The Melody Haunts My Reverie*

Have you ever gotten a song stuck in your head? It’s called an earworm, from the German word ohrwurm (yeah, I agree – ewww), a “musical itch” of the brain. Here in the Music, Film and Audio department (and, in fact, all of my waking AND sleeping hours), I go from one earworm to the next. I often wake up with a song in my head that I know was being played in dreamland. Yesterday I woke up thinking My Sharona (m-m-my Sharona). Today was Back to Black (I died a hundred times) by Amy Winehouse.

 This past week, I heard the song Oh! you pretty things by David Bowie on the radio on my way in to work, so I looked it up (don’t you know you’re drivin’ your mamas and papas insane).  I helped someone find the song Layla (you got me on my knees). I opened the songbook it was in, and many tunes popped into my head just from the table of contents: Hit me with your best shot, Nights in white satin (huh – I always thought it was knights), and so many more.  I also helped someone find the vocal selections to Peter Pan (never grow u-up, not me). It was sitting next to the vocal selections from Grease on the shelf (is the word is the word that you heard).
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 Elton John songs stick with me an especially long time, weeks even (well, I think it’s gonna be a long, long time), but I like them so don’t you worry. And who knows why, but I’ve been thinking the song Runaway by Del Shannon for at least 6 months now (I’m a-walkin’ in the rain).

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In Musicophilia (p. 41), Oliver Sacks describes this phenomenon:

Sometimes normal musical imagery crosses a line and becomes, so to speak, pathological, as when a certain fragment of music repeats itself incessantly, sometimes maddeningly, for days on end. These repetitions – often a short, well-defined phrase or theme of three or four bars – are apt to go on for hours or days, circling the mind, before fading away. This endless repetition and the fact that the music in question may be irrelevant or trivial, not to one’s taste, or even hateful, suggest a coercive process, that the music has entered and subverted a part of the brain, forcing it to fire repetitively and autonomously (as may happen with a tic or a seizure).

Want to know how to get rid of them? Finding a replacement song works well for me. Here is a website devoted to doing just that: http://unhearit.com/  “Using the latest in reverse-auditory-melodic-unstickification technology.” Better yet, come peruse the qM1630.18 section of  music songbooks. It contains, among other things, complete anthologies like Led Zeppelin complete, and compilations like The Decade Series, with popular songs and even more popular songs from specific decades.

I’ve also heard, but know not from where, that if you finish the song in your head, the earworm will go away, so here, I hope this helps:  “Ah-why-why-why-why-why she ran away, and I wonder where she will stay, my little runaway, run-run-run-run-runaway, a-run-run-run-run-runaway.”

-Joelle

P.S. If you’ve a notion to further delve into the power that music has over the human mind, the library has almost 200 books on the subject of the psychological aspects of music. See Music — Physiological aspects.

*A title of a Roy Lichtenstein print from the lyrics of the song Stardust by Hogie Carmichael

7 Comments

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7 responses to “The Melody Haunts My Reverie*

  1. Lisa

    I find that humming Ode to Joy will usually drive out earworms without getting stuck in my head. Also, folks might want to know about a new book about the power of music: Your Playlist Can Change Your Life by Galina Mindlin, Don DuRousseau, Joseph Cardillo.

    Lisa

  2. Stardust is one beautiful song I wouldn’t mind having stuck in my head…:)

  3. Amanda

    Earworms is also the name of a language learning program on CD that I think is new to the library. I’m learning Spanish. It’s sort of groovy.

    The lyric that is stuck in my head this month is, “If you don’t know me by now, you will never, never, never, know me. oo. oo oo.”

  4. Don

    And of course, there are, for me, positive earworms. Earworms I don’t mind getting lodged in the ol’ cranium. Particularly instrumental ones, such as the lead guitar riffs in “Sultans of Swing” by Dire Straits and Steely Dan’s “My Old School.”

    And how about a little something positive you can use earworms for: mantras. Think about it.

    Or not.

    Don

    PS Loved the post, Joelle.

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