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How to unstick a song stuck in your head

Saturday, February 09, 2008 - 12:44 AM

mutant speaker ears (jonnygoldstein/flickr)

Have you had a song stuck in your head? For days. Or longer? How did you get it out? Drop us a comment and let us know if you've got any tricks, remedies, vaccinations... We're compiling a list for our show on Pop Music.

The only one WE can think of is to hum the Suzanne Vega song, 'Tom's Diner,' ... duh duh duh duh duh duh duh... over and over. Only problem with that method -- while it works perfectly well -- it's a substitution, not a remedy. And once it's in there, how do you get Tom's Diner out?

Please, share your cures!

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Comments [52]

ann from NYC

My husband calls my condition "JUKEBOX TURRETS". I completely identify! Anything I hear can lead me to a song, It's always interesting to trace it back to what triggered it.

Mar. 20 2014 08:25 PM
Patty from Southern Shores NC

My friend Micah once told me the antidote song to get rid of the song stuck in your head. I was very glad to learn this and I will share it with you -- "Magic" by the group Pilot. You know it...oh oh oh it's magic, you know ow ow... The idea is that it will erase the stuck song but will not get stuck itself. It has always worked for me!

May. 21 2013 08:16 AM
123 from atlantis

"sensory expriences in the present trigger memories in my brain that are somehow associated with specific songs that were playing at the time"
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Synesthesia

Apr. 07 2011 09:46 AM
Steav Congdon

I am a classical musician for about 85% of the time and non-classical about 15%... I get a tune stuck in all genre's all the time and usually find I can blot it out by listening exclusively to a totally different genre.
Par examplum: I had "Thais" stuck not long ago and flushed it out with didgeridoo music. Works for me!

Jul. 21 2010 11:44 PM
VanyaWhoever

Woops. Double post. Must be a glitch.

Mar. 15 2010 04:59 PM
VanyaWhoever

Somehow, actually listening to the song helps (except if the song is by Queen). For example, I listened to Umbrella (You know, Under my umbrella ella ella eh eh eh) and it never got stuck in my head again. Just a thought. Oh, and I posted the above comment in the wrong category. Sorry

Mar. 13 2010 01:32 PM
VanyaWhoever

Somehow, actually listening to the song helps (except if the song is by Queen). For example, I listened to Umbrella (You know, Under my umbrella ella ella eh eh eh) and it never got stuck in my head again. Just a thought.

Mar. 13 2010 01:31 PM
VanyaWhoever

The stickiest song ever HAS to be Tick Tock. It's A) catchy B) annoying and C) innapropriate for anyone under 21 so of course EVERYBODY under 15 and over 10 is singing it ALL. THE. TIME. Anybody got any tips?

Mar. 05 2010 06:02 PM
hey! don't look here!

help that ella ella ella. . . . ect song is STUCK IN MY HEAD FOR FOREVER!!!!!!

Sep. 22 2009 05:40 PM
Courtney

ditto. i think that girl from ipanema is a great song. just dont listen to the lyrics, and u never gonna have anotha song stuck in your head!

Nov. 20 2008 10:45 PM
Thom Mitchell

My cleanser song is "Band on the Run" it's catchy enough to to repeat a few times but it doesn't have the staying power to be present for very long.

Oct. 27 2008 02:00 PM
anonymous

The only thing to do is to sing Amazing Grace to the tune of Gilligan's Island. Works every time.

May. 27 2008 10:40 AM
Zee

I read, some time ago, that a song or tune often sticks because the mind wants/needs to get to a finishing point - and I do find the sticky tunes are those I don't know the full lyrics/ending to - so it circles back to the beginning, or a repetitive chorus, again and again.
The article I read (I'd cite source but this was ages ago, I doubt I'd find it without some serious googling, may have been Mind Hacks) suggested replacing it with something shorter that you know the full scope of.
The ones that work best for me are commercial audio branding: the Intel 5 note marker & Danone's 'mm, Danone' seem to do the trick every time.

