We all get songs stuck in our heads from time-to-time. They’re often really annoying ones like that Liberty Insurance jingle with the highly creative lyrics: “Liberty liberty liberty . . . liberty.” Or it can be a long and melodically repetitive song, like Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald (though it’s well worth it if you’re actually remembering all the words while the tune is on repeat in your brain). Just so there’s no misunderstanding, I love Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald (the song, not the wreck itself), but after about 30 minutes, I’m ready for another melody.
I’ll admit that the one that’s been going through my mind for the last four hours is a somewhat unconventional choice: it’s Over the Hills to the Poorhouse by Flatt & Scruggs. Could be a 2020 thing. The fact is that even songs you love dearly can really get on your nerves after a few hours.
Can anything be done about this? Well maybe, but it’s not as easy a process as you might think. Meditation enthusiasts will tell you that you shouldn’t try to keep thoughts from encroaching on your mindfulness. It just makes the thoughts grouchy and more determined than ever to disrupt your peace. They recommend the “catch and release” system: just let the thoughts come in, then let them go on to wherever thoughts go when they leave, usually to the local thought bar (those are still open).
Unfortunately, this doesn’t work with music that’s determined to stay lodged in your brain. Those songs can only be purged by replacing them with other songs that may be just as annoying, but that lack the same staying power. It turns out there’s a science to it, according to Doctor Gerald van Oorworm, a world-renowned song displacement expert and therapist. “The idea is to replace it with a song that’s equally ‘catchy’ to the ear, but which lacks some of the original song’s addictive qualities.” In other words, it’s a sort of musical methadone treatment.
“For some reason, though,” explained Doctor van Oorworm, “my research has revealed that it’s necessary that the new song have something in common lyrically with the song you want to replace, preferably a word in the title. Fortunately the songs do not have to be of the same genre, so that gives some flexibility.”
Well that’s a relief. This means that when you’ve got Rocky Top playing over and over in your brain, you can replace it with The Beatles’ Rocky Raccoon. Or if that doesn’t work, use Bill Monroe’s Rocky Road Blues, or as a last resort, Survivor’s Eye of the Tiger (from the Rocky movie).
Using this method, here are some suggested song substitutions to possibly provide some needed relief:
Uncle Pen — Pig in a Pen
I’m a Man of Constant Sorrow — Life of Sorrow
(on second thought, that one is also from the Stanley Brothers’ catalog, and the melody is almost identical, so you might not be gaining much. Instead, you might want to try Johnny Rivers’ Secret Agent Man)
Salty Dog Blues — Who Let the Dogs Out
Down the Road — Down in the Boondocks or just Down Down Down
Matterhorn — This one’s challenging, but you can always break it up and use Buddy Holly’s It Doesn’t Matter Anymore, otherwise you’ll just have to find another song containing “Albert the Australian.”
Fox on the Run — The Fox or Run Little Rabbit Run or Running Bear (songs with running animals are easily replaced by songs with other running animals)
Jimmy Brown the Newsboy — Chuck Berry’s Brown Eyed Handsome Man (who may also deliver newspapers)
Ole Slew Foot — Footloose
1952 Vincent Black Lightning — George Jones’ White Lightning, or Don McClean’s Vincent
Wildwood Flower — Ed Sheeran’s Supermarket Flowers or the Troggs’ Wild Thing
These are all fairly straightforward and are likely to be effective, but I asked Doctor Van Oorworm what he advised in the case of songs for which it was very difficult to find another song with a common word in the title, like Dooley or El Cumbanchero. He paused for a moment, then said, “There is what I refer to as the ‘nuclear option’.” In hushed tones he continued: “I know of two songs that are very powerful universal replacements, usable for any song, but these should only be used in the most extreme circumstances, for example if you’ve had a song like Michael Jackson’s Beat It in your head for over six straight weeks. One of these songs will displace it, or any song, but it may not be worth the long term effect on your brain.”
I was intrigued, yet cautious. “Could you reveal these titles in case it should ever be necessary to take such a drastic step?” I asked. He looked at me gravely, then proceeded to write two titles down on a sheet of paper and slide the paper towards me, apparently unwilling to utter the names out loud. They were Wagon Wheel and 1-877-KARS-FOR-KIDS.