This has nothing to do with worms and less to do with ears than you might expect. What they are is the snatches of music that keep buzzing around inside your head, sometimes for hours at a time. It is a well known phenomenon that most people suffer from at some time and it is well known that advertisers exploit it in the little musical logos that they push repeatedly. Short little snatches that you immediately associate with the product like Intel or McDonalds. But to be a true earworm they have to keep coming back to you involuntarily and, fortunately, I don’t get that problem, possibly because I hear very little advertising—TV or radio.

My earworms, and I get a lot, are longer pieces of music, even whole songs and they are most irritating when I can’t remember the words. The current one in my head is a pop song by Mika and I don’t know the title (until I had to look it up—”Love Today”) or even the words; just the tune and the feel of it. They are tunes that we would call “catchy” but that may be a circular definition—catchy because they stick in your brain and vice versa.

According to the Guardian, the No. 1 on the earworm charts is Kylie Minogue, “Can’t Get You Out of My Head” (were they serious?) but not one I have ever had because it is not a song I know well enough. Part of my problem is I have a very wide musical taste that spans 50 or more years of pop music and a not insignificant amount classical and jazz. What will tomorrows earworm be—I can’t predict that. It could be triggered by something I hear, not necessarily the tune itself but something that brings it to mind. It could be a tune I have heard recently or not (knowingly) for 20 years. I know some things that bring one on instantly. Determinedly walking any distance instantly brings on “Onward Christian Soldiers” because that is the pace that I march at. Is there a cure; for me putting on some more music usually clears it temporarily and, when it comes back it will usually be a different song. Not that I want to give the impression that they are a problem. The only time I am irritated by them is when I can’t remember the rest of the tune or the words. I got stuck on Paul Simon’s “Me And Julio Down By The Schoolyard” yesterday because I caught a snatch on Radio Bristol.

There is a research project at Goldsmiths College into finding more about them. I discovered this from Quentin Cooper’s Material World program on Radio 4—now he is a person with chronic earworms as you can tell by his feature links. Anyway, they are doing a survey; do fill it in and help them.

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