I forgot to remember to forget


“The only thing faster than the speed of thought is the speed of forgetfulness.  Good thing we have other people to help us remember.” — Vera Nazarian

“Let the past be content with itself, for man needs forgetfulness as well as memory.” — James Stephens


I’ve always been blessed with a pretty good memory, especially for facts and dates regarding the music of my younger days.  I seem to have an uncanny knack for recalling when a particular song was released…or which album it was on…or who the bass player was…or what the exact lyrics were.

Why is that?  I can’t tell you for sure, but I can hazard an educated guess.  We all have what is known as selective memory — we choose the things we want to remember, and 0-1we choose to pretty much forget the rest.  As a music fanatic and music collector, I have enjoyed learning all I can about the artists, their albums and songs, while most people I know don’t choose to retain that kind of stuff (mostly because they prefer to devote their memory space to, oh, I don’t know, maybe information that will make them money!).

As far as remembering lyrics is concerned, I think that has more to do with repetition.  We hear a song on the radio so many times, often singing along to it, that the lyrics become embedded in our memory.  That’s why students studying for an exam are encouraged to repeat the information out loud numerous times, maybe even set it to music in their heads, to help them remember it.

Of course, age plays a factor as well.  If I try today to memorize the lyrics to a new song, I find I have much more difficulty retaining the words.  It’s as if my memory bank is full.  It’s full of Beatles lyrics, and Springsteen lyrics, and Joni Mitchell lyrics, and there’s just no room for an Ed Sheeran lyric, as much as I try to save it.  Even worse, my mind is still full of stuff I’d like to delete — the words to the “Gilligan’s Island” theme song, for instance — but there’s no use.  It’s cemented in there forever.

As we all ruminate about why we remember and why we forget, I’ve taken the liberty of coming up with a dozen classic rock songs about forgetting.  You might remember these tunes, or perhaps you’ve forgotten them.   Or maybe you’d like to forget them, I can’t remember.


“(Don’t You) Forget About Me,” Simple Minds, 1985

Unknown-165Producer/songwriter Keith Forsey wrote this hypnotic tune while doing the film score for the classic John Hughes comedy “The Breakfast Club.”  Forsey, a big fan of Simple Minds, sought out the band and urged them to record it, but they at first refused, saying they preferred to record their own songs.  Bryan Ferry, Billy Idol and Corey Hart also turned down Forsey’s overtures before he returned to Simple Minds, who finally relented, assuming it would be just a forgettable tune in an inconsequential movie.  Instead, it became one of the least forgettable songs of 1985 and, indeed, the 1980s, and the movie turned into an iconic bit of filmmaking as well.  The song vaulted to #1 in multiple countries and stayed there for weeks on end, propelling Simple Minds to arena-rock popularity.

“Don’t Ask Me to Forget,” Jay & Techniques, 1969

images-90Jay Proctor and his six bandmates emerged from Allentown, PA, in the mid-’60s and found their way onto the pop charts with two big hits, both in 1967 — “Apples, Peaches, Pumpkin Pie” and “Keep the Ball Rollin’.”  Their music had a decidedly R&B focus to it, as evidenced by their #8 charting on the R&B charts for “Apples, Peaches” and by the feel of songs like the underrated “Don’t Ask Me to Forget” from 1969, just before the group’s dissolution.  The lyrics cover the often-discussed idea that a transgression can be forgiven but not forgotten:  “We shared the good and the bad for so long, but I never thought you’d be the one who’d go wrong, I can forgive, but don’t ask me, don’t ask me to forget…”

