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Six Earworms that I Can't Get Out of My Head

Updated on September 29, 2015

What's an Earworm, Anyway?

An earworm, sometimes known as a brainworm, is a catchy piece of music that continually repeats through your mind even when the song is not playing. It may be a pop song or it could be a commercial slogan or tune. Whatever the earworm is, it comes into your head spontaneously and you find yourself humming, singing or whistling it in the shower, on your way to work or when you get out of bed in the morning.

I imagine there are some people who can't stand earworms and perhaps going to a psychiatrist or therapist to get the damn thing out of their head might be a good idea. A researcher named James Kallaris says that almost everybody has these earworms at some point in their lives, approximately 98% of us. He goes on to say that it is predominantly songs with lyrics and not instrumentals that get stuck in our heads; approximately 74% of the time it is songs with lyrics.

It is usually the hook of the song that gets to us. The people who it affects the most, according to psychologist Vicki Williamson, are musicians and people with obsessive compulsive disorder. Lucky for me, I fit into none of these categories, but I still get my fair share of earworms. And in all honesty, I see it as a gift or a privilege bestowed upon me from the music heavens. I don't have to waste batteries or burn up precious electricity playing a radio or iPod. It just comes naturally. Something in my subconscious wants me to feel entertained and energized at odd times of the day.

Here are six of my current earworms and why they are still stuck in my head.

"Research suggests that there may be psychological reasons why some songs are more likely to stick, including memory triggers, emotional states and even stress."

Source: NPR...

"Build Me Up Buttercup"

One of the earliest earworms that I could remember was "Build Me Up Buttercup" by the Foundations. I first heard the song being played at an ice-skating rink at the Tarken Playground in Northeast, Philly. I was about 13 years old at the time with my friend, Jeff, and we were flirting with two girls named Jill and Cheryl. I remember Jill and I were holding hands at the skating rink and having a good time when "Build Me Up Buttercup" kept playing, perhaps three or four times that night. We later went to a dimly lit part of the playground and we kissed. I obviously identified something good with that song--young and romantic, pubescent memories. I don't remember the whole song but I partially remember a few lyrics that still sticks in my head and awakens me every now and then: Build me up buttercup. Why do you let me down and turn me around. And then worst of all, you never call baby...

"It does seem that the majority of the earworms that people report are relatively simple. But it can't be the whole story because I've got people reporting ... whole symphonies being stuck in their head, so it does vary, very much, from person to person."

NPR interview with Psychologist, Vicki Williamson on NPR:

"I Think We're Alone Now"

"I Think We're Alone Now" was remade by several artists like Tiffany. But it was the original Tommy James and the Shondells version that's embedded in my consciousness. When I was a little kid I was a hopeless romantic. I collected all the romantic pop songs of the 60's and the 70's. When I was a kid, I also dreamed of being a famous rock star. I fantasized singing this song in the mirror to someone, perhaps an audience, perhaps a girl who I was infatuated with at the time. Puberty is a significant time for most of us. It brings up a lot of powerful memories for both genders. It's a dramatic time for kids when physical and emotional changes to the body are triggered by the influx of sex hormones. Even an innocent pop song like "I Think We're Alone Now" can create a long-lasting earworm if heard under such hormonal conditions.

This song made me think of the space given to two lovers; the quiet place where they could just be without any interruptions, from parents or from any intruding people. Just me and you. I think we're alone now. There doesn't seem to be anybody else around...

Tommy James and the Shondells


Seventy-Six Trombones

The tune, "Seventy-Six Trombones" was from the movie, The Music Man starring Robert Preston. It wasn't the best movie of all time, but it had one of my favorite corny songs of all time, "Seventy-Six Trombones." I remember the first time I saw the movie. I was a kid staying with my Aunt Marion, who loved old movies. Almost immediately upon hearing it, I started to sing it. I marched around the room and started to twirl an air baton and sing some of the lyrics ad nauseam. I used to wake up from a nap singing it, and sung it in the shower or in the car years later when something triggered it like watching the halftime of a college football game. God forbid that the The Music Man is playing on TV, I will start up again and irritate those around me beyond belief.

I love the energy of the song. It makes me feel proud and happy. That's what I got from Robert Preston in the final scene of the movie--pride, that he was victorious and celebratory in front of the whole town. There is a lot of pride in leading a large marching band down the street or into the football stadium. The feeling must be awesome. Seventy-six trombones in the big parade. With 110 clarinets close behind...

Robert Preston in The Music Man


Getting Rid of Earworms

  • Going for a run.
  • Doing a crossword puzzle.
  • Songs used to combat earworms tend to be slow, like singing the national anthem.
  • Dr. Fredric Neuman, Director of the Anxiety and Phobia Center at White Plains Hospital, recommends playing the troublesome song through to the end to get rid of the earworm.

