Stuck Song Syndrome (a.k.a., Ear-Worms)

I (used to) have an interesting alarm clock — my computer. I found this software called Citrus Alarm Clock that allows the user to set as many alarms as she likes for whatever days of the week she likes, and it can be set to play practically any sound files.

So I set mine to wake me up at pretty much the same time every day using a playlist of MP3s. I picked a couple of hundred of the more upbeat songs I needed to get me out of bed in the mornings. On fade-in, of course. I don’t like being startled out of bed — those days went out when I left home for college.

The only drawback is that I tend to get the song that plays closest to the time I turn the alarm off stuck in my head. Firmly. I’ve been known to walk around humming songs like “The Title of the Song” (by Da Vinci’s Notebook) or “My Love Is Chemical” (by Lou Reed) or “She Moved Through the Fair” (traditional; by many artists) all freakin’ day because it was the song playing not when I woke up, but when I shut off the alarm.

But that’s not the worst of it. The worst of it is how suggestible I am.

I could be online having a conversation and someone will say something innocuous like, “it’s all in the wrist,” talking about making a pool shot or playing baseball or whatever. But in my head, the rhythm of the words “it’s all in the wrist” gets put instantly to music:

Many a tear has to fall
But it’s all in the game…

Yes, the moldy oldie. I can’t help it. Sometimes it’s the rhythm of the words, and sometimes, it’s the pattern of the words. Like, just now, when I was typing the phrase “rhythm of the words,” this song just popped into my head:

Listen to the rhythm of the falling rain
Telling me just what a fool I’ve been
I wish that it would let me go and cry in vain
And let me be alone again.

And then, while I was typing the word ‘rhythm’ for about the umpteenth time, that Gloria Estefan song popped into my head:

Come on, shake your body, baby
Do the conga
I know you can’t control yourself
Any longer
Feel the rhythm of the music
Getting stronger
Don’t you fight ’til you’ve tried it
Do that conga beat!

I can go for hours like this. Random words and the way they’re placed in everyday conversations will strike some pattern buffer in the depths of my brain and wham! instant stuck song. I might segué from “Conga” to “Beat It,” then to “Eat It,” then to “Like a Surgeon,” then “Take a Bow” . . . you see how it goes. Free association.

Even worse than that, if you can believe it, is when I’ll have a song in my head and maybe I’ll be singing it in the shower, and, suddenly, there’s another song there. And I’m singing it instead. How did that happen? They probably had a phrase (musical phrase or a phrase from the lyrics) that was very close or similar. Similar enough that the overly active pattern matching algorithms in my brain spliced them together neatly. It might be that the chord progression is similar or identical. It might be that the drum part is close or at least partially overlapping.

I can never predict it. I can only learn to live with it day by day.

There are also what I like to think of as ‘song obsessions.’ That’s when a song will hit me one day and I’ll think, “I love that! I must own every version I can find!” And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how I have many different recordings each of “Danny Boy,” Schubert’s “Ave Maria,” “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” “She Moved Through The Fair,” and others.

Or maybe I’ll listen to one song over and over and over. Madonna’s “Material Girl,” and her “Take a Bow,” Alan Parsons’ “Gemini,” Boyzone’s version of “She Moved Through the Fair,” Andrea Bocelli singing Shubert’s “Ave Maria,” DaVinci’s Notebook’s incredibly funny “The Title of the Song,” and even Stephen Lynch’s “Lullaby.” The worst had to be Josh Groban’s “Gira Con Me” which is entirely in Italian, but which so obsessed me that I learned the lyrics so I could sing along:

E girera e girera
Il cuore mio assieme a te
E girera il la terra
Girera la mia vita
E un giorno lui si si caprira

(That’s the chorus, and it means, roughly, “And it will wander, and it will wander / This heart of mine, along with you, / And the earth will wander / My life will wander, and yes, yes, one day, it will understand.”)

Yes, it’s a beautiful song, and I think everyone should rush out right now and buy the album, but does a sane person learn Italian lyrics?

Sometimes, I think I might be borderline OCD. Like, maybe this → ← close. :)

And yes, dammit, I now have “Borderline” in my head. It started the second I typed the word ‘borderline’ above. Complete with cheesy 80’s-Madonna intro.

But here’s the worst part of having Stuck Song Syndrome to the frightening degree that I do: songs I loathe get stuck in there, too. One day, I couldn’t get “Way Down Yonder on the Chattahoochie” out of my head. Could. Not. Get. It. Out. I tried even the most evil, the most harsh of cures: voluntarily exposing myself to “It’s a Small, Small World” and “The Song that Never Ends.” Nothing. Nada. No effect. These two songs have to be the most insidiously evil song-memes ever created, and yet they had no effect on the creeping evil, genius song-meme that is Alan Jackson’s song. (Those two songs are the medical equivalent of infecting a patient with leukemia to get rid of the low white blood cell count, or perhaps pouring pure liquid oxygen on a fire to make it burn a little hotter.) I don’t remember what finally supplanted it, only that it was in there for about two days, over and over:

Way down yonder on the Chattahoochie
It gets hotter than a hoochie-coochie

What the hell is a ‘hoochie-coochie’ and how would I know when it’s as hot as one? I just don’t know, nor do I care.

My most recent stuck song (as I type this on January 1, 2003) is the song “Land of a Million Drums” by Outkast. It’s on the soundtrack of the movie Scooby Doo. I simply cannot get it out of my head. Yet, at the same time, another, very different (polar opposite?) song is in my head: Gollum’s Song from the soundtrack of The Two Towers. It’s hauntingly beautiful in a sad, tragic, minor-key way, and the singer (Emiliana Torrini) reminds me strongly of Bjork, whom I also somewhat like. And because the second song is slightly similar to one of the pieces from the soundtrack of Gladiator, that one surfaces every once in a while.

I need help. :)

All that being said, if you found this amusing, you might find it amusing to follow this link to several posts I made over time on LiveJournal about various stuck songs. I try to make them funny / entertaining, at least.

And this is in no way at all an evil attempt to inflict a stuck song on you, dear reader. Really.


This was, as stated in the text, written on January 1, 2003. I edited it only slightly to indicate that time has passed and to improve the style of the writing.

Note that all song lyrics are quoted absolutely without any permission whatsoever, but I believe my usage falls under Fair Use.

Oh, and the image? It’s a corn ear worm! Get it? It’s an ear . . . worm? No? <sigh>

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