to say I recoil from them. So for a synth-pop record to lodge in my brain for forty years, there must be songcraft and quality aplenty. The harrowing songs on this debut record–before the smash hit album that let TFF own the mid-80s–still resound. Maybe it’s the pain, evident in this ditty.

Those MemoriesDolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt, & Emmylou Harris.(1987)

More typically, memory songs are about lost loves. I suppose that’s almost redundant. Without lost or unrequited loves, why would we need songs? Here, the late 80s country supergroup composed of three of my favorites takes on a familiar tale in a familiar manner to stellar results. As a bonus, the band contains John Starling (g), Leland Sklar (b), Mark O’Connor (v),  David Lindley (m), Herb Pedersen (g), Russ Kunkel (d) and Steve Fishell (st).

Memory LaneMinnie Riperton (1979)

I’d nearly forgotten about Minnie Riperton until I went canvassing for memory songs. There was a time when she was destined for great things, although it turned out her true destiny was to leave us far too early. This 1979 hit showcases her vocal range and serves as a lovely time capsule of late 70’s R&B. You’d never know from the video, itself a period piece from the early days of the form, that she’d be dead seven weeks later.

Only a MemoryThe Smithereens (1988)

A true product of my age and upbringing, in my heart of hearts I believe that guitar-pop songs ought to be about girls. Some bands just instinctively understand this, arguably none more so than New Jersey‘s greatest band, The Smithereens. Here they turn the girl who got away into much more than a memory.

You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory-Johhny Thunders (1978)

Can there be such a thing as a punk standard? And could such a song have been crafted by a notorious junkie? Based on a glance at YouTube I’d say that the answer to both is yes. And what a song. Despair, desperation and defeat in a little more than 2:50. Johnny gets the last word, don’t try.


Thanks for the MemoryBob Hope (1938)

Even as a kid, I knew that Memorial Day (or Decoration Day as my grandfather insisted on calling it) was about fallen soldiers. And just as certainly I knew that soldiers and sailors had no greater friend than Bob Hope. His USO shows seemed to be aired annually. And this, his signature song first introduced in The Big Broadcast of 1938, was always the last number

Here’s the playlist:




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