Songs Stuck In Your Head – And A Solution

by Randy Murray on June 14, 2010

They call them “earworms,” those snatches of music that get stuck in your brain, playing over an over. They’re usually maddening, frustrating, songs that we might even hate, but for some reason play over and over inside our heads.

I’ve got a default one that I don’t mind. It’s called “Powerhouse”  and was used in many classic cartoons, notably the classic “Early To Bet.” I also love this all harmonica version: the Philharmonicas. It’s that little tune it hear in my head when I’m building something or plotting some comic mayhem.

But sometimes it’s a phrase of lyrics and a tune. Lately I’ve been hearing this phrase from Paul Simon’s “American Tune” in my head:

And I dreamed I was flying

And high up above my eyes could clearly see

The Statue of Liberty

Sailing away to sea

It’s a beautiful song, beautifully performed by the writer.

I can’t tell if it’s stuck in my head because of the beauty of the song, or the general, free-floating anxiety over the death of the Gulf of Mexico and the useless, destructive anger welling up in populist politics.

But it’s there. And I do know a trick to get rid of earworms. It does require a bit of mental discipline, but perhaps that’s the real solution. Here’s how: imagine yourself getting onto an elevator in a very tall building. You enter this elevator by yourself – it’s empty, but an instrumental version of “The Girl From Ipanema” is playing.

The doors close and you ride this elevator for as long as it takes. Focus on standing in the elevator, listening to the music until the other music is forced out. You might find you’ve traded one earworm for another, but this one should fade fast, especially if you use it repeatedly to kill other earworms. This works for me, and I think it is because it takes effort to really imagine all of that: the elevator, the music without words, yourself standing there, listening.

What song gets stuck in your head?

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1 Laura June 14, 2010 at 11:03 am

The annoying earworm is the Oompa Loompa song from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

I also have a random collection of partial tunes that acts like my own internal muzak: it’s not bad.


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