Finding peace in the past: these are the best songs for embracing nostalgia

Tony Madden

Maybe it’s the first time you drove in the rain after you got your driver’s license. Maybe it’s the crowded pit on the final stop of your favorite artist’s stadium tour, or a particularly vivid sunset on the last hot day of summer in high school. Whatever the memory, some music has an innate ability to take us back to the first time we heard it.

Coming up on one year of a pandemic that has claimed so many lives and changed so many things we hold dear, memories of an easier time have become our safe havens. Here are a few of the best of those nostalgia songs that help us look back while we keep moving forward. 

Grigio Girls – Lady Gaga

2016’s “Joanne” gave us a number of tracks that stand out in Lady Gaga’s discography, but few stand out quite like “Grigio Girls.” Dedicated to her best friend Sonja who died of breast cancer shortly after its release, “Grigio Girls” tells the story of Gaga’s group of friends sticking together after Sonja passes away. 


With vinyl crackles, a slight twang and a singer-songwriter vibe – sonic qualities that stand out given Gaga’s affinity for pure pop – we relive the wine-sipping nights of a friendship for the ages vicariously through Gaga’s eyes. 


“So we’ll turn on a ‘Bachelorette,’ dye Ashley’s hair red, and then we’ll have our sixth Spice Girl in this bitch,” Gaga cries out with invigorating imagery.

Landslide – The Chicks

Fleetwood Mac’s seminal classic “Landslide” appears to have unlikely potential for a bluegrass hit, but the Chicks’ country-fied cover on the 2003 album “Home” was just that. Banjo, fiddle and the Chicks’ three-part harmonies give an entirely new identity to Stevie Nicks’ lyrics while still paying homage.


“I’ve been afraid of changin’ ‘cause I built my life around you,” may be one of the most heart-wrenching lyrics of all time. Natalie Maines takes to it with such authority that one can’t help but apply it to their own lives when trying to embrace change.

Scott Street – Phoebe Bridgers

Of the extensive catalogue of Phoebe Bridgers songs about nostalgia, “Scott Street” from her debut album “Stranger in the Alps” takes the cake. Bridgers’ signature songwriting style has become one of graceful specificity that’s just confusing enough. 


The song tackles the peculiarities of reconnecting with those who once played major roles in our lives, but have since fallen by the wayside. Awkward smalltalk become compelling works of lyricism with “I asked ‘How is your sister? I heard she got her degree.’ I said ‘That makes me feel old.’ You said “What does that make me?”


“Scott Street” serves as a perfect reminder that relationships of any kind do not become less meaningful just because they’ve ended. 

Cairo, IL – Natalie Hemby

The town of Cairo at the southern tip of Illinois is an oddity to say the least. What was once a booming center of enterprise in the late 19th century and early 20th century has become a sleepy town of just 2,000 people, both metaphorically and literally washed away by the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. 


Often overlooked by travellers, Cairo also serves as the halfway point between Nashville and many towns in Missouri. A native of Puxico, Missouri, Natalie Hemby pays homage to the halfway point in the both effortless and regionally specific “Cairo, IL.” 


A repeated guitar riff accompanies Hemby through the end of the chorus: “Where the longing for the leaving and the welcome-home receiving join, still, I’ll keep driving past the ghost of Cairo, Illinois.” 


This drive from Missouri’s bootheel, through the tip of Illinois’ and into the fields of west Kentucky takes all of about ten minutes, but I’ll never overlook the ghost of Cairo, Illinois again. 

Holy Ground – Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift has made an absolute killing writing songs about reminiscence. During her landmark transition from country to pop music in the “Red” album era, “Holy Ground” became an anthem of that reminiscence. 


Barely stopping to take a breath, Swift flies through the story of first-glance feelings on New York time and spinning like a girl in a brand-new dress. If ever you require a song to capture what it means to feel joy, look no further than “Holy Ground.”


“Darling it was good– never looking down,” Swift slows down to sing in the chorus. “And right there where we stood was holy ground.”


Chronicling the journey from heartbreak to peace, Swift relives her favorite memories of never looking down amid a cluster of booming drums, guitar and her own backing vocals.

Ode To My Family – The Cranberries

Dolores O’Riordan’s yodels and enchanting Irish accent gave way to a number of teen-angst anthems between the Cranberries’ heyday in the ‘90s and O’Riordan’s tragic death in 2018. 


In 1994’s “Ode To My Family,” O’Riordan laments for the simplicity and naivety of childhood that we so unwillingly shed when we enter adulthood. The song explores our urge to see life as fun and uncomplicated as children.


The soft-rock instrumentation could not be more reminiscent of its era, and is accompanied perfectly by wails of “Does anyone care?”