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!

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“(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…”

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Honorable mentions:

“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.

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Too good to be true, I wanna spend my life with you

There may not be a more frequently explored topic in popular music lyrics than love.  Good or bad, brief or long lasting, love and romance have been mainstays as subject matter for decades:  “Love Reign O’er Me.”  “Love is the Drug.”  “Love Will Keep Us Together.”  “Love Will Tear Us Apart.”  “Love is a Many Splendored Thing.”  “Love in an Elevator.”  “Love is Like Oxygen.”  “Love You Inside Out.”  “Love Stinks.”

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Songs about weddings and marriage, though, are less plentiful, perhaps because the music industry isn’t exactly overflowing with examples of life-long relationships.  Still, year in and year out, music lovers everywhere continue to give the institution of marriage a go, and who doesn’t enjoy the warm, festive nature of a great wedding ceremony and reception?

This weekend, my daughter Rachel and her fiancĂ© Johnny are getting married, and, as with other important milestones in life, I love to comb through popular music to find enough songs to build a decent set list to commemorate the day, which I hope she’ll be tickled about.  I’ve selected a baker’s dozen tunes to examine below, via Spotify, along with another 15 “honorable mentions” that also focus on weddings.  For all the the brides and grooms out there, and all those who celebrate their union, this blog’s for you!

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“Wedding Song (There is Love),” Paul Stookey, 1971

In the fall of 1969, Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul & Mary was planning his wedding and asked compatriot Paul Stookey to write and sing a song for the ceremony.  Stookey, a recently converted Christian, went off to pray for guidance, and both the music and lyrics for “Wedding Song (There is Love)” came forth within the hour:  “He is now to be among you at the calling of your heart, rest assured this troubadour is acting on his part, the union of your spirits here has caused Him to remain, for whenever two or more of you are gathered in His name, there is love…”  Said Stookey, “In the lyrics, I paraphrased a few lines of scripture, specifically Matthew 18:20 and Genesis 2:23, so I felt uncomfortable accepting songwriting credit.”  Instead, he set up the Public Domain Foundation, which has since received songwriting and publishing royalties for charitable distribution.  PP&M broke up in 1970, but Stookey recorded the song in 1971 as a solo artist, and it reached #24 on the US charts.

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“Chapel of Love,” The Dixie Cups, 1964

Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich, part of the powerhouse of songwriters that came out of the Brill Building in New York in the early ’60s, wrote a dozen Top Ten hits, including “Then He Kissed Me,” “Da Doo Ron Ron,” “Leader of the Pack,” “Be My Baby,” “Doo Wah Diddy Diddy” and “Hanky Panky.”  Following the first wave of Beatles hits in 1964, a vocal trio called The Dixie Cups had the #1 song in the country with this Barry-Greenwich tribute to wedding ceremonies:  “Today’s the day we’ll say ‘I do,’ and we’ll never be lonely anymore, because we’re going to the chapel, and we’re gonna get married…”

“Wedding Song,” Tracy Chapman, 2000

Emerging from the poverty of a depressed upbringing in Cleveland, Chapman went to #1 with her impressive debut in 1988 and has developed a devoted following over the past 20 years and eight albums.  Although she never married and has been ambiguous about her sexual orientation, on her 2000 album “Telling Stories,” she composed “Wedding Song,” a tender examination of the hopes and dreams behind the institution of marriage:  “For you, I don the veil, by your light, others pale by comparison, I place my faith in love, my fate in this communion…”

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“We Got Married,” Paul McCartney, 1989

Sir Paul had been happily married to Linda for 20 years when he was writing the songs that would become the material for “Flowers in the Dirt,” which was sort of a comeback album for him after a few duds in his repertoire.  It did modestly well here, peaking at #17, and his US tour that year helped boost sales of the album, which included “We Got Married,” an ambitious song about the ups and downs of married life from a man who knew all about that:  “I love the things that happen when we start to discover who we are and what we’re living for, just because love was all we ever wanted, it was all we ever had, it’s not just a loving machine, it doesn’t work out if you don’t work at it…”  David Gilmour of Pink Floyd made a guest appearance as lead guitarist on this track.

