Sometimes we find ourselves living in the past, wishing we could go back to a moment we feel nostalgic, or even regretting having not done something differently. It’s a reason, at least in part, for the popularity or retrowave or synthwave music.
In moments like these, music can help us navigate our emotions. So in this article, I’m going to provide you with a list of my favorite songs about the past. Hopefully, you’ll find a couple new songs you like to add to your playlist.
Songs About the Past That Are Awesome
Let’s begin with the track “The Night We Met.”
The Night We Met by Lord Huron
This bittersweet ballad is about reminiscing on the beginning of a relationship. When someone becomes a significant part of your life, it’s common to remember the very first time you laid eyes on them. Especially when you notice things changing, maybe something as simple as growing apart and wanting to pursue different paths in life or realizing you’re becoming less important to someone.
“I had all and then most of you, some and now none of you.”
In an interview with Gigwise, Lord Huron’s frontman Ben Shneider went in-depth about his experience and the meaning behind the song. “I wanted to tell a story of love, but the feeling of regret at the end of a relationship when you’ve gone through so many wonderful things together, but you feel like it wasn’t worth it.”
He wants to go back to the night they met and tell himself it’s not worth the heartache, despite having beautiful memories together and feeling so much love at the beginning, part of him wishes he could’ve spared the pain as the two grow apart.
You’re Somebody Else by Flora Cash
Have you ever spent a lot of time with someone and later realize they’re not the same person they used to be? Maybe it’s that they treat you differently or have different priorities but it’s like a flip switches and suddenly you don’t recognize them anymore.
“Well you look like yourself but you’re somebody else, only it ain’t on the surface.”
The song is simple, with just a few melancholy chords repeating throughout. However, the lyrics are much more complex, describing things like feeling lost, derealization, growing apart from someone, and seeing a good person deep beneath one’s flaws.
In an interview with Riff magazine, Cole Randall of the married couple and musical duo that is flora cash said, “it’s not that it means so many things in a generic sense; it means so many very specific things to people.”
When I Was Your Man by Bruno Mars
This emotional, timeless breakup song is about regretting letting someone get away. He knows he messed up and thinks about it all the time, but he knows he can’t get her back now. He’s constantly reminded of their time together; through songs they’d listen to and places they used to go, and it breaks his heart.
Instead of wishing and begging for her back, he wrote this song with a happier ending wishing her the best with her next partner and hoping he does everything that Mars couldn’t do, which led to them separating. He hopes her next romantic partner buys her flowers, holds her hand, dances with her even if he’s embarrassed— “Do all the things I should’ve done, when I was your man.”
505 by Arctic Monkeys
Singer Alex Turner wrote “505” about wanting to get back to a time when things were peaceful between him and his former girlfriend. It’s theorized that 505 is the number of a hotel room they stayed in together, as she used to be a member of the band and in regards to them writing music together said, “We were in a really quiet hotel and didn’t watch TV or listen to much music, so as a game to not drive each other mad we started messing around with words like a game, singing them to each other.”
In the lyrics of 505, Turner says, “I’m going back to 505, if it’s a seven-hour flight or a forty-five-minute drive, in my imagination you’re waiting” alluding that he’d do anything for her, wait as long as he had to if she was waiting for him too.
He talks about how much it hurts him to see her cry and fantasizes about the time when they would take care of each other.
Closure by Sarcastic Sounds ft. Birdy
When we are hurt by the past, we may find ourselves ruminating on a situation and wondering why things happened the way they did, or why people acted the way they did. Knowing you have to leave a person in the past is a heart-sinking feeling—wanting them to still be a part of your life, but knowing you can’t make them change or care.
“It’s always wrong when it’s time to leave / I’ve gotta move on and it’s killing me.”
There’s never a good time to let go of someone you care about. It hurts no matter what but doing what’s best for you and ripping off the band-aid is more important than trying to sit with pain and hope it will go away without you making any changes.
In the second verse of the song, indie-folk artist Birdy presents the perspective of trying to get closure by talking to the person who hurt you. “You’re doing fine, you got my closure but I’m missing mine.”
She goes on to say she gave them everything and was so vulnerable just for them to rip her heart off her sleeve, and “I still don’t know why it hurts so bad, ‘cause you can’t miss something that you never had.” If someone was only pretending to care for you, it still felt like they did and can even make feelings of guilt arise for missing a relationship that was only one-sided.
