Playlist for Life encourages families to create a playlist of personally meaningful music on an iPod for their loved one. Harry and his wife Margaret were struggling to connect with each other. We helped them to identify a playlist that would evoke memories from Harry’s life. This is what happened.
Being able to respond to music
– the first sense in the foetus and the last to go at death – is the one thing dementia cannot destroy.
Playlist for Life
encourages families and caregivers of a person with dementia to create a playlist of uniquely meaningful music on an iPod and offer it at any time of the day or night. It is effective both at home and in residential care, at an early stage of the condition and later on.
There is mounting evidence that if people with dementia are offered frequent access to the music in which their past experience and memories are embedded, it can improve their present mood, their awareness, their ability to understand and think and their sense of identity and independence.
Music that is merely familiar in a general way, although pleasurable, is not likely to be so effective.
We are also collaborating with university partners on a research proposal to measure the efficacy of this approach and assess its suitability for roll-out across the UK as a post-diagnostic tool in the treatment of all forms of dementia.
(For more on what we do, see About Us > Our Work.)
Where Memories Go
Read about the experience that led broadcaster Sally Magnusson to found Playlist for Life. In Where Memories Go: Why Dementia Changes Everything Sally describes how singing long-familiar songs helped her mother Mamie to stay more connected to her family and to her own identity. View on Facebook.
- Downton Abbey cast
- Graham Norton
- Paul Buchanan
- Craig Armstrong
- Kirsty Wark
- Chris Sherrington
- Dougie Vipond
- Jamie MacDougall
- Janice Forsyth
- Jai McDowall
- Paul Young
- Anne Johnstone
- Tony Roper
- Michael Smiley
ITV Downton Abbey's Mr Carson, the butler
1. I Put A Spell On You – Nina Simone
Sends shivers down my spine every time I hear it.
2. (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction – The Rolling Stones
I have done more embarrassing dancing to this song than any man should admit to.
3. Stand By Me – Ben E. King
That voice. That arrangement. Heaven.
4. Heartbreak Hotel – Elvis Presley
The King should be in every playlist. I've sung along to this for five decades.
5. Born In Bethlehem – Lonnie Donegan
Not one of Lonnie's better known songs but joyous and uplifting.
Housekeeper, Mrs Hughes
1. Like A Prayer – Madonna
Many's the lovely tipsy night in the kitchen dancing like a lunatic to this one!
2. New York State Of Mind – Billy Joel
Late night trips to the grandparents in Somerset, listening to this wonderful man and introducing my son to his love of music.
3. And A Bang On The Ear - The Waterboys
Anybody who has loved needs to know this song and dance to its humanity.
4. Passing Strangers - Billy Eckstine and Sarah Vaughan
Family parties as a child, my mother and her sister singing this with the most beautiful harmonies. Bliss!
5. 1812 Overture – Tchaikovsky
Saw this at the Royal Albert Hall with full cannons and everything. Spectacular.
Thomas Barrow, the under-butler
1. Golden Brown – The Stranglers
This song used to be on one of my dad’s tapes and I always remember listening to it on family car trips. It has a dreamlike, ethereal quality like no other song.
2. London Calling – The Clash.
I remember pulling into London Euston train station from Manchester for my first acting job and this song randomly came on my iPod Shuffle. Weird.
3. Cello Song – Nick Drake
Only discovered Nick Drake two years ago - great to find a singer songwriter with such beautiful songs, but at the same time gutted I didn't find him 20 years earlier.
4. New York – Stephen Fretwell
Remember seeing him live with just his guitar at the Briton's Protection pub in Manchester in my early 20s. A haunting voice and a song about escaping. We all need to escape from something.
5. Happy – Pharrell Williams
May be an obvious one but it’s the song I and my 4-year-old son are dancing to every day at the moment. I think what Pharrell is trying to say in this song is that he is happy. Just a hunch.
Edna Braithwaite, the naughty maid
1. The Clapping Song – Shirley Ellis
This song came on in a shop one day and everyone in there, including me, started spontaneously dancing and singing along - it’s so infectious. This silly rhyme used to make me laugh when I was little and it puts me in a good mood whenever I hear it now.
2. One Day Like This – Elbow
Hands down, one of my favourite songs ever. It evokes memories of music festivals, being in love and friends who mean the world to me.