“I’m Not Trying to Forget You Anymore,” Willie Nelson, 1986

Unknown-169Nelson is almost the definition of an iconic artist.  His debut LP came out in 1962 and he has released nearly 70 more studio albums since then.  He’s mostly known in the country music arena, but he has sung albums of children’s songs and Gershwin classics, and has flirted with the pop charts occasionally (“On the Road Again,” #20 in 1980, and “Always On My Mind,” #5 in  1982).  On his 34th album, “The Promiseland” in 1986, he recorded this poignant song he wrote about a woman he broke up with and had put out of his mind, but he later reconsidered and rekindled fond memories of her:  “I’m not trying to forget you anymore/I’ve got back into remembering all the love we had before/and I’d been trying to forget someone that my heart still adores/so I’m not trying to forget you anymore…”

“Forget That Day,” The Go-Go’s, 1984

gogos200Originally a punk band from the Los Angeles punk music scene, The Go-Go’s evolved into a polished New Wave act that took the country by storm with their #1 debut LP “Beauty and the Beat” and their huge hit singles, “Our Lips Are Sealed” and We Got the Beat.”  On their 1984 LP “Talk Show,” which included the #11 hit “Head Over Heels,” there’s a really nice album track called “Forget That Day” with lyrics that describe a girl who wishes she could block the memory of the fateful day her ex first told her he loved her:   “Why’d you say you loved me that day, that day, when you knew you wouldn’t have me on this day, this day, now you’re fine, I’m not okay, and I can only stay away, I can only kneel and pray, try and try to forget that day…”

“Never Forget,” Fleetwood Mac, 1979

18010e8e5f8e20b94a31bf026d316957Christine McVie wrote this gentle tune that closes out the Fleetwood Mac double album “Tusk.”  Ever since Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham joined the band in 1975, they seemed to get most of the attention, particularly on stage, but I think McVie’s songs and voice are just as good, if not better.  Indeed, her songs were often the ones picked to be released as singles (“Say You Love Me,” “You Make Loving Fun,” “Don’t Stop,” “Little Lies”).  This one is so deceptively simple and soothing, all about a magical evening she once spent with someone she cared for, an evening she hopes to always remember:  “Could we ever forget tonight?/Oh, it’ll be all right/We’ll never forget tonight…”

“I Keep Forgettin’ (Every Time You’re Near),” Michael McDonald, 1982

Unknown-161For six years, McDonald was the smoky-voiced front man of The Doobie Brothers, responsible for writing and singing several of the band’s bigger hits, including “Takin’ It to the Streets,” “Minute By Minute” and “What a Fool Believes.”  He chose to go solo in 1982, and scored high with “I Keep Forgettin’,” which reached #4 on the pop charts that year.  The song so resembled an earlier song with the same name by the famed songwriting team Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller that they ended up winning co-writing credits.  In the lyrics, the narrator has to be reminded that his romantic relationship is over:  “I keep forgettin’ we’re not in love anymore, I keep forgettin’ things will never be the same again, I keep forgettin’ how you made that so clear, I keep forgettin’, darlin’…”

“I Don’t Mind If You Forget Me,” Morrissey, 1988

Unknown-160Morrissey’s music, both with the British alt-rock band The Smiths (1982-1987) and as a successful solo artist ever since, has been noted for his distinctive lyrics with recurring themes of emotional isolation, sexual longing, self-deprecating and black humor, and anti-establishment stances.  The self-deprecation is in full display on this snappy little track from his debut solo LP, “Viva Hate.”  The narrator is bitter about having been dumped, and hopes she’ll move on without any further contact:  “I don’t mind if you forget me, rejection is one thing, but rejection from a fool is cruel, so I don’t mind if you forget me…”

“How Soon We Forget,” Lynyrd Skynyrd, 1997

images-92This star-crossed Southern rock band from the ’70s was known foremost for their FM radio staple “Freebird” and their impossible-to-forget anthem “Sweet Home Alabama.”  Despite losing several key members in a 1977 plane crash, the group has soldiered on, touring and recording well into the new millennium.  Johnny Van Zant, brother of the late original singer Ronny, came up with this tune that appears on the 1997 LP “Twenty,” with reflective lyrics that remind us of what’s important to remember:  “How soon we forget/to count every blessing/if you think you got it bad/take a look around/how soon we forget/that life is one big lesson/still we make the same mistakes/time and time again/how soon we forget…”

