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Monday 22 October 2012, 10:31

Michelle Martin Michelle Martin

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shaun keavney

My name is Shaun Keaveny, I am a music broadcaster, and a long-term sufferer of a sometimes debilitating condition. It is devastatingly virulent, indiscriminate, and can strike the patient down at any time, anywhere. It is the Earworm.

An earworm is a parasitic little fragment of music that burrows its way into your cortex. It can be impossible to remove and can remain in its host for days.

Do the Conga!

As I play music for a living, I am particularly susceptible to earworms. One morning on my 6 Music Breakfast Show, after a particularly extended bout of earworm-related torture involving the Thin Lizzy song Chinatown, I mentioned the phenomenon to my listeners who replied in their droves with their own maddening inner soundtracks. The collection and playing of listener Earworms has been a mainstay of my programme ever since.

The Macarena!

My earworms are often caused by audio-visual stimuli of some kind. The aforementioned Chinatown seizure happened as I was strolling through London's Chinatown, inevitably. But other things can kick them off too... the note of a screechy brake, a pinging sound from a malfunctioning computer, a phrase someone utters... anything can plunge your mind into a musical reverie that can be difficult to extricate oneself from.

The Birdie Song

In the documentary we put together on the subject, we managed to get some very interesting answers from scientists as to why they happen, what function they may serve, and who is most susceptible. We also hear some harrowing and amusing first hand accounts from the pitiable wretches whose lives have been blighted by an incessant loop of Bananarama or My Lovely Horse.

Of course, earworms are ultimately harmless, and it can even be argued they should be enjoyed. But its hard to see it that way when you have been whistling the theme tune to the Muppet Show for fifteen solid hours without respite.

I can only hope that


you can get to the end of this article without picking one up. If you are a sufferer, why not share your experiences. Don't suffer in silence. (Chance would be a fine thing).

Shaun Keavney is the presenter of Earworms. He also has a regular show on BBC 6 Music

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    Comment number 1.

    I suffer from earworms occasionally. I find that singing a few lines from 'The funky gibbon' (The Goodies, remember that?) clears out the worm. You'd think all I'd be doing is replacing it with a gibbon-based worm, but strangely that tune never becomes an earworm for me, I have no idea why this works.

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    Comment number 2.

    I too have a number of earworms that burst my head...somehow "Up, up and away" seems to kill them, and again, doesn't become an earworm itself. How bizarre.

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    Comment number 3.

    And the burrowings of the eye maggotts too,to add to writhings of the wet and lank. And since our surly grey cortices are so devouringly sweet,if jaggedly toothed, then this substrate of our minds must find the same reiterative succlance in them as our forebear of a grabbing coelacanth.

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    Comment number 4.

    The chorus to Vic Reeves and The Wonder Stuff's cover of Dizzy was a persistent one-off earworm in the early nineties when I was trying to write an essay. "Like a whirlpool" indeed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    I am sure Disney deliberately designed "It's a small world after all" as an earworm. At their parks the ride lasts 8 minute and the song is playing all the time. There is one simple melody and the lyric is the title repeated over and over again. It stays with you for weeks.


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Identifying the top ten game changers operating in the UK today.


See the latest on our blog


Find out about this year's panel and theme