How to Get That Annoying Song Out of Your Head Forever

It can't be explained by nature or science, but it happens to everyone: You get some annoying tune or jingle playing on repeat in your noggin' for hours on end. Here is how to stop the music.

It happened to me just this morning. As soon as I woke up, the chorus of the Carpenters' "Top of the World" was echoing in my skull, over and over. At first, it was nice to have Karen's sunny voice (and skeletal head) ratting around in my subconscious, but after an entire subway ride of "On top of the world, looking (beat) down on creation..." it was more than enough.

This is the worst sort of torture. At least when you are hear a ditty on TV, a friend sings a few bars, or the department store Muzak is playing it, you know why it's got stuck inside your inner ear. But when you wake up with it, or it just comes out of the blue, you have no clue what sort of deep-seated mnemonic trigger started your up internal player piano. It's sort of like musical post-traumatic stress disorder. Even worse is when you don't know the exact lyrics so you find yourself making them up or just repeating empty phonetic sounds in approximation of what the real words might be.

Sometimes it's nice to have a favorite song playing for a spell, but even your jam of the moment gets annoying after too many plays. Here are a few easy steps for pressing the mute button on your brain.

Do Not Listen to the Song: Having a song stuck in your head is not like a craving for food. If you have an odd yen for, say, peanut butter and pickles, then you should go and eat them. Even though it's nasty, you're going to keep having those impure thoughts until your belly catches up to your brain. Get out the Skippy and the Vlasic and have a good time. Your craving is satisfied. Not so with the song in your head. Listening to it will only dig it deeper and deeper into the folds of your gray matter. Cuing it up on iTunes for a listen (or three) is like trying to remove popcorn from your teeth by pushing it further into your gums. Some people report that listening to the song a few times in a row does work. I think they're idiots.

Do Not Hum, Sing, or Whistle It: You're trying to dislodge the skipping needle on your internal record player, not make the grooves deeper. A song in your head is like an itch, the more attention you give it and the more you scratch it, the more it's going to come back. And this time it will be twice as strong. Singing also may put a contagion out into the world. If you infect a friend, family member, or coworker, you'll make the situation worse because then they have it in their heads too and you'll keep passing it back and forth repeatedly, like a hippie couple with a bad case of crabs.

Opt for a Worse Song: It's good to have a standby in situations such as these, something that is so horrible or miraculously catchy that it will erase everything else in your head. It's like a doomsday device, flattening everything else in your cranium. I usually opt for The Clash's "Rock the Casbah," since its looping chorus can be repeated like a Möbius strip until it is the only thing left in your head. Also effective is old timey "Jimmy Crack Corn," mostly because it's catchy and from childhood, so it seems distant. The danger of this strategy is that it is equally as likely to get stuck in your head as the offender. Much like the toxic chemicals used to clean up the BP oil spill, the solution can be as bad as the problem.

Occupy Yourself: Just as the "devil will find work for idle hands to do" (great, now The Smiths are going to have a reunion concert in my head all day), sometimes the repetition is just a symptom of not having enough to do. So read, clean the house, do the crossword, call a friend, have sex, do just about anything that requires complex thought. Hopefully with any luck your attention will be diverted to something productive and, like crops without irrigation, the music in your mind will wither away and die.

Listen to Music: The only thing that can cut a diamond is another diamond and the only thing that can make your neurons start firing in a different direction is more songs. I suggest hitting shuffle on the iPod so that you are deluged with different artists, genres, and styles. Varying it up will confuse your tiny little mind and reset it to a neutral state. Listening to a bunch of Green Day to eradicate the Joni Mitchell melody in your head might work for a bit, but then you'll walk away singing "Don't wanna be an American idiot," and what good is that? Once your brain is clearfor normal thought you'll be back on top of the world looking (beat) down on creation—Oh great, here we go again.

[Image via Tania Zbrodko/Shutterstock]