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Song snippets stuck in brain play the old tunes

June 27, 2012 - Burton Cole (humor columnist)

What exactly, in the name of Billy Idol, are “eyes without a face”? I don't know, but for a full day, the eight-track in my head continuously looped that line over and over again, as if it made sense. If I could remember any of the other lyrics, it might.

Earlier this month, the Association for Psychological Science spent a conference weekend discussing the connection between brain and music. The pseudo-scientific name for those fragments of melody that got stick in our brains are “ear worms.”

My ear worms wriggle to the tunes of the1970s and 1980s.

At least those floating, faceless Billy Idol eyes stared down the previous ear worm. I didn't think Andy Gibb's “Thicker Than Water” would ever leak out of my brain. Several times I thought it did but realized that the 45 rpm record in my brain merely skipped to another refrain from the same song. I la-dee-dahed that thing day and night.

A friend offered to swap ear worms because she had the Barney the dinosaur song stuck in her head. I declined and spent another day singing about the thickness of watery love until one day I heard myself singing instead about how Oz never did give nothing to the Tin Man that he didn't already have. Well, at least the song chunk had a literary bent. Now I had a cassette recorder singing a bit of a Book on Tape in my skull.

Daniel Levitin, a psychologist who studies the neuroscience of music at McGill University in Montreal, told CNN.com that ear worms usually are simple tunes, and may not be from a song you particularly like. Music syncs to the brain because the cognitive coils need it to help memorize facts, such as the A-B-C's.

(If the Jackson Five song “A-B-C” just wrapped itself around your short-circuited synapses, I apologize. I was referring to the kindergarten A-B-C's song.)

The best way to hook the ear worm and cast it out is to fish for another catchy tune. The danger, of course, is that that song will become intertwined in the squiggles of your brain, and the next thing you know, you're be-bopping to, “Don't Worry, Be Happy.”

Oops, sorry about that. Hey, don't blame me. It's science. Oooh, oooh-oooh, oooh-ooh-ooooh...

 
 

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Burton Cole and grandson Sebastian play some tunes for the ear worms stuck in their heads.

 
 
 
 

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