Worst Earworms Ever

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earworm.JPGHave you ever had a nasty case of earworms? Don’t get grossed out. That simply means you’ve had a catchy song stuck in your head that keeps looping uncontrollably. Like dinner guests still showing off their vacation photos after midnight, it just … won’t … leave. The harder you try to get rid of that poppy hook, the more determined it is to pitch a tent in your temporal lobe. And if you ever do find relief, all it takes is a tiny taste of that ornery chorus to start the process all over again.

Research out of Finland suggests that nine out of ten people experience earworms. Women are more susceptible than men, and the younger generation deals with it more than older folks. Those are the findings of Lassi A. Liikkanen, who recently published papers about earworms in the journals Psychology of Music and Musicae Scientiae.

“Sometimes these involuntary music experiences are tied to a life experience and it is congruent with mood,” Liikkanen told MSNBC. “People consider [earworms] entertaining and fun occasions when they emerge.”

Oh yeah? Speak for yourself, Doc.

The irritating musical parasite I’ve had a hard time shaking lately is Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe.” Against my will, that tune has burrowed into my subconscious. It’s not entertaining. It’s not fun. And sometimes it’s not even Carly Rae, but rather that blasted Cookie Monster parody somebody pointed me to on YouTube. And like Logan Marshall-Green’s character in Prometheus, the madness from this soul-sucking little chigger tempts me to implore a colleague to put me out of my misery.

“Songs with lyrics are reported as most frequently stuck (74%), followed by commercial jingles (15%) and instrumental tunes without words (11%),” writes James J. Kellaris, a PhD with the University of Cincinnati, who found that episodes typically last for several hours.

Several hours? Great, so now what do I do?

Some experts recommend singing the song in its entirety to give the mind a sense of closure. They argue that, until we fill in that unfamiliar lyric or pick up a certain musical cue, our brains will keep replaying the part we do know like a vinyl record that keeps skipping until it finds the next groove. An interesting theory.

My wife, on the other hand, is among those who’ve discovered that focusing on a new song will help to evict the old one. Apparently, there’s only room to spin one record at a time on the jukebox of the mind. I always know when Julie’s battling earworms because I’ll hear her singing “I Feel Pretty” from the musical West Side Story. The side effect? That perky number is now a major earworm to my 11-year-old son (“Mom, will you please stop singing that song?”).

Earworms aren’t always awful songs. Sometimes they’re bouncy tracks we’ve invited in, only to have them turn on us like bad potato salad. Or they’re hits so overplayed in public that there’s no escaping them. I couldn’t walk into a store or scan the radio dial last summer without stumbling on Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep.” Great song … the first 347 times.

Other tunes that have given me fits include Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face,” “Friday” by Rebecca Black, and Beyonce’s “Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It).” And for the record, Eiffel 65’s infectious techno single “Blue (Da Ba Dee)” has been looping in my head since 1999.

So which pop singles have driven you to the brink? And what home remedies have helped you cure those dreaded earworms?

Who wrote this?

Senior Editor for PLUGGEDIN.COM. In addition to hosting the weekly "Official Plugged In Podcast," Bob also writes reviews, articles and Movie Nights discussion guides, and manages areas of this website. He has served at Focus on the Family for more than 20 years. Since 1995, Bob has penned "High Voltage," a monthly column that answers children's entertainment questions in Clubhouse magazine. He has co-authored several books, including Chart Watch, Movie Nights, Movie Nights for Teens and, most recently, The One Year Father-Daughter Devotions. Bob is also co-host of "The Official Adventures in Odyssey Podcast."

Have something to say? Leave a comment.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  kate:

'...and that one song about the pay phone..' Haha..The song is called just that, Payphone by Maroon 5.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  Macy:

Oh yes, I have songs stuck in my head like that all the time. Lately it's mostly been Call Me Maybe and that one song about the pay phone (I can't remember what it's called). :/ But there are some songs that I like to have stuck in my head, like Disney songs, VeggieTales songs, worship songs, or even Cookie Monster's version of Call Me Maybe.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  Matthew:

If I want a song out of my head I just try singing the ABC's, that song never gets stuck.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  Emily:

I helped out with Sky VBS a couple of weeks ago, I get it.  Don't worry, it stops once you're done!

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  Mordecai1995:

About a month ago I watched Spiderman 2, and the song "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head" got stuck in my head for at least a week.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  Alex C:

I've suffered from earworms constantly over my life.  in fact, there have been a few isolated incidents when an ear worm was so bad that I *literally* couldn't go to sleep that night because of the song playing in my head.  I've usually found that the best way to get rid of one is to listen to the song fully, and then immediatly listen to a few other songs afterward.  that usually helps get rid of it, and in the worst case it at least gets something *else* stuck there instead.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  TealN:

The best remedy is to share it with someone. :-) Or start singing "It's a Small World After All..."

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  AndStuff:

I had Live Like We're Dying by Kris Allen stuck in my head when I ran the soundboard for an eigth grade graduation and that was the class theme song. I'll get tween pop tunes stuck in my head, (I listen to them the most if I'm listening to secular music because most other stuff is cursing or sexual). Usually if I'm annoyed with it being in my head I have to actually listen to them over and over to get it out of my head. I know it sounds weird, but for whatever reason, it gets it out.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  Lisbeth:

Well, Bob, I don't mean to add to your "Call Me Maybe" misery but the US Olympic swim team just joined the ever-growing list of people putting their own rendition of the song on YouTube.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  Charger:

Yep same. To the second point.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  Charger:

I have had the good fortune to not have heard "Call Me Maybe" yet, nor its parody. I have heard Of the songs, but I have not listened to them. The earworms that I get are mostly soundtracks to tv shows or movies. Mission Immpossible (Both the old and new), CSI Miami, Star Wars (My Fav) and Cars (My little brothers favorite movie, so it plays alot.) For earworm songs? Mostly praise music. Sometimes my sister dance music gets caught in cranium. But when a bad earworm comes my way yes very very annoying. I just mentally play another song or game. To pervent some earworm from intrenching, when ever a hit song comes out I avoid it. I don't listen to different radio stations just the local christian station. And when i'm online I don't click on the link. So maybe because of that mental conditioning when that song does come my way it does not affect me as bad as everyone else. In fact alot of bad content does not affect me, not all but alot.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  NarniaFanGil:

Are they the Sky VBS songs?

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  library_girl:

I'm helping with Vacation Bible School this week...so I have cheezy VBS songs stuck in my head like you would not believe. Please make it stop! :P

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  YetAnotherTeen:

Anything and everything. Sometimes it's what I just was listening to on iTunes, I just keep hearing the lyrics in my head until I hear a new song. Other times it can be any random song I've ever heard anywhere. And it's a daily thing, just because it can be.

Usually I can "replace" it with something I prefer listening to though; without even having to sing (other than mentally) I can change mental nuisances fairly easily these days. Much practice, I guess...

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  neildown:

This is probably one of my favorite entries on the PI blog.  Eiffel 65 also gets stuck in my head occassionally too.

I think the best remedy though is just diverting your attention, be it on another (preferably better) song, a game, a book, or just anything that captures your interest more than the song. As for the most recent songs that have driven me to the brink - Call Me Maybe is definitely at the top spot currently. In fact, when it was brought up in the article it started playing, and continues to repeat itself in my head while I type...

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  Elisabeth:

Start a conversation with someone. Anything other than the song, really, for you brain to concentrate on.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  kate:

I thought I was the only one who was sick of Adele. Her songs were always playing on the radio.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  ScottyBlue:

Funnily enough, the songs that get stuck in my head the most are old movie/TV show theme songs, or classical pieces.