“I Wanna Marry You” and “The River,” Bruce Springsteen, 1980

For his1980 double album “The River,” Springsteen wrote two hard-luck songs that focus on tying the knot. The title song tells the heartbreaking story of a couple who married young because the girl got pregnant, which felt to the boy like a dead end that forever limited their life choices:  “Then I got Mary pregnant, and man, that was all she wrote…we went down to the courthouse and the judge put it all to rest, no wedding day smiles, no walk down the aisle, no flowers, no wedding dress…”  On the other hand, “I Wanna Marry You” is more hopeful, with lyrics about a man who meets a single mom, and likes and admires her so much that he offers to marry her to ease her burden:  “To say I’ll make your dreams come true would be wrong, but maybe, darlin’, I could help them along, little girl, I wanna marry you…”

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“For My Wedding,” Don Henley, 2000

Larry John McNally, a respected songwriter whose work has been recorded by the likes of Bonnie Raitt, Joe Cocker, Rod Stewart and Henley, sang this song at an in-the-round show at the famed Bluebird Cafe in Nashville in 1998.  Henley heard a tape of the performance and so loved the song that he recorded it for his “Inside Job” LP two years later.  McNally talked about the song’s lyrics for the Songfacts website:  “What does it really mean, marriage?  I believe there are misconceptions about what you are entering into, fantasies and delusions sold through movies, songs and advertising.  Nonetheless, there is no denying that faithfulness, loyalty, the depth of human bonding and support for one another through life’s trials and tribulations, these are good things.  That’s what I wanted to write about in this song.”  A sampling:   “To want what we have, to take what we’re given with grace, for these things I pray, on my wedding day…” 

“Kiss The Bride,” Elton John, 1983

In 1983, Elton reunited with Bernie Taupin, his celebrated lyricist from his hugely popular ’70s albums and singles, and the result was the LP “Too Low For Zero,” which spawned “I’m Still Standing” and “I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues,” both big hits.  Also on the album was the rollicking “Kiss the Bride,” in which the narrator bemoaned the fact that his love was marrying someone else:  “And when the preacher said, ‘Is there anyone here got a reason why they shouldn’t wed?’, I should’ve stuck up my hand, and this is what I should’ve said, ‘I wanna kiss the bride, yeah, I wanna kiss the bride, yeah, long before she met him, she was mine, mine mine’…” 

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“Take My Hand (The Wedding Song),” Emily Hackett & Will Anderson, 2013

In 2013, Emily’s friends Bobby & Katie asked her to sing at their wedding, anything she wanted.  “I was set on writing something,” she said, “so I sat down with my friend Christian, and we decided to focus on the simplicity of it, the honesty of it, the butterflies, in both the excitement and fear that surface at the idea of becoming one with someone.  It took us a long time to feel like we got that right.  How could it not?  When someone asks you to define love and feelings you have on your wedding day, it’s a very difficult thing to do.  We wanted it to relate to the bride and groom we wrote it for, but we’ve been beside ourselves about how much it relates to so many brides and grooms.  It’s our idea of a perfect snapshot of how you feel on your wedding day.”  Indeed it is:  “So give me your word, and I’ll give you all that I’ve got, no we don’t have much, but it sure feels like a lot, so take my heart and take my hand again and again, right where we stand, /Too good to be true, I wanna spend my life with you…”

“Love and Marriage,” Frank Sinatra, 1955 

In the 1940s and ’50s, lyricist Sammy Cahn and composer Jimmy Van Heusen teamed up on more than a dozen songs that earned Oscar nominations and wins, and another couple dozen that rode high on the pop charts.  One of those was Sinatra’s rendition of “Love and Marriage,” a #5 hit in 1955 after its introduction on a TV production of Thornton Wilder’s play “Our Town.”  Cahn’s lyrics make the case (despite plenty of more recent evidence to the contrary) that marriage and love are inseparable:  “Love and marriage, love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage, this I tell ya, brother, you can’t have one without the other…”  The song enjoyed new life as the tongue-in-cheek theme song for the popular TV show “Married…With Children” in the ’80s and ’90s.