Hmm, now I have all the tunes listed in the previous comments stuck in my head...

May. 26 2008 06:47 PM
cw

i discovered my cleanser song while in chapel in 6th grade - "If I could turn back time" by Cher. still works 20 years later.

Mar. 09 2008 01:43 PM
Karen

This is not a cure, but rather a warning. Never, ever under any circumstances let anyone sing you the song about the moose that drinks juice. They occassionally sing it at my son's school at morning song. After being stuck with it for 3 days at a stretch and awake for hours in the middle of the night with this tortuous song in my head, I've taken to running away FAST when they announce they'll be singing this song.

Mar. 01 2008 12:41 AM
melissa

electric avenue by eddie grant is the "song cleaner". an old co-worker of mine swore by this and she was right. it's perfect because it doesn't get stuck in my head but it cleans the other song out.

try it!

Feb. 21 2008 08:30 PM
Adam

It's really tough for me to get rid of a song, or anything that gets stuck in my head for that matter. When I heard "sometimes behaves so strangely" for the first time, it was literally stuck in my head for about 24 hours. I just kept singing it over and over.

I think the strangest phenomenon is when you have a song stuck in your head, and then someone ELSE starts singing it out loud. I think, how the heck is that in their head too!? Or MAYBE you both just spontaneously start singing the song. What is the deal with that?

To cure it though, I usuaully have to have to get another song stuck in my head, and I have to try reall really hard to get the other one out. But then the other song just gets stuck in my head. Sometimes if I just continually keep singing it, it will get out, or one of my friends will hit me until I stop. That usually works too.

Feb. 20 2008 06:58 PM
Shaun

"Frankie" by Sister Sledge. I get rid of it by visualising a deliberately disruptive image, for example Margaret Thatcher naked.

Feb. 14 2008 06:43 AM
Michael

The best solution for me is to actually listen to the stuck song, preferably a few times, until it's exorcised from my head. This has become easier to do in the age of ipods, except for the times when I don't have the stuck song, or when I don't even know what the song is called, who it's by, or even enough of the lyrics to google it.

Feb. 13 2008 11:26 AM
Jeff

It is my theory that the reason a song becomes "sticky' is because it was interrupted the most recent time I heard it. My brain reruns the song over and over in an effort to hear the ending... and, in fact, the BEST cure for getting rid of a sticky song is to go back listen to the song from start to finish. For whatever reason (Maybe Radio Lab has a answer) the song becomes un-stuck.

Until a co-worker sings or hums a line...(Right before I strangle them)

Feb. 12 2008 08:38 PM
Athelstan

The big trick is to have cleansing song that will remind you of no other music. For my it's track four, Tetsuo from the Akira: orginal sound track. It has polyrhythms, composed with a scale with notes that are not used in the majority music around the world, and it combines ancient and modern instruments. Once I get this song stuck in my head. When it goes away it leads to no other song. Then the tune is out of my head.

Feb. 12 2008 06:35 PM
Graham

The really tough songs that get stuck are the most intentionally annoying - jingles made to sell things. Certainly there has to have been some research done about what tunes are designed to stick and elicit emotion; your RadioLab on the topic should include getting the inside scoop on the people designing and planting earbugs.

I don't see songs stuck in my head as a problem, but somehow, everyone else dose!

Feb. 12 2008 03:31 PM
RadioLab

If anyone feels inspired, leave us a voice message with your remedy, and your voice may be included in a piece on earworms! Just call (212) 669-8976 and at the beep tell us about your trick. If it's a song. sing it. if it's a breathing/ meditation technique, re-enact it. Be sure to speak clearly, and tell us your name and where you're from.

Feb. 12 2008 01:51 PM
Liesl

I was JUST talking about this! My two remedies: Sing Sheena Easton's "Morning Train (Nine To Five)" and that usually does the trick and only rarely gets stuck in place of the original stuck song. In a pinch, my other rememdy is to sing the melody of a Bond film them and then midway through the song, switch to another Bond film theme. I think the switching gears is what does it, and my brain lets go of it all.

