By Marnie Walth

Ever notice how certain songs seem to speak to your soul so clearly that you can’t help but tap your toes to the beat and hum along with the rhythm? Those songs, dear reader, are what my teenager would call your “jam.”

My personal jam is fairly eclectic, but its backbone is 80s music and, more specifically, anything by Prince. Consider the opening eulogy in Prince’s iconic “Let’s Go Crazy:” “Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to get through this thing called life.” My brain knows that the subdued organ intro will soon explode with a drumbeat and guitar riffs I’ll feel deep down in my chest, giving me a burst of energy to tackle something I might otherwise leave for later.

Because everyone’s music preference is different, no two go-to playlists will be the same, but consider these fairly universally enjoyed pick-me-up tunes: “Happy” by Pharrell Williams, Hanson’s “MMMbop,” the Monkees’ “I’m a Believer,” and “Happy Together” by the Turtles. When you find the right song, it can boost your mood and motivation instantaneously, giving you the energy to both start and finish a workout or bust through a midafternoon office slump.

So what’s going on here? Queen’s Freddie Mercury might suggest “It’s a Kind of Magic,” while the band Boston would say “It’s More Than a Feeling.” They are both correct. Research tells us that listening to meaningful music can change the way we perceive everything from the task at hand to the world around us. Similar to the brain’s flight or fight response triggered by sudden sounds, music triggers physiological arousal—accelerated heart rate, opened airways, and muscles primed to move.

To dial up motivation on demand, make your own playlist of songs that elicit emotional responses. You might start with a melodic flashback of golden oldies connected to cherished memories: songs that poured from your junior high school boom box, summer vacation road trips, high school prom, drive-in movie theme songs, falling in love, Wheel-a-While speed skating. Then add anything that catches your ear. When my sons play music I like, I ask for the title and artist so as to make a mental note of adding it to my list.

These days my earbuds pump out my all-time favorites: Prince, Queen, Elton John, ELO; mixed in with doses of current sounds: Bruno Mars, Imagine Dragons, Rihanna; plus a few outliers: Otis Redding’s “Try a Little Tenderness,” Stevie Wonder’s “For Once in My Life,” and Elvis’ “Can’t Help Falling in Love.” In my opinion, the more random the better. Not knowing which song is going to pop up next adds to the impact.

In conclusion, allow me to add my own anecdotal research to the mix. I am convinced the amount of weight I can lift in my Power class has a direct correlation to the music being played. If the biceps track is something I don’t like, e.g. techno-pop, I struggle to lift two 10-kilogram plates. But when the song is “Are you Gonna Go My Way?” a classic rock anthem by Lenny Kravitz, I can add another 2.5 kg plate to each side of my bar, i.e. 25 percent more weight, and finish feeling strong. According to the Temptations, “It’s Just My Imagination” but George Michael and I have “Faith.”   

Marnie WalthMusic buff Marnie Walth grew up to the sounds of Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley, piano lessons, choir performances, and marching bands. She and her husband Shayne have two sons, both of whom appreciate 70s and 80s classic rock.