“The Wedding,” David Bowie, 1993

Bowie had married in the early ’70s and divorced in 1980, but in 1990, he was introduced to supermodel Iman and as he put it, “I was naming the children the night we met.  It was immediate.”  They married in 1992, and “The Wedding” was the centerpiece of the hugely underrated 1993 LP “Black Tie White Noise,” which opened with an instrumental version and closed with the full version with lyrics:  “Heaven is smiling down, heaven’s girl in a wedding gown, I’m gonna be so good, just like a good boy should, I’m gonna change my ways, angel for life…”

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“Wedding Bell Blues,” The 5th Dimension, 1969

This classic was written in 1966 by songwriter Laura Nyro and recorded by her for her “More Than a New Discovery” debut LP that year.  Three years later, The 5th Dimension — who had already had success with two other Nyro compositions (“Stoned Soul Picnic” and “Sweet Blindness”) — chose to record “Wedding Bell Blues,” which focuses on a woman who badly wants her lover to propose:  “Bill, I love you so, I always will, and in your voice, I hear a choir of carrousels, but am I ever gonna hear my wedding bells?…”  Perhaps not so coincidentally, group members Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr. were engaged at the time but had yet to set a wedding date.  The song rocketed to #1 in the fall of 1969, and in concerts, McCoo would sing directly to Davis.  They married before the year was out, and recently celebrated their 46th wedding anniversary.

“Marry Me,” Train, 2009

Since forming in San Francisco in the late ’90s, Train has evolved into one of the most popular roots-rock bands of the new millenium, with six Top Ten albums and numerous hit singles (“Drops of Jupiter,” “Calling All Angels,” “Hey Soul Sister”).  Patrick Monahan, the band’s singer and chief songwriter, said “Marry Me” tells the story of a guy who has a “love at first sight” moment when he spies a waitress in a diner, and the music video for the song depicts that fleeting encounter:  “Promise me you’ll always be happy by my side, I promise to sing to you when all the music dies, marry me, today and every day, if I ever get the nerve to say ‘hello’ in this cafe…”

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“White Wedding,” Billy Idol, 1983

Although he had much bigger hits later in his career (“Eyes Without a Face,” “To Be a Lover”), Billy Idol may be best known for this 1982 song he wrote, which stalled at #36 in the US but made #6 in his native England.  The narrator speaks to a girl who he once loved who had married, apparently unsuccessfully, and now he has returned and hopes she’ll be willing to try again by marrying him:  “Come on, it’s a nice day for a white wedding, it’s a nice day to start again…”  The song’s music video, played heavily at the time on the relatively new MTV channel, was somewhat controversial for its dark gothic images and barbed-wire wedding ring.  The Spotify list includes the longer version (Parts 1 and 2).

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Here are a few “honorable mention” tracks having to do with weddings and marriage:

Let’s Get Married,” Al Green, 1974;  “Marry You,” Bruno Mars, 2010;  “We’ve Only Just Begun,” The Carpenters, 1970;  “I Do,” Colbie Caillat, 2011;  “Down the Aisle (The Wedding Song),” Patti LaBelle & The Blue Belles, 1963;  “Be My Wife,” David Bowie, 1977;  “That’s the Way I Always Heard It Should Be,” Carly Simon, 1971;  “Legalize Our Love,” Timbuk 3, 1995;  “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” The Beach Boys, 1966;  “I Do,” Jewel, 2008; “Down the Aisle of Love,” The Quin-Tones, 1958;  “From This Moment On,” Shania Twain, 1997.