Forgive the incredibly lame simile, but certain songs are like time machines. Hearing a particular song can transport me right back to fourth grade. There are just some songs with such strong memories attached to them that they will forever evoke a different time.
There are TONS of songs that make me think of specific times in my life, but the songs we’re talking about today are the ones that remind me of my elementary school days. Some songs remind me of very specific situations; others just remind me of a particular grade or age. You’ll notice that the majority of them are from 1997 and 1998: I was in fourth grade. That was the grade when music suddenly became really important in my young life. That was also the year that I made the transition from country music (which my parents listened to) to pop music (which my friends listened to).
These songs are all concentrated in the 90s, and I’m including the year the songs were released because I became obsessed with said songs around the time they came out. (This will not necessarily be the case for my high school flashback songs: stay tuned for those!) I’m starting with the earliest 90s song and working my way to the end of the decade. Prepare yourselves for a 90s flashback.
(You’ll notice that my friend Sarah shows up quite a bit in this set of songs – Sarah and I shared a taste for corny pop music, and let me tell you: living through the pop music of the late 90s will form an unshakable bond.)
Trisha Yearwood – She’s in Love with the Boy – 1991
“She’s in Love with the Boy” was the first song I ever truly loved. My parents listened to nothing but country music, and I heard this song on the radio all the time when riding around with them. The first cassette tape I ever truly owned (ie, not a hand-me-down, but something I actually requested) was something like Trisha Yearwood’s greatest hits. I was obsessed with this song for years: I would play the tape over and over and OVER in my room, doing my best twangy country singer voice when I sang along. And I ALWAYS sang along. I would even act this song out with Barbies. Of course, I had very little idea what the song was about: just some girl named Katie who had a boyfriend named Tommy that her dad didn’t like. Like all good country songs, this one had a message: Katie’s mom steps in and informs her overprotective husband that HER father didn’t like him, and look how happy they are! So he should give Tommy a chance! How sweet! (Tommy, it should be noted, proposes to Katie with his class ring. The lyrics go: “He said, ‘My high school ring will have to do/til I can buy a wedding band.’” For years, I thought Tommy needed to buy a wedding van. When I finally figured out that he was buying a wedding band, I thought he meant a pack of musicians for his wedding. I had a lot to learn.)
John Michael Montgomery – Sold (The Grundy County Auction Incident) – 1995
This song is fantastically corny: a guy is at an auction and sees a pretty girl, and he is “sold” to her because she “bids” on his heart. Blech. But I liked it because it was catchy, and the chorus was supposed to be a little like auctioneering (which I have always thought is impressive). Double bonus: the lady in the song is touted as having blonde hair and blue eyes. I, too, had blonde hair and blue eyes. As a very awkward eight-year-old entering the notorious Fat Calla/ugly duckling years, I liked to picture myself as the pretty lady at the Grundy County Auction.
Duncan Sheik – Barely Breathing – 1996
Enter: the summer before fourth grade. Though this song came out when I was still in third grade, I listened to it the most in the summer of 1997. It was during that time when I realized that almost none of my classmates listened to country music. Therefore, it was no longer cool to listen to country music. If you were cool, you listened to 104.7, which played all the popular music. Like nearly all fourth-graders, I desperately wanted to be cool, so I commenced begging my parents to switch the radio to 104.7. My mom did so semi-cooperatively, but my dad adopted the “my car, my radio” stance. (Looking back, I can’t say I blame him.) “Barely Breathing” is one of the first songs I remember hearing and liking, and my friend Sarah and I worked hard that entire summer to learn the words. We loved the singer’s weird inflections: next time you listen to it, pay attention to them. They’re a little bit hilarious.
Savage Garden – I Want You – 1996
I had a tough time choosing between two Savage Garden songs: this one and “Truly Madly Deeply.” Both were fourth grade favorites, even though the lyrics to “Truly Madly Deeply” made me gag. (Fun fact: they still do.) Like the Duncan Sheik song, Sarah and I spent a great deal of time trying to learn the words to “I Want You,” struggling because the verses were so fast. I clearly remember us diving into the Arlington swimming pool and trying to mouth as many words as we could underwater before we had to come up for air. Our favorite part? The chick-a-cherry-cola.
