Kylie ‘Can’t Get You Out Of My Head’ Minogue
Have you ever wondered
how those pop songs you just can’t get out of your head got into your head in
the first place? Believe it or not, there’s a unit at London’s Goldsmith
University researching just that. Goldsmith’s Music, Mind and Brain Group has
compiled a database of thousands of catchy tunes and studied the phenomenon of
what they call they call “earworms”. 
These are melodies that burrow into your
brain and stay stuck in your head long after the music has finished playing.
One of the best examples of this phenomenon is Kylie Minogue’s mesmeric
rendition of the appropriately named, Can’t Get You Out Of

Kylie during her homage to Grace Jones clip

My Head.

Now, I know this is a
long way from old blues, but if you fancy a blast of pure pop, here’s Kylie
paying homage to one of her influences, Grace Jones. If Miss Minogue’s earworms
don’t burrow into your brain, nothing will.
Dr. Lauren Stewart,
reader in psychology at Goldsmiths, reports that tunes including earworms are
chock-full of repetitions so we can grasp the tune with a minimum of listening
effort. “The repetition inherent to music is enjoyable”, she says, “because
listening to music causes us to unconsciously make predictions about how a
melody will continue. When these expectations are confirmed, the result is a
cerebral high that can be as potent as any expected reward.”
Goldsmith’s group found
that tunes reported as earworms seemed to share certain characteristics such
as, “relatively long note durations and a change in the melody that involved
small steps, rather than large leaps.”
Pharrell Williams’s catchy clip
In one example cited,
Pharrell Williams’ “Happy”, from his Oscar-nominated soundtrack to the animated
movie, “Despicable Me 2”, Dr. Stewart says the chorus barely moves away from
the initial note while the sustained gospel-style harmonies move in small steps
to create interest. Here’s the link so you can hear what she’s talking about.
“Such melodically and
rhythmically simple phrases are not only instantly memorable”, she says, “but
also easy to sing along to, even silently and unconsciously, in our heads. A
study that compared brain activity as subjects listened to familiar and
unfamiliar tunes that were muted at certain points showed remarkable similar
neural patterns whether we are listening to real or imagined music.
“While muting a well
known causes a ‘filling in’ experience, when the tune in effect carries on in
your head (even though you’re not physically listening to it), this is not the
case for music you don’t know. So by comparing brain activity during these two
types of silence (in songs you know and don’t know), it is possible to map how
the brain continues to ‘hear’ a tune even when the music has stopped.”
However, says Dr.
Stewart, it’s the very catchiness of these catchy pop songs that may yet be
their downfall. “Most people will have experienced the pure annoyance generated
by a carefully-crafted advertising jingle aimed squarely at the musical brain,
and overexposed pop tunes risk the same fate. Listening to or mentally
replaying a song too many times will lead to an over-familiarity that listeners
will no longer find rewarding.”
If all this pop talk is getting too much for you, get yourself back into the world of blues by checking out these two big boys below, as Tim the Toolman used to say:

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