Sunday, February 14, 2010


As if it isn't enough to suffer the distressing effects of horological monodigitism, I find myself plagued by a new problem - a mild form of obsessive compulsive disorder with musical manifestations (OCDM2)

I can think of no better explanation than to describe a typical episode.

I'll be enjoying the recollection of one of my favourite pieces of music - let's say Liszt's Fifth Hungarian Rhapsody - when I suddenly become aware that I have been whistling the same 4 or 5 bars under my breath for most of the morning. By the next day it has taken a firm hold and I find myself replaying the same loop in my imagination, more or less unconsciously. It's easy to put the tune aside once I become aware that I am playing it, but it has a sneaky tendency to start up again as soon as my back is turned. It's not unusual for a single tune to get lodged for 4 or 5 days, with occasional episodes lasting anything up to a month.

'Aha', I hear you clamouring to suggest: 'Why don't you just think of a different piece of music ?'.

If only it were that simple.

Certainly using one tune to drive out another is a sensible strategy. But consider this. There are only certain tunes capable of displacing one that has outstayed its welcome. The tunes you'd like to recall - the one's you're particularly fond of - they always turn out to be useless.

Just before Christmas, for example, I had a particularly persistent fixation with Happiness (by Goldfrapp). Now, on the whole, I consider this to be an intelligent and appealing piece of music but after two weeks of uninterrupted mental playback I was beginning to find it tiresome.

I tried a couple of alternatives. The Byrds: Eight Miles High - that classic from the very zenith of Californian hippy culture - never really got much of a hold. Much more promising was Friday Night and Saturday Morning (the Nouvelle Vague version featuring Daniella D'Ambrosio). I've worked with it in the past and know from experience that, while very effective as a musical purgative, it can be a devil to get rid of once it's got it's feet under the table. But - mercifully perhaps - it didn't take on this occasion.

So I was stuck with the Goldfrapp for a few days more before I did what I knew I'd be forced to do all along.

You see there's a fiendishly subtle twist to this particular neurosis that makes one suspect it to be the work of some malevolent intelligence. It's this. While there is no particular difficulty in identifying a tune to do the business - it will invariably be one that is both more banal and persistent than the tune it displaces.

So, out of desperation, I forced out the Goldfrapp with Jesus Wants me for Sunbeam which I endured for an afternoon before resorting to Puff the Magic Dragon. Beyond this point the choice suddenly becomes quite limited as there are only a handful of tunes that are sufficiently fatuous to deal with Puff the Magic Dragon. Of course, there's always The Chicken Song - but that could be regarded as overkill. No, there's really only one candidate as far as I'm concerned and that's Lily the Pink (by The Scaffold).

Some might regard the fact that this song topped the UK singles chart for 4 whole weeks in 1968 as no more than a minor cultural footnote. For my part, I consider it as clear evidence of a significant public health risk.


  1. I have had The Obama "Yes We Can" song stuck in my head for the past few days. Any recommendations of what to remove it with?

  2. Well .. I've been giving this some thought and I'm guessing the primary problem with the 'Yes we can' song is not so much one of musical quality as the fact that it has got itself lodged.

    In these instances it's important not to prescribe a treatment that is too powerful. In your case, for example, it would be complete overkill to prescribe a last-ditch remedy like 'Barbie Girl' by Aqua ....

    Ooops .... sorry !

  3. Apparently - these tunes are known as earworms.