Over and Over and Over...
September 2, 2006 6:57 AM   Subscribe

Why do songs get 'stuck in your head'?

I've seen plenty of posts on people wondering about the name of a song stuck in their head, but I'm wondering if anyone can explain WHY songs get stuck in your head to begin with.

Also - does anyone have an effective way to get a song 'unstuck'?
posted by matty to Grab Bag (18 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Does anyone have an effective way to get a song 'unstuck'?

For me it's simply to listen to it - over and over...
posted by ed\26h at 7:22 AM on September 2, 2006


I've heard it's mental chewing gum. Gives your brain something to do.
I get rid of earworms by either completion (listening to the song), substitution (finding another, more virulent mematode), or sometimes by passing the strain onto another, unsuspecting host.
posted by ktrey at 7:27 AM on September 2, 2006 [2 favorites]


Here's an Ask.Yahoo dealing with the subject of sticky tunes.
posted by ktrey at 7:31 AM on September 2, 2006


Also:
'Brain itch' keeps songs in the head.
WebMD.
Previously.
posted by ktrey at 7:35 AM on September 2, 2006


Also - does anyone have an effective way to get a song 'unstuck'?
Maim That Tune:

Are you plagued by Stuck Tune Syndrome? Do you have a song stuck in your head you just can't get out? Take heart friend, for your suffering is over.

The Maimograph Machine, through complex analysis and calculation, will find an even catchier tune to counter-act the one you already have.

posted by booth at 7:52 AM on September 2, 2006


Funny you should ask ...

http://www.wfpk.org/programs/earworm.htm
posted by jbickers at 8:02 AM on September 2, 2006


Reminds me of the time I got "The Safety Dance" stuck in my head. Not the original though, which would be annoying enough, but a small piece of the song as sung by the Sleazy 80s Guy from Futurama. The only way I was able to get it out of my head was to find the soundbyte (doesn't appear to work in Firefox) and listen to it until I was completely over it.

So yeah, completion and repetition seem to work for getting the tune unstuck, as mentioned above. Substitution generally does, too, but that's not necessarily the best course of action, since you usually end up with an even worse earworm. For me, passing it on does nothing to help my own problem, but it is great fun in an evil sort of way.
posted by mysterpigg at 8:17 AM on September 2, 2006


As far as getting it unstuck is concerned, listening to it often works for me. If I'm somewhere where I can't listen to it, though, I use a trick someone taught me. Close your eyes and plug your ears, and then imagine screaming "NO" very long and loud. I usually do it in the bathroom because I imagine it looks fairly silly. It's not foolproof, but it works a surprising amount of the time.
posted by christinetheslp at 8:21 AM on September 2, 2006


I think this problem is on the increase in our society.

I am often plagued with earworms, although years of dealing with them have made them seem less annoying. For me it doesn't have anything to do with listening to the source material over and over again: the only thing I can do that helps is to get near an outside source of sound/music. I have found that even if the sound is so low in volume I can barely hear it, it gives my brain enough to "do" and so it stops repeating little snippets. It is much less tiring and nauseating to tune into a constantly changing stream of sound than these short snippets.

I think it is a sign of anxiety, of an excess of adrenaline, and possibly of duress. I read an account of a person who got trapped in the wilderness and in the middle of their delirium was tortured by some pop song playing out in their head over and over again.
posted by macinchik at 8:56 AM on September 2, 2006


I read an account of a person who got trapped in the wilderness and in the middle of their delirium was tortured by some pop song playing out in their head over and over again.

That was Joe Simpson and Boney M's Brown Girl In The Rain, in Touching The Void. I believe his exact thoughts were 'I'm going to die to bloody Boney M'.

It's funny how they're not songs you like, necessarily, but which are rhythmic in nature. I spend a lot of time running and the most annoying things get stuck in my head. Commercials, annoying pop songs, even phrases repeated over and over. They tend to compress the more duress I'm under - usually just bits of one song, for example.

I've learned to live with it, but if I consciously notice this (sometimes it runs just under the radar for a while) I have a back catalogue of less offensive songs that tend to get trapped up there, and I try to run those.
posted by jimmythefish at 9:25 AM on September 2, 2006


'America,' from West Side Story, will unstick them for me without being too sticky itself. I read that somewhere; I wish I knew who to credit for it.
posted by jamjam at 10:09 AM on September 2, 2006


Does anyone have an effective way to get a song 'unstuck'?

The following story might be apocryphal, but anyway:

I read an interview with (the Scottish band) Mogwai a few years ago, where they discussed a recording session they once had at Abbey Road with 'recording engineer' Steve Albini. Apparently, upon spotting a Tina Turner gold disc on the wall, he explained that her hit 'Private Dancer' is the perfect remedy for getting one's head rid of a song that's sticking -- alleging that the sheer formlessness of the tune was enough to unglue even the strongest earworm.
posted by macdara at 11:28 AM on September 2, 2006


cutting off a song before it's completed will turn into an earworm. everytime i get out of a car the music keeps going in my head...
posted by trinarian at 2:50 PM on September 2, 2006


I was once told that if you have a song stuck in your head, it's a clue to some imminent realization which, once you have it, causes the song to go away.

So I usually look up the full lyrics to whatever song I have stuck, and think about what meaning they have in relation to my current cirucmstances. The song always gets unstuck almost immediately.
posted by thumpasor at 3:11 PM on September 2, 2006 [1 favorite]


I am plagued by this earworm thing almost daily. For me, playing it over and over does NOT work. In fact, it makes it worse. I have found no cure, which is not to say I haven't tried. Right now, I have a the final phrases of a violin concerto stuck in my head (FOR A WEEK!), so lyrics is not the key, here. Certain songs set it off. Beatles are the worst for me, follow by show tunes. I think trinarian has the best idea: cut it off each time it starts.
posted by Lockjaw at 3:55 PM on September 2, 2006


>I think trinarian has the best idea: cut it off each time it starts.

That's actually the exact opposite of what he/she said. The thesis was "songs get stuck if you don't hear them all the way through".

I've been interested to see the different "drive out an earworm" suggestion. The remedy for getting a song stuck in your brain was always to replace it with Scott Joplin's "The Entertainer" when I was in college.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 10:36 PM on September 2, 2006


Here's how to get it unstuck: listen to a completely different song, and try to hum the song stuck in your head at the same time. Seriously, it works.
posted by apple scruff at 12:11 AM on September 3, 2006


A favorite essay of mine says that we're pattern-matching machines. If that's the case, it would make sense that our brains, given a small fragment (a song), would seek to complete that pattern.

As for getting rid of them, I'll add my voice to those who suggest listening to the song in full.
posted by WCityMike at 7:41 AM on September 5, 2006


« Older We have an 8 hour layover in A...   |  Is there a government website ... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.