3. Ice Ice Baby – Vanilla Ice
We spent hours making up dances to this to show off at school. Think the image of me rapping and trying to emulate those moves would make anyone around to see laugh ... so it’s got to go on my list for that reason alone.
4. On The Radio – Regina Spektor
It reminds me of my friend Hywel and random adventures around the world.
5. Clair De Lune – Debussy
This conjures up memories of wonderful people in my life, traveling, and big, soft, fluffy white beds.
Entertainer, presenter of The Graham Norton Show on BBC1
- Three Cigarettes In An Ashtray – kd lang
A fabulous song of complicated love, sung by one of the greatest voices in the world.
- Chain Reaction – Diana Ross
Many years ago I gave myself a black eye dancing to this.
- La Vie En Rose – Grace Jones
Grace Jones sang this a cappella down the phone to a nude house-cleaner on one of my shows.
- At Seventeen – Janis Ian
A song that makes you cry bitter tears at 17, and then you find at 50 the tears are quite sweet.
- Islands In The Stream – Dolly Parton
A life high. I sang this with Dolly herself for a Channel Four film.
- She Loves You – The Beatles
This is the first pop song I remember hearing – and I still remember hearing it.
- Nessun Dorma – Puccini, Sung By Jussi Bjorling
The purity of tone in this performance expresses the humanity of Puccini’s song beautifully.
- Girl From The North Country – Bob Dylan
From a great artist, a beautiful love song.
- You’re The First, The Last, My Everything – Barry White
Because it feels so irresistibly good.
- Strawberry Fields Forever – The Beatles
Out of the many great Beatles songs, somehow this one is just special.
- The Long and Winding Road – The Beatles
I first heard this track as a young kid and I can remember strongly feeling that I had never heard anything like this before, it has always stayed with me.
- The Man Machine – Kraftwerk
As modern sounding today as it was in 1978. Although I’m known for my orchestral music I’ve always kept current and up to date with the latest advances in electronic music and this is a seminal track.
- Eternity’s Sunrise – John Tavener
This is a beautiful piece, if you haven’t heard it then please do. John Tavener was a very talented composer and very much missed.
- Everything Happens to Me – Chet Baker
The best trumpet player ever in my opinion and I love his voice. This is one of my all-time favourites.
- A Walk Across the Rooftops – The Blue Nile
One of the most perfectly crafted songs and Paul Buchanan’s performance is as always exquisite.
Presenter of Newsnight
- Speedy Gonzales – Pat Boone
I heard this on a little radio when the family was camping in summer near Arisaig when I was 6.
- Let’s Twist Again – Chubby Checker
I remember a party Mum and Dad had when I was 7 in 1962 and I opened the living room door and saw everyone dancing. I was ushered out straightaway.
- Dead End Street – The Kinks
The first single I ever bought.
- I Want You – Bob Dylan
There used to be a shop called Campbell’s in Kilmarnock with record booths. I used to go in to hear this – and coveted the LP.
- Music To Watch Girls By – Andy Williams
My father liked Andy Williams and this song in particular.
Royal Marine and London 2012 Olympian Judoka (100kg+)
- Bless Us All From The Muppet Christmas Carol – The Muppets
This song brings back memories of good Christmas and New Year’s holidays with family. Always brings a tear to my eye.
- Time To Say Goodbye – Andrea Bocelli
Being a Royal Marine in the Royal Navy, I am away quite a lot, especially while I’m on my sports draft doing judo training and competing. So when I leave my darling wife Zoe to return to work, I always play this song.
- Holding Out For A Hero – Bonnie Tyler
One of the songs I listened to when I was training up to join the Royal Marine Commandos. It got me out of bed and reminded me what a hero is and what he must be. When training for the London 2012 Olympic Games it was on my MP3 playlist. The old ones are the best!
- If It Makes You Happy – Sheryl Crow
I’ve never followed the crowd and when I was younger I didn’t understand why I was different. As I got older I listened to this song and realised it doesn’t matter if I’m different or do things differently – if it makes you happy then that’s all that matters.
- Theme From Last Of The Mohicans – Trevor Jones and Randy Edelman
One of the proudest moments of my life was when I completed the Royal Marine Commando basic training. Eight-and-a-half months of the hardest training in the world and this was the music we practised our passing out parade to. Brings back good memories.
