I often suffer from ear-worms - those unshakable partial stuck-tunes that swirl around and around in your head turning a song you may once have enjoyed into a form of mental torture. For the record, and before you read further and I infect you, I do know a fairly reliable antidote: sing "Oh Canada" or "Happy Birthday" all the way through. These songs are familiar and automatic enough to replace the stuck tune, but not catchy enough to get stuck themselves.
This insight into ear worms started yesterday, as I yet again argued with Alanis Morissette that it was not, in fact, at all ironic when it rains on someone's wedding day. Arguing, and a superior definition of "irony," of course, did nothing to stop the 4 known phrases of that song from continuing to replay ad nauseum. Which got me thinking.
I am prone to ear-worms because I love music. I often think in music, and my mom and I both have a tendency to burst in to song if you say certain opening phrases to us. For example, if you start a sentence with "up on a hill" you are likely to get "was a lonely goat herd" sung at you before you can finish your sentence. Music is fun. It's enlivening. It's a keen mood booster (except when it's not - it's also great for wallowing a la Whitney Houston's "Didn't We Almost Have it All"). I love music. But I like to move from song to song, and to have them leave when the party is over.
And so, as 1995 Alanis was so tenaciously abusing a literary term last night, I wondered - if ear-worms are a form of torture, which circle of hell would different songs inhabit? Clearly "Isn't it Ironic" is the absolute worst, but what other songs are catchy enough to get stuck in a loop and drive one to the verge of insanity?
Here, for your judging ease, is my matrix of ear worm assessment:
Tenacity = a song's stickiness. If it has a catchy hook, simple rhymes, obvious melody or harmony, it will score high in tenacity.
Inanity = a song's lyrical IQ. A really stupid song is a really annoying song. If a song has a great message/story, it's probably less annoying to have it stuck in your head. Maybe it makes you think or feel. However, a song like, say, "Wake me up before you go-go" (although I LOVE WHAM! I ALWAYS HAVE AND I ALWAYS WILL. I WILL NOT APOLOGIZE!) is just silly and fluffy and full of nonsense that for some reason my brain clings to.
Repetition = "Tub Thumping" - need I say more? Because repetition is one way our brains build memories, repetitive songs have an increased likelihood of being remembered and of becoming ear worms. Repetition could also apply to how often a song is heard - say a jingle in a radio ad or a TV theme song. Whatever the source of the repetition, it makes ear worms both more likely and more annoying (see also inanity)
To play on Dante's circles of hell I had planned to list the 9 most egregious songs in order, but really it changes from day to day and from ear worm to ear worm. And because it's the Christmas season there would be some seasonal influences on the list as well that might not be there in June (does anyone actually like "Deck the Halls" or "The 12 Days of Christmas" or "The Little Drummer Boy"? Talk about inane and repetitive!). So I'll settle for the example I've already given, and be grateful that Miss Morissette has since moved on.
Now isn't that nice.