Click here to see the ending of the Night Gallery episode about the earwig. It’s a little gross.

I think I read somewhere that if you have an earworm—a song that will not get out of your head—it’s a sign of something. High copper buildup in your tissues. Psychosis. Something. Maybe you remember from Carl Hiaasen’s SKINNY DIP how the Captain, the crazed ex-governor-of-Florida swamp man, suffered earworms performed by weirdly disparate musicans, for example: “Midnight Rambler”—Eydie Gorme and Cat Stevens. (Terrific book.)

But what does it mean if you have an earworm all the time? Every day? I’m thinking of having a brain scan. This is my lifetime affliction, along with thick ankles and a taste for Pop Tarts.

When I was younger the earworm was always something loathsome that was top-of-the-pops, like “Afternoon Delight” or “Muskrat Love.” Sometimes it was a great song that became loathsome through DJ abuse.

These days, though, my earworms can be bearable songs. It’s just that they get old. As the Captain says, “frankly I’m ready to shove a saw-off down my throat. One blessed hour of silence … would be welcome.”

It really doesn’t qualify as an earworm unless you find yourself humming along with the track in your sleep. Or, if it comes on the radio in the car, you fail to scream loudly and change the station, but instead sit there, experiencing a not-entirely-unpleasant sinking sensation, saying to yourself as the familiar sounds paralyze your fight-or-flight response, “Well, it really is a good song,” and then bursting loudly into the chorus, hating yourself, yet feeling weirdly complete, like a brainwash victim actually feeling rewarded for being unable to run away.

Let’s see…contributing to the cycle of torment as best I can remember it…

Specific Beatles songs: “Blackbird,” “I Will,” “Yesterday,” “Hey Jude,” “When I’m Sixty-Four,” “In My Life,” “Ob-La-Di,” “Here Comes the Sun” and “Norwegian Wood,” which last I don’t even like. And yet, stuck in the brain. I think because it’s in ¾ time. I rather love waltzes in rock music; the whole idea is headtwisty.

Which reminds me of whole-album earworms I have wished on myself by playing the CD in the car too much, such as LYLE LOVETT’s debut album, specially ¾-time “Waltzing Fool,” Lovett again, ROAD TO ENSENADA, The Chicks, FLY, They Might Be Giants, FLOOD and everything else before they chose to get loud, and Sheryl Crowe, TUESDAY NIGHT MUSIC CLUB, ditto.

But there are earworms I don’t feel I deserved:

Katy Perry, “Dark Horse” –this week’s head-to-wall-banger
Fleet Foxes, “White Winter Hymnal”
Sam Smith, “Not the Only One” interchangeably with “Stay With Me”

(Those two Sam Smith songs had the distinction of driving the latest girl singer ballad out of my skull, which I think I would still like if I could just remember it, since Smith’s syrupy ballads bumped hers off the air before I had time to learn to hate it.)

Creedence, “Down on the Corner,” “Have You Ever Seen The Rain,” “Heard it Through the Grapevine”
Norah Jones, “Don’t Know Why I Didn’t Call”
Sufjan Stevens, “Chicago”
Van Morrison, “Brown Eyed Girl”
Daft Punk, “Get Lucky”
John Legend, “All of Me”
Death Cab For Cutie, “I Will Follow You Into The Dark”
and the all-time winner, outstripping even “Muskrat Love”
Jimmy Buffet, “Margaritaville” wins the shoot-me-now award

Earworms “Walking on Sunshine” and “It’s Raining Men” I earned fair and square because they are also the titles of two of my upcoming books. I’m considering naming my next book Beethoven’s Nine Symphonies just so I can have a choice of several hours’ worth of earworms, instead of something that replays every two and a half minutes, 24/7. Yes, even in my sleep. That sawed-off is looking awfully good right now.

You may thank me sincerely in the comments below for not embedding YouTube links in every one of those song titles.

Or … name your latest earworm.



Earworm — 8 Comments

  1. Thank you for no YouTube videos!

    Re: Katy Perry and that song — one time I think I counted the number of mismatched similes/cliches in that song, and I think I remember there being four or five of them in one line. Not one of her better songs — although all of them seem to have tired cliches and similes borrowed from all over.

  2. What you need is to branch out into other musical universes. Since we are (somewhere at the back of reality and space/time) somehow the same person, I feel sure you would enjoy Sondheim. SWEENEY TODD is a fine earworm to have; you can stride along sidewalks singing “I will have vengeance!” and people get out of your way.

    • And then there’s Disney. Recently had Bibbity-Bobbity-Boo running through my head because I’m working up a character who sings it as she has her first magical act moment. Lasted for days, even after I wrote up a bunch of notes and character sketches. Even after I found it on YouTube and posted it on FB with a tag to my agent.

      Even after I printed out the lyrics and sang them until my throat was dry. Then I went Line Dancing and now it’s “The Tide is High.”

    • But it’s such a nice cha cha cha. We do the same dance to “Little Deuce Coup,” and then really ramp it up to “Mama Mia.” But “The Tide is High” is what sticks. And I have done “It’s a Small World.” A friend filked it to “It’s a Con World.” I used it in a short story. Published in “First Contact Cafe,” anthology. Now available.

  3. Just for that…”It’s a Small World After All.”

    Trust me–do NOT take the Disney ride at any of the parks. Just don’t. The cute dolls are not worth this song. Phil Foglio used it as torture in a graphic novel.


  4. Some years ago, Simon and Garfunkle’s depressing song “My Little Town” would not leave my head. It was the only earworm occupying it for what seemed like a life time. Every time I thought I’d got rid of it, my husband would put on the album. I was seriously considering buying a gun. To this day, I do not dare hear that song

    These days, it’s mostly songs I hear in the car that just stick and won’t go away. I read an article that said they stick because we didn’t get to hear the ending and the solution is to sing a complete song. Since I can’t sing and never know the words anyway, I sing Happy Birthday, over and over. There’s one song guaranteed never to stick anywhere.

  5. Cackling at the responses!

    Brenda, you and every other fan of new musicals will hate me for this, but I think all musicals written after JC Superstar are completely unmemorable, songwise. I walk out whistling the scenery. What is memorable for five seconds is the “motif” for this or that character or theme. And that ain’t hummable. Just … no.

    Phyl, for “The Tide is High” YOU MUST DIE! Expect letter bomb. One of those greeting cards that you open and it plays something cruel, brutally unforgettable…hm…let’s see…what do you deserve?

    Tom Jones’s “What’s New, Pussycat?” Bwo-a-o-a-oo-oo!