Billie Myers – Kiss the Rain – 1997
This song? RIDICULOUS. First of all, it should be noted it took my friends and I quite a while to figure out if the singer was a man or a woman. (Said singer was ambiguously named Billie, so that was no help to us.) Turns out Billie is a woman, and we were SHOCKED. It was the manliest woman’s voice we’d heard in our ten years. Granted, we would’ve been SHOCKED if Billie had turned out to be a man – then it would’ve been the womanliest man voice we’d heard thus far. Poor Billie just wasn’t going to win with the fourth grade crowd. Even as fourth graders, Sarah and I knew how absurd the song was: how exactly does one kiss the rain? When it rained, we’d dance around outside – usually at the Badger playground – and sing this song. We tried to kiss the rain, but it never really worked out.
Matchbox 20 – 3 am – 1997
I am not at all ashamed to admit that I still love this song. While I can’t listen to most of the songs on this list without cringing, “3 am” has a permanent place in my iPod rotation. “3 am” is one of those songs to which I can’t help but sing along, and it’s the ugly kind of sing along: all with the face scrunching and the fist clenching. When I was in college and staying up until 3 am was a regular occurrence, I would play this song. At 3 am. Like a tool. Nowadays, I am much too old to stay awake until 3 am, but if I did, I would play this song. At 3 am. Like a tool. Bonus points if it’s raining.
Hanson – MMMBop – 1997
You know I can’t let a blog about elementary school music go by without mentioning Hanson. Alas, I, too, fell under the Hanson spell. How could I not? I was ten, and “MMMBop” was catchy as hell. I remember going to Sarah’s eleventh birthday party that summer – “MMMBop” was reasonably fresh, and Sarah had gotten the CD for her birthday. She had a pool party at a hotel in Watertown, and a dozen or so of us sat in the hotel room and listened to “MMMBop” on repeat. For HOURS. (Redeeming fact: while I loved “MMMBop,” I never had a crush on any of the Hanson brothers. I was too busy swooning over Leonardo DiCaprio, so I didn’t have time for that nonsense.)
Goo Goo Dolls – Slide – 1998
Out of all these songs, “Slide” is the one that reminds me the most of fourth grade. Why, exactly, I don’t know. I don’t have a big story for “Slide” like I do for many of these other songs – it was just on the radio all the time, and it stuck with me. Maybe it was that infectious opening guitar lick. However, even as an eleven-year-old, I had to remind myself not to listen too hard to the magnificently trite lyrics: “What you feel is what you are/and what you are is beautiful.” GAG. I should mention that I feel like a complete idiot when I say that I used to listen to the Goo Goo Dolls, and I feel like a complete idiot typing out the name “Goo Goo Dolls.” Seriously. Who names themselves the Goo Goo Dolls? Bands who write lyrics like “Would you whisper in my ear/ the things you want to feel/I’ll give you everything/to feel it coming,” that’s who.
Semisonic – Closing Time – 1998
We had PE three times a week in elementary school, and I hated every second of it (except for hockey, but that’s neither here nor there). Of all the things about PE I loathed, my absolute least favorite was running laps around the gym. While we sluggishly ran (“ran” being a very generous term for what we were doing) our laps, our PE teacher would turn the radio to 104.7. “Closing Time” and “Save Tonight” by Eagle Eye Cherry (remember that song?) were the two songs I heard most often while I chugged around the gymnasium. Despite the PE memories (shiver), “Closing Time” really is an ok song. I work the closing shift at the library at least once a week, and every time, I think about how great it would be if we could play this over the intercom system at closing time. Minus the part about one last call for alcohol, the sentiment is the same: you don’t have to go home but you can’t stay here.
Barenaked Ladies – One Week – 1998
“One Week” was the first song where I made a conscious effort to learn the lyrics. I’m usually able to pick up song lyrics pretty quickly, but “One Week” proved a challenge for me: you can’t learn the lyrics if you can’t understand a damn word they’re saying. The verses were rapid-fire and unintelligible; the most I could do was pick up a phrase here and there. “I summon fish to the dish mumble mumble mumble sushi because it’s never touched the frying pan!” Sarah came to my rescue: she was the lucky recipient of Seventeen magazine, and they had published the lyrics to “One Week.” She tore it out for me, and I had that song down pat in days. Or perhaps one week. (See what I did there?)
Well, there you are: a lovely little peek into my elementary school brain. Listening to any of these songs makes me feel like I’m a kid again. These were ten of my all-time childhood favorites. Say what you will about them – I know I should be ashamed of nearly all of these – but they all hold a special place in my heart.