Top Ten Earworms: Songs That Get Stuck in Your Head
The Worst Earworms Ever
Are you CRAZY? You don't want to visit this page on earworms. It's about all those catchy tunes and songs that get stuck in your head. Once you hear these songs, you'll never be able to unhear them again. Go back or "It's a Small World" will repeat in your brain for the rest of the day—oops, too late!
Okay, now that you've been struck by a vision of cute animatronic figures lurching in synchronized saccharine, there's no help for it. The only way to cure an earworm is to replace it with another earworm, so my list includes videos and/or clips for maximum torture.
Disney's "It's a Small World"
Disney's "It's a Small World" is possibly the most notorious earworm of all. It's a pity, because it's actually a sweet song with a wonderful message.
It just goes to show that earworms usually aren't bad songs; the problem is often that they're very good songs. Speaking of Disney, I also blame them for getting "Yo, Ho (A Pirate's Life for Me)," "Be Our Guest," "He's a Tramp," and worst of all, the cluelessly racist "We Are Siamese" stuck in my head at various times.
P.S. Did you know that during the Christmas season, Disney's "It's a Small World" ride gets decked out in an incredibly tacky array of Christmas lights (complete with Santa hat on the clock), and the soundtrack changes to a manically cheerful rendition of "Jingle Bells"? Somehow, those plastic children manage to turn that song into an earworm, too.
All right, let's do this properly! Hop in the boat and brace yourselves:
It's Contagious, After All
Earworms are contagious. The last time I dared enter "Small World" with a friend, we couldn't stop ourselves from singing while we waited in line:
It's world of germs, it's a world of fleas
it's a world of bugs and infectious disease
There's so much that we share
That it's time we're aware
It's contagious, after all!
(Did I mention my friend is a microbiologist?)
"Who Let the Dogs Out?"—Baha Men
By strange coincidence, I just discovered that our next earworm's creators also recorded a reggae version of "It's a Small World." An improvement, in my opinion.
So here's the Baha Men's famous earworm. I remember when "Who Let the Dogs Out" first broke out in popular music like a rash. It's actually a good (if loud) song, but oh, that chorus will get stuck in your head. Have you ever heard the whole song?
And don't you think the Twilight saga would've been infinitely better if it had included Reggae werewolves like those in the video?
"The Lollipop Guild"—Wizard of Oz
This earworm is the bane of my existence. "The Lollipop Guild" gets stuck in my head for days and won't go away, despite the fact that until recently, I hadn't seen the film in over twenty years! Watching it again seemed to help, oddly enough.
As a matter of fact, there's a lot of tunes in The Wizard of Oz which are catchy, wonderful, and unforgettable: they are part of why this is one of the top-rated films of all time. Unfortunately, some of the best show tunes are also persistent earworms. Other major earworms from the wonderful world of Oz include "Ding, Dong, the Witch is Dead" and "If I Only Had a Brain."
"Silver Bells" by Bing Crosby
Earworms are subjective: depending on your tastes in music, you could have a very different set of earworms. But I bet there's at least one or two holiday songs that get stuck in your head. For me, it's "Silver Bells." Actually, no, that was my Dad's earworm, and he passed it on to me. Every year, while we're trimming the tree, my father is singing absently, "Silver Bells...dum de dum...Silver Bells...dum de dum..." and then he just repeats it. Over and over. Help!
In fact, I find that many holiday songs get stuck in my head. Other earworms for me are "Adeste Fideles" (O Come All Ye Faithful) thanks to memorizing it in Latin at a young age, "Jingle Bell Rock," "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus," "O Holy Night," and of course, "Jingle Bells."
"Caramelldansen" by Caramella Girls
The original version is in Swedish, from Caramella Girls' album Supergott. That song is okay, but when the group released a speeded-up version on iTunes, an Internet meme was born.
For a couple of years there, everybody from Darth Vader to random anime characters showed up in one spoof video or another doing this dance. I've even seen live action Stormtroopers doing it.
Danny Elfman—"This Is Halloween"
I suppose as catchy as many Christmas songs are, it's only fitting that Tim Burton's Nightmare Before Christmas produced several earworms. Thankfully, I've finally stopped being afflicted by "Oogie Boogie's Song," but "This Is Halloween" still pops into my head whenever I see the shameless conflation of Christmas and Hallowe'en merchandising in the stores (as early as September, nowadays).
Danny Elfman hasn't gotten me in a long time, but the "Alice" reprise at the end of Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland (which I love—did I mention I have odd tastes?) is another one I can't shake for days.
"The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins" by Leonard Nimoy
Many of the songs featured on this page are earworms because they are such good, catchy songs. This would be the exception.
Shortly after the web began, Leonard Nimoy was horrified to discover he had failed to destroy all evidence of this music video. He got the website shut down, but it was too late. The cat was out of the bag and the video started popping up everywhere.
I think he's resigned to his fate now.
Sorry, Mr. Spock. With all due respect, it is a national treasure (or horror) which we should not sweep under the rug.
Disney + Julie Andrews + Dick Van Dyke = major earworm.
Mary Poppins is another of those early films that makes most modern CGI look boring and artificial: it's eye-catching with its bits of stop-motion, hand-drawn animation, and other creative ways of presenting some pretty crazy stuff!
The songs for this iconic film were written by the Sherman Brothers, by the way. "Chim Chim Cher-ee" is almost as catchy.
The Llama Song—'90s Viral Video by AlbinoBlackSheep
In the late '90s, when modems first began reaching speeds necessary to view videos without waiting an hour, web humor reached a curiously Monty Python state of exaltation where anything was funny, if repeated often enough. Flash was the vector of the disease.
Most of these songs lost something in the jump to YouTube, where the song only repeats once. It's like hearing one verse of "99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall." Nonetheless, "The Llama Song" is worth honoring as the best of the bunch. In '08, it spawned an inevitable Obama Parody which commenters have blamed for winning him the election.
"Time Warp"—The Rocky Horror Picture Show
In some ways, the entire Rocky Horror Picture Show is an earworm, or perhaps a mindworm. You will certainly never forget it, if you've ever seen—er—experienced it with audience participation.
I think "Sweet Transvestite" might also qualify as an earworm for some people. But mostly just that famous line: "Antici...."
Fan Spoof: Star Trek Does the Time Warp Again
Psy's "Gangnam Style"—We Have a Winner!
Since I first published this article, many people have nominated or voted on the worst earworms of all time. However, as you know (unless you've been living under a rock), the summer of 2012 unleashed the best earworm ever made: Korean pop star Psy's magnificently over-the-top "Gangnam Style."
(Do you know the hidden message in this crazy song?)
I would also like to recommend Ra-On's awesome blues cover of "Gangnam Style."
Poll: Are You a Victim of Earworms?
How often do you get earworms?
Which of these is the top (or worst) earworm?
Nominate Earworms I've Missed—I Know There Are a Lot More Out There...
My list suffers from a lack of contemporary music: I don't find most modern stuff very catchy, or else my tastes in music are so obscure that if I mentioned Dar William's "The Babysitter's Here," few of you would recognize it (although it's adorable and you should hear it once).
So please, fill in the gaps. What are some recent notable earworms? Or even golden oldies that I've missed?
Also, please share this horrifying page with your friends! They should lose productivity, too.
Questions & Answers
© 2011 Ellen Brundige