Broadcaster, founding member of Deacon Blue
- Furry Sings The Blues – Joni Mitchell
It was a miserably cold and damp October day and I was in a miserably cold and damp hotel room in Galashiels. I’d just been given a mobile CD player for my birthday so jumped into bed and only started to feel warm by the time this song was finished.
- My Funny Valentine – Rickie Lee Jones
There are so many versions of this song but Rickie Lee does it beautifully and pushes all the right buttons in my humble opinion.
- Cum On Feel The Noize – Slade
Sitting watching Top of the Pops when I was in Primary Two, suddenly Dave Hill’s horrendously frightening outfit and Noddy Holder’s mirrored top hat appeared on screen… then he sang! I remember thinking ‘I want some of that!’ I didn’t know what it was but I wanted to be part of it – never got the top hat though!
- The Infernal Dance From The Firebird Suite – Stravinsky
When I was about 13, I got into the Strathclyde Schools Orchestra. Felt not only the emotional but physical power of orchestral music playing this piece.
- Two Cars Collide – King L
I don’t want to say too much about why I love this song but if you listen to Gary Clark singing it, you’ll understand.
- The Drinking Song From The Student Prince – Mario Lanza
I used to play this on my grandpa’s record player that could play 78s as well as LPs, with big wall-mounted speakers. It was through them that I could hear and enjoy the voice of Mario Lanza. I was still at primary school and with my boy soprano voice I used to sing along.
- Lydia the Tattooed Lady – The Muppets
It was the Muppets’ version that I first heard of this classic Harold Arlen song. A few years later I heard Groucho Marx sing it in their movie A Night At The Circus. I can see both Kermit and Groucho performing this song when I listen to it.
- Born Free – Matt Monro
It could have been any Matt Monro number. His voice for me is simply the best in the genre. His diction and line is superb and it’s been wonderful to sing both Born Free and From Russia With love, accompanied by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra to the same arrangement that he used.
- Piano Concert No 1, Slow Movement – Ravel
Reminds me of my time at school. I was at Douglas Academy Music School and I would often play this late at night listening on headphones. To this day it has the power to reduce me to tears. It was a sad time. I didn’t like being away from home … which I suppose leads me to my last choice…
- The Goons
Humour was my way of dealing with my time away at school. I’d record the re-runs of the Goon Show on Radio 2 and play them all week in my room. I got a recording of the songs and they were always on. Any of the shows or the songs they recorded will take me back.
Radio Scotland Presenter
- Chattanooga Choo Choo
My late father’s party piece, and I can understand why – it’s such a catchy tune, with lyrics that are a perfect fit to the music, and quite tricky to sing. It always reminds me of my dad. So when I hear it, I’m swaying and singing along, but with a wee tear in the eye.
- Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Grows) – Edison Lighthouse
The first pop song I remember hearing on the radio, and I recall being hooked in immediately by the catchy melody. It reminds me of being a wee girl and discovering there was music that I could claim for myself - which was different from the music that my parents liked. It was also about a boy and a girl and love – and that was very interesting!
- America – Simon And Garfunkel
When I was still at primary school, I was introduced to S and G’s music by my older brother Roddy. I would listen to his vinyl records on a Dansette record player in my chilly bedroom – no central heating in those days! The melody and harmonies are beautiful but it’s the lyrics that seduced me. I wanted to travel, to go to America, to understand the references I knew off by heart – Mrs Wagner’s Pies, the New Jersey Turnpike, Saginaw. It’s a song that still thrills me.
- We Are Family – Sister Sledge
I love disco music. This takes me back to Basel in Switzerland, where I was working as a waitress for a summer. A group of us were looking for somewhere that was open late and the only place turned out to be a half-empty strip joint. When the girls performing onstage clocked off the music changed and this song came on – and the girls joined us in huge circle and we danced to it over and over into the wee, small hours.
- Famous Blue Raincoat – Leonard Cohen
I LOVE that it’s written in the form of a letter. Took me a while to figure out that it is written to the man who is the new partner of Leonard’s former lover. Whenever I’m in New York and walk down Clinton Street, that line about “music all through the evening” always springs to mind.