“Don’t Forget to Dance,” The Kinks, 1983

Unknown-166Ray Davies has written so many memorable songs during his lengthy tenure with The Kinks, from “You Really Got Me” in 1964 to “Hatred” in 1994.  The band enjoyed a new surge in popularity in the late ’70s and early ’80s with several hard rocking, commercially accessible albums like “State of Confusion” and “Word of Mouth.”  On the former LP, you’ll find the roller-rink hit single “Come Dancing” and this pretty tune addressed to a heartbroken woman who needs to remember to have fun:  “I bet you danced a good one in your time, and if this were a party, I’d really make sure the next one would be mine, yes, you with the broken heart, don’t forget to dance, no, no, no, don’t forget to smile, don’t forget to dance, no, no, no, forget it for a while…”

“True Love Tends to Forget,” Bob Dylan, 1978

Unknown-162Dylan’s “Street-Legal” album came along at a complicated time for him.  It followed on the heels of his mid-’70s masterpiece LP “Blood on the Tracks” and the almost equally strong “Desire,” but it was written as his divorce and child custody proceedings were distracting him from his creative work.  The songs were generally well regarded, but their production was not, as he chose to use a makeshift rehearsal space in Santa Monica instead of a bonafide studio.  The single “Baby Don’t Cry” did well in the UK but failed to chart here.  I’ve always liked “True Love Tends to Forget,” an album track that seems to be not autobiographical but fictional:  “Still, I’m getting weary looking in my baby’s eyes, when she’s near me she’s so hard to recognize, but I finally realize there’s no room for regret, true love, true love, true love tends to forget…”

“Forget the Cost,” UB40, 1982

Unknown-164Britain’s most successful reggae band reached the Top 10 in England with each of their first dozen albums and scored nearly two dozen Top 20 singles as well.  UB40 were nowhere near as popular in the US; nevertheless, they scored two #1 singles with reggae cover versions of Neil Diamond’s “Red Red Wine” and the Elvis hit “I Can’t Help Falling in Love With You” in 1983 and 1993, respectively.  “Forget the Cost,” a deep album track on their fourth LP, “UB44,” bemoans how the nations of the Earth spend huge sums on defense while worrying about spending too much on planet-saving programs:  “Forget the cost, we’ve got to choose, we’re running in a race that we can only lose…”

“I Forget to Remember to Forget,” Elvis Presley, 1955

images-91Writer/producer Stan Kesler wrote two great whimsically titled songs for Elvis Presley early in his career.  First came “I’m Left, You’re Right, She’s Gone,” followed by “I Forgot to Remember to Forget,” both recorded at Sun Records in 1955.  While the latter reached #1 on the country charts, it failed to reach the pop charts, but that all changed once Presley was signed to RCA and exploded into our consciousness with “Heartbreak Hotel” in early 1956.  “I Forgot to Remember to Forget” was later covered by Jerry Lee Lewis (1957) and Johnny Cash (1959), and was among the songs The Beatles performed during their BBC Radio sessions in early 1964.  The lyrics:  “Well the day she went away, I made myself a promise that I’d soon forget we’d ever met, but something sure is wrong, ’cause I’m so blue and lonely, I forgot to remember to forget…”


We definitely need to keep a sense of humor about all this forgetting.  With that in mind, I want to Unknown-170close with the lyrics to this recent tune by that old folkie Tom Rush called “Remember Song“:

“I’m looking for my wallet and my car keys, well they can’t have gone too far, just as soon as I find my glasses, I’m sure I’ll see just where they are.  I’m supposed to meet someone for lunch today, but I can’t remember where, or who it is that I am meeting, it’s in my organizer…somewhere.  I might’ve left it on the counter, or maybe outside in the car, last time I remember driving was to that memory enhancement seminar.  What’s that far off distant ringing in that strangely familiar tone? Must be that person I am meeting, calling me on my phone…”