Praying by Kesha
When most people think of Kesha, they think of “Ke$ha,” the rebellious party girl with multiple early 2010s top-charting pop singles about being young and reckless. In 2012, she took a hiatus from creating music due to being stuck in a contract she was unhappy with because of her abusive relationship with her producer, who she later went on to sue.
In 2017, she was free from the contract with producer Dr. Luke and was able to make music in a comfortable and safe environment. Although her legal battle was still going on at the time, all she ever wanted to do was make music. So, because she finally felt safe enough to do so, she let go of the “Ke$ha” persona and released a new album in an entirely different musical style with Praying as the single.
She talks about how hurt she was and despite everything she’d been put through, she’s found a new love for herself through forgiveness. Instead of wishing everything bad on people who’ve hurt her, she says “I hope you find your peace, falling to your knees / I hope you’re somewhere praying.”
It’s a ballad about hoping that everyone can heal, and it’s quite respectable considering all she had to go through just to fulfill her dreams of being a singer.
Revenge by XXXTentacion
This song begins with an audio clip of late singer/songwriter Jahseh Onfroy, better known as XXXTentacion, talking. “I think I finally found a way to forgive myself for mistakes I made in the past. I think that’s the first step, right?” It’s not uncommon to hear that forgiveness is the first step to moving on from the past, but often we forget that forgiving ourselves is a big part of that, arguably more meaningful than forgiving others.
The song opens with “I’ve dug two graves for us my dear / can’t pretend that I was perfect leaving you in fear” which may be a reference to a quote by the philosopher Confucius, who said, “before you embark on a journey of revenge, be sure to dig two graves.”
Perhaps meaning that seeking revenge will cause consequences for you as well as the person you’re vengeful about. The song Revenge was dedicated to one of Onfroy’s friends who took her own life, possibly one of the hardest situations to grieve.
Before XXXTentacion was releasing music on official streaming platforms, he put his art on SoundCloud and in the description of the song he wrote, “Rest in peace Jocelyn, I will have my revenge on the world.” As if he’s looking to seek justice for whatever caused his friend to feel so depressed.
Better Now by Post Malone
Post Malone’s Better Now is about regretting hurting someone in a relationship and watching her move on. He still has feelings for her that he’s hiding and believes she has the same feelings still too, even though she appears to have gotten over it. He wishes he could change things or that he could get her attention with expensive cars and watches.
He could buy her anything she wants, despite knowing that material things don’t phase her, he wonders if showing off more would win her back and doesn’t know what else to do. He thinks she’s pretending to be better off, and he’s pretending too, and no matter how much things in his life change or how much more fame he gets, he still thinks about their time together.
Keep Me by Khalid
Khalid’s debut album, American Teen, is all about him enjoying his time during high school in his hometown. Most of the songs on the album are happy, but this is one song that has very emotional lyrics, despite an upbeat melody. He tweeted, “Keep Me is actually a very sad song you just gotta listen to the lyrics.”
In the first line of the song, Khalid talks about how he always got this girl roses even though he hated the smell of them. He didn’t like her friends either, and she always sang the wrong words of songs, but he saw what made her smile and dealt with it because it was worth it to see her happy.
Even if she doesn’t care about him as much as he cares about her, he wants her to at least remember how well he treated her and everything he did for her. If she’s going to walk away and move on, he wants her to, but he wants to keep him in her heart and mind.
When We Were Young by Adele
This song is about seeing someone you used to be close to for the first time in a while and being reminded of how things used to be. The album Adele wrote before this one was about breakups, and she said “if I had to label this one it’d be a make-up record. I’m making up with myself and making up for lost time.”
The album, 25, is all about her revisiting the past and making peace with it. It’s not clear if the song is about a romantic or platonic relationship, but When We Were Young is about forgiving an old friend and reminiscing on better days.
When we are feeling hurt by the past or missing how things used to be, we feel all sorts of emotions like frustration, sadness, and nostalgia, but have minimal ways to express them as if someone is in our past, it’s usually for a good reason. This is why songs about the past are a great way to cope with feelings you don’t know what else to do with.
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