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Blue Moon Reloaded #5

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And it goes on and on and on…

I woke up this morning with “THE SONG FROM HELL” stuck in my head---otherwise known as “I Think I Love You” by the Partridge Family.
I hate it when that happens---especially if it’s a song I think so little of like “TSFH”. Never was a big Partridge Family fan.

This led me to pondering this perplexing phenomenon. What causes it? Why does it happen? Why is it something so banal and despised gets lodged in there like a bone stuck in your throat? There are no clear answers to why it happens. But it shouldn’t surprise you to know that it happens to almost everyone at one time or another and that it has been extensively studied. The earliest in depth description of this mental hiccup from hell was as early as 1876 by Mark Twain in his short story: “A Literary Nightmare”

The name of this brutal assault on your senses is called Earworms. It’s a translation of the German Ohrwurm, and it belongs to a class of phenomena that includes “involuntary imagery,” sounds, pictures, smells, and even tastes that repeatedly come to haunt and invade your mind.
While what causes it is still pretty much a mystery--- there are some fairly sound theories.

One theory is that earworms are a form of mild musical hallucination (which is normally a rare experience), the distinction being that with an earworm you usually aren’t on drugs or suffering from schizophrenia and as such are fully aware there’s no actual music being played outside of your skull.

Another theory is that earworms are a side effect of your brain trying to consolidate memories such as what happens to people in REM sleep.

Yet another possibility is pondered by neurologist Oliver Sacks in his book “Musicophilia” earworms might be a consequence of our being surrounded by music in our lives whether we want to be or not. There’s also the theory that songs themselves carry the seed of this disturbance to our force, and some are more prone to becoming earworms than others.

Nearly 98% of people have had songs stuck in their head, Dr, Kellaris of the University of Cincinnati reported at the recent meeting of the Society for Consumer Psychology. The 559 students -- at an average age of 23 -- had lots of trouble with the Chili's "Baby Back Ribs" Jingle and with the Baha Men song "Who Let the Dogs Out." But Kellaris found that most often, each person tends to be haunted by their own particular songs.

"Songs with lyrics are reported as most frequently stuck (74%), followed by commercial jingles (15%) and instrumental tunes without words (11%)," Kellaris writes in his study abstract. "On average, the episodes last over a few hours and occur 'frequently' or 'very frequently' among 61.5% of the sample."

98% of respondents that were questioned about earworms in a 2003 study said they had one or more at some time in their lives with a full 47% saying they suffered from earworms almost every day. This was conducted with over 1,000 respondents to the survey.

When I was a child I would be struck by it occasionally but it didn’t seem to bother me that much at the time. I know I had a bad habit of running around singing songs repeatedly that were stuck in my head until one or the other of my parents gave me that look that said I was mere inches away from becoming a statistic. One of the worst ones I tortured my parents with was Sherri Lewis’ “The Song That Doesn't End” There’s a link to this gem at the bottom of this article for you, if you’re strong enough to handle it. Be forewarned, it’s brutal and can very easily get stuck in your head. Another favorite that wore out its welcome with my parents when I was about four was “John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt.” Neither one is surprising and fits right into the normal range for earworms.

According to a paper by Sally Jo Cunningham (Dept. of Computer Science University of Waikato Hamilton, New Zealand):

A song is more likely to be an earworm if it has one or more of the following characteristics:

• The song is overly repetitive, either in tune, lyrics, or both (“crude lyrics, repeated over and over and over again in a mind-numbing manner”; “the repetitive lyrics over and over that creep inside your brain”).

• The tune or the lyrics lack complexity—the song is musically simplistic, or the lyrics are predictable and undemanding (“the tune never changes”; “no musical variety”). Children’s music is particularly susceptible to becoming earworms.

• The song contains incongruous or unexpected elements—for example, irregular beats, unpredicted melodic patterns, or unusual effects. ‘Who Let The Dogs Out’ is cited for its ‘woof, woof, woof’ chorus.

