Songs and Emotions for Aging and Retirement

Songs, including ones about aging, are powerful conveyers of emotion.

Posted Jan 21, 2021

The new year brings winter and pandemic depths, reminding us that we are not getting younger. So I present my favorite songs about getting older and retiring from unwanted work. They capture the diverse emotions associated with aging and retirement, many of them negative: anger, anxiety, fatigue, guilt, loneliness, loss, nostalgia, regret, resentment, resignation, sadness, shame, and worry. But there are also positive emotions: boldness, contentment, defiance, determination, gratitude, hope, joy, love, persistence, pride, relief, satisfaction, and wistfulness.  

For each song, I have indicated the most prominent emotions. My previous music playlists concern sad songs, pandemic songs, and breakup songs. My book Natural Philosophy defends the view that the primary aim of the arts, including music is emotional engagement, and all of these songs have powerful emotional resonance. Songs that I associate with retirement are marked with a *. 

The presence of many positive emotions in this list helps to show that aging is not all bad. After all, the new president of the United States is 78.  


  • "A Few Good Years," by Buddy Guy. Anxiety, hope.
  • "*Big City," by Merle Haggard or Iris DeMent. Hope, relief.
  • "Glory Days," by Bruce Springsteen. Nostalgia, regret.
  • "Grow Old Along With Me," by Mary Chapin Carpenter or John Lennon. Love, hope. 
  • "It Was a Very Good Year," by Frank Sinatra. Nostalgia, satisfaction. 
  • "*I Don’t Need Your Rocking Chair," by George Jones. Defiance, pride.  
  • "Landslide," by Fleetwood Mac. Fear, boldness.
  • "Last Leaf," by Tom Waits. Sadness, persistence.
  • "*The Last Watch," by Stan Rogers. Sadness, anger.
  • "Memory," from Cats. Nostalgia, loneliness
  • "Million Years Ago," by Adele. Regret, loss. 
  • "Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old)," by Garth Brooks. Regret, anger.
  • "O Death," by Ralph Stanley. Fear, hope.
  • "Ol 55," by Tom Waits or The Eagles. Hope, luck.
  • "Old Dogs, Children, and Watermelon Wine," by Tom T. Hall. Contentment, resentment. 
  • "*Over and Done With," by the Proclaimers. Relief, regret. 
  • "The Parting Glass," by The High Kings or others. Joy, sadness. 
  • "September Song," by Frank Sinatra. Nostalgia, love.  
  • "*So Long, It’s Been Good to Know You," by The Weavers. Defiance, relief. 
  • "Still Not Dead," by Willie Nelson. Persistence, resentment. 
  • "Sunrise, Sunset," from Fiddler on the Roof. Love, nostalgia. 
  • "*Take This Job and Shove It," by Johnny Paycheck. Anger, relief.
  • "This Ole House," by Rosemary Clooney. Satisfaction, fatigue. 
  • "Time Marches On," by Tracy Lawrence. Nostalgia, resignation.
  • "Those Were the Days," by Mary Hopkin. Nostalgia, pride. 
  • "Touch of Grey," by the Grateful Dead. Hope, determination.
  • "Tower of Song," by Leonard Cohen. Loss, love.
  • "When I’m Sixty-Four," by The Beatles. Love, hope. 
  • "When It Comes My Turn," by David Myles. Hope, determination.
  • "*Workingman’s Blues #2," by Bob Dylan. Sadness, resentment.
  • "Would You Catch a Falling Star?" by John Anderson. Loss, loneliness.
  • "Yesterday," by The Beatles. Loss, sadness. 
  • "Yesterday, When I Was Young," by Dusty Springfield or Roy Clark. Regret, shame.