5 Songs You Can’t Unhear

Just try.

It’s simply not possible to unhear this dreamy psychedelic classic once you’ve heard it. Whether you’re racing through the mountains near Big Sur in a convertible or just watching The Big Lebowski for the third time, there’s no way for you to reverse the inexorable erosion of your finite time on earth. Whether you came for the breezy atmospherics and stayed for the fugues and burbles of the organ, or just craved the air of detachment and melancholy so expertly conveyed by Miller’s understated vocals, one thing is certain: you have heard this song, and nothing can change that.

“Spirit In the Sky,” by Norman Greenbaum (1969)

Most of us remember where we were the first time we heard the fuzzy chug of Spirit In the Sky’s opening bassline: Vietnam. Or Canada, somewhere clean. Anyhow, it would be nice to forget, wouldn’t it? To simply hear “Spirit In the Sky” and bask in the radiance of its timeless spiritual invitation…sublime. But alas, we heard one-hit-wonder Greenbaum’s “Spirit In the Sky” exactly when and where we heard it, and this is going to be an intractable problem for most people.

“Hey Ya!,” by Andre 3000 (2003)

You can’t unhear “Hey Ya!,” the 2003 hit from Outkast funkmeister Andre 3000, any more than you can unshoot that feral cat on your property. It didn’t choose its life, didn’t choose to be shivering with wet matted fur under the eave after that storm, any more than you chose to unconsciously bop your head the first time “Hey Ya!” delivered its cocktail of danceable funk whimsy to your unsuspecting brain in 2003, then again in 2003 a few hours later, then again in 2004, then again and again, in the Salvation Army where extraordinarily depressing white people pawed through used flannels in 2005, etc. You can’t unhear it, and who would want to, with its ethic of danceability worn so proudly on its slick green shoulders?

“Evolved As One,” by Napalm Death (1988)

You can’t unhear the guttural mumbling during the underwhelming opening of this otherwise stainless classic from Napalm Death’s glory days. And you sure as heck can’t unhear the unhinged salvo of socratic questions emanating from the throat of vocalist Lee Dorrian. But you can come close. Considering you only heard the song once, that one time in that weed dealer’s basement. Remember, that dealer who embodied the “nicer guy than you would expect, based on his aesthetics, but not someone I would go out of my way to see beyond buying drugs” guy? He was listening to the punishing-if-brief From Enslavement to Obliteration (of which “Evolved As One” is the overture) throughout your conversation, but you remember it as an undifferentiated din. Because we live our memories but we do not own them.

“Asturias (Leyenda),” by Isaac Albéniz (1892)

You would never want to unhear the ineffable beauty of this classical Spanish piece, originally written for piano, that you refer to as simply “the intro to Spanish Caravan.” You don’t have the slightest clue as to its real origin, and the region whose mysteries it translates into a frenetic cascade is a place you will never visit. You certainly don’t know that it was christened “Asturias (Leyenda)” by a German after Albéniz’s death. And it’s straight up inconceivable that you would know the song is not even indicative of the music native to the place it names in the title. If, by some miracle, you knew all of this, you would never unknow it. You may forget, and that may be a blessing. Forgetting is the one salve for the thousand tiny wounds that comprise each day.

Like music itself, you move forward, only forward, forever.