7 Worst Earworms (These Songs Get Stuck in Your Head)

7 Worst Earworms (These Songs Get Stuck in Your Head)

Earworms. Almost everyone has experienced them. The phenomenon of when a song gets stuck in your head, whether you like the song or not!

Interestingly, there’s a science behind earworms. But which are the worst culprits, and what can be done about it?

Let’s find out!

What is an Earworm?

The term earworm comes from the German word Der Ohwurm, which also refers to an insect. Research scientists claim that earworms typically loop at about 20 seconds of music. The experience can last for hours or even days. This form of rumination can happen to anyone. That said, it tends to happen more when we are bored, anxious, or overloaded.

A song can easily get stuck in your head because humans crave patterns. We love order and structure as a way to recall information and understand it. It’s no wonder that predictability and rhythmic repetition are two of five components that make a strong earworm.

According to The University of St Andrews researchers, the other three components are melodic potency, surprise, and receptiveness. Upbeat tempos tend to be earworms. Just think of a good commercial jingle. In addition, a song is more likely to loop when it has some kind of surprise to hook you. And the music industry knows it!

Melodic potency refers to the emotional value of the lyrics and chords together. If you have strong feelings about the content, either positive or negative, you become more receptive.

Although there is a formula for creating a catchy tune, practically any song can become an earworm. Still, certain popular songs seem to top this chart of mild torture. 

We determined the greatest (worst) seven earworms by looking at various polls and tossing in a bit of our own bias.

#7 Who Let The Dogs Out by Baha Men

About the Song: The chorus to Who Let The Dogs Out is so basic and so catchy, it’s just too easy to get stuck on repeat. Baha Men was a relatively unknown musical group before this track topped the charts worldwide in 2000 and 2001. Kids love it, and sporting events use it to rile up the crowd. It also charts high on many music sites’ worst songs ever lists.

Worst Stuck Lyric

Who let the dogs out? 
Who, who, who, who, who?

First Appearance: This barker is a cover of an Anslem Douglas song, called Doggie, in 1998. Baha Men unleashed Who Let the Dogs Out in 2000. Although Doggie starts with a calypso disco flare, the chorus is the same.

#6 The Final Countdown by Europe

About the Song: The Final Countdown is a perfect example of melodic potency, predictability, and surprise. The secret lies in its unforgettable keyboard riff. The sound of their Korg Polysix keyboard was incredibly bright, urgent, and undeniably 80s. The lyrics describe leaving Earth after it’s demolished, presumably by the cold war turmoil of the time.

Worst Stuck Lyric

It's the final countdown,
The final countdown, oh!

First Appearance: This earworm debuted as a single in February 1986. The album by the same name was released in October that same year.

#5 YMCA by The Village People

About the Song: YMCA is The Village People’s most famous song and has sold over ten million copies worldwide. It remains a popular dance hit, with widely known cheerleader hand gestures. The production is boisterous and uplifting. It’s that song you hate to hear at your aunt’s second wedding but will leave you smiling by the end of it.

Worst Stuck Lyric:

It's fun to stay at the YMCA
It's fun to stay at the YMCA.
You can get yourself clean, 
You can have a good meal
You can do what ever you feel

First Appearance: This anthem marched onto the scene in the fall of 1978, on The Village People’s third album, Cruisin’.

#4 Livin’ On A Prayer by Bon Jovi

About the Song: Nothing says American Hair Metal better than Livin’ On A Prayer. It was the second massive single off Bon Jovi’s album Slippery When Wet. The lyrics describe a working-class couple dreaming of a better life. 

The genius sonic hook is Richie Sambora’s use of a talk box on his guitar. It literally sounds like a guitar is saying Whoa, Whoa. That’s pure metal pop glory.

Worst Stuck Lyric

We've got to hold on to what we've got
It doesn't make a difference if we make it or not
We've got each other and that's a lot for love
We'll give it a shot

First Appearance: Livin’ On A Prayer jumped into the ears of the world on October 31, 1986.

#3 Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen

About the Song: Bohemian Rhapsody was a surprising success to everyone at the time of release, except the band. Almost six minutes long and sonically unique, the song nearly wasn’t released. Queen’s music executives didn’t want to release it.

