Music is the soundtrack to our lives. As children, we’re cooed to sleep by lullabies. As adults, songs attach themselves to significant mile markers: a first kiss, a fun vacation, or when a child is born.
Music brings us along for the ride of our lives. It has the uncanny ability to carry us through times; to make us laugh and cry. Rhythm and melody also have a special way of tapping into the hopes, joys, fears, and challenges of growing older and aging. It helps us face big issues: births, deaths, familial, financial, and physical changes.
Through song, we can gain insight into the universal process of aging and feel apart of something larger than ourselves. For dementia sufferers, music has the power to heal. Research shows that music stimulates brain pathways in Alzheimer’s patients — arousing memory, alleviating depression, and bringing an extreme sense of comfort.
In no particular order, here are 15 of the best songs about growing older that any boomer will love:
- The Who – “My Generation”. While it’s often regarded as an anthem for teenage rebellion, it’s a raw rock-and-roll story about the fear of getting older. When The Who first conceived of the lyrics “I hope I die before I get old,” it meant “I hope I die before I become rich and corrupt”. Now it seems to mean “I hope I stay young until I die” – perfectly exemplifying the Baby Boom generation.
- David Bowie- “Changes”. Some people think David Bowie will never grow old, but this song is a reminder that change is inevitable. Much like Bowie himself, the song is a timeless piece of glam-rock history. Fight as you may, no matter how hard you, try time passes and everyone ages, “Turn and face the strain / Ch- ch- changes…./ Time may change me/ But I can’t trace time”. Ironically enough, Bowie christened his self-imposed retirement with this song.
- Neil Young – “Old Man”. The song assumes a touching perspective as Young sees himself within an aging ranch hand, “Old man take a look at my life / I’m a lot like you.” It’s points out the hopes, fears, and desire we all have about getting older – the fear of loneliness, the desire to be loved, a yearning for longevity.
- The Grateful Dead – “A Touch of Grey”.Witty and sarcastic, “Touch of Grey” was an epic success on the coattails of the Grateful Dead’s long career. It’s an upbeat take on aging gracefully. “I will get by/ I Will survive” is a triumphal statement about perseverance and resilience in life and old age. “A touch of Grey/ kind of suits you any way”.
- The Beatles – “When I’m 64”. Paul McCartney originally wrote this song for his father’s birthday, and it’s since become one of the most well known songs about aging. Famous for its light-hearted, humorous tone, it’s a song about love and growing old together with another person. It reminds us that sharing the “mundane”, not-so-glamorous details of everyday life can sometimes be the greatest gift of all. “Doing the garden, digging the weeds, who could ask for more?
- Alphaville – “Forever Young”. This 80s hit is a commentary on aging in disguise. It’s glossy sound makes it seem like an ode to youth, but at closer listen it’s a revelation about the fear of death. Essentially about giving up control and living in the moment, the lyrics sing out: “Let us die or let live forever/ We don’t have the power so we never say never”
- Bruce Springsteen – “Glory Days”. The quintessential theme to reminiscing about the “good old days”. Jersey Boy Bruce Springsteen recounts the fun times and innocence of his youth. As we grow older, we find solace in relishing in the good times; it helps keep us connected to the people and places we love. “We just sit around talking about the old times/ she says when she feels like crying/ she starts laughing thinking about [glory days]”. But can you really spend your life looking in the rearview mirror?
- The Byrds – “Turn, Turn, Turn”. Written by Pete Seeger, the lyrics of this song help us come to grips with that fact that there’s a time in life for everything: retirement, our kids, leaving home, our parents getting sick, and even death. Its astounding harmonies and melodies speak to seeking balance and acceptance as we age.
- Simon and Garfunkel- “A Hazy Shade of Winter”. Like “Turn, Turn, Turn”, this is another song that uses the ebb and flow of nature as a metaphor for the cycle of life. Now in the Winter of life, or old age, the central character reflects on the “springtime” of his youth and decisions he made. He hopes he will be remembered.
- Elvis Costello – “Veronica”. Costello describes a woman sinking into senility, inspired by his own grandmother who suffered from Alzheimer’s. “These days I’m afraid she’s not even sure if her name is Veronica.
- Bob Seger – “Against the Wind”. As we age, we take on countless responsibilities. For many people, becoming the caretaker to their own aging parent is a terrifying reality. In this 1980 song, Seeger sees us through life up and downs, keeping your head up, and going against the grain.
- George Harrison – “All Things Must Pass”. An epic songwriter, this tune is about moving on in life. Dealing with the breakup of the Beatles, Harrison gives us hope that the bad times are only temporary – a heartfelt point that hits home for any elder caregiver.
- John Mayer- “Stop This Train”. This tearjerker is about the universal fear of the unexpected that growing older brings. A talk with his father helps Mayer realize that life doesn’t stop just because you turn age 65. There’s a whole lot more living after that.
- Arcade Fire – “In The Backseat”. This song will stop you dead in your tracks. An incredibly moving song about aging, it relates a feeling of being tired and drained in the face of major changes. We’re constantly trying to find peace and cope with major changes in our life and learning to take control. “I’ve been learning to drive/ My whole life”. Easily one of my personal favorite songs of all time.
- Death Cab for Cutie – “I Will Follow You Into The Dark”. This sweet song will capture your heart. In this cautiously optimistic view on the afterlife, front man Ben Gibbard sings about long lasting, true love and growing old together.
What tunes would you add to the list? Let us know in the comments below.