The Star-Herald

When music triggers memories

I have been told of a phenomenon that works too well to be false. I have been told all to often that a smell or a quick flash of memory or an odd happening will trigger a very vivid memory. Well, I can tell you that it works well with music, too.

As we were listening to the ACM Awards on television Sunday night, the group Little Big Town did a tribute number to Sir Elton John. They did a very well-put-together version of “Rocket Man.” When I heard this as we rewatched the show Monday night so our son could see it, I mentioned that I wished I had the album of Elton John’s hits. That album includes the song “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.”

Some would ask “What is so great about that song that you would want the album?” The reason is that that particular song was on the top playlists of the radio stations when I was stationed at Naval Ships Engineering Command in Philadelphia in spring of 1974. The hit song “Pinball Wizard” was also popular during the same era.

When I met my ship later that year in Cuba, the popular song was “Kung Fu Fighting,” and it seemed the jukeboxes in the bars would wear it out as seemingly each sailor through the door would play it. Then shortly after that, the Eagles came out with “Hotel California.” Then we had a short yard period in Portsmouth, Va., and I didn’t listen to too much music as we worked long hours getting the propulsion plant ready for a seven-month deployment to the Mediterranean.

When we arrived in Rota, Spain, for our in-processing, a new song was brought forth and, as far as I was concerned, abused — and that was “Play That Funky Music, White Boy.” We were steaming to Palma De Mallorca off the coast of Spain for our Christmas break and an admin inspection of our engineering department. For this inspection I was tasked to get the engineering office and log room up to standards. Of course, I had a cassette player and a hand full of tapes that I borrowed. One of these was Fleetwood Mac and their song “Rhiannon.”

If these songs come up on the radio, my memory flashes back to that time when I originally heard them. It is good to have the good memories for certain. One other music memory comes to mind as well.

When we refueled at sea, the operation began with the receiving ship (the one I was on) and the oiler or tanker lining up to begin the operation. When the signal was given the receiver throttled up and pulled alongside the oiler and matched their speed. A shot line was used to begin a line transfer of ever bigger and bigger ropes until the main cable was sent across to hook onto the probe receiver, so the hose could plug in to transfer the fuel. Once we were done with the refueling, we usually performed an emergency break away.  In this function, the petty officer in charge of the tackle connection would knock the pelican hook loose from the main cable, and it would let go and fall away. At the same time, the captain would call for a flank speed bell, and we would throttle up and pull ahead of the oiler, then break away to the right or left depending on which side was to the oiler. When the throttles were called for flank speed, the captain would order our breakaway song played on the topside deck loudspeakers. Our breakaway song was Flatt and Scruggs’ “Foggy Mountain Breakdown.”

The memories these songs trigger are sometimes very vivid. When I hear them now, I either go to YouTube and listen to them or just sit back, relax, and Remember When . . .

Guy Woodworth, a Presque Isle native now living in Limestone, is a 1973 graduate of Presque Isle High School and a four-year Navy veteran. He and his wife Theresa have two grown sons and five grandchildren. He may be contacted at

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