August 11, 2021

13 Songs from our Youth that still have the Power to Transform Us.

Last week—with my mask on, hand sanitizer ready, and in the midst of a pandemic—I went to a New Kids on the Block concert with two of my best friends.

I should clarify that this was my 12th New Kids concert since 2008, when they reunited after an almost 15-year hiatus.

As a child, I adored their music. I was obsessed—a super fan, a Blockhead. They were my Beatles.

I remember listening to my bootleg cassette of their self-titled debut album on my Care Bears boombox, and “borrowing” the “Hangin’ Tough” album from my best friend. I definitely still have that cassette in a box somewhere at my parents’ house.

There was nothing genius about their songs, but hearing them made me feel good.

They made we want to sing at the top of my lungs. They made me want to learn cheesy dance moves and perform them for my family, which was not the norm for my painfully shy self.

Their music made me wonder what it would feel like to fall in love, be kissed, be wanted.

And you know how some songs become associated with a difficult or traumatic part of your life, and you can’t hear the opening notes without being transported back to that pain? Well, even though my childhood had some incredibly painful moments, somehow those memories never attached themselves to these songs.

For me, they’ve stayed pure.

So pure that even now, 35 years after the initial New Kids’ album came out, each song that I loved as a child still transports me back to that good, wholesome, childlike feeling of wonder.

So pure that even their newer songs, which have entered my life at trying and emotionally exhausting times filled with grief and heartache, have never once been tainted by the life going on around them.

So pure that when I was deciding on my second tattoo a few years back, I knew it would be a lyric to one of their songs, and now the phrase “Doesn’t matter what we did before, nothing’s ever been this beautiful” is permanently etched on my back.

When people talk about the power of music, I’m pretty sure that’s what they mean.

What song from your youth still holds that power for you?

Enjoy some responses from our Elephant readers and add yours in the comments!

1. “‘Strawberry Letter #23’ reminds me of pool parties with our extended family barbecuing and just hanging out. My dad passed when I was only seven so when I hear any song from that time it comforts me.” ~ Deidre

2. “‘Into the Groove’ by Madonna. It’s the 80s nostalgia for me.” ~ Moneek

3. “‘Cecilia.’ Simon and Garfunkel. My mom used to play the album and spin and dance with my sister and I in the living room. I can still see and feel the soft carpet under my bare feet.” ~ Kimberly

4. “‘I’ll Stand by You’ by Chrissie Hynde. It’s all in your head space as to what you call a feel good song! That one reminds me of my son, which always brings me joy.” ~ Stacy

5. “‘Is this love?’ by Bob Marley. It’s the song that was playing when I fell in love with my wife 43 years ago.” ~ Jim

6. “‘California Girls’ by The Beach Boys because it takes me right back to being about eight and dancing around the house while it played on vinyl on my dad’s record player.” ~ Polly

7. “Prince’s ‘Raspberry Beret.’ My friend Brent and I used to make mix tapes and we sat by the radio one Friday night so we could record it. It finally came on and we were ecstatic. Every weekend the rest of the summer we would go camping and blast ‘Raspberry Beret,’ full-blast. Listening to it now brings back old memories of awkward youth and trying to impress the girls.” ~ Chad

8. “‘The Greatest Love of All.’ This song has always been meaningful to me. I was mesmerized the first time I saw Whitney sing it. And as I got older, the meaning and the reality of my life made my heart dance. I am my own shero.” ~ Nambe

9. “‘All Right Now’ by Free. This one does it for me! The memory is of walking through the quad area of my high school while listening to it, and everybody grooving to it.” ~ EliMaria

10. “‘Love Shack’ by the B52s. Brings back many memories of my carefree youth!”

11. “Anything from Roy Orbison. It just brings me back to happy times when my parents were still together. Singing out loud in the kitchen, them being happy together.” ~ Nikki

12. “‘Juke Box Hero’ by Foreigner. A thunderstorm on my sixth birthday couldn’t rain out my day…cranked it up to 11 with the knob ripped off!”

And for lucky number 13, we have my personal pick: “Please Don’t Go Girl” by (who else?) New Kids on the Block. The opening beats of this song will forever remind me of sitting in the small TV room in my grandparents’ apartment in the Bronx watching a worn-out New Kids’ VHS, giggling with my sisters and cousins, and listening to the sounds of the city outside.

Life seemed simpler then. And when this song comes on, I’m thankful that for 4 minutes and 10 seconds, I can go back:

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