What’s That Worm in Your Ear?


 Quick now, what’s the catchiest tune put out in the last 70 years? OK, OK, don’t hurt yourself. According to a research group at the University of Amsterdam, it’s unequivocally a tune by the Spice Girls called “Wannabe.”

Now, when I first heard that tidbit of news, I rolled my eyes. Bing Crosby’s “Swinging On A Star” from 1944 beats anything cranked out in the 1990s as far as I’m concerned. But those university know-it-alls say they’ve gathered scientific proof. They joined up with the United Kingdom’s Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester and devised a year-long online study that they say measures the “earworm effect” (or how effectively a tune can get stuck in your head) of any given song.

These science types created a web app called “Hooked on Music” that they packed with Top-40 songs of each decade going back 70 years. And if you hit the link and give it a try yourself, you’ll see that they tested people through four different games: one that that measures which parts of a given song are catchier; one that determines how many songs a player can recognize in three minutes; another that evaluates how closely a person can remember a favorite tune; and the last one that challenges the player to recognize as many songs in a row as possible. It’s really kind of fun, even if you’re not the least bit interested in the science behind it all.

The next step in the study, the researchers say, will be to examine the musical features that make a song catchy and see if there’s a way to use “musical memory” to help people with dementia. Which is a laudable serious side of a study on hummable ditties.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering how they landed on the Spice Girls’ tune as the catchiest earworm of all time, the researchers said it was an easy pick. They claim that out of 12,000 users, “Wannabe” was recognized in an average of only 2.29 seconds. (Lou Bega’s “Mambo No. 5”, Survivor’s “Eye Of The Tiger”, Lady Gaga’s “Just Dance” and ABBA’s “SOS” rounded out the top five catchy faves.)

Personally, I think they must have stacked the deck somehow. Somebody probably clued in every Spice Girls fan club from here to … Wait. Are there any Spice Girl fan clubs? I don’t know. But I’m gonna give my local chapter of Bing’s Crooners a call, I’ll tell you that.

Who wrote this?

Bob Hoose is a senior associate editor for Plugged In, a producer/writer for Focus on the Family’s Adventures in Odyssey, a writer of plays and musicals and one-half of the former comedy/drama duo Custer & Hoose. He is a husband, father of three and a relatively new granddad.

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