Feb. 12 2008 01:06 PM
Tschäff

Very simple: Play the inspector gadget theme song in your mind.

Feb. 11 2008 11:09 PM
Deb.

I take up the song that's stuck in my head and consciously sing it through from wherever it's stuck to the end. Once I get to the end, it's over. Sometimes my mind takes up the next song on the album (showing my age here), but I just sing that one through to the end also. It only takes a couple to get unstuck.

Feb. 11 2008 09:26 PM
Larry

If I like the song, I just go with it and enjoy it. There's so much bad elevator music I'm exposed to each day, a good song I'm stuck on is an antidote.

Another approach is to go deeply into the song, sing it if I can, or hear it louder and louder in my mind, and see if I can unfold the meaning. Is it trying to tell me something? Is there a message? Can I interpret it as a dream? Can I draw it?

Fans of Process Work will recognize the approach.

Feb. 11 2008 05:36 PM
Ben Woodthorpe

If it's something that really, really won't go away - a song that manages to steer whatever you're singing into its own melody - the only solution I've found is to find it and listen to it a few times through. Thankfully the popularity of youtube makes this a lot easier than rifling through my collection. Usually after up to 5 listens I just get completely bored of it and my brain begs for something else to latch on to. Land of Confusion by Genesis took something like ten listens, back to back, to get rid of.

If i'm somewhere I don't have access to a computer or any sort of music system, however, i'm completely boned.

Feb. 11 2008 01:53 PM
Richa Verma

I usually have random songs I truly dislike stuck in my head, so I tend to plug in my ipod, select a playlist or instrumental music and enjoy. Listening to a bunch of different songs usually does the trick for me, but then again my short attention span usually helps me move on quickly.

Feb. 11 2008 12:22 PM
Dave Anderson

My roommate has a talent for getting Madonna stuck in my head early in the morning. I work at a church, and as you might assume, this can be a little strange. I have, however, developed a fool-proof method.

Sing a verse and two choruses of "Yellow Submarine." Take your time; don't run through it. Once this is complete, quickly sing another, totally unrelated song. By the time you have completed this exercise, you won't be able to remember what was stuck in your head in the first place.

Disclaimer: You may find the final song stuck in the initial song's place.

Feb. 11 2008 11:48 AM
Connie

A very odd thing happened to me when I started listening to NPR full time (all day at work, and morning and evenings too)--I had earworms of the announcers' sign-offs. I would be walking down the street, and I'd hear over and over in my head "I'm Lakshmi Singh" or "This is Joanne Silberner" or "I'm Nora Raum". And especially, "This is Veer Singh in New Delhi". I heard the actual voices, just like they sounded on the radio. This happened for a couple of months. It was exactly the same as having a musical earworm. It wasn't particularly annoying, kind of interesting and amusing, in fact.

Feb. 11 2008 08:57 AM
Jason

These days, with music being everywhere, I seem to just jump from song to song. Usually, whatever I heard last is still kicking around in my head. Not for long though. The next song is usually just a step away. But if I find myself in a state where music has ceased to flow, and I need to give my head a rest, I find that the audible breathing of Darth Vader can be quite cleansing.

Feb. 11 2008 12:03 AM
Ranae

I always get songs stuck in my head, or even phrases. To get them out I think of generic songs like "Mary had a little lamb" or "Row, Row, Row your boat", songs that aren't total ear worms. I sing it once all the way through (more if needed!) and my mind is clear.

Feb. 11 2008 12:00 AM
Dan

My standard earworm replacement song is "Me and Bobby McGee", the Janis Joplin version. That song is capable of replacing the most horribly repetitive songs; the ones where I know about 4 words that I keep repeating. And, being stuck with "Me and Bobby McGee" for a while is really somewhat pleasant.

Feb. 10 2008 11:56 PM
Mike

I mean to say removed, not replaced.

