Time passes slowly when we’re paying attention, but the second we take a blink it may slip right through our hands without us even noticing. For better or for worse, this is a universal experience in one way or another, and pop culture has no shortage of referencing time.
In this article, I’m going to provide you with 13 of my personal favorite songs about time. Hopefully, by the time (no pun intended) you’ve reached the end, you’ll have discovered one or two new songs to add to your playlist!
Better in Time by Leona Lewis
We all know that getting through a tough time in your life isn’t easy. But, as the saying goes, “time heals all wounds.”
I tend to think that depends on what kind of wound we’re talking about, but even if we believe that saying has some validity, things definitely get harder when we begin asking tougher questions.
Questions like “how much time will it take” and “how much better will I feel” come to mind.
That’s sort of the undercurrent of this excellent Leona Lewis song, aptly titled Better in Time. On this song, Lewis is absolutely heartbroken over the fact that her lover is gone. But, on the other hand, she knows in her gut that she’ll be okay in the future. Life will go on. Life will get better. She just has to give it some time.
But, despite knowing a positive outcome and future awaits her, that doesn’t take the sting out of the present moment. It’s easy to tell yourself to wait until the hurricane calms down, but it’s a lot harder to have the courage to ride out the storm when you’re living inside of it.
If I’m dreaming, don’t wanna laugh
Hurt my feelings, but that’s the path
I believe in, and I know that time will heal it
If you didn’t notice, boy you meant everything
Quickly I’m learning, to love again
All I know is, Imma be okay
Time After Time by Cyndi Lauper
Easily one of the best songs with time in the title, this memorable 1980s Lauper track is a love ballad that’s truly stood the test of time (no pun intended–I promise).
Listening to this song, you imagine a broken hearted woman staring outside her window on a rainy night, reminiscing about past relationships gone awry, and hoping against hope that one day true love will find her once more.
After my picture fades
And darkness has turned to gray
Watching through windows
You’re wondering if I’m okay
Secrets stolen from deep inside
The drum beats out of time
If you’re lost, you can look and you will find me
Time after time
If you fall, I will catch you, I’ll be waiting
Time after time
Remember the Time by Michael Jackson
You know a song is memorable when, upon just hearing the title, you immediately recall the music video. And when it comes to Remember the Time, this is a music video that featured the great Eddie Murphy, Iman, and Magic Johnson—all immersed amongst the backdrop of ancient Egypt. The video was also directed by another great—John Singleton.
How’s that for a memorable lineup of talent?
While this song has an infectious beat and features Michael turning into a pile of digitally crafted sand by end of the video, this is no doubt a song about love and romance. It features Michael pouring out his heart to a woman that, it would seem, doesn’t quite share the same amount of love for him as he does her.
But that doesn’t stop The King of Pop from lyrically walking his love interest back down memory lane, attempting to outline all the great times they’ve shared in hopes that, one day, those happy days will continue once more.
Those sweet memories
Will always be dear to me
And girl no matter what was said
I will never forget what we had
Do you remember the time?
When we fell in love
Do you remember the time?
When we first met, girl
Do you remember the time?
Time by Pink Floyd
On the album The Dark Side of the Moon, many of the songs have long intros with minimal lyrics. Time is no exception to this, and before any instrumentals begin listeners are presented with a roughly two-minute compilation of sounds that clocks make. A bass guitar rhythm comes in ominously, right before kicking off the lyrics with dramatic drums to change the course of the song.
The song is all about watching time go by in boredom (“kicking around on a piece of dirt in your hometown, waiting for someone or something to show you the way.”) You’re tired of doing nothing, but you have nothing else to do. (“Tired of lying in the sunshine, staying home to watch the rain / you are young, and life is long, there is still time to kill today.”)
And before you know it, you’ve spent so much time just killing time that now the time is slipping away from you, and you can’t get the time you need. After the first verse, the next line kicks off like an opera, “and then one day you’ll find, ten years have gone behind you, no one told you where to run, you missed the starting gun.” You try to catch up with the sinking sun as every year is getting shorter, and you still can’t find the time you need as the sun races to come up behind you.
Sign of the Times by Harry Styles
This was the One Direction star’s first single after the band’s breakup. His musical style became more mature and rockstar-esque, a rather dramatic shift compared to his previous tween sensation boyband.
The melody of the song doesn’t sound very sad, and leans towards inspiring feelings of hopefulness—it has a darker meaning than one would expect. In an interview Rolling Stone, he revealed that the song is about a mother giving birth and being told she’s not going to make it. He went on to say, “Sign of the Times came from ‘this isn’t the first time we’ve been in a hard time, and it’s not going to be the last.’”
In the inspiration for the song, the mother is told her child will be fine, but she won’t, and she has five minutes to tell the baby that they will be okay. “Just stop your crying, it’s a sign of the times.”
Time in a Bottle by Jim Croce
Most people have probably savored time with someone else so much that they wish they could stay in a moment forever, so it doesn’t have to end. Jim Croce wrote this song in 1970 as a ballad to his wife and son, and the relatable lyrics have stood the test of time with many renditions by more modern-day artists.
Croce wrote the lyrics the night his wife told him she was pregnant, and he realized that even if they spent every second together as a family it would still never seem like enough because of his intense love. The first verse begins with “If I could save time in a bottle, the first thing that I’d like to do / is to save every day ‘til eternity passes away just to spend them with you.”
