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Age Progression Song
A Music Trope. This is essentially the musical equivalent of a Time-Compression Montage: a song that describes a long span of time by highlighting a few key related moments. For example, it may be a song about John the lumberjack, first talking about how as a boy he wanted to be a lumberjack, then as an adult what a fine lumberjack he was, then as an old man thinking back to his times of lumberjacking.

As in this example, an Age Progression Song is often a ballad about the story of a person's life. Typically, each verse is assigned to a different point their life in order from youngest to oldest, and the chorus points out the commonalities between them. Sometimes though, they describe changes in the world at large.

Often coincides with Dual Meaning Chorus. Can be an effective way of allowing a broad demographic range to relate to a work.

See also Rock Opera and Coming of Age Story.

To eliminate too many spurious examples, we're keeping this to cases with at least three different times. It also helps if there are explicit mention of ages.


Examples:

  • "It'll Come Back," a top 20 country hit for sentimental artist Red Sovine (ages 3, 10 and 17; in the final verse, she has left home). Sovine – far better known for his recitations about truck drivers – did sing on some songs, as he did with this one. This hit, from 1974, was his biggest solo singing hit.
  • The Hold Steady b-side Teenage Liberation (ages 17, 19, 23, 29)
  • Tim McGraw's "Don't Take the Girl" (ages 8, 18, 23)
  • Tracy Lawrence's "Time Marches On" is an interesting variant that follows the whole family. In the first verse, the children are young and playing around; in the second, the children are in their teens and their parents are concerned; in the third, the children are old enough to be grandparents, the mother is senile and the father is dead.
  • Bryan White's "Rebecca Lynn" (2nd grade, high school, young adult)
  • Five for Fighting's "100 Years" (ages 15, 22, 33, 45, 67, and 99)
  • Taylor Swift's "Mary's Song (Oh My My My)", an woman looking back at ages 7, 16, her marriage and children, and finally revealing she and her sweetheart will soon be 87 and 89.
  • Frank Sinatra, "It was a Very Good Year": 17, 21, 35, autumn years
  • Pulp's "Disco 2000" (birth, puberty, and adulthood)
  • Billy Joel's "We Didn't Start The Fire" compacts decades of current events into one fast-moving List Song.
  • Harry Chapin's "Cat's in the Cradle." The narrator's son goes from young childhood, through college years, then to his own adulthood, over the various verses.
    • An alternative interpretation of the song uses The Troubles as a backdrop. Hard-hitting, but it makes its point.
    • Also "Dreams Go By". A happy little tune about the narrator and his SO always putting off their dreams until they feel they're too old to dream anymore.
    • Also "She's Always Seventeen" (The story of a woman who lives through 1961-1975, but retains the spirit of a 17 year old), "The Rock" (The story of a man who spends his whole life trying to avert a disaster), "Basic Protest Song" (13, 20, 30) and "I Don't Want To Be President" (baby, child, college grad, congressman, president)
  • Kathy Mattea - "Where Have You Been?" (when they first fall in love, later during their marriage, and 60 years later in the hospital)
  • Clay Walker - "One, Two, I Love You" (ages 5, college age, and family age with children)
  • Tanya Tucker - "Two Sparrows in a Hurricane" (ages 15, family age with children, and 83)
  • Collin Raye - "One Boy, One Girl" (the day they meet, the day they get married, the day their twins are born)
  • Zager & Evans' "In the Year 2525" has the narrator theorizing on what advances in technology will do by 2525, 3535, 4545, 5555, 6565, 7510, 8510, and 9595. The narrative is rather apocalyptic in its premonitions, ending with the Biblical final judgment of God, and the descriptions of human life can be examples of Body Horror.
  • "Turn Around" by Malvina Reynolds is an extremely compressed version (2, 4, "a young girl", grown up "with babes of your own" all in two verses)
  • Kenny Chesney - "Don't Blink" (ages 6, 25, their children becoming parents, 50 years of marriage, 102)
  • Trace Adkins - "You're Gonna Miss This"
  • Joni Mitchell - "The Circle Game" (young child, 10, 16, 20)
  • "The Saga of Jenny" from the musical Lady in the Dark. Jenny makes her mind up at 3, 12, 22, 39, 51 & 75, never learning the song's moral.