Feb. 10 2008 09:27 PM
Mike

As someone with bipolarity, it's much more difficult for me to get those types of things out of my head.

Often times it isn't even a whole song, it's just the same 3 seconds of a single song repeating over and over again - broken record style.

I'd say those kinds of things that get stuck in your head can only be substituted, they cannot be replaced. I typically have to try to create another source of similar rhythm and repetition for my overactive mind to feed off of. Running or Biking at a very constant speed usually does the trick. I'm lead to just focus on the patterns and rhythm created by my feet. Often times free writing works wonders too.

Feb. 10 2008 09:27 PM
Rhoma

The worst earworm by far is "Somone Left the Cake Out in the Rain..." It's almost impossible to shake, except by finding wonderful songs like "Waters of March" or "I've Grown Accustomed to Your Face," which also stick in your mind.

Suzanne Vega's "Tom's Diner" is a wonderful song about a wonderful diner I used to frequent many years ago. It is not at all insidious, at least to me -- it's great.

Feb. 10 2008 06:26 PM
Oliver

I think I follow what many others have said here -- I just use a song that sticks in my head even more. :P So far the best I've found is the badgerbadgerbadger song from (where else) badgerbadgerbadger.com. Insidious, but useful this way. -grins-

Feb. 10 2008 06:13 PM
Andrew

My wife and I have used the following remedy since high school (c/o 1999) and it seems to work well. Whenever we have a song in our heads, we will sing, hum or just think about Madonna "Like a Virgin", a few minutes later the original song is gone and so is the Madonna song. It's like cleansing your aural palliate.

It's not that either of us are Madonna fans (I've never owned a record of hers), indeed I don't even know more than a few verses. I think that the song is entertaining enough to get one's mind off of the offending song, yet innocuous enough that the 'replacement' song is itself lost after a few minutes.

Feb. 10 2008 06:02 PM
Jason Seifer

When I have a song stuck in my head and want it out, I have a few methods for stopping it. Method one: I imagine that my brain has a mixer and fade it out. Sort of like a virtual hand going to an imaginary volume button in my brain. The second way is to imagine the song "scratching out" like a DJ would do with a record. Playing it backwards in your head can also help.

Feb. 10 2008 12:23 PM
Patrick

I completely agree on the "cleansing" status of Falco's "Rock Me Amadeus".

My method I would like to introduce:

Listen to a "catchy" song with foreign language lyrics (i.e. in a language which you do NOT speak fluently). The key to this working is that you do not readily comprehend the lyrics past the chorus. Not being a Portuguese speaker, the first half of "The Girl From Ipanema" would theoretically work for me... but then of course its only one step removed from Astrud Gilberto's English lyrics.

PS—Susan Vega's "Tom's Diner" is the most insidious brainwashing device known to modern man.

Feb. 10 2008 11:02 AM
Felicity

Falco's "Rock Me Amadeus" chorus has always worked for me. It's like a mind eraser. It even works if someone else has a song stuck in their head and I start singing "Amadeus, Amadeus....." to them, (especially if I include some physical antics). Somehow this song never sticks.

Feb. 09 2008 07:55 PM
Michael

Blondie's Heart of Glass is a good substitution for Over the Rainbow or Follow the Yellow Brick Road - two the worst sticky songs I have.

Feb. 09 2008 06:18 PM
Gord Fynes

Start with either the Inspector Gadget theme or the opening riff of The Doors "Break On Through" and alternate between them until you're bored and/or see something shiny.

Feb. 09 2008 04:30 PM
chuckbeck

I get lots of things stuck in my head not just songs, however songs have that ability to repeat themselves in your inner ear. Sometimes my inner eye gets images stuck on it that I can't unsee. Sometimes those are worse. To the mind I have the only cure is a better experience. Good live music, or a striking figure, and maybe a good drunk. Those are effective swords.

