85: The Song Remembers When

85: The Song Remembers When

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Country Music

The Song Remembers When

Story by Hugh Prestwood

Song written by Hugh Prestwood

Recorded by Trisha Yearwood

I was an English major in college and a lot of poets influenced my lyric writing. I’ve loved poets like Frost, and Edwin A. Robinson, and Emily Dickinson. I got the idea for “The Song Remembers When” from a poem by Anne Sexton called “Music Swims Back to Me.” There’s a line in the poem where the narrator says, “The song remembers more than I.”

I had a couple of major heartbreaks in my life. I think everyone has had those relationships where you hear a song that triggers emotions and memories. The lines that read, “we were rolling through the Rockies, we were up above the clouds” — that came from a real moment in time. My wife and I were driving through Rocky Mountain National Park. We drove from Estes Park, Colorado, and as we got higher, we were literally driving through the clouds and eventually we were above the clouds.

We were listening to the radio and I actually heard one of my songs, “Hard Rock Bottom of Your Heart,” performed by Randy Travis. So this was just an incredible moment, looking out over the mountains and then hearing one of my songs on the radio. The station was actually out of Denver, and I started to use Denver in the song, but we had also been to Jackson Hole, Wyoming on that trip and I decided Jackson sounded better.

The first verse, “I was standing at the counter, I was waiting for the change,” was also based on an experience I had when I heard one of my songs for the first time. I was at a Shoney’s restaurant and something that I had written came over the speakers. So I remembered that scene and thought, “I’ll use that as the first verse.” All of those scenes got jumbled around and ended up in this song, which was about a painful break-up.

We had a lot of trouble getting that song recorded. I was writing for BMG then and I went through a little bit of a depression because I thought that was as good a song as I would ever write and we could not get it cut. I actually had a couple of big producers who called me and asked me if I would consider re-writing it to make it more radio-friendly and more chorus-y. It doesn’t really even have a chorus. But I just loved it the way it was and I didn’t want to change it.

Then Kathy Mattea recorded it and I really very happy about it, until I found out it didn’t make it on her record. That really sent me into a nosedive, with a lot of self-doubt. She told me later the label actually liked the song, but it didn’t really match the flavor of the album.

We had pitched it to Trisha Yearwood for a previous album and that didn’t happen either, but the second time around, she cut it. It later won the Nashville Songwriters Association Song of the Year, and even won an Emmy because Trisha did it in a TV special. Since then, it’s almost become her signature song. When an artist gets identified with a song that closely, a lot of other artists don’t want to touch it. If I were an artist and I heard Trisha sing it, I wouldn’t want to try to cover it either. She really nailed it.

The Song Remembers When

I was standing at the counter

I was waiting for the change

When I heard that old familiar music start

It was like a lighted match

Had been tossed into my soul

It was like a dam had broken in my heart

After taking every detour

Getting lost and losing track

So that even if I wanted

I could not find my way back

After driving out the memory

Of the way things might have been

After I’d forgotten all about us

The song remembers when

We were rolling through the Rockies

We were up above the clouds

When a station out of Jackson played that song

And it seemed to fit the moment

And the moment seemed to freeze

When we turned the music up and sang along

And there was a God in Heaven

And the world made perfect sense

We were young and were in love

And we were easy to convince

We were headed straight for Eden

It was just around the bend

And though I have forgotten all about it

The song remembers when

I guess something must have happened

And we must have said goodbye

And my heart must have been broken

Though I can’t recall just why

The song remembers when

Well, for all the miles between us

And for all the time that’s passed

You would think I haven’t gotten very far

And I hope my hasty heart

Will forgive me just this once

If I stop to wonder how on earth you are

But that’s just a lot of water

Underneath a bridge I burned

And there’s no use in backtracking

Around corners I have turned

Still I guess some things we bury

Are just bound to rise again

For even if the whole world has forgotten

The song remembers when

Yeah, and even if the whole world has forgotten

The song remembers when

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