Movin’ on from town to town
Moving — whether it’s across the street or across the country — can be a pretty big change. It can be stressful, exciting, cathartic, overwhelming, cleansing, heartbreaking.
We all do it at some point, for all kinds of reasons. We move out of our parents’ house to stretch our wings. We move to a new city to start a new job or career. We move out on toxic roommates or a bad marriage. We move in with a new lover. We move to a bigger (or smaller) house. We move to be closer to family.
I know a few people who have moved only once or twice in their entire lives. I know other folks who have had more than 50 different addresses.
I lived in four different places in Cleveland over 40 years. I moved to Atlanta for 17 years. I lived in three different places in Los Angeles over 11 years. Now I’ve recently moved from LA to a new home in Nashville.
I don’t like change. I resist it. I’ve been dragged kicking and screaming into every big change in my life. But I adapt. I eventually embrace my new surroundings. I come to see it as a new chapter in my life’s story. I not only survive but thrive.
All of this talk of relocating got me thinking of songs about moving — new beginnings, fresh starts, something different. There are many dozens of choices, so I’ve whittled the list down to a diverse group of 12 tunes that deserve attention, plus an “honorable mentions” list.
Let’s get moving!
“(Just Like) Starting Over,” John Lennon, 1980
Lennon and his wife had shunned the public arena for nearly five years after the birth of their son Sean in 1975, choosing instead to stay squirreled away in their New York City apartment for the boy’s first five years. In 1980, Lennon felt the urge to write and record music once again, beginning a new chapter in his professional life, and the result was “Double Fantasy,” a collaborative John-Yoko album that alternated songs by each of them. They embraced the project enthusiastically, and the opening track and first single underscored how Lennon felt about this career move: “It’s time to spread our wings and fly, /Don’t let another day go by, my love, /It’ll be just like starting over…” Tragically, it would be his final chapter, his life cut short by a deranged assassin’s bullet only three weeks after the album was released.
“Moving,” Supergrass, 1999
From 1995-2005, Supergrass was one of England’s most successful rock bands, with five albums in the Top Ten, and seven Top Ten singles, including this compelling song from their third LP in 1999. Curiously, they made no impact in the US. Although its lyrics focus on the tedium a rock band experiences with non-stop touring, it can also be interpreted to bemoan the unpleasant aspects of continual relocation. Either way, the exhaustion and constant shifts inherent in moving is the point, shown in the numerous tempo shifts in the song’s arrangement: “Moving, just keep moving, /Well, I don’t know why to stay, /No ties to bind me, no reasons to remain, /So I’ll keep moving, just keep moving, /Well, I don’t know who I am, /No need to follow, there’s no way back again…”
“New Beginning,” Tracy Chapman, 1997
Many moves are sparked by the need to wipe the slate clean and start anew. The lyrics to Chapman’s 1997 album and title song “New Beginning” center on her belief that our society is broken, rife with inequality and injustice, and the only move is to “start all over.” It might be a radical, even revolutionary notion to tear the system down, but she’s hardly the first person to suggest it, and the idea of making a new beginning, whether it’s a new government or just a move to a new house, is full of optimism and promise: “Too many stand alone, there’s too much separation, /We can resolve to come together in the new beginning, /Start all over, start all over…”
“Movin’ Out,” Billy Joel, 1977
Born in The Bronx and raised in Hicksville on Long Island, Joel is proud of his working-class roots, and found himself growing frustrated by his peers who seemed ashamed of their ethnic authenticity by embracing upwardly mobile bourgeois aspirations. “It seemed as if the families in my old neighborhood were obsessed with materialistic displays of having ‘made it,’ and it made me both angry and sad,” Joel said in 1978. “I thought it was ultimately kind of futile.” The song he wrote about it, which reached #17 on the pop charts, takes aim at those who forget where they came from by moving too far away: “Who needs a house out in Hackensack? Is that all you get for your money? /And it seems such a waste of time if that’s what it’s all about, /Mama, if that’s movin’ up, then I’m movin’ out…”
“Here I Go Again,” Country Joe and The Fish, 1969
Joe McDonald and Barry “The Fish” Melton formed a duo that became a psychedelic folk and rock band in Berkeley in 1965, moving to San Francisco to become regulars on the circuit at the Avalon and Fillmore ballrooms there. While much of their recorded catalog focused on counterculture issues like antiwar protests and the free speech movement, including the infamous “I-Feel-Like-I’m-Fixin’-to-Die Rag” made famous in the 1970 “Woodstock” film, the group had a few relationship-breakup songs in their repertoire as well: “I know once again that there is nothing we can save, /So I’ll pack up my things, I’ll be on my way, /Yes, here I go again, off down the road again, /Thinking thoughts of days gone by…”
“I’m Movin’ On,” Elvis Presley, 1969
First recorded and written by country star Hank Snow in 1950, Presley recorded “I’m Movin’ On” for his celebrated “From Elvis in Memphis” album that came in the wake of his 1968 TV comeback special. He was enamored by American Sound, a Memphis studio that specialized in a “country soul” genre popularized by their house band, The Memphis Boys, and these sessions produced “In the Ghetto” and “Suspicious Minds,” two of Presley’s biggest hits in years. The lyrics of “I’m Movin’ On” center on a man’s need to leave a relationship when his woman is ignoring or disrespecting him: “Well, I told you, baby, from time to time, /But you just wouldn’t listen or pay me no mind, /And now I’m movin’ on, I’m rollin’ on, /I’m through with you, too bad you’re blue, but I’m movin’ on…”
