Famous Songs That Get Stuck in Your Head

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It is a common experience that at times a saying, a catch phrase, or a song gets stuck in your head, and it is quite difficult to oust it. The phenomenon, experienced both by men and women, is variously known as: Stick-in-your”œHeadable, earworm (ohrwurm in German), brainworm, musical imagery repetition, involuntary musical imagery, haunting melody, hard-to-shake melody, sticky music, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Notable researchers about this phenomenon include: Theodor Reik, Sean Bernnet, Oliver Sacks, and Daniel Levitin. How severely it can impact people can be realized by the important case of Jean Harris, who murdered Dr. Herman Tarnower. She was obsessed with the song ‘Put the Blame on Mame.’ The song which she had heard in the film Gilda for the first time haunted her for more than 30 years. She heard the song in her mind so clearly that she was at times constrained to stop conversation. According to Kellaris, more than 73 percent of earworms are caused by simple tunes and songs with lyrics against less than 8 percent in cases of instrumental and complex music. Mark Twain wrote A Literary Nightmare in 1876. It is about a sticky jingle which one can get rid of only by sending it to someone else.

1. ‘Barbie Girl’

'Barbie Girl'
‘Barbie Girl’

Written by Claus Norrean and Soren Nystrem Rasted, the ‘Barbie Girl’ song was performed by a Danish-Norwegian dance pop group, Aqua. Soon after its release in 1997, the song topped the charts all over the world. The song was included in the album Aquarium. It ranked #7 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100, and it was only hit single of Aqua that reached the Top 20 of the Billboard Hot 100. Its lyrics are simple, get stuck in one’s head very easily, and it is one of the most difficult to disassociate songs:

‘I’m a Barbie girl, in the Barbie world
Life in plastic, it’s fantastic
You can brush my hair, undress me everywhere
Imagination, life is your creation
Come on Barbie, let’s go party!’

2. ‘It’s a Small World’

'It's a Small World'
‘It’s a Small World’

The Walt Disney Company designed a musical boat ride, and Walt Disney showing its miniature prototype to his songwriters Robert B. Sherman and Richard M. Sherman, asked them to write a song that could be easily translated in all the world’s languages and could be played in a round of the boat rides located in the Fantasyland areas of the Walt Disney parks the world over. Delighted with the creation of the song, Walt renamed the boat ride attraction as ‘It’s a Small World.’ The song ‘It’s a Small World’ is considered the most translated and the most performed piece of music on Earth:

‘There is just one moon
And one golden sun
And a smile means
Friendship to everyone
Though the mountains divide
And the oceans are wide
It’s a small world after all.’

3. ‘High Hopes’

Frank Sinatra
Frank Sinatra

Sammy Cahn wrote the lyrics, and Jimmy Van Heusen wrote the music of the song ‘High Hopes’ which gained high renown after it was performed by Frank Sinatra. Soon after its introduction in the movie A Hole in the Head, released in 1959, the song was nominated for a Grammy Award and won an Oscar Award for Best Original Song at the 32nd Academy Awards. The song describes some unbelievable tasks which some animals hope to perform:

‘Next time you’re found, with chin on the ground
There’s lot to be learned, so look around
Just what makes that little old ant
Think he’ll move the rubber tree plant
Anyone knows an ant, can’t
Move a rubber tree plant
But he’s got high hopes, he’s got high hopes
He’s got high apple pie in the sky hopes.’

4. ‘Poker Face’

 'Poker Face'
‘Poker Face’

‘Poker Face’ is a song from the album The Fame by the American celebrity, recording artist, and songwriter Lady Gaga. It was released in 2008. Having sold over 10 million copies, the song is considered one of the Best Selling Singles of All Time. Lady Gaga performed this song at the eighth season of the TV show American Idol. At the 52nd Grammy Awards, it was nominated for the Song of the Year and Record of the Year. It won the Grammy Award for Best Dance Recording. It is the most downloaded song in the U.K. and a typical example of the sticky songs.

‘Oh, Oh, Oh, I’ll get him hot, show him what I’ve got
Oh, Oh, Oh, I’ll get him hot, show him what I’ve got
Can’t read my, can’t read my, no, he can’t read my poker face
She’s got to love nobody
P-p-p poker face, p-p-poker face (Mum mum mum mah)
P-p-poker face, p-p-poker face (Mum mah).’

