i have ear worms

September 15, 2005

in Me

Everybody gets songs stuck in their heads on occasion.  To most, this is an annoyance.  For me, it is major brain spam. I am so prone to this phenomena that I purposely avoid listening to most music, especially if it contains lyrics unless they are in a foreign language (although once after eating at an Indian restaurant I was possessed for days by a Bollywood instrumental).  These stuck soundtracks are known as “earworms”.

Research has found that people with compulsive tendencies and those with strong musical ability are the most susceptible to earworms. I am far from compulsive and have absolutely no musical talent.  Nor do I recall receiving any type of blow to the head during the era when many of my personal earworms first made their debut.  There was once a web site called “Maim That Tune” that picked a substitute earworm for you (this is like hitting yourself in the thumb with a hammer so you can forget about your backache). Nothing has worked for me so far to rid me of this affliction.

My earworms come in various degrees of intensity and levels of aggravation. Like any good scientist, I’ve categorized them:

Rapid Pygmy-Earworm (Earverma pygmaeus) — Brief earworms brought on by random thoughts or phrases, e.g., I’ll be thinking about going to the bank and end up with the song “I Want Money (That’s What I Want)” by the Beatles, going through my head for a little while. The most tolerable type.

Least Earworm (Earverma minimus) — This is a more typical earworm, the kind that afflicts many people. An obnoxious tune or jingle, often part of current pop culture, that replays for awhile. This would be something like “I’ll Be the One” by the Backstreet Boys, or “Borderline” by Madonna. Sometimes considered a subspecies of the Common Earworm (below), but my situation distiguishes it by the fact that a Lesser Earworm is, over the long term, temporary, whereas a Common Earworm is apparently semi-permanent.

Common Earworm (Earverma vulgaris) — A series of earworms that are well established, some for years, that when present typically last for hours or a couple of days.  Examples: “Paperback Writer” by the Beatles;  “I Want to Know What Love Is” by Foreigner; “Running on Empty” by Jackson Browne (always triggered by passing a cornfield); “Rebel Yell” by Billy Idol; David Bowie’s “Panic in Detroit” (surprisingly, not triggered by chaos in the town of my birth, from which I’m somewhat immune, but by any image of Che Guevara, which I see more than most people, having a house full of Cuban memorabilia); the tune and lyrics from an old One Hour Martinizing radio jingle; “Who’s Crying Now” by Journey; and “How Do You Mend a Broken Heart” by the Bee Gees.  Yes, it gets worse…

Greater Earworm (Earverma horribilis) — Major earworms that have plagued me for years.  These will get stuck in my head, playing continuously for hours, stopping for a bit, and starting up again over a period of 5 to 10 days.  They include disparate and truly annoying tunes that I never even liked in the first place, some of which are embarrassing to actually confess to, such as: “I Knew You Were Waiting” by George Michael and Aretha Franklin (!!!); “I Can’t Make You Love Me” by Bonnie Raitt; an old Enjoli perfume commercial; “Shake You Down” by Gregory Abbott (oh, the misery); and “I’m So Excited” by the Pointer Sisters.

It’s clear from this list that I don’t need to hear these songs to start a new round of torment (they don’t even play “Shake You Down” in elevators). No, these worms are festering inside me, waiting to periodically afflict me, like a long-running malarial infection.  Poet Robert Browning once said, “Who hears music feels his solitude peopled at once.”  I just wish the Pointer Sisters would leave me the hell alone.

UPDATE: I woke up this morning (16 Sep) with a Bay City Rollers song looping in my head.  This is a new and alarming development, and I’m having flashbacks of the little tartan jacket I made in sewing class in 1975.

Mark O'Brien September 15, 2005 at 9:06 am

Damn funny post. You didn't mention Disney tunes…. Sometimes I get Beethoven's 9th Symphony stuck in my head. Better that than Pachelbel's Canon (If Billy Idol sang it for a camera company ikt would be a Canon Rebel Yell). I am so bad.

Clare September 15, 2005 at 9:37 am

Nuthatch this is too funny. I've now a diagnosis for what has been causing this problem forever. Lately many of my earworms seem to revolve around tunes from kid's shows – "Pepporoni and Zuchinni and a lots of Motzerella" repeated ad nauseum. We often purposely try to infect each other at the job site with whatever would be the most annoying tune we can think of.

Damn, now I can't get the pepporoni song out of my head!

TroutGrrrl September 15, 2005 at 3:53 pm

Very funny post Nuthatch! It'd be even funnier if I thought it was completely fictitious. It must be risky even to write about this. Does simply typing the song title set the worms spinning in your head?

Have you tried a topical ivermectin? Maybe thiabendazole?

