Stickiest songs

Welcome back to AVQ&A, where we throw out a question for discussion among the staff and readers. Consider this a prompt to compare notes on your interface with pop culture, to reveal your embarrassing tastes and experiences, and to ponder how our diverse lives all led us to convene here together. Got a question you’d like us and the readers to answer? E-mail us at avcqa@theonion.com.

What’s the earwormiest song you’ve ever heard, the one most likely to get stuck on infinite replay in your head?

Tasha Robinson
I am really painfully prone to getting songs stuck in my head, usually with one little refrain playing over and over and over, like the abbreviated soundtrack to a hamster running on a wheel. This happens a lot with Lady Gaga, or really anything beat-centric and dance-y. And it’s especially bad with songs I personally find annoying as well as painfully repetitive. (If I had a dollar for every time I’ve had the line “like a G6, like a G6” running endlessly through my brain, I’d use the proceeds to have everyone in Far East Movement shot.) Which is why I try to limit exposure to Khia’s “My Neck, My Back,” because if I hear one line from that thing, I’ll be singing sexual instructions to myself for the next three hours. Usually at work. A college friend of mine once posited “Daydream Believer” as the ultimate “chase an earworm out of your head largely by earworming yourself with something else” song, and it’s worked well for me over the years, but it has no power whatsoever over Khia’s commands regarding her crack.

Claire Zulkey
Sometimes I get earworms because I put them there. Earlier this week, I heard this NPR story on Portal 2, and even though I half-listened to it, my ear was tickled by the game’s theme song, so I looked up “Still Alive” and listened to it over and over and over again, which I’m sure my husband really enjoyed. Having that in my head was much more enjoyable than either a Katy Perry song or Justin Bieber’s “Baby, Baby,” which I can get stuck in my head just by reading the title. (I’m re-listening to “Still Alive” as I write this, just to prevent that very thing from happening.) 

Genevieve Koski
Generally, the more stupid and obnoxious a song is, the longer it will rattle around in my brain: It just takes hearing a couple of “na na nas” from Pink’s “So What” or Josh playing the opening bars of Cash Cash’s “Party In Your Bedroom” (which he does far too often, the evil bastard) to get them going on a loop in my head for at least a few hours, if not several days. But a new victor has emerged in the battle for my sanity in the last month, one whose endless mental replay can be set off just by hearing—or hell, thinking—a single word: “Friday.” Every Friday since mid-March, I’ve woken up, thought “Oh good, it’s Friday,” followed immediately by “Oh shit” as the words “fun fun fun” start echoing through my brain. At first, it seems kind of weird that Rebecca Black is still a thing more than a month after she burst forth from the inky depths of Internet irony, but when you consider just how toxically catchy “Friday” is, it makes sense. It’s not that we want to keep hearing this song; it’s that we can’t stop hearing it.

Sam Adams
These days, much of what gets lodged in my melon is aimed at the toddler set (currently No. 1 on the 2-year-old hit parade: an English-language version of Hibari Misora’s “Kappa Boogie Woogie”—Kyah!) But whenever my inner ear is menaced by a particularly noxious bit of fluff, I fall back on the most irresistible earworm of them all: Devo’s “Mongoloid,” a trick I gratefully appropriated from my sister-in-law, Kelly. Next time you can’t stop humming “Friday,” tune your mind’s ear to “Mongoloid”’s primal riff and sneering vocals, and marvel as they reduce that aural invader to primordial ooze. 

Jason Heller
Sorry to inflict this on everyone reading, but that goddamn recent Xfinity jingle—“It’s fun for you! It’s fun for me!”—has been lodged in the spongy tissue just behind my eyeballs for weeks now. I usually hate songs from commercials, not to mention most insidiously hooky forms of advertising in general. Still, there’s just something about the Xfinity ditty’s brazenly fake British accent and bouncy, heavily distorted bassline (which reminds me, now that I think about it, of Norman Greenbaum’s equally earwormy “Spirit In The Sky”) that makes me grin and gnash my teeth in perverse glee. Out of curiosity, I looked up the song to see who was responsible—and of course, it’s the same ad man behind the FreeCreditReport.com jingles, which I loathed at first, then grew to reluctantly love, kind of like stinky cheese. But if I had to pick the one species of earworm that’s feasted on my gray matter the longest and most ravenously, there’s no contest: the Banana Splits theme. It’s been roughly a third of a century since I first heard it, and it still sneaks up on me almost daily. (The Dickies’ awesome version hasn’t helped matters over the years, either.)

