What Earworms Have Been Stuck in Your Head Lately?

And please, for the love of all things holy, tell me how you make them stop.
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July 31, 2015
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You know how in some action or scary movies, they'll use a cheerful or serene song as an ironic backdrop for a violent or otherwise unpleasant scene? Like in the greatest imaginary-surgery film of all time, Face/Off, when there's a big slow-motion shootout set to the tune of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow."

It's called soundtrack dissonance, and I felt like I was living my own version of it the other night. For the life of me, I could not fall asleep, and I was tossing and turning above the blanket because it was so hot; it was miserable. Both the mental soundtrack and much of the reason for this sleepless frustration: a song I couldn't get out of my head.

I haven't heard that damn theme song since some Saturday morning decades ago, and yet, it doot-doot-doo-doo-doo-doo'd its way into my head at the most annoying possible time.

You've probably experienced a song getting stuck in your head hundreds of times, and you've probably heard the phenomenon referred to as an earworm. It's the literal translation of the German word Ohrwurm—of course it's a German word, those compound lovers—and I've been inordinately susceptible to them lately.

Science gently whispers that I'm an ideal earworm target. Although a 2003 study by University of Cincinnati professor James Kellaris (who calls himself Dr. Earworm, unfortunately) found that men and women experience earworms with equal frequency, people who are musically inclined and prone to worrying are especially vulnerable to them. The study also found that they more acutely irritate and last longer in women.

I can't find any research, however, on why I've seemed to experience a new one every day this month. In additional to the Chipmunks theme, I've been pestered by Gerry Rafferty's "Right Down the Line," People in Planes' "If You Talk Too Much My Head Will Explode," the Ben Folds/Regina Spektor duet "You Don't Know Me" (probably because it's in that damn Nationwide commercial), and a couple dozen others; not to mention that I've had two default earworms stuck in my head on a regular basis for decades: "Love in an Elevator" by Aerosmith, and the theme from Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf. (Clearly very similar songs.)

Yeah, I don't know.

It's aggravating me enough that I've been looking up ways to deworm my ear, so to speak. A University of Reading study published just a couple months ago showed that chewing gum "vigorously" (I'm trying to picture that, and it isn't pretty) makes it less likely for songs to get stuck in your head.

Before I buy the entire checkout-lane box of Extra the way my dad used to when he quit smoking, I decided to ask other xoJaners what earworms they've been contending with lately and long-term. You know—solidarity.

Claire

"The BoJack Horseman ending credits and 'Caledonia Mission' by The Band have been alternating in my head for about a week."

s.e.

"Billie Holiday's 'Strange Fruit'; Maria Callas performing 'Vissi d'art,' because hot damn could that lady sing; Beethoven's 9th, particularly the second movement. Also, these two will not stop playing in my head right now:

"Yes, I have both pretentious and eclectic tastes."

Hannah

"There are a lot of Songza playlists we rotate at work, so I'm always getting dumb songs from those stuck in my head, but I rarely ever look at who sings them. There is one song that is absolutely horrible that goes, 'when a man loves a woman and a woman don't love him back/it's like tryin' to play it cool when you're havin' a heart attack.' It sucks so much and I will probably have it in my head now that I typed that. Damn it."

Marianne

"'Red Right Hand'" by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds."

Lesley

"DAMN YOU MARIANNE KIRBY. Marina & the Diamonds' 'Are You Satisfied?' and The Replacements' 'Talent Show.' And now 'Red Right Hand,' I guess."

Tynan

"'MINE' BY TAYLOR SWIFT"

Rachel

"I have had the hook from 'I Don't Fuck With You' stuck in my head for, like, six months if that's any indication of how the past six months of my life have been."

Louise

"'My Little Buttercup' from ¡Three Amigos! ALL THE TIME. 'Can't Fight This Feeling' by REO Speedwagon is another regular on the playlist in my head. Also, 'The Pinball Song' by a band called Slobberbone."

Ah, shit, that reminds me that the Pointer Sisters' Sesame Street pinball counting song regularly haunts me!

Your turn! Got any songs stuck in your head right now? Do you have lifelong earworms like I do? Any tricks for shaking them?