Songs about time can take you back to a particular moment or bring back certain feelings. The way music captures the sense of time passing resonates deeply with people, making it powerful. Here is a list of 25 great songs that make reference to time.
1. “Yesterday” by The Beatles
The song “Yesterday” was released in 1965 by the Beatles. It was recorded by Paul McCartney, whose dream of a melody led to the music arrangement with producer George Martin. This song about lost love references the sudden passing of time. The lyric “yesterday” symbolizes the happier times of the past when his “troubles seemed so far away” and when love was an “easy game to play.” This track is one of the most covered songs in history, with over 2,000 versions recorded.
2. “It Was a Very Good Year” by Frank Sinatra
Written in 1961 by Ervin Drake, “It Was a Very Good Year” has become one of Sinatra’s signature songs, with its nostalgic tone and depiction of relationships over the years. The singer reminisces about his past relationships from different years in his life, each of which he calls “very good.” At the end of the song, the singer feels time passing as an older person, but whatever happened in his life was sweet, like a vintage wine from “a very good year.”
3. “The Circle Game” by Joni Mitchell
“The Circle Game” is a poetic song written in 1967. Here, Mitchell alludes to the carousel as a metaphor for the passing years. She points out how we can look back, but we can’t return to our past. The first verse begins with a young boy looking forward to getting older and enjoying his youth. In the following verse, the boy is now aged 16 and driving. The final verse features him at 20 years old, with his dreams tempered a bit, but still with high hopes for his future.
4. “Time In A Bottle” by Jim Croce
Jim Croce wrote this song in 1970 for his wife Ingrid after learning about her pregnancy. Initially, it was not meant to be released as a single, but the song gained even more popularity when Croce died in a plane crash in 1973. The song is about mortality and how we wish we had more time with our loved ones.
5. “Time” by Pink Floyd
“Time” is a famous Pink Floyd song released as a single in 1973, which also appeared on the band’s eighth album, The Dark Side of the Moon. The song talks about time and how you might think you have enough to prepare for something, but before you know it, it’s too late. Roger Waters got the idea for the song when he was 28, after realizing that life is not about preparing for the future but rather enjoying the present.
6. “Cat’s in the Cradle” by Harry Chapin
“Cat’s in the Cradle” by American singer-songwriter Harry Chapin is a 1974 folk-rock song about a father and son. The lyrics are sung from the perspective of a man who, while he becomes a father at the beginning of the song, cannot spend time with his son. Years later, the son grows up and becomes busy spending time with him. He realizes how much like him his son has become.
7. “Wheel in the Sky” by Journey
This song is performed by the American rock band Journey, originally released on their 1977 album Infinity. It was written by Jonathan Cain and Steve Perry, and its lyrics are about a man who is on tour with his band and missing his girlfriend at home. The narrator mentions a wheel in the sky throughout the refrain, which can be interpreted as a metaphor for life’s unpredictable twists and turns. Repeatedly during the song, the narrator notes that he doesn’t know where he’ll be tomorrow.
8. “Dust in the Wind” by Kansas
Kansas’s 1977 song “Dust in the Wind” reflects the inevitability of mortality. It also deals with the triviality of individuals within the larger context of things. It was written by band member Kerry Livgren and inspired by an ancient Native American poem with the line “For all we are is dust in the wind.” The songwriter made the music from a picking exercise on guitar that his wife suggested he make into a song.
9. “Time After Time” by Cyndi Lauper
Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time” is a sweet love song from 1983. Lauper expresses her deep devotion to her boyfriend in the track and promises that she’ll never leave him. The couple has been together for years, and Lauper further explains the depth of their relationship by stating that they have seen each other through the good and bad times.
10. “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” by Bill Medley, Jennifer Warnes
“(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” is composed by Franke Previte, John DeNicola, and Donald Markowitz. Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes recorded the song. It was used as the theme song for the 1987 film Dirty Dancing, which follows the story of a young couple falling in love over the summer. This song was made famous by Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze’s final dance.
11. “One Moment in Time” by Whitney Houston
Written and performed by Whitney Houston for the 1988 Summer Olympics held in Seoul, South Korea, this sentimental ballad is about believing in yourself against all odds. Houston sings about trusting yourself to push forward against all odds and believing in your ability to overcome any challenge. She thinks she can achieve her dreams, and all she asks is just “one moment in time.”
12. “If I Could Turn Back Time” by Cher
“If I Could Turn Back Time” is recorded by American singer and actress Cher for her 1989 album Heart of Stone. The song focuses on the narrator’s feelings of remorse, as it is evident that she said and did hurtful things to the person she actually cared for. Only when the deed was already done that she realize the level of pain she had caused. Because of this, she wishes to return to the past to undo everything.
13. “Nothing Compares 2 U” by Sinéad O’Connor
A song written by Prince and performed by Sinéad O’Connor, “Nothing Compares 2 U,” is a hit song in which the narrator knows the exact time it has been since her lover left her. In the opening lyric, O’Connor sings, “it’s been 7 hours and 15 days since you took your love away.” The song is about longing for a former love.
