The joy (and pain) of music

I don’t know if anybody else struggles with a similar problem, but the other day I was in the car flicking though a playlist, and ended up discarding just about every track for various different reasons. In the end, I’d driven about two miles without having listened to more than five seconds of any one song.

I’ve had an intense and emotional week, so I’m hoping that was the cause of me rejecting a crazy number of songs! Here are some examples of songs I couldn’t listen to:

  • One – U2
    This brought up memories of travelling in the back of a car twenty years ago, when the guy I desired more than oxygen (and never ended up with) was sitting in the front. I guess I was filled with regret and it made me feel uncomfortable, even decades later.
  • More than words – Extreme
    Love, love, love this song, but sometimes it just fills me with too many memories of my formative years; too many emotions!
  • Learning to Fly – Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
    This one brought back tons of teenage angst combined with a stressful time of revising for my A-levels while also having so much of life ahead of me to live; so many options. I probably felt mostly regret when I listened to this one, wondering if I’ve done all I could have with my life.
  • I wish I was a punk rocker – Sandi Thom
    The lyrics of this song just cut through me every time and I struggle to hear it without getting sad about the inevitable ageing of us all, particularly my parents. The lyrics are just so damn poignant for a child of the seventies such as myself.

In the end, I think I settled with turning up Run by Snow Patrol to full volume and bellowing out the lyrics to an empty rural road at half past one in the morning. It hadn’t been my first choice of song to listen to, but it also didn’t hold any deep-seated memories that might set my precarious emotions off!

So why is music having such a powerful effect, particularly during a week which has been very emotional for me?

Well, firstly, research suggests that when we listen to music which gives us the chills, it triggers a release of the happy chemical, dopamine, to the brain. Further, dopamine production isn’t just triggered as the music reaches the peaks of a song, such as during the chorus, but it also gets produced when we anticipate those moments too. It’s the ultimate feel good. For me, that would always happen just before the drum section of In The Air Tonight by Phil Collins (made use of in the Cadbury’s advert!).

Secondly, neurology and nostalgia apparently work very closely together, meaning that when we hear a song from our adolescence, feelings and memories from that time are suddenly replayed within our brains. This is particularly true of songs linked to experiences between the ages of 12 and 22. Within these years, our brains develop incredibly rapidly and connections made to songs during that time form an intensely powerful neurological connection.

During that decade, our hormone-addled brains made us believe that everything that happens during that phase is incredibly important, including the music we are listening to at the time. This is the reason that hearing a tune from our schooldays, sometimes decades later, can be such a powerful experience as all those feelings and emotions are re-remembered and re-lived.

I guess I should try and take some comfort from this fact. Apparently, my scatty behaviour this week doesn’t mean I’m completely losing it…not yet, at least!


The latest news from Fenella Ashworth can be found at
Fenella is a British author of contemporary steamy romance for 18+. All of her stories are available from Amazon and Kindle Unlimited. Her most popular books are ‘One Hot Wynter’s Night’, ‘To Love, Honour and…Oh Pay’ and the Daniel Lawson Series.

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