I obviously quite like nostalgia. I run an 80s nostalgia website after all. I love when I get that warm, fuzzy feeling of nostalgia whenever something triggers a memory from my childhood. They say music and smells are the biggest triggers of memory. I will hopefully be writing a Top Ten Nostalgia Smells post at some point too. But for this post I’m going to be looking at the main songs that instantly give me an injection of nostalgia. I’ll try to pinpoint what memories they trigger too, where possible. In terms of full albums a couple of early memories for me, which massively trigger nostalgia to this day are a 50s compilation called Then Came Rock n Roll, and also The Beatles Live at the Hollywood Bowl. That rock n roll one in particular just brings back so many memories, and I still play it regularly today. But for this post I’m going to look at contemporary songs from my childhood that trigger nostalgia for me.

Firstly some honourable mentions that didn’t quite make it into the Top Ten.

Kenny Loggins – Footloose
A classic song from a classic movie. I nearly had Danger Zone too, which appeared in Top Gun. Kenny Loggins obviously liked his movie anthems. But that intro to Footloose really gets me every time.

Midnight Oil – Beds are Burning
This one is maybe the most recent song in the list, being released in 1987. But the memories it evokes are very specific. It instantly transports me back to reading Incredible Hulk comics during the Joe Fixit storyline. Very strange how it’s so specific. I’ve checked and that storyline did indeed run around 1987. I don’t think we owned that song on vinyl or tape so it must have been on the radio at the same time.

John Parr – St Elmo’s Fire (Man in Motion)
I’ve still never seen the film, but I remember staring at the publicity shot from the film on the cover of the vinyl single that we owned. I love this song and my main memory is sitting on the floor in my bedroom (back when I shared a room with my brother) and listening to this single.

The Eagles – Hotel California
The song Hotel California probably should be in my Top Ten but it’s my all time favourite song and I’ve played it so often over the years that the nostalgia doesn’t shine quite as brightly. The song itself does still evoke very strong memories of a family holiday in France though. I had recently discovered the album Hotel California and absolutely fell in love with the title track, but it was an album from the 70s so I was just discovering it after the fact. But about two weeks later we had a holiday in France and for some reason it must have been re-released in France or something because it was constantly on the radio over there. Very bizarre and serendipitous but it helped to cement it in my favourites list anyway. Listening to the rest of the album totally transports me back to looking at White Dwarf magazine and Citadel Miniatures paint guides and occasionally trying to paint the miniatures myself.

Now onto the proper Top Ten.

10. Harold Faltermeyer – Axel F

You can’t get more 80s than Axel F. Those opening notes and the main riff are just absolutely iconic of the 1980s. I never totally loved the whole of the song, but that intro is incredible. It immediately transports me back to watching Beverly Hills Cop, a film that I love. For some reason it also really makes me think of Miami Vice too, even though that was by Jan Hammer. I guess it’s just the whole synth vibe.

9. Bon Jovi – Livin’ on a Prayer

This one was in danger of not being in my list at all, because it’s such a mainstream song that I’ve heard and played so much over the years. But that intro still instantly takes me back to one of my friends’ houses where a bunch of us went for an overnight party when we were about 10 years old and played it on repeat, screaming our heads off until we all lost our voices.

8. Toni Basil – Mickey

This song was maybe slightly more on my radar than everyone else, because my name was Michael. Friends kept joking it was about me. So it kind of just evokes a memory of that whole period in school, although I do seem to particularly remember her appearing on a Saturday morning show like No.73 or something.

7. Bonnie Tyler – Holding Out For A Hero

This song really is just amazing. I’m not ashamed to say it. It’s incredible. I remember seeing it used as the intro theme for the TV show Cover Up. I don’t think I ever watched a full episode of that show but I remember thinking that the song was a total perfect fit for the title sequence. Again I had this on vinyl single growing up, so one of the main memories I have is off the cover image of Bonnie Tyler. Another song from the soundtrack to Footloose.

6. 99 Red Balloons – Nena

Now we’re getting into the big guns. The big nostalgia triggers. This song by Nena is fantastic. I don’t think it evokes a memory of a particular event or situation but rather just a feeling of my whole childhood. We had this on vinyl single too and the B side was the original German version 99 Luftballons. Brilliant stuff. I was doing some research and it was good to see that Nena made a bit of a comeback in 2018.

5. Bruce Springsteen – Dancing in the Dark

There are so many good Springsteen songs from this era, but this is the one that triggers the memories. Again, nothing majorly specific, although I do have a very vivid memory of seeing Courtney Cox in the video, years before she became ‘Courtney Cox’. But this is another song that just evokes a whole time period of nostalgia to me. 

4. Billy Joel – Tell Her About It

The Innocent Man album by Billy Joel is one that triggers so many memories. We had a cassette of it that we played in the car every single time we drove to and from my grandparents house on the coast. The whole family would be signing along to every song and we knew all the words and all the backing vocal parts. Fantastic memories. But this song, ’Tell Her About It’, was always my favourite and we owned it as a vinyl single too. Whenever I hear the first few bars of it I find it incredibly difficult to sit still and keep my mouth shut. It’s incredible how such a few notes can have such an emotional effect. It also randomly gives me strong memories of making these Shrinky Dinks.

3. Cyndi Lauper – Girls Just Wanna Have Fun

I really don’t know why, but the first 3 seconds of this song are HUGELY nostalgic to me. They instantly take me back to a certain period of my childhood. Nothing specific though. I don’t even remember particularly loving this song more than other songs at the time, and yet this intro immediately takes me back, like a time machine. Perhaps it was because it was such a unique sound effect that it really stood out to me.

2. Queen – Radio Ga Ga

Here’s another one we owned as a vinyl single, so it got played a lot in our house. I think I found the intro quite haunting, in a good way. It was different to most of the light-hearted rock songs that I’d known up until then. This seemed to have a bit more depth to it or something, and even the title of the song itself was curious to a young child. Great song, and I love listening to it as it always transports me back to that time.

1. Culture Club – Karma Chameleon

For me there was never any doubt what would be my No.1 nostalgia song. This song is of course an 80s classic, and it evokes two main memories for me. One was Boy George’s appearance on an episode of The A-Team, but the main memory I get when I hear the intro to Karma Chameleon is of playing with my He-Man and Skeleton figures. The song was released in 1983 and that’s when I got my He-Man figures, so it makes sense. How manly can a young boy get, eh? Playing with his muscle bound He-Man figures while listening to Culture Club. No, the 80s weren’t homoerotic at all, what are you saying? But again it’s just incredible how a few notes at the start of a song can instantly transport you back to a bygone time.

Do you have any particular tracks that give you a massive nostalgia trigger?