14. “Remember the Time” by Michael Jackson
In 1992, Michael Jackson released the single “Remember the Time” from his album, Dangerous. The song recalls a youthful love affair and the early stages of the relationship. Here, Jackson asks his love if she remembers when they first fell in love as he reminisces about their memories together. This song is about yearning for the good old days with his love.
15. “Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life)” by Green Day
Green Day’s song “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)” appears on their fifth studio album Nimrod, released in 1997. Armstrong wrote the song to vent his frustration at his ex-girlfriend moving to Ecuador. The music has become a staple at high school graduation ceremonies. The song’s lyrics may also refer to the experience of ending one’s adolescence at high school graduation and leaving the familiar friends one made during their time there.
16. “Closing Time” by Semisonic
“Closing Time” is performed by the American rock band Semisonic. It was released on their 1998 sophomore album, Feeling Strangely Fine. It was written by Dan Wilson when his girlfriend was pregnant. Although the song is about people leaving a bar at closing time, the band has also indicated that it was written by Wilson in anticipation of fatherhood. In an interview, Wilson stated that he did not immediately realize that the song was also about being born.
17. “100 Years” by Five for Fighting
This song is performed by American singer Five for Fighting. It was released in 2003 as the first single from his third studio album, The Battle for Everything (2004). The lyrics of this song mark key moments in a man’s life: the shock of adolescence, the responsibilities of adulthood and parenthood, the mid-life crisis, and death. The song is popular among many people as it is an excellent description of at least one stage of every person’s life.
18. “Where’d All the Time Go?” by Dr. Dog
On the track “Where’d All the Time Go?”, Dr. Dog sings about time moving fast until death stops it “in the blink of an eye.” This song is about middle age and how time seems to fly by when we’re younger and then catches up with us later in life. After being lost for years, this Dr. Dog song was re-released in 2021 as a viral TikTok meme. Tiktokers use the platform’s reverse shapeshifting creative feature to morph childhood images of themselves into who they are now.
19. “Stop This Train” by John Mayer
“Stop This Train” is the 7th song on John Mayer’s 2006 album, Continuum. It is about dealing with the inevitable march of time and mortality. In an interview with the Daily Mail, Mayer explained that this song about getting older touched on a time when he suffered from a quarter-life crisis in 2001. This song resonates with listeners going through the gradual acceptance of getting older.
20. “Here Comes Goodbye” by Rascal Flatts
In 2009, Clint Lagerberg and American Idol season 6 finalist Chris Sligh teamed up to write a song for a popular country band, the Rascall Flatts. The country music group recorded “Here Comes Goodbye” as the first single from their album, Unstoppable. The power ballad begins with a piano accompaniment. The song is about the realization that a relationship you thought was solid is coming to an end. The narrator sings about “the last time” of being in his former lover’s arms.
21. “It’s Time” by Imagine Dragons
“It’s Time” by Imagine Dragons was the band’s breakthrough hit when it was released in 2011. This chart-topper was inspired by Dan Reynold’s personal experiences. In an interview, Reynolds explained that he was dropping out of college when he wrote it. The song, which first started as a poem, helped him cope with his feelings of despair at the time. This hit single urges listeners to accept change and move on when the going gets rough.
22. “Take Your Time” by Sam Hunt
“Take Your Time” is a song recorded by American country singer Sam Hunt. It was released to country radio by MCA Nashville in 2014 as the second single from his debut studio album, Montevallo. The song is about a man approaching a woman to know her better with the desire to take her time.
23. “The Night We Met” by Lord Huron
English band Lord Huron recorded “The Night We Met” for their second album, Strange Trails (2015). The song was featured in the Netflix series “13 Reasons Why” (2017) and became famous worldwide. The song was described as a time machine that sends listeners back to happier times with Hannah and Clay, the show’s characters.
24. “7 Years” by Lukas Graham
“7 Years” is a song written in 2015 by Lukas Graham, a Danish soul-pop band. The band reflected on their lives and wondered about growing older. Nostalgia is explored from ages 7, 11, and 20 before the band wonders about their life in the possible future, specifically, when they’re 30 or 60 or have kids or a wife.
25. “Sign of the Times” by Harry Styles
A song by Harry Styles, “Sign of the Times,” is a slow-paced pop-rock track released in 2017. Styles said in an interview that the song is about a mother giving birth and passing away directly afterward. He also said it was inspired by the saying, “This isn’t the first time we’ve been in a hard time, and it’s not going to be the last time.” In general, the song is about avoiding emotion and reality during grief and hardship. The piece draws inspiration from the music of David Bowie and Queen.
Whether it’s a reckoning of the hours one has wasted or a fond reflection on years gone by, songs about time have the power to conjure up more memories and feelings than any other. Most of these tracks center around the simple concepts of aging and nostalgia, especially to the good old days. Use this list to revisit your favorite classics as you pass into new chapters in your own life.