On the earworm - LICK MY DECALS OFF, BABY! #38

Although the title of this piece may be misconstrued as a kind of zoological study, I can assure you it has as much to do with music as any of my previous posts. Basically, an earworm is a song that gets stuck in your head; it’s just a fancy name for it. It happens to us all; we get a song embedded into our minds and it just won’t let go under any circumstances. Now, I’m not inclined to take any particularly strong position on the matter. I’ve had songs stuck in my head that were incredibly annoying; what’s more, they’ve been while I was in the middle of a 9 hour shift at work so I couldn’t go and listen to something better to remove it from my consciousness. On the other hand, I’ve been so in love with songs that I don’t want to listen to anything else, and I know it’s only a passing phase and that I won’t want to listen to the song half as much the next day, so I indulge my little song addiction for as long as possible. It usually happens every few months, but it’s happened so frequently recently I thought it was worth mentioning.

I’ve been in a massive Ry Cooder mood since about the turn of the New Year, as anyone who’s checked my last.fm charts will surely have noticed. So I’ve been buying and progressively working my way through his albums in no particular order, and on Wednesday his self-titled debut arrived. A bit of a mixed bag with some peculiar arrangements, questionable singing but consistently brilliant guitar playing, as always. However, I was in the middle of selecting a few great guitar songs from my library to give to a friend the next day, when suddenly I couldn’t get Cooder’s cover of Blind Blake’s Police Dog Blues out of my head, from said debut album. It was about eight o’clock on Thursday night and I had planned to sit down and do some work for about an hour; instead I put Police Dog Blues on repeat for about an hour and did absolutely nothing. I think it was 18 or 19 plays later I decided to call it quits. What was it about the song? It’s disappointingly similar to the original, but thanks to better recording technology (Blake’s original was recorded in the 30’s I think) the sound of the guitar takes a much more prominent position, which is brilliant because the guitar line is one of the most ingenious I’ve ever heard. That’s something I frequently have to ask myself about songs that I can’t stop listening to; is it actually good? If you removed my brain’s weird and unexplained desire to make me want to listen to this song, is it actually of quality? In this case, yes, the guitar playing is both catchy and ingenious, the lyrics are funny, and more credit must go to Blind Blake for both of these, but I’ll thank Ry Cooder for drawing the song to my attention. In other cases I’ll get a song stuck in my head that I can’t help but like but I know is pretty embarrassing, (Centerfold by the J. Geils Band was at one time one of my most listened to songs) in other cases I’ll have a song in my head that just seems to have an emotional resonance for me at that particular time. I remember about 3 years ago I heard Aphex Twin’s Lichen for the first time, and what can I say? I’d had a bad day, and the track was soothing and hopeful, and I listened to it EIGHTY-EIGHT times in twenty-four hours. In the three years since I’ve only listened to it a further fifty or so. What was it about that day? The stars were aligned, the mood was right or something, but that sort of addiction, that insatiable craving for listening to but one song depended on so many variables. My mood, the mood of the song, my boredom with the music I’d been listening to that week maybe? I know though that in cases like that, I’ll only feel that way about the songs for just that one moment in time, hence why I try to indulge the mood for as long as possible. I don’t exactly know what point I’m trying to make here, but I just find it immensely interesting that our musical passions can be enflamed or even temporarily upstaged by just one song, and sometimes for inexplicable reasons. Any readers ever have any experience of songs you couldn’t get out of your head or listened to repeatedly until your ears bled? We’d (Well, I’d) [me too – Ed.] love to hear about them.

[There is a theory that the alignment of the stars does have a greater-than-understood impact on the human perception. So widely is this theory believed that Tesco (yes, that Tesco) schedule the tastings of their wines to coincide with certain phases of the moon and stars to try to hip the critics to it more; maybe that works with music. And if you’ve had a real shitty day, I mean a real down bummer of a trip that seemed to never end, nothing rounds it off like a three-figure-decibel blast of Ramesses We Will Lead You to Glorious Times EP. – Ed.]

Words - Adam

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