One Thousand Words on Earworms

I am highly susceptible to earworms.

In case you haven’t heard the term, an earworm is a song that gets stuck in your mind and plays over and over again until you’re ready to rip the music portion of your brain right out of your head with your bare hands.

I’m so susceptible that I don’t even have to hear a song for it for become an earworm. Sometimes reading the title is enough.

For instance, this morning I read a blog post by Matthew Dicks. He wrote about the Wikipedia entry for the Beatle’s song Ob La Di, Ob La Da. That’s all it took. I have been singing, humming and whistling Ob La Di, Ob La Da all day. It’s still in my head right now. It will be there for days.

My friend Becky says that the only way to cure an earworm is to sing the whole song, from beginning to end. Of course, she’s a music teacher so singing is her cure for lots of things. And it usually is.

The trouble is that I don’t usually know all the lyrics or even the complete tune for a song stuck in my head. “Something, something, something in the market place…” just doesn’t kill the Ob La Di, Ob La Da earworm.

By the way, I just googled earworm. I half expected to see ugly pictures of real live worms that live in people’s ears like parasites, but all I got were hits about stuck songs. I guess there’s no such thing as a real earworm.

WebMD did tell me that 98% of people get songs stuck in their heads.

The article also says that neurotic people tend to suffer from earworms more frequently. I don’t think I like that statistic. Why does WebMD has an entry on earworms, anyway? Is it a disease?

They also offer a survey of 559 college students that identified the most popular for earworms. They are:

1. Chili’s Baby Back Ribs commercial
2. Who Let The Dogs Out?
3. We Will Rock You
4. The Kit-Kat Gimme a Break commercial
5. Mission Impossible theme
7. Whoomp, There It Is
8. The Lion Sleeps Tonight
9. It’s a Small World After All

None of these songs are frequent earworms for me. I don’t think I would even recognize the Mission Impossible theme if I heard it. And I’ve never had Whoomp, There It Is stuck in my head.

I have my own list of worst earworms:

1. I Shot the Sheriff.

The Eric Clapton version is the worst, but Bob Marley will do it to. It’s so bad that I’ll turn off the radio or leave a store if the song comes on because once I hear it, it’s in my head for days. In fact, I probably shouldn’t have even written about it.

Oh well, it’s time Ob La Di, Ob La Da was replaced anyway.

2. My Cherie Amour by Stevie Wonder.

There is absolutely no reason that this should be an earworm. At least I Shot the Sheriff is catchy and has reggae beat. My Cherie Amour is just a cheesy pop ballad. It’s embarrassing.

This is what I call a whistling earworm. I don’t sing or hum it, I whistle it. Or I whistle the chorus, the part that goes “My Cherie Amour, pretty little one that I adore.” I’ve become quite proficient at it. Maybe I should enter America’s Got Talent.

3. Rehab by Amy Winehouse.

This song has always been an earworm for me and I would estimate that it was in my head for a solid week and a half after she died. It would finally fade away then I’d hear the song again or her name would come up in the news and Rehab would come roaring back. Thank heavens it’s a good song.

4. Rolling in the Deep by Adele.

This is similar to Rehab with its new sixties, soul sound. I love the sound, but it’s too catchy. It crawls in my brain and stays.

5. Gone, Gone, Gone by Alison Kraus and Robert Plant.

I adore this song but have to listen to it sparingly because it runs in a continual loop after I’ve heard it just once.

You know how sometimes you like a song but then you hear it so much on the radio that you grow to dislike it? That happened to me with that KT Tunstall song about the big black horse and the cherry tree. I’m afraid that will also happen to Gone, Gone, Gone because of an earworm.

I think I’ve written about this before but while sometimes, like today, the mere mention of a song will put it in my head, often my earworms often need time to cultivate.

I’ll wake up in the morning with a song in my head and think “where did that come from?” Then I’ll realize that I heard the song two or three days ago.

I picture a particular song crawling into my ear and becoming a little green earworm. I don’t know why they’re green. They just are.

It slowly makes its way along my ear canal, through the twists and turns. (I don’t really know anything about ear anatomy. Are ear canals twisty and turny? It seems like they would be.)

Many of the traveling earworms die along the way. The persistent ones, the strong ones, have to crawl past the decaying corpses of the dead earworms as they make their journey.

Finally they reach my brain days later.

Arriving at the brain is like paradise for an earworm. There’s plenty of room to squirm around and spread their infectious little tunes. It must feel particularly good for the earworms to be able wiggle to their heart’s content after enduring the tight space of the ear canal.

That WebMD page also said the musician and music lovers are more likely to experience earworms. I guess if it came down to it, I’d rather play host to the little guys than lose my love of music. Better earworms than silence, right?


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