Can’t Get Out of My Head: The Top Earworms in Music

You hear them while you’re folding laundry, while you’re eating dinner, while you’re trying to sleep. Earworms, brainworms, sticky music … call them whatever you want, I call them torture. I mean, is there anything worse?

Most times, catchy songs can bring joy, but other times they haunt us. But how and why do earworms happen? Science says that that earworms require a magical combination of recency, repetition, and pre-existing memories. Though psychology has a ways to go on the earworm information front, you don’t need science to know that earworms suck.

Today, we’ll dive in to the most common offenders, popular songs that have plagued the music listening public for decades. Let’s explore the top earworms in music!

The Proclaimers – I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)

Why not start off with a bang? The undisputed king of earworms has got to be “I’m Gonna Be” by the Scottish musical duo The Proclaimers. The song has everything: repetitive lyrics, a catchy melody, an unchanging rhythm but just enough surprise to keep you guessing.

The tune’s reputation was strong enough to earn it the top spot on The Sun UK’s reader poll of music’s catchiest offenders. Though The Proclaimers tour the world extensively and boast a 10-studio-album-discography, it’s going to take much more than a 500-mile head start to escape the bad karma they’ve earned by creating this psychological abomination.


Meghan Trainor – All About the Bass

Before I dig in to this one, I’d first like to say that I have nothing against Meghan Trainor personally. She seems like a very nice person and I fully support her message of self-love and body positivity. Having said that, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve cursed the names of all those involved in the creative on “All About the Bass.”

The simple bassline, the heavy rhythm, and the cutesy, doo-wop backing vocals drove the track to the top of Billboard’s Hot 100 on September 10, 2014. Translation: the song was everywhere. You couldn’t escape it. Making Trainor’s earworm all that more pervasive.

Michael Jackson – Beat It

Jackson’s smash hit “Beat It” conquered the billboard charts upon its release in 1982. The tune was one of many, chart-topping masterpieces of the iconic Thriller album. “Beat It” is four-minutes and 18-seconds of pure fire. It’s also, as hard as it is to admit, an obvious earworm.

That catchy bass line, that basic and repetitive drum loop, the forceful-yet-predictable vocal melody, the simple-yet-memorable lyrical theme … it’s master song crafting from one of the greatest ever. And yes, MJ was as good as anyone at earworm cultivation.

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