  • Crystal Shawanda - "You Can Let Go" chronicles three major events in the singers relationship with her dad: Learning to ride a bike, Him walking her down the aisle at her wedding, and his death from cancer. A very sad song.
  • Relient K's "Deathbed"
  • Patty Loveless - "How Can I Help You to Say Goodbye" (first as a child, then her divorce from her husband, then the death of her mother)
  • "We Will Rock You" by Queen. Young boy, young man, old man. It's easy to overlook if you're too busy rocking out to the refrain.
    • Queen's "Good Company" (ages infant, young man, old man).
    • And Queen's The Days of Our Lives goes from childhood to parenthood to old age... they evidently liked this trope.
  • Dolly Parton - "Sugar Hill" (goes through child, teenager and married with children, all centered around the same place; Sugar Hill).
  • The "Brian Song" from Monty Python's Life of Brian.
    "Brian ... the babe they called Brian/ Well he greeeeew ... grew, grew and greeeeeew/ Grew up to beeeeee ... grew up to beeeeee.../ A boy called Brian..."
  • Dire Straits does that with a city in "Telegraph Road", describing it from its foundation to its decay.
    • In theory, it could be any city. In reality, the city is Detroit.
  • A famous French example: "Les Bourgeois" by Jacques Brel. The first part of the song is about a young student making fun of stuffy old adults, and by the end of the song you realize the narrator has become a stuffy old adult himself.
  • A less famous song by Jacques Brel is "Zangra", about a young officer who arrives in a frontier outpost dreaming of glory. With every verse he ages a little more, and by the end of the song he's an old general who realizes he's wasted his life.
  • Not about anyone specifically, but "Marathon" from Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris goes from the 1920's to the end of the century (with slight Zeerust).
  • Martina McBride, "This One's For The Girls" (13, 25, 42)
  • Aesop Rock has "No Regrets" (7, 37, 87). Pay attention to the lyrics for the most inspiring lyrics you've heard in a long time)
    • at 7, she drew on the sidewalk in yellow chalk. at 37, she used charcoal sticks. at 87 "she traded in the charcoal sticks for Arthritis; it had to happen"
  • Skillz does somthing similar but different. Its for the anniversary of the pop culture world, but its a new song recapping the just finished year (usually released in late December). called the "XX Rap-up"' (such as the '08 Rap-up')
  • "Good To Be Alive" by Geoff Moore and the Distance (8, 15, adult)
  • "Que Sera Sera" (The singer receives the titular wisdom from her parents as a child, then from her sweetheart as a young woman, and then passes it on to her children.)
  • Brooks & Dunn's "Cowgirls Don't Cry". Three scenes in a female's life, where each time she is told not to cry by her father. (As a girl falling off a horse, as a wife whose husband is cheating on her, and finally at her father's death.)
  • German singer/songwriter Reinhard Mey has several songs of this type. One example is "Das Foto vor mir auf dem Tisch" ("the photo on the table in front of me"), which is a six-minute rendition of his mother's life from childhood (the "photo" in the song's title shows her as a young girl) to old age, touching not only the turning points of her life, but also showing (in passing) the more historic events occurring at the time.
  • Mary Chapin Carpenter's "He Thinks He'll Keep Her" (ages 21, 29, 36).
  • Metallica's 'The Unforgiven'. It's an entire lifespan, none of it spent happily.
  • "Butterfly Kisses" by Bob Carlisle (also recorded by the Raybon Brothers and Jeff Carson), about his daughter (childhood, age 16, marriage).
  • Mary Hopkins' "Those Were The Days" - young woman, growing older, then old and lonely.
  • Showbread's The Death (Anorexia) Consists of alternating between "When I was a... (a baby, small, a child, of age)" showing the optimism of the Anorexia's youth, contrasted with the gloomy, horrible "now I am..."
  • The Beatles, "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da".
  • "Sugar Mountain" by Neil Young
  • "My Grandfather's Clock"; the later verses aren't too well-known, but they do trace the grandfather's progression through life.
  • "American Pie" by Don McLean starts "a long long time ago" with the singer as a young boy with a paper route, continues on to the "teenage bronkin' buck" phase, and looks back on the past in the final verse.
  • Deryl Dodd's "One Ride in Vegas" traces the career of a rodeo rider from a teenager looking to break into the sport to getting ready for his first ride at the championships to a retired champion.