Honorable mentions:

Forgive and Forget,” Eddie Rabbitt, 1975;  “Forget Me Not,” Martha Reeves & Vandellas, 1968;  “Don’t Forget Me,” Al Stewart, 2006;  “Remember What I Told You to Forget,” The Four Tops, 1972;  “Trying So Hard to Forget,” Fleetwood Mac, 1968;  “I Forgot to Be Your Lover,” William Bell, 1972.

‘Cause you got to have friends

Valentine’s Day is generally considered a holiday to celebrate romantic love.  But this year, I’m making the suggestion that we also regard it as a day to celebrate the love of a good friend.

Friendships occur throughout our lives, sometimes waxing and waning as we age.  But some friendships last for decades, or even our entire lives.



This weekend my wife invited several of her best friends from high school days in Cleveland, most of whom are turning 60 this year, to celebrate their milestone together here in Malibu and Santa Barbara.  A few of their daughters, who have been friends since they were toddlers, are attending as well.  I anticipate much hilarity, good-natured teasing, embarrassing old photos, plenty of wine and many sincere hugs of gratitude for the blessings of deep friendships.

My contribution to the celebration is this week’s post on “Hack’s Back Pages,” which singles out a dozen great classic songs about friends, and another ten songs designated as “honorable mention.”  I encourage the ladies, and all my readers, to use this Spotify playlist as a soundtrack for your weekend.

There’s nothing like friends, old and new!


“You’re a Friend of Mine,” Clarence Clemons & Jackson Browne, 1985

Unknown-148As the sax player in Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, Clemons was pretty well known when he decided to do a solo project in 1985.  Songwriter/producer Michael Walden wrote this joyous song and gave it to Clemons to record on his “Hero” album.  Clemons invited Jackson Browne to sing it with him as a duet, and it reached #18 on the pop charts that year.  The lyrics underscore the importance of unconditional reliability among close friends:  “Oh, you can depend on me, over and over, over and over, know that I intend to be the one who always makes you laugh until you cry, and you can call on me until the day you die, years may come and go, here’s one thing I know, all my life, you’re a friend of mine…”

“You’ve Got a Friend,” James Taylor and Carole King, 1971

4b80a6e11ccb0309c04bc45047e467b7--photo-tapestry-carole-kingProbably the song about friends that tugs at most people’s emotional heartstrings is this heartwarming Carole King tune, which appears on her monumental 1971 album, “Tapestry.”  James Taylor was recording his “Mud Slide Slim” LP next door in the same L.A. studio, and they both played on each other’s recording sessions.  Once Taylor heard this song, he pleaded images-89with King to allow him to record his own version, and she agreed.  (Quite the friendly gesture, no?)  It went on to become Taylor’s only #1 single and one of his signature tunes.  The two friends reunited in 2010 to record and perform this song and many others from these fondly loved albums:  “You just call out my name, and you know wherever I am, I’ll come running to see you again, winter, spring, summer or fall, all you’ve got to do is call, and I’ll be there, hey ain’t it good to know that you’ve got a friend…”

“Friends,” Bette Midler, 1972

Unknown-149Actor/musician Buzzy Linhart was part of the Greenwich Village scene in the late ’60s and early ’70s as an instrumentalist and producer, working with everyone from Richie Havens and Phil Ochs to John Sebastian and Jimi Hendrix.  Bette Midler was also part of that scene, performing periodically in the Continental Baths.  Linhart and Mark “Moogy” Klingman came up with the loose, fun tune “(You Got to Have) Friends,” which Midler heard and immediately recorded in a campy arrangement that ended up entitled just “Friends” on her debut LP “The Divine Miss M.”  It was one of three singles released from the album, and became her unofficial theme song:  “Standing at the edge of the world, boys, waiting for my new friends to come, I don’t care if I’m hungry or poor, I’m gonna get some of them, ’cause you got to have friends, ’cause you got to have friends…”

