Earworms · Music

Three recent Earworms, and why there might not be many more

Two years ago I wrote regularly about Earworms, beginning with this piece, prompted by the Queen song “Keep yourself alive”. There were enough pieces to justify creating a Category for them, but it hasn’t been used since last May. Even in 2016 some of these posts recorded the fact that there were no Earworms stuck in my head in a given month.

Over the last few months a trio of songs has been stuck in my head from time to time and the nature of them has led me to reflect on what they have in common, and why Earworms crop up much less frequently now than two years ago. The three songs (and each of these titles is linked to a performance on YouTube) are:

What they have in common, for me, is that I have never owned any of them, and never had easy access to recordings of them. My age, and my old-fashioned listening habits, mean that I have spent most of my life playing music on physical media (discs and tapes). If I want to hear something my instinct is always to dig out the CD, tape or piece of vinyl that contains a recording and play it back. I realize how dated this is, but it’s how most people of my age listened to music for decades.

These days I have near-constant access to the web and regularly use Spotify, YouTube and Amazon Prime Music to listen to songs, but streaming has only been available for a small portion of my life. My instinct is still to go searching for the disc or tape that I want. The only time that web-based listening is not an option is in the car, a family vehicle that is just about to celebrate its 10th birthday. It has a simple radio / CD player. A previous vehicle (a 1993 Peugeot 306, inherited from my mother) had an Audio In socket (3mm, or 1/8”), so I could play music from other sources including Mini Disc. Our current car (15 years younger) does not. There is no way to plug in a phone, MP3 player or USB stick to have access to a bigger library of songs. There is no Wi-Fi. The CD player only plays regular, finalized discs. It won’t take CD-ROMs or recognize MP3s. We therefore listen to a selection of CDs, and the radio.

Earworms are often implanted by hearing them on the radio. That’s why “Rose Garden” came to mind, having heard it on a Spanish station last August, and again at least twice on BBC Radio 2 during the autumn. I remember when the song was in the charts, in 1971, and have always liked the combination of words and melody, especially in the lines “Smile for a while and let’s be jolly/ Love shouldn’t be so melancholy / Come along and share the good times while we can”. It sounds better than it reads.

The Lee Garrett song “You’re my everything” reached #15 in the UK in 1976 and rarely gets played on the radio. It’s a great song. I remember it from the time, and also from the “Top of the Pops” repeats on BBC4 in 2011. The version linked to above is from one of those shows and contains live vocals and some ad libbing, neither of which happened often on “Top of the Pops” in the 1970s. I watched that clip many times in 2011 (it was recorded on the hard drive of a multi-channel box, one of many that no longer works), but didn’t realize until recently that Garrett was blind. He also co-wrote a number of songs with Stevie Wonder, including “Let’s Get Serious” for Jermaine Jackson.

My childhood was enhanced by having many recordings by Elvis Presley in all available media: 78s, 7” singles, LPs and re-recorded cassettes. I still have them all, and also have CDs, DVDs, video tapes and songs as MP3s and on Mini Disc. “You gave me a mountain” is an Elvis recording that we didn’t have in any medium, although in the early 1990s I did have it for a while on cassette, recorded from a Randall Lee Rose Elvis Hour on Capital Gold. That’s when it first became an Earworm for me. It’s a tale of woe, and begins: “Born in the heat of the desert / My mother died giving me life / Deprived of the love of a father / Blamed for the loss of his wife.” There’s a rousing chorus, but no happy ending.

Late last year I created a Private Post on these pages to link to these three recordings, and the ability to listen to them almost anywhere (apart from when driving) has tamed them as Earworms. Anyone with an internet connection (and that means you, reading these words on a screen) can now hear virtually any song anytime. Earworms may well become a thing of the past. We were afflicted by them when a tune was lodged in our brains and we couldn’t play it on demand. A traditional “cure” was to replace it with something else, like Kylie Minogue’s “Can’t get you out of my head” or “The Birdie Song” by the Tweets. Sometimes the “cure” was even harder to dislodge than the original tune. Another way to shift an Earworm is simply to play a recording of it. It might take a few goes, but once you’ve heard a tune through your ears it is much less likely to remain stuck in your head. That’s been my experience anyway. As long as we have access to the internet I don’t expect Earworms to affect me in the future as much as they have in the past. That’s probably a good thing.



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