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That Niggling, Wiggling Earworm

Updated on April 19, 2012

When a Song Won’t Stop Playing

Ever get a song stuck in your head that you cannot make leave for love or money? Maybe you heard it on the radio, was subjected to it at a bar or friend’s house, or some obscure reference made you think of it and then it started playing in your head and won’t stop. This is a phenomenon known as an earworm, when a song, usually a “catchy” one (i.e., with a predictable melody), gets stuck in your head and won’t quit.

Supposedly something like 98 percent of the population has experienced an earworm at one time or another, with the phenomenon occurring more frequently in those with obsessive compulsive disorder. I lean on the OCD side myself (ask any poor b*stard that’s known me for at least a half hour), and I can honestly say I do not recall a time in my life when I haven’t had a song in my head, whether it be good, bad, or indifferent. I wake up hearing music and go to bed hearing music. Sometimes it’s awesome, like when I’m particularly sleepy in the morning and then get The Cult’s Love Removal Machine in my thick skull and it makes me move a little faster. However, a crappy song going ‘round and ‘round will drive me just this side of insanity, like if I’m sitting in a beige waiting room for an hour and Phil Collins’ Pseu Psue Psuedia plays over and over and I’m actually getting eager to get stuck with needles, have my teeth drilled, or put my feet in the stirrups just to distract me from that effing song. Even worse than getting a terrible song stuck in your head is getting one stuck in your head that you not only dislike but don’t know more than a couple of words to, so you’re reduced to hearing the same 5 second snatches of a crappy song on repeat for hours.

It’s nice to be able to pinpoint where a song wriggled its way into your head. For example, if you had a random thought of junior high and was humming along to Come On Eileen later, you can at least get an idea of where the idea came from. What’s really messed up is when you wake up hearing some obscure song you haven’t heard in 20 years, like Joe Walsh’s Space Ace Whiz Kids, and then you hear it on the radio in a matter of hours. How weird is that? I keep buying lottery tickets when that happens every few months or so, but apparently that particular phenomenon isn’t a good omen or anything.

I have found a “cure” for the earworm, which has worked for many years once I inadvertently figured it out. When something godforsaken like We Built This City won’t stop, I immediately conjure up my imaginary phonograph and start playing the Commodores’ Sail On in my head. It’s not my favorite song in the whole world or anything, but I like it very much and it works each and every time. Sometimes Sail On will play for awhile, which is always pleasant, or it will segue and morph into something innocuous. Something else that works is, if you have the means, to play the offending song deliberately, and then listen to something completely different in both tempo and genre after that.

In the meantime, I need to start thinking of Sail On again, because I’ve got Ratt’s Round and Round starting up, and I just ain’t in the mood.


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      jlar 6 years ago from Denver area

      Thank you, Kelley. I read your 80s song hub - love it! I should have mentioned that I know a lot of people that use Achy Breaky Heart to "cure" the worm, but to me that sounds worse then the illness. You take care as well. Jenny

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      kelleyward 6 years ago

      I just wrote a about the annoying earworm in a hub I wrote on songs from the 80's that stick in your head. The earworm can be very annoying. I like your cure for the earworm I'll try it next time I get one! Take care, Kelley