Can’t get you out of my head - songs that become earworms

Kylie Minogue songs are common earworms
Kylie Minogue songs are common earworms

I have a bad case of SSS (Spontaneous Singing Syndrome) I frequently burst forth into song, which my family find incredibly irritating, made worse by the fact that I couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket!

If my son is speaking to me, I tend to pick up on a word he says and start singing a song with the word in it. For instance, he remarked he hoped it wouldn’t rain as he wanted to go out on his bike.

My reply was to break into the lyrics, ‘Why Does It Always Rain on Me? by Travis’.

‘‘Mum stop singing everything, it’s so annoying!’’ he sighed rolling his eyes, but I couldn’t help myself and started crooning; ‘‘Stop right there thank you very much,’’ by The Spice Girls, which peeved him more.

‘‘You seriously need help!’’ he murmured and schlepped off to find a mum-free zone, as I accompanied his exit with a short burst of; ‘‘Help, I need somebody!’’ by The Beatles.

As if it wasn’t bad enough suffering from Spontaneous Singing Syndrome, I now have an earworm as well! The Oxford Dictionary describes an “earworm” as; “a catchy tune which persistently stays in a person’s mind, especially to the point of irritation.”

My earworm isn’t a song, it’s a tune and I’ve started to annoy myself with the frequency with which I’m humming it.

It’s the theme tune from a 1977 children’s series called The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe. I have no idea where I heard this recently, but it’s gotten into my brain and stuck there.

It’s been roughly three weeks now since my earworm torment began. It’s quite a boring theme but somehow I find it comforting to hum, perhaps because it brings me back to my childhood days, when I watched the programme. My mum would bring me in hot buttered toast and sweet tea as I viewed, it felt like a lovely treat.

Robinson Crusoe was in fact an awful TV series and I didn’t like it much, but back then children weren’t exactly spoilt for choice regarding TV programmes.

I even found myself watching the test card occasionally, wondering if the girl with the long hair would ever finish her game of noughts and crosses. Programme-wise we had little to choose from in the 70s.

We lived on televisual classics like Crackerjack, Blue Peter, Casey Jones, Vision On and The Flashing Blade, most of which had catchy theme tunes. It’s amazing how melodies can stay with you. I can still sing the theme tunes word for word from Casey Jones and The Flashing Blade, yet frequently I can’t remember what I had for breakfast!

According to research, 90 percent of us experience earworms on a regular basis and scientists have recently begun to investigate this phenomenon.

Studies revealed there are three key features that make certain tunes stick in our minds.

The first is leaps in the tune or repetition, next, they are songs with common musical patterns which have similar melodies to other songs and nursery rhymes, making them easily remembered, and finally, they tend to have a fast tempo.

Anyone who enjoys watching the re-runs of the TV detective series; Columbo, will notice that in almost every episode a piece of music appears.

Sometimes it’s in the background but mostly Columbo will be singing or humming it to himself.

The tune is the children’s song ‘Knick-knack paddy whack, give the dog a bone.’ When asked why this song was ever-present in the long running series, the wife of the late actor Peter Falk who played the detective, said it was a tune that Falk would always find himself humming.

He could never seem to shake off this particular melody, and so he made it a recurring earworm for the character Columbo too.

Researchers collected the most common earworm tunes from 3,000 people quizzed on an online survey and found that Lady Gaga’s, “Bad Romance,” topped the charts. It’s repetitive “rah rah ah-ah-ah’ refrain seemed to embed itself in people’s brains. Kylie Minogue’s, ‘I Just Can’t Get You Out of my Head’ was unsurprisingly the runner up. In third place the most irritating earworm was, ‘Don’t Stop Believin’ by Journey.

Suggested ways to get rid of an earworm include listening to a different song with the top ‘cure’ being “God Save the Queen,” I wonder if that’s Her Majesty’s earworm?