Five famous earworms

People have been struggling to cope with catchy tunes for decades – it’s not just a modern phenomenon.

30th December 2015
Five famous earworms (Family Guy © Getty)


Mark Twain © Getty
Mark Twain © Getty

Mark Twain’s short story A Literary Nightmare (1876) tells of a town afflicted by a jingle-like poem. The jingle was based on a real-life information sign about tram tickets, hence “Punch brothers! Punch with care! Punch in the presence of the passenjare!”


The early 20th-Century Russian-born composer Nicolas Slonimsky identified patterns in music that could “hook the mind and force it to mimicry and repetition” in his 1947 book Thesaurus Of Scales And Melodic Patterns.


The late neurologist Oliver Sacks once injured his leg badly while escaping an enraged bull on a mountaintop. In A Leg to Stand On (1984) he explains how the rhythm of Song Of The Volga Boatmen kept him conscious as he slid himself to safety.


Peter Griffin’s annoying ‘bird is the word’ earworm in a 2008 episode of Family Guy became so strongly associated with the animated sitcom that many younger viewers thought it originated from the show. It was actually 1960s hit Surfin’ Bird by The Trashmen.


An episode of Nickelodeon’s SpongeBob SquarePants that aired in 2010 was called ‘Earworm’. In the episode, the character SpongeBob SquarePants became infected by a living creature that transmitted a catchy tune called Musical Doodle.

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