There are songs you wish you could forget but can’t. They’re like a virus that won’t leave your system no matter how hard you try. You’re in the shower, and before you can stop yourself “Y.M.C.A.” pops out of your mouth. You catch yourself chanting, “Who let the dogs out?” in the car. You respond to a friend’s recent troubles with “I get knocked down, but I get up again.”
You try to erase these unwelcome melodies by thinking about something else. Nothing. You sing them 10 times really loud and fast, hoping to push them out of your head. No luck. They won’t leave you. You’re afraid to go out at night. You used to be so much cooler than this.
Go easy on yourself. You’re not to blame. There’s a name for the affliction, and it’s called “brain itch.” And the type of song that causes the brain itch? That’s an “earworm.” Dr. James Kellaris of the University of Cincinnati has studied the phenomenon (for real). It seems the combination of repetitive words and unchanging melody makes for the perfect earworm. We’re helpless against its power.
Here are the all-time itchiest of the brain-itch tunes. You can rest easy knowing that it’s not really you singing that song. It’s that earworm dug into your mind, like in the movie Scanners. At least now no one can blame you when your friends ask what you want for lunch and you say, “I want my baby back, baby back.”
RIGHT SAID FRED: “I’M TOO SEXY”
The British group’s 1992 tribute to fashion models gives a big brain itch. The most offensive part of the song? Copping a Jimi Hendrix riff (from “Third Stone From the Sun”) for the instrumental break. Why ruin a perfectly good riff with such a punishing song? Jimi is too sexy for bad ’90s dance tunes. Ah…brain itch!!!
This is probably the most ironic of all brain-itch tunes. The English band is made up of anarchists and punks who would bristle at all of the jocks who have appropriated their song over the years. They even turned down $1.5 million from Nike, who wanted to use the song in an ad. Proof that dudes who write bad tunes can still take the high road.
LOU BEGA: “MAMBO NO. 5”
This song didn’t create a brain itch in 1949 when Perez Prado originally recorded it. However, Bega’s 1999 cover version dug in deep. It also made anyone named Angela, Pamela, Sandra, Rita, Monica, Erica, Tina, Mary, and Jessica introduce themselves by another name when sitting at bar near a jukebox.
BAHA MEN: “WHO LET THE DOGS OUT?”
Don’t let the fact that this song won a Grammy fool you. It’s hands-down the most annoying brain itch song EVER! No, scratch that. It’s the most annoying SONG ever. And I can’t get it out of my head, ESPN be dammed.
Produced by the Dust Brothers (the dudes who brought us some of Beck’s, the Beastie Boys’, and Tone Loc’s best work), this tune from the Tulsa brothers’ major-label debut was originally written as a ballad. Definitely not the tune to seduce a date.