Singer, winner of Britain’s Got Talent 2011
- Voulez-Vous – Abba
The first ever record I could listen to and sing along with, as the record cover had the lyrics on the back. When I was little, every time I was at my gran and grampa’s I would listen to this.
- Part Of Your World From The Little Mermaid – Jodi Benson
The first song I learned and sang to people as a kid. My gran used to run a pub and would get me to sing this for the punters. LOL.
- I Will Always Love You – Whitney Houston
I won a karaoke competition in Gran Canaria when I was 9 years old – the first time I ever won something for singing. It’s when I realised I wanted to sing when I was older (I guess I liked the applause).
- Amazed – Lonestar
My dad plays in a band and this was one of my favourite songs to sing with them.
- Anthem From Chess The Musical – Tommy Korberg
I sang this in my first amateur musical production, where I played the lead role in Chess. I then sang this song on my first audition for Britain’s Got Talent.
Paul Young (third from left in photo)
- Love Me Do – The Beatles
I presented a children’s programme, Round Up, while still at school and guess who came on and sang this song? It was only the Beatles’ second TV appearance.
- Sweet Vale Of Avoca
Wonderful acting memory. In The Bevellers by Roddy McMillan we all suddenly had to burst into this song. Will never forget it.
- These Boots Are Made for Walkin’ – Nancy Sinatra
Reminds me of happy days at sea as a Radio Scotland pirate disc jockey in the Sixties.
- He’s Not Dead Yet! From Spamalot
My actor father John said “I’m not dead yet!” in the famous Monty Python sketch, as John Cleese was about to toss him on to a cart of dead bodies. My dad would have loved the song it was turned into in Spamalot.
- Mull Of Kintyre – Wings
The hair on the back of my neck always twitches when the bagpipes come in. The Beatles often told me how much they liked Scotland and I love Paul’s tribute.
Journalist, The Herald
- Concerto For Two Violins, Strings And Continuo In D Minor – JS Bach
Kept me sane during my finals at Oxford.
- The Four Seasons: Spring – Vivaldi
It was playing on our old portable cassette player in the labour suite at Stobhill Hospital when our first child was born.
- Love Is Like A Newborn Child – Randy Crawford
I played it just after our second child was born and it has made me weep buckets ever since.
- Requiem – Faure
To remind me of the pure joy of singing in a big amateur choir.
- Old Friends – Simon And Garfunkel
To remind me of my husband (or virtually any Paul Simon song because his music is one of our shared passions).
- Theme To Workers’ Playtime
My earliest memories of listening to radio.
- Theme To Hancock’s Half Hour – Wally Stott
I was guaranteed a laugh with Tony Hancock.
- Heartbreak Hotel – Elvis Presley
I was 15 and this was the first time I heard the sound of Elvis Presley. A stand-out memory of a unique new sound in pop music.
- Songs For Swingin’ Lovers EP – Frank Sinatra
His first sortie with Nelson Riddle arranging. Again a new way of presenting songs with a theme that put the listener in a certain mood and made me feel sophisticated for the first time in my, at that time, young life.
- The Christmas Song – Mel Torme
It’s a song my wife and I love – the one that makes Christmas the special time it is.
- If You Really Love Me – Stevie Wonder
A truly wondrous opening riff, that makes me want to put my hands in the air. A spiritual experience from the main man!
- Ranking Full Stop – The Beat
The first song I really lost myself to on the dance floor. I was a 16-year-old Rude Boy in 1979.
- All ‘n’ All – Al Green
Another joyous spiritual tune that makes me want to get up and sing and dance and wave my hands in the air!
- Going Back Home – Dr Feelgood
I’m 19 just arrived in London, a mate played this every day, fantastic band.
- The Bare Necessities From The Jungle Book – Phil Harris
I love this because we all join in. When I was a kid my mum and dad would sing along, if it came on … Now my wife and I do it with our kids.
Any donation, large or small, will help us to support carers, train volunteers and provide the equipment necessary to provide people with a playlist for life.
03/02/2014 - £500 – Anon
“Sally, I lost my father and father-in-law to Alzheimers/Dementia so it brought back
a lotmemories reading about your mum. All best wishes with the campaign."
29/01/2014 - £100 - Anon
“So often I go into care homes and see the residents asleep in front of a TV with
music humming away in the background. What they really want is their own
personalized playlist. So, well done!”