Don’t you just hate it when that happens? A portion of, or possibly a whole song gets stuck in your head on repeat, and there’s nothing you can do about it. It’s not just you – it is a well known phenomenon and there have been many studies conducted on the condition – it has also been termed less snappily by neurologist Oliver Sacks as ‘involuntary musical imagery’.
Apparently some people are more susceptible than others, but most people have been afflicted by it at one time or other.
But none of these academic studies have answered the most pertinent question about the earworm: ‘Why is it it never a good song?’. It’s invariably some irritating cheesy pop monstrosity from the ’80’s, a nauseating soft rock ballad or the latest anodyne dance music track to feature on a far more forgettable TV advert.
I don’t ever remember having a really great song stuck in my head, it’s always been something I would never have chosen to listen to in the first place – an alien invader burrowing its way into my brain and destroying my musical taste one vapid chorus at a time.
I have no data to back this up, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the earworm hadn’t become far more prevalent in the past couple of years. This would be thanks to the baffling popularity of polyphonic ringtones and that weapon of mass distraction, the mobile phone that ‘comes with music’.
So, what can we do about it? Admit defeat and spend needless painful hours humming tunes we wouldn’t be seen dead downloading. Or do we decide to fight?
There is no known cure, but apparently some medications that are used to treat obsessive complusive disorder can alleviate the symptoms of earworms. So, if you are one of those poor unfortunates who are slaves to alphabeticising their CDs (see yesterday’s post) you might just have the answer within your grasp.
For those of us without access to such remedy, I would suggest that there are a few precautions we can take, which though unlikely to cure, may at least reduce the amount of earworm incidents we suffer. They are:
- Carry your ipod or other mp3 player with you at all times and create an ‘antidote playlist’ stuffed full of killer tunes, the likes of which you’d be happy to have in your head all day;
- Avoid listening to breakfast shows on all commercial and local radio stations on your way to work. Choose your own tunes or stick to 6 music on DAB;
- Don’t travel on public transport without noise-cancelling headphones;
- Learn to hum several of your favourite songs – you can then hum loudly as a counteractive measure should an earworm incident ensue;
- Avoid colleagues with poor musical taste and the habit of whistling the last song they heard on their car radio and/or bursting into song whenever anyone says anything that reminds them of a song lyric;
- Insert an earwig/small spider/bee/pencil into your ear, in order to take your mind off the offending song.
This is not a definitive list, but just a few suggestions to be getting on with. Whilst the first three are valuable life lessons that we would do well to adhere to in any case, the last one might be a step too far for many of us.
Mind you, it’s all relative: faced with the choice between an indefinite repetition of Dire Straits’ ‘Money for Nothin” or a perforated eardrum, I might just risk the pencil!