However, with the help of radio DJ Kenny Everette, the song was leaked and it catapulted to success. It’s a bizarrely lovable earworm.

Worst Stuck Lyric:

Mama, oooh,
Didn't mean to make you cry,
If I'm not back again this time tomorrow,
Carry on, carry on as if nothing really matters

First Appearance: Bohemian Rhapsody came out as a single on Halloween night, 1975. Queen released A Night At The Opera, the album it appears on, a few weeks later.

#2 We Are The Champions by Queen

About the Song: Lead singer Freddy Mercury wrote this song with audience participation in mind. We’re not entirely sure, but we suspect he wanted it to remain stuck in your head for days on end! It’s one of Queen’s most popular tunes and voted as the world’s favorite song in a 2005 Sony poll. 

According to NME, We Are The Champions has been cited by researchers as scientifically baked to be exceptionally catchy. 

Worst Stuck Lyric:

We are the champions
We are the champions
No time for losers
'Cause we are the champions of the World

First Appearance: This anthem first appeared on Queen’s 1977 album News Of The World.

#1 I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles) by The Proclaimers

About the Song: Just a hint of this song’s chorus and its game over. Here comes the earworm. The Proclaimers, a pop-folk band from Scotland, wrote and performed I’m Gonna Be. The track charted across the world by 1993. Songwriter Craig Reid said this single earned five times more income for the band than their entire catalog combined.

Worst Stuck Lyric

And I would walk 500 miles
And I would walk 500 more

First Appearance: This ultimate worm was first released in August 1998 in the UK. It did not get released in the US until June of 1993. 

Honorable Mention Earworms

This secondary list could last for days. But we feel there are a few notables worth mentioning. 

Two 80s classics are Karma Chameleon by Culture Club and Never Gonna Give You Up by Rick Astley. 

For more recent picks, we have Happy by Pharrell Williams. It’s a fantastic song! But it is a trending worm culprit. On the other end of the spectrum is Gangnam Style by Psy. You may find yourself spontaneously dancing with that one.

Not surprisingly, Lady Gaga has many songs that track as earworms. We’re going to make an educated guess here, and trust we don’t even need to name them.

How Do You Get Rid of an Earworm?

The good news is that you can get rid of these buggers with a little effort! Scientists have identified five ways to get rid of earworms. The first three are pretty intuitive: distract yourself, think of another song, or ignore it. You can chant a mantra, say your grocery list out loud, or even state lyrics to a different song. The newly introduced tune rarely becomes a worm.

The other two solutions are a little more interesting.

The fourth scientifically proven way to get rid of an earworm is to chew gum. The act of chewing gum engages the tongue and teeth. It activates subvocal articulators, parts of the body used for speech. 

Remember the phrase “I can’t talk and chew gum at the same time?” It’s kind of the same principle. For some, the act of chewing gum can lessen the brain’s ability for musical memory.

The fifth solution is to listen to the entire song. Initially, this solution may seem completely counterintuitive. But research has shown that once your brain surrenders to hearing the whole tune, the loop stops. Try it! What’s the worst that could happen?

What’s Your Worst Earworm?

You might hate earworms, or you might pretend that you don’t. Either way, we all get them. The good news is that there are scientifically proven ways to get rid of them. But, on occasion, you may just need to weather the worm storm.

What’s a song that often gets stuck in your head? What helps you get rid of an earworm? Share your experiences in the comments!

7 responses to “7 Worst Earworms (These Songs Get Stuck in Your Head)”

  1. I’d welcome the majority of these songs getting stuck in my head LOL! I tend to get jingles as ear worms but sometimes it’s songs like Tie A Yellow Ribbon for some odd reason.

  2. These songs are just rank amateur ear worms. Take your kids or grandkids to Disneyland and see how long “Small World” keeps rattling around your brain cells. Just when you think you are done with it, along comes some 10-year-old child singing it and it starts rattling around again!

  3. The kids tune “Baby Shark” should be somewhere on this list. I don’t even have to hear it. I can see a baby shark image and the tune automatically starts in my head. Lol

    • We definitely considered it! But, we decided to stick with classic tunes from the ‘great oldies’ era. If we did an all-time list, Baby Shark would be at the top!

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