Tag Archives: Entertainment

What Do You Do When A Song Is Stuck In Your Head?

MusicOnTheBrainI experience music looping in my head on a regular basis, and I’m sure you can think of several times this has happened to you. I’m also a self-taught musician, having learned to play guitar by ear from an early age through careful listening, so, I have a hunch my brain is more active in the “melody-analysis” area, and that I’m prone to experiencing this more often (or at a higher volume) than others. This doesn’t affect my life in any huge external way — I carry on productively and engaged in most any situation. But in a moment of relative quiet, the internal soundtrack often cranks right up.

But Isn’t That What Vocal Hooks Are For?

I’ve found it’s usually key phrases from songs that stand out — like dramatic flourishes or expressive riffs. It’s not always the “pop hook” or vocal element that grabs me, and it can be any obscure track from any time in history, of any genre, not just so-called “popular” music specifically music designed to lodge itself in the brain.

And then, after a few hours… it’s gone. Maybe I’ve made an effort to listen to the track somehow and exorcise its hold on my spirit. Or, what was there before just gets replaced by another track.

Rick Neilsen of Cheap Trick

Rick Neilsen of Cheap Trick – Power Pop Hook Maker Extraordinaire

Why Does This Happen?

Perhaps as early human cave dwellers, the ability to memorize sound served an evolutionary purpose. Hearing a growl in the distance might have prevented being eaten by a bear, so that would have been a good sound to repeat into memory for an advance warning next time. Or maybe hoofbeats in the distance signaled a tasty herd of beasts just over the ridge. I’m totally guessing, but it’s not implausible given what we understand about the fight-or-flight response.

What Do You Do?

I really wonder if there’s a course of action here. Is there some type of “resolution” or lesson to be learned — or does there even need to be? What purpose does having a song stuck in your head actually serve?

What do you think? Do you find that actually playing the song works to “release” the melody from your brain? Or do you find that songs usually dissipate on their own? Any guesses as to why this happens? Let us hear from you in the comments.

Mixtapes were great. Cassettes? Not so much.

Grandpa Cassette

Grandpa Cassette” by Zack Finfrock aka Splashed Ink, Los Angeles, CA. Available at Threadless.com

Have you ever toiled at a crappy job only to reminisce years later and think, “you know, that was a pretty fun time?” Our brains have a cognitive bias toward hanging on to the positive and letting go of the negative. And that’s what I believe has been happening with the ever-growing number of modern references to cassette tapes.

Amid all the nostalgia I see these days for mix tapes or the cassette format in general, I’m decidedly glad do be done with tapes now and forever. I do not miss the “good old days” of how music used to be consumed. Here’s why:

Tapes sucked.

There’s no denying the absolute fact that cassette tape quality was capricious at best, and crappy at its core. Even the concept of the “best sounding tape” sounds like an oxymoron. Is it live or is it Memorex? Are you kidding me? It’s definitely Memorex.

Peter Murphy of Bauhaus in a UK Memorex cassette commercial

The chief redeeming quality about cassettes was that they were very easy to copy, so that made sharing and compiling music very straightforward. Mixtapes were something I enjoyed in a sublimated sort of way, since their inherent transience belied their crappy quality. Because, of course, the price for the whole endeavor was progressively eroding quality through generations of copies. But hey – it was still cheaper than actually purchasing new music. And even that never quite felt right – spending good money to hear music in cassette form? It’s like part of the deal was that you understood you were getting ripped off.

Dig the irony of the company who came to dominate mp3 players getting its start thanks to cassettes. Image by Ethan Hein via Flickr.

Dig the irony of the company who came to dominate mp3 players getting its start thanks to cassettes. Image by Ethan Hein via Flickr.

CDs were a welcome end to all this, but even then, record stores and record companies grossly inflated the prices. Why? Because tapes sucked so badly that consumers were willing to pay a premium for everlasting quality. I see CDs as a bleak transition period, followed finally by the now-developed world of mp3s, bringing us to where we are today. I did away with all my CDs in 2002, going full-on digital from that day forward and have never looked back – I even had a Rio before an iPod. And while they do have some memory-biased charm, and despite my years of close interaction with them, I am happy to leave cassettes in the past.

What do you think? Did you ever spend a lot of time with cassettes? Do you have fond memories of doing so? When is the last time you touched a cassette? Have you gone completely to digital music? Let us hear from you in the comments.