If music be the food of insomnia

Where have you gone, Sheb Wooley? I suppose every generation venerates the music of its youth. As a Boomer, I am particularly grateful for the music I grew up with. We had folk songs and surfer music, Country and Motown, not to mention the British Invasion; gentle pop tunes from the 50s eventually gave way to more radical songs of the 60s. An embarrassment of riches for growing minds.

Even before we fell in love with the poetic songs and wretched voice of Bob Dylan, we were fed a steady diet of inane lyrics: “The Purple People Eater,” “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini,” and just about anything by that genius of silliness Allan Sherman.

And therein lies my problem. I have what’s known as an earworm. Fortunately – or unfortunately — I am not alone. Something like 90 percent of us suffer through the pangs and arrows of an earworm on a regular basis.

In case you fall into the 10 percent group and are unfamiliar with the concept of an earworm, it’s simple: an earworm is a song that gets stuck in your head. Sounds harmless enough, until it happens to you, especially when you’re trying to sleep and can’t because your mind plays that stupid song in a loop, over and over and over, and you have an important presentation to make at work later that same day and know you’re going to feel crappy during the presentation and most likely blow it.

Researchers, of course, can explain an earworm. They even have other names for it: cognitive itch, sticky music, stuck-song syndrome. Most often, the culprit is a song you recently heard. It might replay itself because you’re under stress. Or, as one theory holds, it’s directly tied to the human oral storytelling tradition, where memorization was critical to survival. As a human you’re stuck with this earworm thing, like it or not, as if it’s some kind of vestigial remain, and must learn to take your lumps and roll with the lyrics.

I’m sharing this information with you because, innocently enough, a couple of evenings ago I was streaming Amazon Music in the comfort of my home. I wanted something upbeat and uncomplicated, so I chose an album of the top 100 songs from the 1950-60s. That was my first mistake.

My second mistake was listening to “The Witch Doctor” by David Seville. I first became familiar with that song when I was almost ten, in 1958, sixty years ago, and I don’t recall hearing it much, if at all, since. Now if I had my wits about me and better reflexes, I would have raced over and put the remote on mute before the song started. But I didn’t. All night long, unable to reach inside my head and turn my brain off, all I could hear was: “Ooo eee, ooo ah ah ting tang / Walla walla, bing bang.”

I guess it could have turned out worse. Seville also gave us “The Chipmunk Song.”


  1. I totally agree. The worst miscarriage of pop culture justice since the movie “Joe Dirt” didn’t receive its much-deserved Oscar nomination. What can you do? Obviously, the fix was in.

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