Sometimes you just get enough of budgets and taxes and politicians and uninformed people that all you want to do is kick back and listen to some music. So you crank up the music, however you listen to it nowadays, and let the music wash over you.
No matter how many songs you listen to, you know that one of them will stick in your head. It might be the last one you listen to simply because, well, it was the last you one heard. But more than likely, it will be a song that, for some reason, just sticks in your head and won’t go away.
And it’ll probably just be one part of the song because it has a particularly ingratiating hook or because it’s the only part you know.
They’re called “ear worms” and a professor at Durham University, who might have just a little too much time on her hands, studied the phenomenon of ear worms and decided what caused them and what songs are most likely to get stuck in your head.
The cause? There are three:
1. A faster tempo;
2. A simple melodic structure, like nursery rhymes which raise and fall in pitch;
3. An unusual interval structure in the song, like unexpected leaps or more repeated notes than the listener expects.
That all makes sense. It can be hard to get a slow-moving ballad stuck in your head and simple melodies are easy for your brain to process. And if the song is unusual, like something you haven’t heard before, your brain, starved for anything new, might grab hold of it.
This professor came up with nine songs (not 10?) that she believes are the most likely to get stuck in your brain. Let’s take a look and, if you’re old like me, you can see how many you’ve never even heard of.
1. “Bad Romance” by Lady Gaga — I do know this. I can just think about it and it starts playing in my head. This isn’t the last time we’ll hear from Ms. Gaga.
2. “Can’t Get You Out Of My Head” by Kylie Minogue — I’m not sure I’ve ever heard this song, but if it is indeed an ear worm, it’s very appropriately titled.
3. “Don’t Stop Believing” by Journey — A song that probably would have been lost to the mists of time if not for the series finale of “The Sopranos” giving it new life in 2007. Just think about the piano opening and soon your brain will be telling you the story of a small-town girl.
4. “Somebody That I Used To Know” by Gotye — A one-hit wonder that sounds like it escaped from the 1980s, the song is basically yelled by the singer, which should be another indicator of an ear worm.
5. “Moves Like Jagger” by Maroon 5 — I’m not sure I agree with this one. Like most of you, I’ve probably heard it more than I ever wanted, but I can’t get the tune going in my head.
6. “California Gurls” by Katy Perry — Is this the “bikini top and blue jean shorts” song? Is Katy Perry still famous?
7. “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen — Should have been number one in my opinion. The song is all over the place, changing styles and tempos every time you turn around.
8. “Alejandro” by Lady Gaga — She’s back! I can’t call this song to mind, but I’ll take the professor’s word it’s catchy.
9. “Poker Face” by Lady Gaga — And she closes out the list with her third song. I’ve always liked this song, but I’m not sure I’d call it an ear worm. If I can’t get the tune in my head just by thinking about it, I don’t think it’s an ear worm.
I’d guess a lot of it depends of your age and what was popular during your peak music listening years. Off the top of my head “Back in Black” by AC/DC, “Hotel California” by the Eagles, and “Comfortably Numb” by Pink Floyd are songs that get stuck in my head. I’m sure you have your own.
What do you do if you get a song stuck in your head and it starts to make you crazy? Well, you could:
1. Play it all the way through;
2. Listening to another tune like the national anthem to force it out of your mind;
3. Allow it to fade away on its own.
I’ve found number one works, number two never does and three will eventually work over time. If it’s a song you like, I guess you could just keep listening to it like a loop tape.