No, not parasites. Earworms are songs that you hear that will instantly stick in your head on repeat, whether you like them or not. (Thanks once again to Janine, who’s been struggling with the Welcome Back Kotter theme song for a couple of days, and the good folks at the AV Club for the writing inspiration today.)
Earworms are strange things. Nobody knows what triggers them, but they are pervasive, insidious, and nearly impossible to get rid of – like a nasty virus, you simply have to let them run their course. This isn’t always a bad thing, there are songs that I love to this day that I get stuck on and end up playing on repeat 25 times day and never tire of them. Others you hear flipping channels in the TV or blaring on another drivers stereo at a stoplight, and BAM!, they take up permanent residence in your brain, like a Guinness record breaking case of the hiccups (since my greatest fear in the world is that I’m the person who is going to get the hiccups that never go away for 30 years or so, this is a powerful and disturbing metaphor for me. Stop laughing.) Those with children are particularly susceptible to an earworm attack, since most kids songs are designed to be de facto earworms in an attempt to 1.) educate the utes and 2.) drive the parents insane.
Here’s a not so comprehensive listing of the songs that are guaranteed earwoms for me. Proceed at your own risk.
Anything by They Might Be Giants, but especially Clap Your Hands and Birdhouse in Your Soul. TMBG are odd, since even their “real” output was essentially nursery rhyme tunes (combined with obscure literary and cultural references), so even before they finally accepted their destiny and produced kid oriented educational tunes, they were prime earworm material. I’ll be singing the “after killing Jason off and countless screaming Argonauts” line all day now.
Lucky You – The National
Ceremony – New Order
Thunder Road – Bruce Springsteen
September Girls – Big Star
Fun and Games – The Connells
Those five songs are examples of the good earworms; songs that come on and I end up fixating on for the rest of the day, especially the last tune by The Connells, probably more for nostalgia reasons than anything else. You might think that this is more indicative of disturbing obsessive compulsive behavior or my part rather than a true earworm. And you would not be wrong.
The Humpty Dance – Digital Underground
White Lines – Grandmaster Flash
So What’cha Want – The Beastie Boys
Rap songs are really natural earworms due to the sing song rhymes, with the added bonus of a danceable beat thrown in on top. 41 year old white guys have to be careful of these earworms, as enjoyable as they might be, because you end up looking like extremely goofy like Jimmy Fallon (Beastie, Beastie, Beastie boys!), or like this if you are not careful.
Now, the “bad” earworms. I hesitate to list these for fear of ending up in a never ending spiral of Cyndi Lauper, but I’ll brave it for you. No links though:
Girls Just Want to Have Fun – Cyndi Lauper (I just shiver thinking about this one, probably for the Captain Lou Albino associations)
Separate Ways – Journey (ok, I’ll link to this one, just because the video is so freaking hilarious. Every grab your Members Only jackets, sport a mullet and rock your air keyboards!)
Word Up – Cameo
The Bird – Morris Day and the Time
I actually like both of those songs, but when you OD on them they get annoying quickly.
This isn’t the worst earworm ever, but it’s unfortunately from my favorite band ever, so it hurts a bit more:
Stand – R.E.M.
For me though, there’s one song that sets off a earworm spasm like no other. If you aren’t a parent, let me introduce you to the horror that is Party in My Tummy. I almost hate to call out Yo Gabba Gabba like this, because they actually have a ton of ace bands come on and play some really great music. Case in point, this one by The Roots. Seriously, how great is that? Party in My Tummy though is a musical crime though for which there is no pardon. Sorry.
What’s your personal favorite/worst earworm?
(Props to the creator for the image.)