Anatomy of an Earworm

I’ve been laughed at before for some of my more eccentric musical tastes. My knowledge of the ins and outs of the various forgotten alleyways of the past rock world is well known in some circles. They’re not very big circles, but there are circles.

I do like some odd music. I do a lot of stuff that hipsters like, sometimes even before the band is cool. However, there’s a lot of mainstream that hits my ear perfectly. After all, there’s a reason why its mainstream and its a hit. Sometimes with a song you really don’t have to wonder if its all just a conspiracy of suits seeking to control our advertising money.

Sometimes, a good song is just a good song. K. and I have an occasional habit of looking at each other while in the local Kroger with disbelief that we were hearing a song we were surprised to hear. Not too long ago, we even heard a They Might Be Giants song on their in store play, and we both felt a little old for it. It wasn’t like it was Spin Doctor’s “Two Princes,” it was TMBG’s “Istanbul (Not Constantinople.)” I’m still dumbfounded, really.

A long while back, I wrote a blog post for my old music blog about the brilliance of Boston’s “More Than a Feeling.” I was laughed at a bit for loving such a purely classic rock song, but the song is damned brilliant. Its simple, lacking in complexity, but it stretches out to be more than it should be. I’ve been trying to figure out what that quality is in a song that turns it into both classic and an earworm. Why do certain songs stick with us even if we don’t ascribe anything deep to the song. “More Than a Feeling” is about nothing more than listening to music and thinking about a girl the singer used to love.

Another one of these songs that transcend its parts is Toto’s “Africa.” Again, its a staple of modern American background noise quickly laughed off by the snootier parts of the music scene. Its a great song about the lengths someone will go to be with someone else, (and seemingly not in a stalker kind of way, either). It’s about searching for a deeper understanding at the same time. While listening to it again one more time in Kroger, I realized it had something a lot of the songs have in my list of favorite earworms have: Harmonies.

Non-auto-tuned harmonies are the damn butter that just makes everything brilliant nearly perfect. It is either that or constrained guitar theatrics. When you’ve got both, you’re golden. And I think that is what brings me back to my eternal love for “More than a Feeling.”

Still, as I go through the list, it always comes back to the simple things in subject matter, things that we can all relate to in one way or another: hard times, lost love, new love. . .  the things that make for a song that sticks in your craw and linger in the back of your brain. Go back, listen to the,. Evne go back and listen to the songs that you’ve held onto.

Simple songs, simple themes, beautifully framed. And screw the music nerds if they can’t handle it.

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