“Changes,” Loggins and Messina, 1974
David Bowie’s iconic song “Changes” was an early milestone for him in 1971, and Yes issued a track called “Changes” in 1984, but for this list, I have chosen to feature Jim Messina’s effervescent song “Changes,” which appeared on the Loggins and Messina LP “Mother Lode” in 1974. His song focuses on the changes needed for an artist to go from a struggling dreamer to a hardworking touring musician “with your name in lights.” Said Messina in 2016, “The one thing I’ve learned about the music business is that it seems to change constantly. We’re always on the move.” Here’s a sample lyric: “Maybe some change is all that we need, /Change is coming to help us succeed, /Change happens every day…”
“Time to Move On,” Tom Petty, 1994
This fine tune has been described as “a lesser known masterpiece” in Petty’s solo repertoire. Originally released on his celebrated “Wildflowers” LP in the mid-’90s, it has since become one of the most popular Petty tracks on streaming services. Although it’s credited to Petty alone rather than with The Heartbreakers, band members nevertheless participated in the album’s recording sessions and performed the song in concert. Petty’s songwriting deftly addressed the theme of facing challenges and uncertainty on life’s road, especially the yearning we feel to not stay in one place for too long: “It’s time to move on, time to get going, /What lies ahead, I have no way of knowing, /But under my feet, baby, grass is growing, /It’s time to move on, it’s time to get going…”
“Leaving on a Jet Plane,” Peter, Paul & Mary, 1967
Originally titled “Babe, I Hate to Go,” this poignant 1966 song by John Denver was interpreted by some to be about a young man who’s heading off to serve in Vietnam. Or is it merely a guy who’s breaking up with his lover and moving to a new town? “To me,” said Denver years later, “it’s simply a sad song about separating, about the regret of leaving someone you care for a great deal.” Because it was Peter, Paul and Mary who recorded the song in 1967 and took it to the top of US pop charts at the end of 1969, many people don’t know Denver wrote it, and also released it himself: “All my bags are packed, I’m ready to go, /I’m standing here outside your door, /I hate to wake you up to say goodbye, /But the dawn is breakin’, it’s early morn, /Taxi’s waiting, he’s blowin’ his horn, /Already I’m so lonesome I could cry… /I’m leavin’ on a jet plane, I don’t know when I’ll be back again, /Oh babe, I hate to go…”
“I’m Gonna Move to the Outskirts of Town,” Ray Charles, 1961
Casey Bill Weldon was a country blues musician from Arkansas who was one of the earliest practitioners of the laptop slide guitar. He wrote and recorded upwards of 60 songs on small labels in the 1930s, most notably the often-covered “I’m Gonna Move to the Outskirts of Town.” Count Basie and His Orchestra recorded the latter in 1942, and Quincy Jones arranged it for Ray Charles on the 1961 LP “Genius + Soul = Jazz.” Muddy Waters, Buddy Guy and B.B. King included their versions on various live albums, as did The Allman Brothers Band in 1970. Weldon’s lyrics talk about moving out of the city to the far reaches of town to keep other men from coming around: “Well let me tell you, baby, I don’t need nobody always hanging around, /We’re gonna have a dozen children, and they all better look like me, /Lord, when we move, yeah, way back down on the outskirts of town…”
“Starting Over Again,” Dolly Parton, 1980
Bruce Sudano, who had just married Donna Summer in 1980, collaborated with her that year on a song he was writing about his parents’ divorce. “My parents had been married for 30 years when they decided to call it quits,” he recalls, “and the best way for me to work through that was to write about it.” The result was “Starting Over Again,” which Summer recorded, but when she offered it to Dolly Parton, the country star released it as the lead single from her “Dolly, Dolly, Dolly” LP, and it reached #1 on the country charts and even made the pop charts at a modest #36: “Starting over again, where should they begin? /’Cause they’ve never been out on their own, /Starting over again, /Where do you begin when your dreams are all shattered, and the kids are all grown, /And the whole world cries?…”
“On the Road to Find Out,” Cat Stevens, 1970
Stevens had begun his career as a songwriter and recording artist when he contracted tuberculosis at age 21 and almost died from it. “That gave me an entirely new perspective,” he recalled, “and I thought about where I was headed.” He took up meditation and yoga, learned about other religions and pursued a more spiritual path, which was reflected in the songs he would write for his breakthrough LP, “Tea For the Tillerman.” Perhaps the most reflective was “On the Road to Find Out,” which described the soul searching he was doing: “Well I left my happy home to see what I could find out, /I left my folk and friends with the aim to clear my mind out, /Well I hit the rowdy road, and many kinds I met there, /Many stories told me of the way to get there, /So on and on I go, the seconds tick the time out, /There’s so much left to know, and I’m on the road to find out…”
“I Gotta Move Out of This Neighborhood,” B. B. King, 1993; “Movin’ On,” Bad Company, 1974; “Gotta Move,” Barbra Streisand, 1963; “Starting Over,” Chris Stapleton, 2020; “People Gotta Move,” Gino Vannelli, 1974; “Moving On,” The Zombies, 2015; “Gonna Move,” Susan Tedeschi, 2002; “Moving On and Getting Over,” John Mayer, 2017; “You Gotta Move,” Aerosmith, 2004; “That’s It, I Quit, I’m Movin On,” Sam Cooke, 1962.