  • Megadeth's "Of Mice And Men" (Age 17, 21 and 25)
  • A reviewer made a case for They Might Be Giants' "Fingertips" singing a progression from birth to death and the afterlife, which is as likely as anything.
  • Peggy Lee had a hit in the '70s with "Is That All There Is?" - she regards several key moments in her life with the same jaded world-weariness - even as a little kid. Kind of creepy.
  • In Plastic Bertrand's song "Stop ou Encore", he ponders whether life is worth continuing, at ages 15, 20, 30 and 150.
  • K. T. Oslin's "80's Ladies" covers life from girlhood in the 1950s to 1980s mature years.
  • Bob Seger's "Like A Rock" starts out "I was 18, didn't have a care" and ends twenty years later, "Twenty years, where'd they go?"
    • Other Bob Seger songs on this theme could include "Night Moves"("started humming a song from 1962") and "Against The Wind" ("wish I didn't know now what I didn't know then").
  • "Three Bells" by The Browns (a man's baptism, wedding and funeral in the same church).
  • The Pet Shop Boys' "Being Boring" starts with a flashback to the 1920s (first verse) and continues with the narrator's life in the 1970s (second verse) and 1990s (third verse).
  • Andrew Gold's "Lonely Boy" narrates from the titular boy's birth (1951) as firstborn child through his sister's birth (1953) to his leaving home (1969), his sister's marriage, and the birth of her son (dates not specified for the latter two).
  • The Mudblood's "A Pensieve full of unrequited love", telling three moments from Harry Potter in Snape's story: his first meeting with Lily, him learning the Prophecy and begging for her life, and his death.
    • As does "The Prince's Tale", from The Final Battle, this time including both Snape and Lily.
  • "Love Like This" by Natasha Bedingfield - young children, to high-school age, and then to the present (assuming mid-20s).
  • Janis Ian's "Hair of Spun Gold" - each verse begins "When I was...", going up by five each time.
  • Amanda Palmer's "Do You Swear To Tell The Whole Truth And Nothing But The Truth So Help Your Black Ass" (6, 9, 17, 25, 33).
  • Victoria Banks: "The Wheel"
  • "Old" by Assemblage 23. The first few verses are about the fear of losing his memory and mind with age. The last two verses have him reminiscing about his younger years and whether his lover still loves him.
  • "You Never Can Tell" by Chuck Berry (covered by several artists as "C'est La Vie"). It starts off with "a teenage wedding, and the old folks wished them well ... C'est la vie, say the old folks, it goes to show you never can tell." By the end of the song, they drive down to New Orleans to celebrate their anniversary; they are now the "old folks" that wish others well.
  • Christopher Tin's Mado Kara Mieru (Through the Window I See) uses haikus about changing seasons as a metaphor for the progression of age; a child sings the first verse (about spring), a young woman sings the second (about summer), a middle-aged woman sings the third (about autumn), and a chorus of older men sing the fourth (about winter). The song ends with the child singing a verse about the return of spring.
  • Arguably Dream Theater's best song, and their first 20 minute plus epic, 'A Change of Seasons'. Tells the narrator's attitude towards life and others throughout their life, bookended by 'The Crimson Sunrise' and 'The Crimson Sunset', two movements and lines within those movements.
  • Sawyer Brown's "The Walk", which starts with the singer's first day of school, goes through his last day before moving out on his own, and ends with the last days of his father.
  • Carrie Underwood - "All American Girl" (birth, high school years, marriage)
  • Creature Feature's "Such Horrible Things" tells the story of an Enfant Terrible, from birth to age eighteen.
  • Nichole Nordeman's "I Am" (childhood, age 16, marriage, parenthood, hints at death and the afterlife)
  • Hello, Country Bumpkin by Cal Smith.
  • Jackson Browne's "Runnin' on Empty" has the singer noting in the first verse that "in '65 I was seventeen and runnin' up (highway) 101", and in the second verse that "in '69 I was twenty-one and called the road my own".
  • Old 97's "You Were Born to Be in Battle", with a father providing advice for his son in the metaphorical spring, summer, fall, and winter of his life.
  • Bruce Springsteen's "My Hometown" (age 8 with his father, high school age, 35 with a son of his own).