Feb. 09 2008 03:14 PM
Susan

I agree with Jordan - there must be something that triggers the song that gets stuck in the head; however, I'm not sure that it always has to do with emotion or personal feeling, at least that's my experience. The reason that I say this is that frequetly I get songs stuck in my head to which I don't know the words - only the melody and music; and often they are songs that I heard so long ago that I can't even remember when it was that I heard them last.

I wonder if my brain somehow associates music with various experiences/memories; in another words, I wonder if sensory expriences in the present trigger memories in my brain that are somehow associated with specific songs that were playing at the time of the memory. So when I experience something that relates to a past memory, that somehow triggers the song associated with that memory, but not necessarily the memory itself.

For me, any significant change of focus in my life - sometimes on another song and sometimes not - seems to do the trick.

Feb. 09 2008 01:58 PM
Marco

"Girl from Ipanema" is the most powerful broken-record-in-your-head cleanser known to man.

Feb. 09 2008 01:23 PM
Jordan

I believe that the only cure is to deal with the root cause of why that song is stuck in your head. Ask yourself, what emotion does this bring up? What does this passage that I keep singing mean to me?

From my experience, this is even a helpful self-psychoanalyzation.

If you were recently jilted by a lover, and find yourself singing Patsy Cline. There are probably some underlying feelings towards that person that match up with "Crazy".

The only way to get the song out of your head in my experience is to acknowledge that feeling or thought. Once you are able to deal with those thoughts and feelings, the songs seem to silence themselves.

(similar to jaap's yes, but hey :)

Feb. 09 2008 12:41 PM
anon

The easiest way is to pick a cleanser song. It has to be something you like, probably kind of slow and something without a lot of repetition.

My cleanser song is "Protection" by Massive Attack. I only ever need to "hear" Tracy Thorn start up and my mind has dropped the earworm. My cleanser song then fades, leaving my in peace.

This has now worked for about 14 years.

Feb. 09 2008 12:34 PM
Jaap

Contingencies all over. I just ten minutes ago returned from a daylong meditation (very insightful, thank you) giving some thought to the inner songs nearly always present. And here I find this post.

An observation I have made is that it's always easy to relate the song du jour (or de la minute in my case) to whatever mood, thought, idea or physical sensation is present at that moment. For instance, today I had a tremendous sense of being alone among a room full of people... to the accompaniment of Gilbert o' Sullivan's 'Alone again, naturally'.

Whether this relation actually holds any meaning is left as an excercise to the reader.

Now, for a cure. Concentrate on singing the song, up to a certain note (never mind which one), and then sustain that note indefinitely. Create a fermata, in technical terms. As long as your concentration stays on that note; you're fine, the song has stopped on that one note. When your concentration starts to decrease, as it will, your attention will turn itself to other things, in all likelihood away from the song, and you're fine.
Can't lose this way.

Feb. 09 2008 12:02 PM
seth barkan

As a professional stride pianist(and, therefore subject to some seriously brutal jags of song-stickery) I can only offer a remedy that I heard years ago on NPR (can't remember the show, so sorry to whoever originally came up with it): After realizing that the song isn't leaving, begin thinking of the melody to "The Girl From Ipanema," AND ONLY THE MELODY; if you start thinking of the words along with it, "Ipanema" will replace the song you previously had stuck in your head, and (regretfully) once that happens, the only cure I've found is a bottle of whiskey and a night of dreamless sleep.

Cheers guys! Love the show!

PS: This trick actually works!

Feb. 09 2008 06:28 AM
Tatiana

I always have songs in my head. I often break into song if someone or something reminds me of a tune. It's pretty much uncontrollable.

I recently began a meditation practice. I found myself sitting, focusing on my breathing, and trying to clear my mind... and Rihanna's "Umbrella" popped into my head.

Internal dialogue: "What the..? I hate this song! Well, ok, maybe I don't hate it. (ella ella, under my umbrella)"

I came back to my breath, slowly in, slowly out.

meditation: the cause of, and solution to, songs stuck in my head.

Feb. 09 2008 04:24 AM

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