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Severe trauma caused by an earworm. Has this happened to you?

I love reading about studies into people’s relationship with music. There was a fascinating story this week about how quickly we are able to recognise songs. The website reports that the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester ‘created a website called Hooked On Music where users were able to play a number of games to determine how well and how quickly they recognized a song. The results of those games have been distilled down into what they are calling The 20 Catchiest Songs of All Time.’

Guess what song came out on top? This one:

It was reported that: ‘The Spice Girls' Wannabe was the song that was recognized the quickest out of over 1,000 samples used on the site dating from the19 40's to today. While people took five seconds, on average, to recognize a song, the Spice Girls' earworm only took 2.29 seconds. Second on the list was Lou Bega's Mambo No. 5 at 2.48 seconds followed by Survivor's Eye of the Tiger at 2.62 seconds.’

What catches my attention most about this story is the use of the expression ‘earworm’. It’s hardly too surprising that ‘Wannabe’ came out on top. The opening few seconds are completely in-your-face unforgettable signature obnoxiousness from the Spice Girls. Obviously that’s just my view. For others, substitute ‘obnoxiousness’ with ‘sassy confident girl power’.

I mentioned this story during yesterday’s music news slot with Claire Beck and she immediately ‘thanked’ me for putting the song into her head. ‘That’ll stay with me for the day,’ she lamented. What is it about songs like Wannabe which become earworms? Broader still, why do some songs become earworms? Is it because of repeated listening over a short period of time, or is it something in the song itself that makes it burrow into your brain and replay itself endlessly?

A bad earworm, and let’s face it no earworms are good, can really ruin your day. (Yes, hashtag first world problems.) Last Sunday morning I was out mooching around the back, aimlessly wandering in and out the garage. It was one of those cold, sodden mornings. It was the kind of day during which you’re just counting down the clock until it’s okay to light the fire and watch telly. I’d a few the night before so I was tired and emotional. I think I was out the back seeing if there was something productive and manly to do, in order to cleanse myself and feel better through good deeds and physical exertion. Then suddenly, without warning, Damien Rice’s ‘I Don’t Want To Change You’ came into my head. And stayed there.

Like, what the fuck? Of all the songs I needed as an earworm, at that moment in time, Damien Rice’s first single from his new album was seriously unwelcome. I mean, I’ve nothing against the man’s music at all, but there is a time and a place. When you’ve got a touch of the fear, on a miserable grey Sunday morning, and you’re questioning your worth as a spouse/father/son/man, then Damien Rice’s wailing and moaning is not something you also need going on in your head.

It was horrendous. I became convinced I was the subject of a sinister government mind-control experiment. The authorities were somehow beaming the song into my addled brain to see if society can be subdued by Damien Rice’s encounter with an angel in the danger with a stranger away in a manger, or whatever it is.

I was staggering around the garage, knocking over gardening tools, screaming ‘Go away Damien! Go away!’, and all the while the dog was looking at me with great concern. ‘Doesn’t look like this lad is going to be bringing me for a walk any time soon,’ was obviously his primary thought.

I started furiously repairing a fence that didn’t need repairing, but it was no use. Rice wouldn’t get out of my head. Forget the validation and self-worth through manual labour; it was straight back into the house for me. I immediately lashed on Rage Against the Machine and lit the fire. ‘There, there Joe, you’ll be okay,’ I whispered to myself as I curled up in the foetal position and shivered. Eventually the vocal intrusion of Damien Rice dissipated, presumably re-emerging elsewhere to torment some other poor soul. In hindsight I was probably one of the lucky ones. It’s possible there is some other unfortunate out there with worse going around his or her head, on a loop of unimaginable mental anguish.

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