Steven Hyden
Not to get too self-referential here, but Freelance Whales“Generator (First Floor)”—a.k.a. the “we get up early just to start cranking the generator” song that plays during the Starbucks ad before A.V. Club Undercover—comes on like an alarm clock in my head every morning when I wake up lately. This is the only part of “Generator” I’m familiar with, but if the rest of the song is as catchy as that line, I fear it could cripple my ability to remember any other song if I ever heard the rest of it. 

Michaelangelo Matos
I first heard Zaiko Langa Langa’s “Zaiko Wa Wa” (from 1976) as part of an early Rough Guides compilation in the mid-’90s. It starts with a drumstick crack, then a skittering, floating rumba groove led by a small platoon of guitars. So far, so good, but then comes the vocal: “[Don’t understand this part, sorry] / Wa-wa-wa / [Don’t know this one either, sorry] / Wa-wa-wa.” And that “Wa-wa-wa” has never left my head. I’ve found myself in situations where, if I hear or say a sentence with the right cadence, like one of the (highly variable) lines that precede the “Wa-wa-wa,” I will automatically, mentally add a “Wa-wa-wa” to it. Hear it once, and you will too.

Emily Guendelsberger
I used to do a lot of gigs as a rehearsal pianist for musicals of varying quality; each one tended to have one song that would plague me to the point of appearing in my dreams. Out of all of them, the absolute worst was “The Lonely Goatherd” from The Sound Of Music. Whether it’s because the high-school actors had a hard time mastering the (admittedly pretty difficult) yodeling and I had to play it a hundred thousand times, or the umpty-tumpty polka bassline, or how infuriated I got every time Hammerstein rhymed “herd” with “heard” (approximately every five to 10 seconds), I still can’t hear that song without wanting to kill everyone, and then myself. I’ve found that it can be used to crowbar just about any other earworm out of my head if I’m desperate, but I always, always regret it in the same way one might regret fixing tennis elbow with amputation.

…and now it’s stuck in my head. (Le-i-o-de-le-i-o-de-le-hee-hoo!)

Keith Phipps
I’m highly prone to earworms—considering getting a vaccine next year—but few songs have the ability to lodge themselves and stick like INXS’ “Original Sin.” Which is actually okay. I like the song. But having “dream on white boy (white boy) / dream on black girl (black girl)” on repeat isn’t necessarily that pleasant an experience once it stretches past hour four. A side note: Has anyone found that listening to the source of the earworm again helps drive it out? It’s sometimes not being able to hear the song that makes the earworm stronger, in my experience.

Nathan Rabin
I have a remarkable, unfortunate ability to retain information for decades after experiencing it only once. Because of this, old jingles from my childhood tend to play on a constant loop inside my head. To this day, I can perform the entire commercial for Kid N’ Play’s 1-900 hotline from memory, which is something my girlfriend asks me to do on a surprisingly regular basis. I’m not sure that qualifies as a song, though, so I’m going to go with the song that has been ricocheting around my brain for the last week: Weird Al’s “I Perform This Way.” It’s definitely the Weird Al version I have happily stuck in my head, since I don’t know that I’ve ever heard the Lady Gaga version. As tends to be the case in earworms like this, one particular passage gets stuck in my head, the part that goes “Critics might say it’s a grotesque display.” I find something about that combination of words weirdly hypnotic and addictive. 

Josh Modell
This happens to me on an almost-daily basis, and with many of the songs already named. I frequently wake up in the middle of the night with a few seconds of a song—one I don’t like, more often than not—stuck in my head, and I sometimes need to wake myself up completely in order to shake it. But for argument’s sake, let’s just pick one: “No Rain” by Blind Melon. All I can say is that my life is pretty plain. There, now it’s your earworm!

Marcus Gilmer
A few weeks ago, a friend texted me out of the blue, asking me, “Best pop song of all time, go!” My knee-jerk reaction was The Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows,” mostly because it’s the one that floats through my head the most. It’s a masterfully composed and produced song, the sleigh bells and distant horns layered below Carl Wilson’s smooth vocals, the “bah-bah-bahs”; it’s the best song off of one of pop music’s best albums. But it’s that single-line chorus—“God only knows what I’d be without you”—that’s been stuck on repeat in my head, kind of like the final third of the song. Brian Wilson has always been known as a musical genius, and this is just further proof.