• The song does not resolve, or the resolution is not as predicted by the listener; for example, one respondent nominated “Anything by Phil Collins or Genesis” because their albums frequently include “Tunes that don't resolve properly, or when I expect.” The nominated song that provides the most extreme example of this property is “The Song That Doesn't End” (Shari Lewis and Lamb Chop).

A 2005 survey found 7.5 % of respondents were tortured by their least favorite song as an earworm, with a full third hated the song’s lyrics more than anything else. The most despised song was Billy Ray Cyrus’s “Achy Breaky Heart.”

I know for me, that oftentimes I will wake up with a song playing in my head and it doesn’t always have something to do with what I last remember dreaming about. Last night when I woke up with “TSFH” in my head it had nothing to do with the delicious dream I remember having.

What helps? Kellaris doesn't know. But he found that when people battle their earworms, nearly two-thirds of the time they try to use another tune to dislodge the one that's stuck. About half the time people simply try to distract themselves from hearing the stuck song. More than a third of the time people with songs stuck in their heads try talking with someone about it. And 14% of the time people try to complete the song in their heads in an effort to get it to end.

In Twain’s story, he was only able to release the devil in his ear by handing it off and infecting another person with it.

Oddly enough, I find Twain’s solution to be one of the best for me---to give the relentless words and music to someone else to suffer. I know it’s heartless--- but when you’ve been tortured by “Duh, duh, duh, duh, duh, duh, duh, duh, duh—I THINK I LOVE YOU” for days on end, you’ll do anything--- make any deal with the devil to take it back and make it go away…

Dr. Kellaris (Dr. Earworm)

Mark Twain’s Story “A Literary Nightmare”

"The Song That Doesn’t End" Shari Lewis and Lambchop

(Who would have guessed that Shari Lewis and Lambchop were actually psychological terrorists?)

Sally Jo Cunningham, J. Stephen Downie and David Bainbridge: “The Pain, The Pain and the Music That We Hate”

Cecil Adams

SOURCE: "Dissecting Earworms: Further Evidence on the 'Song-Stuck-in-Your Head' Phenomenon, James J. Kellaris, PhD, presentation to Society for Consumer Psychology, Feb. 22, 2003.

Well, that's it for today---let me know what you think...



Updated 08-07-2010 at 01:18 PM by gypsyangell

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  1. Admin-Syyd -
    Admin-Syyd's Avatar
    This is so fascinating.........I got to check out these links.....I think I love you would be deadly to have in my head.......

    For days, I've had a song by David Bowie stuck in my head, that he wrote about John Lennon, its not even on my Bowie repertoire of songs I loved and cherished, so I dont get it.
  2. netherworks -
    netherworks's Avatar
    I would VERY MUCH rather have "I think I love you" stuck in my head than "Who Let the Dogs Out"

    It's interesting to ponder. I do get songs stuck in my head, especially when I wake up. Though I often am working on a puzzle when I wake up (like some bit of code I'm trying to script or a problem to resolve with Poser or somesuch).

    What helps me is to completely change my surroundings, like get up from the office and go out side and tune into the sights and sounds of nature (as much as you can get from a backyard anyways).
  3. gypsyangell -
    gypsyangell's Avatar
    The absolute (He's Absolum!) worst one is "The Song That Doesn't End". I swear Lambchop and Shari Lewis are psychological terrorists. They had to know what kids were going to do to their parents with that song.

    Actually what cleared up my 'earworm' was reading and writing about it. An idle mind seems to be one of the big problems with it dragging on. But I have been known to pass it on to other people---I used to do it to my sister-in-law all the time. I'd tell her, "You know that song?" And I'd get her singing it, then tell her "Yeah, it's been running through my mind all day---it's yours now!" She got wise to it after a while, tho and wasn't any fun any more.
  4. netherworks -
    netherworks's Avatar
    Do you mean the "song that never ends, it goes on and on my friends..."? Or did I plant another earworm?

    Okay, every time I think of "earworm", I visualize "Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan". What a pop-culture we live in
  5. batronyx -
    batronyx's Avatar
    I'm scared to listen to "The Song That Doesn't End". Is it worse than that Barney song? "I love you, you love me, we're all one big family . . "
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