  • "Friendship Isn't What It Used To Be" from the Vanities musical. The three verses begin "Three pretty girls in a schoolyard..."(age 17), "Three college girls at the movies.."(age 21), and "Three women stuck at a crossroads..."(age 28), respectively.
  • Nancy Sinatra's, "Bang, Bang": "I was five and he was six"; "When I grew up I called him mine"; "Just for me the church bells rang"; "Now he's gone".
  • Rolf Harris' "Two Little Boys": boys playing soldiers grow up to be men being soldiers.
  • "As the Years Go By" by Canadian rock band Mashmakan (1970) asks the question "Do you love me?"...as the years go by.
  • "Kisses Sweeter Than Wine" by the Weavers follows a farming couple from falling in love to old age.
  • Pat Green's "Dixie Lullaby" with his parents dancing to, him singing to his kids, and the singing to his dead father the titular lullaby.
  • "Subterranean Homesick Blues" has Bob Dylan singing "Get born, keep on, short pants, romance, get dressed, get blessed, try to be a success, please her, please him, buy gifts, don't steal, don't lift, twenty years of schoolin' and they put you on the day shift."
  • "This Train" by Bunny Wailer. "When I was just a kid, my mama used to sing this song. Now I've grown to be a man, it still lingers deep within my soul".
  • Ricardo Arjona's accurately titled "Vida", which narrates the highlights of his life, including his birth, the first soccer world cup he watched on TV, when he started smoking, when he lost his virginity and gained an STD (and with whom), among other things.
  • Tracy Chapman's "Fast Car": Starts with the singer as a teenager, planning to leave her hometown with her boyfriend. Then she's a young adult, still with plans to move to the city when things improve. Then they're married with kids, and she knows she's never going to the city after all.
  • "Wasted" by Cartel has three verses going through random people's deaths in order of age (few minutes old, 16, 32). Then it goes through the more typical pattern of someone's life in three verses (7, 18, 32). The final trio goes from present to past to future (23, 18, 32).
  • "The War Was in Color" by Carbon Leaf is a gut-wrenching example/possible subversion. The song covers the narrator from his time in the war as a teenager, to adulthood then old age, as told to his grandson (who found an old photo, hence the reason for the telling of the story). Turns out it's all a hallucination, as the narrator is dying on the battlefield, which means neither he, the photo, nor the grandson actually exist at the time the story would be getting told.
  • Delta Goodrem: In This Life (15, 22, 25) Innocent Eyes (7, 15, 17), Touch (Loads of moments) and others.
  • Jethro Tull's Thick As A Brick follows a boy raised by authoritative parents, having the child taken from him, taught "to play Monopoly and sing in the rain", going through puberty and disillusion for his parents, deciding to abandon his art and curiosity to be a respectable authority figure himself, being sent to join the military to fight die for his country, and being forced to contemplate whether to die for his country, or take a loving, free, pacifistic life and go against what society wants him to be.
  • Paul Simon's "Loves Me Like a Rock" fits as well as some of the examples here: "When I was a little boy", "When I was grown to be a man", "If I was the President" (future?)
  • Carrie Underwood - "All-American Girl" (the title character's birth, high school years, marriage, and presumably motherhood)
  • Alan Jackson - "Livin on Love" (about a couple simply enjoying each other newlywed, elderhood)
  • The Beach Boys - "When I Grow Up (To be a Man) (ages 14-32)
  • Dessa - "Children's Work" spans from childhood to adulthood.
  • Train - "This'll Be My Year" (1985, 1989, 1992, 1997, 2001, 2004, 2012).
  • "A Bowler Hat" from Pacific Overtures. No specific ages are mentioned, but the lyrics imply that Kayama is gradually growing older while adopting Western clothes and manners, and the makeup applied to him between verses confirms this impression.
  • The Godfathers— "Birth, School, Work, Death" pretty self explanatory
  • Do You Want to Build a Snowman from Frozen. 5(Anna) 8 (Elsa) -> 11 (Anna) 14 (Elsa) -> 15 (Anna) 18 (Elsa)
  • It's not in the lyrics, but Squeeze did a video for their "Hourglass" where in the chorus, the band is in diapers, then schoolboy uniforms, teenage punk clothes, business suits, old codger clothes, and coffins.
  • Jeffrey Lewis’ "Back When I Was 4" looks back on ages 4, 6, 8, 12, 15, 16, 22, 27, 31, 40, 50, 63, 74, 87, 106 and 128.

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