Perhaps one of the most meaningful things to hear from someone you love is that all they want to do is give their time to you. As undying as love can be, mortality is something that is inevitable. This song is about wishing it wasn’t so you could spend time with those you love, and with all the time in the world you could keep finding time to make more for each other.
Landslide by Fleetwood Mac
Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac revealed that the song is an homage to the persistency and fearlessness she needed to have to get where she wanted to be, and the fear of change. “Landslide is about the fear of everything coming crashing down and not knowing how you’re going to hold things together in pursuit of a dream,” she said.
While everyone has different things they need to adapt to when pursuing things they want, the lyrics are easily relatable. “Can I sail through the changing ocean tides? Can I handle the seasons of my life?” the unknown can be an incredibly scary thing, especially when you’ve built your entire life around what you already know.
Ribs by Lorde
The singer/songwriter from New Zealand was only 16 when she wrote this heartfelt song about growing old. It was released on her debut album, Pure Heroine, with the #1 single Royals which many people are familiar with. She became the youngest solo artist to write and perform a Hot 100 chart-topper at the time.
In Ribs, Lorde recalls simple memories like her parents letting her stay home from school, playing songs on repeat with friends, getting a drink spilled on her—all seemingly minuscule moments that you don’t look back on with fondness until they’re long gone. And of course, laughing until your ribs get tough, which is what the song’s title is for.
In the bridge of the song, after saying how scary it is getting old, she says “I want it back, the minds we had / it’s not enough to feel the lack” referring to the carefree times we have in our younger years without even realizing how much we’d end up missing them.
Time of Your Life by Green Day
Good Riddance (Time of Your Life) was perhaps the one song that changed the course of Green Day’s career as it became a TV and radio anthem, as well as a commonly played song at weddings, funerals, and graduations. The song sounds like a nostalgic reflection on fond memories but was written out of spite.
Frontman Billie Joe Armstrong wrote it about a former girlfriend who had moved to Ecuador, he said in an interview with Rolling Stone. “I wrote it about her and the end of our relationship, and I had tattooed her name on me, and I had to get it covered up… it’s about trying to be cool and accepting that people go in different directions,” he stated. Before the song’s unbeknownst success, Armstrong said he was scared people would hate it and was terrified of being so publicly vulnerable.
In the lyrics, he wants her to take the photographs and memories and hopes she had the time of her life. Moving on is a lesson he must learn with time, that is right in the end even if it’s painful in the moment. The very first line, “another turning point, a fork stuck in the road” is something that will likely trigger memories for generations to come.
Stop This Train by John Mayer
John Mayer’s Stop This Train is about the reality of finite existence and having to accept it, albeit reluctantly. Life is moving past him too fast for him to comprehend, as beautiful as it can be, he wants it to slow down so he can absorb every moment and have more time to just think and reflect.
He says he’s scared of getting older as being young is all he knows, so “I play the numbers game to find a way to say that life has just begun.” And recalls talking to his father about this fear, who said the opposite of what could’ve been comforting at the moment. “Don’t for a minute change the place you’re in / don’t think I couldn’t ever understand / John, honestly we’ll never stop this train.” Sometimes life feels like being on a train that’s speeding by our past and even present to get to the next milestone.
7 Years by Lukas Graham
The heartfelt song that Danish band, Lukas Graham, released in 2016 was a Billboard #1 and was guaranteed to give anyone who listened to the radio an earworm. Frontman Lukas Forchhammer was inspired to write it after his father’s sudden death.
It’s a song about life, love, and loss, recalling himself growing up and the advice he gathered along the way, whilst fondly looking back on his past and how far he’s come; and imagining where he’ll be in older age. He wonders if he’ll be a role model to his own children like his father was for him.
He remembers being seven years old and his mother telling him to make some friends, as well as the invincible feeling he had in his youth, and as he approaches his teen years his dad tells him to get a wife, or he’ll be lonely. He gets to tell his story at 20 through songwriting and is chasing his big goals and dreams. “Remember your life and then your life becomes a bigger one.”
Time to Pretend by MGMT
This song is riddled with coming-of-age rhetoric. The lyrics begin with “I’m feeling rough, I’m feeling raw / I’m in the prime of my life.” The alternative duo known as MGMT, two students who wanted to experiment with pop music, wrote this song in college and hadn’t yet experienced any sort of fame, or even intended to record their music, but the next line goes “Let’s make some music, make some money / find some models for wives.”
In the chorus, they say it’s time to live fast and die young, forget about our mothers and fathers, because the other option is to get jobs in offices and wake up for the morning commute. The lyrics are bluntly perfect for the lifestyle that many musicians lead, one that they decided it was Time to Pretend to have ironically; that is, until it became their reality.
No Time to Die by Billie Eilish
Singer Billie Eilish and brother Finneas O’Connell wrote and produced this song for the James Bond movie with the same title and made Eilish the youngest person to sing for a Bond film. It won them an Oscar and a Grammy, and the lyrics were written after reading the film’s script.
The lyrics touch on re-learning lessons from the past, burning bridges, and trying to cope with it all while also managing problems in the present time. She questions if it was stupid and reckless to love someone, how they were her life, but “life is far away from fair.” With all the time spent on trying to comprehend the past and simultaneously get herself together to problem solve in the present, there’s just No Time to Die.
Watching years go by as you enter new stages of your life is a situation that presents many emotions, and an easily found topic in songs from any iconic decade. Whether the thought of life moving by incites feelings of melancholy, hopefulness, or fear, there’s likely a song about time that precisely strings your complicated emotions together into words.
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