Songs embedded in my earliest memories

I was listening to a special episode of the podcast “Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend” during my Saturday walk a couple of weeks ago. The guest was 77-year-old Canadian-American singer-songwriter Neil Young.

I almost skipped it, but I’ve learned that anytime a podcast lands in my feed that I don’t think I’ll care much about, if I give it a few minutes, I’ll usually take away something that is meaningful and thought provoking.

Sure enough, Conan’s interview with Neil Young eventually evoked the question for me, “What are your earliest memories of songs?”

With each one Neil Young listed, I paused the podcast, switched over to Spotify and played the song. It was fascinating. “Four Strong Winds” by Ian and Sylvia, “The Wayward Wind” by Gogi Grant, Johnny Cash’s “Ballad of a Teenage Queen,” Jimmy Reed’s “Baby What You Want Me to Do” and “Bop-A-Lena” by Ronnie Self all influenced him as a young boy.

The interview inevitably prompted me to think about my earliest memories of music. As has been well-documented on this and my other blog, “View From the Pew,” I grew up in church, and my earliest memories of live music are hymns like “How Great Thou Art” and sacred choral works like Handel’s “Messiah.”

I have been hearing and singing those songs so much over the years that it’s truly hard to tell what I remember from childhood vs. what I sang in church last month. I decided for this exercise, I would focus on my earliest memories of recordings, either from my families’ collection or radio play.

Here are the 15 songs by 10 artists that came back to me after giving it some thought. It’s almost exclusively country:

Young Mac Davis in a cowboy hat with a red pickup truck
Be careful what eight tracks you leave laying around because they may just end up becoming your children’s earliest musical memories like a young Mac Davis here. Photo courtesy of
  1. “Baby, Don’t Get Hooked on Me,” “I Believe in Music” and “It’s Hard to be Humble” by Mac Davis
  2. “Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song” and “Raindrops Keep Falling my Head” by B.J. Thomas
  3. “You Needed Me” by by Anne Murray
  4. “Big Iron” by Marty Robbins
  5. “Rhinestone Cowboy” by Glen Campbell
  6. “Take Me Home, Country Roads” and “Thank God I’m a Country Boy” by John Denver
  7. “The Most Beautiful Girl” by Charlie Rich
  8. “Delta Dawn” by Tanya Tucker
  9. “Don’t it Make My Brown Eyes Blue” by Crystal Gayle
  10. “Bed of Rose’s” and “Whatever Happened to Randolph Scott” by the Statler Brothers

Memory is a tricky thing. It’s hard for me to know with some of these if I remember their original radio play or those ubiquitous TV commercials in the 1980s for Time-Life collections of country music. One outlier on my list is Marty Robbins’ 1960 recording of “Big Iron” from his album, “Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs.” My brother Lee and I would sneak into the living room and listen to my dad’s albums on our stereo occasionally, and we liked the ones about cowboys shooting each other.

Beyond a shadow of doubt the songs of Mac Davis are among  my earliest memories. I clearly recall our light brown Chevrolet station wagon and the eight-track player with the red Mac Davis tape. Even without much comprehension, Mac Davis imprinted on me so strongly that I conjured an imaginary friend named “Davis.”

My parents love to tell stories of me saving a place at the supper table for Davis and blaming him for all my misdeeds. “Davis did it” is a common punch line in those tales. Unfortunately, Davis ran away from our home sometime around March 1974 when my brother Lee was born. Weird.

Some of these songs evoke specific memories. In the case of “You Needed Me” by Anne Murray, I clearly remember hearing it at the home of our babysitter, Mrs. Sandra Smith, on a snow day off of school. And “Thank God I’m a Country Boy” was forbidden in our home because it took the Lord’s name in vain, but I remember it being played at a Texas Rangers baseball game I went to as a young boy.

I’m a Spotify subscriber, so I compiled these songs into a playlist, which you are welcome to enjoy if you have a Spotify account. If you are about my age – early 50s – then you may have a similar “earliest memories” playlist. I encourage you to at least jot down your own playlist even if you don’t have a streaming music subscription service.

screenshot of Spotify playlist titled "Lance's Earliest Memories"
Obviously I was exposed to a lot of country music back in the day. Maybe that’s why I gravitated toward country in the ’90s.

Not all of these songs are great music, but they are evocative of an era. Whenever I hear one, it transports me to the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex in the early 1970s. It’s fun to revisit those earliest memories from time-to-time, especially as age catches up with me.

Besides, I know these are some of Davis’ favorites, and ever since he came back, he and I like to listen to them together.

What are your earliest song memories? Leave a comment below and share what you remember. You can even leave a link to your own Spotify playlist.