Sean O’Neal
Day 305 since the occupation of Katy Perry’s “California Gurls” first began. Morale is at an all-time low. The song continues to block all inroads ferrying much-needed fresh melodies—and any such relief is temporary, quickly answered by the relentless shelling of that bombastic chorus. At night, sleep comes in fits, interrupted by the air-raid siren of Perry’s voice: A-whoa-oh-whoa-oh. A-whoa-oh-whoa-oh. Somehow, the rare moments of silence are worse, because I know it’s out there, crouching in the dark—hiding in a place where the grass is always greener. And as soon as I let my guard down, it will find me. It’s unforgettable; it’s undeniable. I try not to show it, try to hold the line. But I’m not sure I can withstand another summer.

Ben Munson
I know the music in grocery stores is meant to be window dressing, to lull you into a languid commercialism coma. But I tend to listen pretty intently when I’m shopping, and end up falling prey to some random earworms, like ABC’s “When Smokey Sings,” for instance. Recently, while trying to remember whether my wife wanted the fat-free or 1/3-less-fat variety of Philadelphia Cream Cheese, my mind came dangerously close to succumbing to Lucinda’s Williams’ “Passion Kisses,” and I was mumbling “Shouldn’t I have this?” repeatedly to myself through the rest of the dairy section. Yet the song from that trip that really stuck was Band Of Horses’ “Dilly,” forcing me to revisit last year’s Infinite Arms and realize I’m still okay with my decision to pretend the band only made two albums. Still I must concede to them this one pleasant, soft pop-rock nugget, perfect for a breezy trip down the frozen-food aisle.

Kyle Ryan
When Keith and I recently traveled to New Orleans for an awesome upcoming A.V. Club project, I knew what was in store: a continuous loop of the eye-gougingly catchy theme song to the HBO series Treme. When we actually visited the Treme area, I half-expected John Boutté’s song—which originally appeared as “Treme Song” on his stereotypically titled 2003 album Jambalaya—to possess me Exorcist-style, except instead of vomiting pea soup, I’d be attempting a one-man second line while howling “Bug jumpin’ and havin’ fun!” As is often the case with earworms, “Treme Song” isn’t the kind of thing I’d listen to willingly, which makes it all the more insidious. To even speak its name is to sentence myself to at least an hour of humming its accursed bassline. 

Zack Handlen
I strongly dislike the filmography of Joel Schumacher. Like, to the point where, whenever I read his name, some prepubescent part of my brain thinks “Schmuckmaker,” and is convinced that’s basically the funniest thing ever. And while I haven’t seen all his movies, I feel reasonably safe in asserting that St. Elmo’s Fire (which I have seen, because when I was in high school, my mom did a project for a college class about the presentation of young professionals in ’80s cinema, so we had to watch St. Elmo’s FireLess Than ZeroBright Lights, Big City; and Mel Gibson’s Hamlet—which, come to think of it, was probably for a different class) has to rank pretty high in his overall portfolio of cinematic crimes against humanity. It’s shallow, insipid, and bland, and in that really horrible shallow, insipid, and bland way that ’80s movies had, like it’s making some deep statement about how hard life is, but you gotta take the chances and reach for the gold ring and hang in there because kittens do it, and if you believe in your dreams, eventually you can kiss Andie MacDowell. (Another sign this was awful: Demi Moore is the “arty” one.) I don’t know why I associate this kind of drivel with the ‘80s, but it just seems really prevalent and insidious in that decade, and I remember falling for it constantly when I was growing up; I’ve had people trying to explain to me how Dead Poets Society is actually kind of terrible, and every time they do, I just close my eyes and shout “Oh captain, my captain!” until they leave. Anyway, the point being, St. Elmo’s Fire is a bad movie, and it gave us two pieces of music I will never forget ’til the day I die—the “Love Theme From St. Elmo’s Fire” and “St. Elmo’s Fire (Man In Motion).” ”Man In Motion” is this cheesy, fist-pumping anthem that was originally written for, I kid you not, a guy in a wheelchair, but then somebody offered John Parr a ton of money. And I’m not going to say history was made, nor am I going to try and make some connection between Joel “The Schu” Schumacher’s brand of plastic preening populism, which sounds great until you actually listen, and the ear-numbing Parr delivers here, but you should listen, so I won’t feel quite so alone anymore:

More AVQ&A