“The only thing faster than the speed of thought is the speed of forgetfulness. Good thing we have other people to help us remember.” —
“Let the past be content with itself, for man needs forgetfulness as well as memory.” —
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 we 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
Producer/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
Jay 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
Nelson 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
Originally 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
Christine 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
For 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
Morrissey’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
This 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
Ray 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
Dylan’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
Britain’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
Writer/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 close 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…”
“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.