“See My Friends,” The Kinks, 1965

Unknown-155Ray Davies has said this song is about the death of his older sister, Renée, who lived for a time in Ontario.  Upon her return to England, she gave Davies his first guitar for his 13th birthday.  She then fell ill, owing to an undiagnosed hole in her heart, and died while dancing at a night club.  The lyrics to “See My Friends” deal with mourning the loss of a loved one, and the need to have friends to lean on.  Released in July 1965, this Kinks single reached #10 in Britain but not at all in the US, which severely disappointed Davies:  “See my friends layin’ across the river, she is gone and now there’s no one else to take her place, she is gone and now there’s no one else to love, ‘cept my friends…”

“Be My Friend,” Free, 1970

Unknown-151Vocalist Paul Rodgers and bassist Andy Fraser co-wrote this somewhat serious track from Free’s third LP “Highway.”  It was written with vocalist Paul Kossoff in mind, who struggled with emotional insecurity made worse by the fame the band got from their huge 1970 single “All Right Now.”  Kossoff said he loved the song, but he nonetheless suffered a breakdown that led to the premature dissolution of the band.  The lyrics speak of how crucial it is to have a friend to help us through our struggles:  “All I need is a friend, someone to give a helping hand when I’m afraid in the night, someone to squeeze me and tell me it’s all right, you know I worry such a lot, and I would give all I’ve got just to have someone believe in me, just to do that and put me back on evenly, baby baby, be my friend…”

“Good Friends,” Joni Mitchell and Michael McDonald, 1985

Unknown-152By the mid-’80s, Mitchell had developed a bitterness about the music business as well as conservative government policies, and it showed up in her work, especially on her 1985 LP “Dog Eat Dog.”  But there were exceptions, especially the leadoff track “Good Friends,” a marvelous duet with singer Michael McDonald.  The adjacent photo is from a compelling music video of the song that’s worth watching.  The lyrics describes her complicated relationship with her then-husband Larry Klein, who she said was more a friend and fellow musician than a spouse:   “I have to come and see you maybe once or twice a year, I think nothing would suit me better (right now) than some downtown atmosphere in the dance halls and the galleries, or betting in the OTB, synchronized, like magic, good friends, you and me…”

“Friends,” Elton John, 1971

elton-john-and-songwriter-bernie-taupin-attend-a-private-party-at-universal-studios-on-july-10-1973-in-universal-city-california-photo-by-ed-caraeffgetty-imagesEarly in their career, Elton John and lyricist Bernie Taupin were eager to get their songs exposed to audiences in as many ways as possible, so they accepted an invitation to write songs for the soundtrack of a quiet little French film called “Friends.”  It was released in early 1971 to little or no fanfare, but the accompanying “Friends” LP got attention because John had already scored his big hit “Your Song” by then, as well as his acclaimed “Tumbleweed Connection” album.  I have always had a soft spot for the John-Taupin songs on this neglected LP, particularly the title track, which I have adopted almost as a mantra for my life:  “Making friends for the world to see, let the people know that you got what you need, with a friend at hand, you will, see the light, if your friends are there, then everything’s all right…”

“You’re My Best Friend,” Queen, 1975

queen-youre-my-best-friend-1976-36While most of Queen’s voluminous song catalog was written by either vocalist Freddie Mercury or guitarist Brian May, a few were composed by bassist John Deacon.  One of his best efforts was “You’re My Best Friend,” a love song to his wife that appeared on Queen’s breakthrough LP “A Night at the Opera” in 1975.  As we all know by now, it was “Bohemian Rhapsody” that stole the show on that album, but “You’re My Best Friend” was no slouch, reaching #7 on the UK singles chart and #16 in the US:  “Oh, you’re the best friend that I ever had, I’ve been with you such a long time, you’re my sunshine and I want you to know that my feelings are true, I really love you, oh, you’re my best friend…”

