Soundtrack to your life

Her raspy, soulful voice sent shivers up and down my spine. The rhythmic drumming and sassy trumpets made my heart skip a beat. I died and went to heaven.

I can vividly remember the first time I heard Amy Winehouse’s Rehab on the radio. I was in high school, driving along a busy road in my little red car. When that song came on I instantly smiled, screamed really loudly and turned the volume up full blast.

Why does music makes us feel this way?

Music and your memories

Studies have shown that familiar music and sounds activate the medial prefrontal cortex region of your brain (right behind your forehead) which is linked to autobiographical memories and emotions. It’s one of the last areas of the brain to degenerate over the course of Alzheimer’s disease, explaining why people with Alzheimer’s react so strongly to music they know.

There’s a fascinating movie called Alive Inside (available on Netflix) which chronicles how people with brain-related diseases who have completely withdrawn from the outside world explode with joy as soon as they hear their favourite songs being played to them. You may have seen this video of an elderly man named Henry plagued by dementia who comes to life when he listens to music from his past. It’s a tearjerker.

As professor Petrt Janata of University of California’s Center for The Mind and Brain puts it, “What seems to happen is that a piece of familiar music serves as a soundtrack for a mental movie that starts playing in our heads”.

a piece of familiar music serves as a soundtrack for a mental movie that starts playing in our heads

Winehouse’s Rehab brought me back to my grandparent’s bedroom as a five year old, where I would play a ‘Motown Returns To The Apollo’ laser disc over and over again, singing along to songs by The Temptations and The Four Tops. There is an undeniable soulful Motown sound and influence to Winehouse’s song that transported me back to a very happy time in my life.

It’s no wonder many of the artists and music I love today have a soulful sound at their core – from greats like Stevie Wonder and Erykah Badu to newbies like Hiatus Kaiyote and Sampha. Does the music you love today have any connection to the music you were exposed to as a kid?

Music and your mood

When I’m heading to work on the bus, I need to zone out with an upbeat track to wake me up and pump me up for the day ahead. Do you find yourself in a contemplative state when you’re sitting on the bus with your headphones in? Does the music you listen to put you in a certain mood?

Music activates deep brain structures that are part of the limbic system, the part of your brain that controls your feelings and emotions. Brain imaging studies show that listening to our favourite tunes also releases an influx of dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin and other neurochemicals that make us feel good. This explains the intense emotional pleasure we get, or those “chills” we feel when listening to certain music.

Listening to our favourite tunes releases an influx of neurochemicals that make us feel good


According to Spotify’s annual ‘Your Year in Music’ summary, my top 3 most played songs in 2016 were:

  1. Lung by Hiatus Kaiyote
  2. By Fire by Hiatus Kaiyote
  3. Burn the Witch by Radiohead

Music acts like an instant pick-me-up for me. When I’m feeling excited about something on the horizon or need to calm down I listen to Lung. When I’m feeling really happy or need a boost of energy I listen to By Fire. When I don’t give an F about something that’s happened or just want to feel like a bad ass I listen to Burn the Witch. They are my go-to tracks which I play over and over again when I need a mood-boosting fix.

Soundtrack to GrandmaAL’s Life. The playlist.

Although I never got the privilege of hearing Amy Winehouse sing Rehab live, I will never forget the first time I heard it.

To listen to Rehab and some of the other songs mentioned, here’s a Spotify playlist I prepared earlier:

x Grandma AL



[Feature image taken by GrandmaAL. Article image sourced from]

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