Why is that stupid song stuck in my head?

Image from hiphop-n-more.com.

I was in the shower, thinking of nothing in particular, when it hit me: “Aubrey” by Bread.

I hate “Aubrey.”

I like a few Bread songs — “Guitar Man,” “Everything I Own,” “It Don’t Matter to Me” — but “Aubrey” was the group at its worst: drippy, faux-profound (“but where was June”?), all David Gates and very little of the rest of the band. (Poor Larry Knechtel.) Checking the Wiki entry, I’m shocked to see it was somewhat influential, allegedly turning a formerly male name into a female one and responsible for the name of actress Aubrey Plaza.

What’s even more shocking is it’s not the first time it’s popped into my head unbidden.

My mind seems to have a love of early and mid-’70s schlock when it comes to earworms. I can conjure my real favorites without a problem, but give me an empty moment and suddenly I’m stuck with “Aubrey,” “Seasons in the Sun” or “Put Your Hand in the Hand.” And once they’re playing, this K-Tel LP from hell is hard to shut off.

Why is this? Why doesn’t my mind start playing “Paperback Writer” or “The Weakest Shade of Blue” when faced with nothing but shower spray?

Part of it is that damned Em-G7-C chord change and corresponding leap of melody, which Gates seemed to do a lot. I love that sort of stuff. (The Beatles were good at it, too.) In addition, I listen to a lot of music and my personality leans to the neurotic, two details that also create fertile earworm soil.

And earworms in general also seem to have something to do with childlike simplicity, which is why advertising jingles make such perfect examples.

But my earworms are unusual in one respect. According to HowStuffWorks, “Often the songs have a simple, upbeat melody; catchy, repetitive lyrics; and a surprise such as an extra beat or unusual rhythm.” In my case, they’re saccharinely sad or wistful, though I’ll cop to “repetitive.”

I wonder if there’s some deeper psychology at work. Maybe, given the era of the unbidden music, it’s a way for my brain to process tamped-down feelings connected with an AM radio-filled childhood — worries about loneliness and death that a 9-year-old didn’t feel comfortable talking about. And, well, they are catchy.

Fortunately, they do fade with time. (I’ve got a whole jukebox in there!) And if I’m struggling, scientists have found an apparent solution: chewing gum.

As long as it doesn’t lead to “Honey,” I’m fine with that.




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