For more on earworms, check out this NPR article:

"Sounds of Silence"

In 1964 the movie, The Graduate, hit me like a land mine. It was an amazing and unique movie of an era where this country was in the midst of exploration and trying to figure out itself. The songs of Simon and Garfunkel were thought provoking and the harmonies were so alluring. A lot of the tunes stuck in my head. They mesmerized me even as a young kid and seemed to put me into a strange and thoughtful mind space. I think I saw The Graduate 100 times and I've never grown tired of it. At one time or another, the songs in The Graduate got to be my special earworms--"Mrs. Robinson" and "Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme" just to name a few. But none got into my head like "Sounds of Silence." The title, itself, makes me think. The meaning of the words made me think about following your own dreams, your own drummer and not blindly following what society or your parents expect of you. It also made me think about another intense, but confusing phase of my life, graduating college and questioning what should I do with my life. Should I listen to others about a career or follow my own instincts--doing something that I am passionate about? The song is filled with wonderful imagery and thought-provoking themes. In the darkness my old friend. You come to talk with me again...

JIm's Big Earworm

Wake up in the morning
take a shower, shave my head
drive my honey to her job
drive my honey to her job
wake up in the morning
take a shower, shave my head
drive my honey to her job
drive my honey to her job
She's a teacher
of special kids
I love her...

From the Don't Get Smart album (Jim's Big Ego)

"Love Everybody"

"Love Everybody" is perhaps the quirkiest of the songs that found a home in my head. It is song by a relatively unknown band, Jim's Big Ego, that I discovered one day while listening to NPR. "Love Everybody" is about a bald guy who shaves his head every day and likes to drink coffee (or Joe as he calls it) and has a girlfriend who teaches special kids whom he loves and he has a junky car with a bad battery that sometimes prevents the car from starting, but he still loves everybody and he's still a very happy guy. It's one of those quirky and romantic slice-of-life songs that gets into your head. And when you sing it out loud, people ask: "What's that you're singing?" And you tell them about "Love Everybody" and they don't get it. They never heard of Jim's Big Ego. They don't take it seriously and just say, "Oh." But the song is in my head and it's significant because I used to work with special kids and I know that women who work with special children are usually pretty sweet. And I understand why people like to drink coffee and I can relate to having a junky car that doesn't start in the morning. But most of all, I relate to the fact that the song's main character shaves his head in the morning, and I shave my head too. It's a simple, honest song with a catchy melody, and I get it.

"If I were a rich man,
Ya ha deedle deedle, bubba bubba deedle deedle dum.
All day long I'd biddy biddy bum.
If I were a wealthy man.
I wouldn't have to work hard.
Ya ha deedle deedle, bubba bubba deedle deedle dum.
If I were a biddy biddy rich,
Yidle-diddle-didle-didle man.

"If I Were a Rich Man"

My favorite song from the Fiddler on the Roof was, "If I Were a Rich Man." This song speaks to my Jewish heritage. I especially love the main character, Tevye. I love both the actor, Topol, in the film version, and the stage version that starred Zero Mostel. Both actors were really passionate about their role and made me believe that they were really poor, Tevye, the Jewish guy who struggles all day in the fields and never really gets anywhere financially. They had so much passion singing the song "If I Were a Rich Man." Like all earworms you not only sing the song, but you feel the song. In "If I were a Rich Man" you feel Tevye's powerful faith in his God and you feel his hopeful yearning about being rich someday and not having to struggle; not having to tow the fields or push a heavy cart and come home late at night, too tired to do much of anything. When you are wealthy, it seems, you can sit around all day and enjoy your wealth, all while providing for your family. It's a dream that I know many of us can relate to.

The catchy tune has all the necessary ingredients for an earworm. It is simple, has a child-like quality to it, fun to sing, and it has a catchy hook that reels you in.

Zero Mostel as Tevye

Zero Mostel as Tevye as the stage version of the Fiddler on the Roof.
Zero Mostel as Tevye as the stage version of the Fiddler on the Roof. | Source

How About Your Earworms?

What are your earworms up to? Do you have "Jingle Bells" or "Hey Jude" playing in your head? Or do you have a commercial jingle like Plop, plop, fizz, fizz oh what a relief it is that you repeat in the shower until your partner says, "Enough, already!" Do your earworms annoy you or do you feel energized by them? Have you figured out where they come from and why they stay in your head? I would be interested to hear from you. Your comments are welcome.


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    • Mark Tulin profile imageAUTHOR

      Mark Tulin 

      4 years ago from Santa Barbara, California

      Thanks for reminding me of those Am radio stations that used to play Beatles songs all day long. I for one enjoyed hearing most of those songs over and over. Thanks for your feedback

    • Ann1Az2 profile image


      4 years ago from Orange, Texas

      I remember some of these and you're right - they are earworms! Part of the problem is that radios played them over and over again. I remember anytime Tommy and the Shondells came out with a new song, the radios played it over and over again until it was engrained in your head.

      Speaking of Music Man, I always liked the song he sang about pool --you got trouble right here in River City, got trouble and that stands for T and that rhymes with P and that stands for pool. That song is an earworm for me!

    • Mark Tulin profile imageAUTHOR

      Mark Tulin 

      4 years ago from Santa Barbara, California

      Shery, I agree. I may go on Disability if I had that song in my head.

    • Sherry Hewins profile image

      Sherry Hewins 

      4 years ago from Sierra Foothills, CA

      The worst is when it's a really awful song like Rebecca Black's song Friday. It is a total earworm.


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