“Old Friends/Bookends,” Simon and Garfunkel, 1968

Unknown-154How extraordinary that Simon wrote such worldly-wise songs as this one when he was only 27.  The first side of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bookends” album was an impressive song cycle that looks at several stages of life, including teenage angst, young married travelers, midlife divorce, and the declining years.  “Old Friends” and its followup track “Bookends” offer a sophisticated, poetic look at old age and the value of lifelong friendships and cherished memories:  “Can you imagine us years from today, sharing a park bench quietly, how terribly strange to be 70, old friends, melody brushes the same years, silently sharing the same fears…”

“Hello Old Friend,” James Taylor, 1974

Unknown-153A friend doesn’t always have to be a person.  It could be a pet, or even a favorite place that one continually returns to.  For Taylor, that place is Martha’s Vineyard, where he had spent many summers as a boy, and it’s where he built a home for himself and then-wife Carly Simon to start a family.  He wrote about it in “Hello Old Friend,” a track from his reflective 1974 LP “Walking Man.”  His constant touring during this phase of his life took its toll, and he was always very happy to return to his island home in the woods:  “Hello, old friend, welcome me home again, well, I’ve been away but that’s all over now, say I can stay for October now, stay a while and play, hello, old friend, isn’t it nice to be home again…”

“Can We Still Be Friends?” Todd Rundgren, 1978

Unknown-156Both as the leader of Utopia and as a solo artist, Rundgren has always been more about artistic statements than commercial concerns.  Consequently, his albums and singles have performed respectably but have never been huge hits, except perhaps his 1972 single “Hello It’s Me.”  In 1978, Rundgren enjoyed his third-biggest single “Can We Still Be Friends?” from his “Hermit at Mink Hollow” album.  He has said the song is autobiographical, with lyrics that describe how, despite numerous attempts to fix his relationship with longtime companion Bebe Buell, it wasn’t going to work…but he wanted things to remain amicable:  “Let’s admit we made a mistake, but can we still be friends?  Heartbreak’s never easy to take, but can we still be friends?  Can we still get together sometime?…”

“That’s What Friends Are For,” Dionne Warwick & Friends, 1985


(Clockwise from upper left): Gladys Knight, Carole Bayer Sager, Burt Bacharach, Dionne Warwick, Stevie Wonder, Elton John

Written by the great Burt Bacharach and his sometime writing partner Carole Bayer Sager, this hugely popular song was first recorded by Rod Stewart in 1982 for the soundtrack to the comedy film “Night Shift.”  Three years later, it was recorded by Dionne Warwick with help from Stevie Wonder, Elton John and Gladys Knight and released as a charity single for AIDS research and prevention, earning more than $3 million.  It not only spent four weeks at #1 in early 1986, it went on to win the Grammy for Song of the Year for the songwriters, and Best Pop Performance By a Duo or Group with Vocal for the performers.  It reminds those who are going through challenging times that their friends are always there to support them:  “Keep smiling, keep shining, knowing you can always count on me, for sure, that’s what friends are for, for good times and bad times, I’ll be on your side forever more, that’s what friends are for…” 


Honorable Mention:

Friends,” The Beach Boys, 1968;  “Thank You for Being a Friend,” Andrew Gold, 1978;  “Friend of the Devil,” The Grateful Dead, 1970; “Waiting on a Friend,” The Rolling Stones, 1981;  “Snowblind Friend,” Steppenwolf, 1970;  “How Many Friends,” The Who, 1975;  “Good Friends,” Livingston Taylor, 1970;  “Thank You Friends,” Big Star, 1978;  “Hello Old Friend,” Eric Clapton, 1976;  “My Best Friend,” Jefferson Airplane, 1967.