5. ‘Wannabe’

Spice Girls
Spice Girls

The British pop group Spice Girls released ‘Wannabe’ in 1997 as their debut song. It was written by its members while Matt Rowe and Richard Stannard contributed in the songwriting session. It is a mix of hip-hop, rap, and dance music. The song won the Ivor Novello Award and the 1997 BRIT Award. The song has all the features to render it an earworm:

‘Yo, I’ll tell you what I want, what I really, really want
So I’ll tell you what I want, what I really, really want
I’ll tell you what I want, what I really, really want
So tell me what you want, what you really, really want
I wanna, (ha) I Wanna, (ha), I wanna (ha) I wanna (ha)
I wanna really, really, really, wanna zigazig ah.’

6. ‘I Wanna Be Sedated’

Joey Ramone
Joey Ramone

‘I Wanna Be Sedated’ was written by Joey Ramone of the American punk rock Ramones. It was released for the first time in 1978. Joey said about the song that he wrote it while he was in London for the first time and that at Christmas time when London seemed all closed, and he had nothing to do while staying in a hotel with Dee Dee Ramone .

‘Twenty-twenty-twenty four hours to go I wanna be sedated
Nothin’ to do and no where to go-o-oh I wanna be sedated
Just get me to the airport put me on a plane
Hurry, hurry, hurry before I go insane
I can’t control my fingers I can’t control my brain
Oh no no no no no.’

7. ‘It Wasn’t Me’

'It Wasn't Me'
‘It Wasn’t Me’

‘It Wasn’t Me’ is the popular song from the multi-platinum album of the Jamaican American artist Shaggy. It was released on February 26, 2001 and became the highest charting song in many countries. Its lyrics make it a sticky song:

‘But she caught me on the counter (it wasn’t me)
Saw me kissin’ on the sofa (it wasn’t me)
I even had her in the shower (it wasn’t me)
She even caught me on camera (it wasn’t me)
She saw the marks on my shoulder (it wasn’t me)
Heard the words that I told her (it wasn’t me)
Heard the screams get louder (it wasn’t me)
She stayed until it was over.’

8. ‘Can’t Get You Out of My Head’

'Can't Get You Out of My Head'
‘Can’t Get You Out of My Head’

‘Can’t Get You Out of My Head’ was written and produced by Cathy Dennis and performed by the Australian recording artist and songwriter Kylie Minogue. The popular pop song was released on September 8, 2001. It ranked #7 on the U.S. Billboard’s Hot 100. Its lyrics are ‘stuck-in headable’:

‘I just can’t get you out of my head
Boy, your lovin’ is all I think about
I just can’t get you out of my head
Boy, it’s more than I dare to think about
La, La, La, La, La, La, La, La.’

9. ‘Brown Girl in Ring’

Boney M
Boney M

Liz Mitchells recorded the song with Malcolm Locks in 1975. It is a traditional song of the West Indies sung by children while playing the ring game. Boney M’s version from Rivers of Babylon is considered the most popular. On the radio the song charted #2 in the U.K. The lyrics of the song has the spirit of the game:

‘Brown girl in the ring
Tra La La La La
There’s a brown girl in the ring
She looks like a sugar in a plum
Show me your motion.’

10. ‘Bette Davis Eyes’

'Bette Davis Eyes'
‘Bette Davis Eyes’

‘Bette Davis Eyes’ was written by Jackie De Shannon and Donna Weiss in 1974. It gained fame after its performance by Kim Carnes. The song topped the U.S. Billboard’s Hot 100 for 9 weeks. The song won a Grammy Award for Song of the Year and Record of the Year.

‘Her hair is hollow gold
Her lips sweet surprise
Her hands are never cold
She’s got Bette Davis eyes.’


In acute cases of obsessive-compulsive disorder, medical assistance might be required; while in minor occurrences the sticky songs are ‘unheard’ by hearing some other song or transferring the stuck song to someone else. Fritz Leiber’s short story written in 1959 and titled as ‘Rum-Titty-Tum-Tah-Tee’ was nominated for a Hugo Award. It explains how the rhythmic drumbeat can get embedded into different cultures so easily. A counter-rhythm is required to inactivate it.


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