Has it ever happened to you?
It was 3:30 in the morning and I couldn’t stop. I just couldn’t stop.
“Saturday, Saturday, Saturday – Saturday, Saturday, Saturday — Saturday, Saturday, Saturday night’s all right.”
Eleven words repeating over and over. Time and again. Relentlessly.
Of course, those words are lyrics from the familiar Elton John song called “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting.” This part of this tune was severely stuck in my brain as I half consciously made my middle of the night bedroom-to-bathroom shuffle. In my head the song had been on repeat for hours. It started shortly after watching the movie “Rocketman” earlier in the day. It’s a fabulous movie, by the way. You will sing along from start to finish. You just might not be able to stop.
What was happening to me in the middle of the night is what music lovers refer to as an earworm.
It is interesting to note that almost 90 percent of humans living with us on this planet have to deal with earworms – many at least once per week. They are sometimes referred to as sticky songs, stuck song syndrome, or my favorite – Involuntary Musical Imagery (IMI). Honestly, I wonder about the other 10%.
A few things to note about earworms, according to smart people who generally wear lab coats (there have been numerous scientific studies as to why this happens): Research reveals they are usually up-tempo or faster songs, they are songs that often contain repeating words, they often have distinct declamation where words are sung in perfect syncopation with the music being played and they are songs with a specific musical shape or contour (similar to a child’s nursery rhyme).
I will let you research more technicalities if you wish to do a deep dive on the subject.
For the rest of this column, I would like to give you a few highlights off the “Biggest Earworms of All Time” list.
There are some doozies. Can you guess what might be at the top of the list?
If you said, “It’s a Small World After All” heard relentlessly on the ride at Disney, you would be correct. For 55 years, riders have been subjected to an unending loop of this song from the back of the line through the long ride itself to the exit sign. “It’s a Small World” has often been referred to as the “Mother of all Earworms” but there are several close seconds and they are not the result of any one genre.
Carly Ray Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe” is an earworm as is Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” (especially the rah-rah part at the beginning). Billy Ray Cyrus wormed his way into your ears with “Achy Breaky Heart” and so did Shari Lewis and her little lamb chop singing “The Song That Never Ends.” Henry Mancini made the list with his famous “Baby Elephant Walk” as did the Chordettes with their ultra-catchy “Lollipop.” Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” is certainly an earworm. Greenwood Miracle League fans should be happy to know “The Chicken Dance” made the list and “The Hampster Dance” is on there too.
South Africa’s Solomon Linda wrote a little tune made popular by The Tokens called “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.” The rhythmic “awimbawe” or “wimoweh” is a definite earworm. I have fond memories of marching through the woods of a long-ago summer camp laughing and singing this refrain over and over.
Other infectious earwormsYlvis — “The Fox”
Tommy Tutone — “867-5309”
Van McCoy — “The Hustle”
Aqua — “Barbie Girl”
The Muppets — “Mahna Mahna”
The Beatles — “Yellow Submarine”
Miley Cyrus — “Party in the USA”
Haddaway — “”What is Love?”
BTO — “Taking Care of Business”