Nuthatch September 15, 2005 at 5:47 pm

Sadly, all true. I have tried deep nasal lavage and ear candling, but they're still with me.

fred1st September 15, 2005 at 7:40 pm

Great post–except that now you have my own personal earworms screaming in resonance with your own. THe Singing Nuns. The Chipmunks Christmas song. Purple People Eaters. And you know how persistant these must be to have survived so long!

Trix September 15, 2005 at 9:50 pm

Hah!! "I'm So Excited" is second only to that song that never died, that began "Everybody Dance Now"! I don't even know who did it, but when I started hearing it at hockey games, I thought I was going to lose my mind. I have not danced since, evil bastards.
BTW, 'Cloud Atlas' was truly amazing in, as you say, an unimaginable way. Every word seemed to demand my attention…

Aydin September 16, 2005 at 10:02 am

Actually, I don't mind getting earworms. In fact, occasionally I may think of the name of a song, but not the melody & then try very hard to remember the melody. The only ones that bother me are the ones for the tunes that I don't know the names of. Sometimes I go hum them to my wife: "What song is this? Da, da, da, dum…"

There is one that has been bothering me for years: one of the songs the musicians play in Peter Sellers' The Party. If I ever figure out its name, I'll go look for it in the music store.

Clare September 16, 2005 at 4:19 pm

S – A – T – U – R – D – A – Y. Right?

Nuthatch September 16, 2005 at 4:32 pm

No! "I Only Want to be with You." Where did THAT come from??

tony g September 16, 2005 at 10:21 pm


i barely started to read and had to plug my ears.

mine is 8-6-7-5-3-0-nieeieene


Cindy M. September 19, 2005 at 8:31 pm

Oh gawd, now I've got the 'enjoli' ear worm, what to do nuthatch?
'I can bring home the bacon.. fry it up in a pan..'
Make it stop, make it stop!

Kris September 22, 2005 at 6:42 am

hahaha!! You know, since satellite radio and the 60s channel, things have gotten dire for me. For two solid weeks I had "The Son of Hickory Hollow's Tramp" stuck in my brain. The horror! The horror! And if that weren't bad enough, I started to analyze it. I'm thinking, how could a woman raise 14 kids on the wages of a rural prostitute? Not likely! And so on and so forth. Then there was the week and a half of intolerable Petula Clark tunes. AUUGGHH!

My nephew says the only thing that works for him is to think of the Beatles' "Yellow Submarine," but then, of course, you have to cope with that song …

Aaron September 24, 2005 at 8:51 pm

Having had this affliction my entire life I can definitely relate. One particularly virulent case of Beetle larvae infestation, which occurred in my youth while I was exploring the wadis of northern Israel, springs to mind.

While walking I began singing "Nowhere Man" to which my fellow hikers unfortunately took to be personally descriptive, hence I was dubbed Nowhere Man.

Later I managed to alter my internal audio track garnering me a new somewhat more flattering moniker, Missouri Jones, a take on the famous character from Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indiana Jones, after I began humming the John Williams theme continuously as I climbed.


Actually this tends to be quite motivational for climbing. I think the trick is to learn to turn this affliction to your advantage whenever possible. Don't run from the musical worm's, embrace them.

Rurality September 29, 2005 at 9:01 pm

I don't know how I missed this one the first time around! Too funny.

(I actually saw the Bay City Rollers in concert once!)

Jeff Appel August 26, 2007 at 7:04 am

I`ve always had a slight earworm infection with all the classic symtoms but 6 weeks ago it got worse with "My Heart Will Go On" or whatever. Curious how I downloaded "Pink Panther" and later found it was universally wormy. I found a great eraser tune-it doesnt WORK of course, but its soothing… "Claire De Lune"

amb October 8, 2007 at 4:16 am

I can't believe it, I had the son of Hickory Hollows Tramp stuck in my head, and my friends had to put up with me singing it after drunken sessions in Tenerife!! I wake up in the mornings with it running through my head – am trying to replace with Yellow Submarine to see if it works….

Gina M. January 7, 2008 at 9:01 am

I just want to thank you – I was pretty sure I was losing my mind. For the past 2 days it's been "Rambling Wreck from Georgia Tech" – no idea why, except I think I remember my father singing it (he went to GWU)??

Gina M. January 7, 2008 at 9:02 am

I just want to thank you – I was pretty sure I was losing my mind. For the past 2 days it's been "Rambling Wreck from Georgia Tech" – no idea why, except I think I remember my father singing it (he went to GWU)??

Pete Scholtens September 13, 2008 at 1:39 pm

For some reason I find singing Triumph's Spellbound helps me get rid of earworms.

Linda September 24, 2009 at 11:44 am

My problems are only when I try to sleep. I keep singing one or two lines of a song I don't even like…or barely know. Over and over, hour after hour. I can wake up singing a line or two over and over!! Once I'm active, it seems to go away…til the next night.

Is this normal?? Is something wrong with me?

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