Friday 2 January 2009

I can only think it must be love...

And so we come to the last rites of 2008: the selection of the Earworm of the year.

So what is an Earworm?
Ohrwurm” - a german word that literally translates into English as “earworm”, and refers to a song or tune that becomes lodged in one’s head.
This list is a little bit different to any other "Best of 2008" lists that you might have seen. This list isn't trying to capture the finest songs released in the last twelve months. Nothing as simple as that. What we're trying to do here is more akin to alchemy than it is to science; we're trying to bottle all of those fragments of tunes that have floated across our heads over the last year and we're trying to distill them into a coherent list. It's an impossible task, of course, and ultimately one that's doomed to failure.... but by condensing down the contents of every Friday's "Earworms of the Week" column for 2008 and with the help of your votes over the last couple of weeks, we can at least make an attempt to bottle that genie.

Shall we tilt at some windmills then?

Ladies and Gentleworms, after literally hours of pointless labour over a giant spreadsheet with some 460(-ish) different songs by 351(-ish) different artists, it is my great pleasure to present for your Earworming pleasure......

Earworms of the Year 2008

22. "Patience" - Take That

They had some new material out this year, but none of that was so much as nominated by anyone, nevermind making it anywhere near the final shortlist. It appears to be the older new stuff from their second coming that has stuck in the mind. "Shine" made it to number 6 last year, but it appears that this song has lingered longer in the memory, benefiting from some votes early in the year. That Gary Barlow knows his way around a tune though, doesn't he?

You said:

"Cause IiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiI!
Need tiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiime!"

21. "Spiralling" - Keane

A late rush of votes pushed this song into the final reckoning, although it attracted steady (if sometimes reluctant) support throughout the year. Listening to it now, it's actually grown on me quite a lot, although that "rap" segment in the middle is a touch ill-advised, at best. Disappointing album though, for me, although I guess you have to credit them with at least trying to move their sound on.... to about 1983.

You said:

"I really, really hate this lot, but I'm prepared to admit to actually liking this tune. I heard it before I knew who the artist was, and couldn't shake it off."

"Even the studied 80s production sheen can't entirely hide that melody."

20. "Slow Show" - The National

Ah, you can blame me entirely for this one. I discovered "Boxer" late last in 2007 and it very quickly became a favourite of mine and the earworms soon followed. A touch downbeat, perhaps, and not everyone's cup of tea, but very much up my street.

You said:

"Real slow-burning genius"

19. "I Like You So Much Better When You're Naked" - Ida Maria

Like many others, Ida Maria was one of those bands that I caught randomly on an episode of "Later....With Jools Holland" one Friday night. The song she performed then was "Oh My God", which remains my favourite of hers, but this song grabbed my attention when it got the small-ish crowd at the Other Stage at Glastonbury really moving early on the Festival's first morning, and which stands out on the album. When it was released as a single a bit later in the year, it also seemed to get a lot of airplay on Radio One, which meant that, for a few weeks, it was never very far away from my internal jukebox. For my money she tries a little too hard to be the "bonkers Scandinavian", with her top hat and her writhing around on the stage floor, but if you listen closely, her lyrics have a dark and vulnerable core that I find very appealing.

You said:

"Very, very catchy"

18. "Sequestered in Memphis" - The Hold Steady

They're often called "the world's best bar band", which always seems a distinctly back-handed compliment to me. A bit of a slow-burner, this one. Their songs aren't often immediately memorable, but that lyrical density really pays off in the long-term, and every time I listen to them, I seem to pick up something new. I'm sorry I missed them at Rock City too, as apparently they're really something live.

You said:

"Because 'We didn't go back to her place, We went to some place where she cat sits.'"

"I love that rambling, shambling, story-telling vocal style...Harry Potter's favourite band, apparently. Well, Daniel Radcliffe's anyway... although as he's a fan of landfill indie, I'm not sure quite how much of a recommendation that is."

17. "The Bucket" - Kings of Leon

Given that the Kings of Leon released their fourth and by far and away their most succesful album in 2008, it seems a little odd that the only track that makes this list is one from their second album, released in 2004. Then again, as I think that album probably marked their creative high-point, perhaps it's not really that surprising. They're still a great band, especially live, but I found "Only By Night" to be distinctly disappointing. I'm glad they're so successful, but you can keep "Sex on Fire".

You said: (well, actually I said, but....)

"The intro to this song at Glastonbury was reason enough for me and Statue John to break out the bourbon and to have a little boogie. I'm not really sure what the song's about and I can't really make out any of the words (or make much sense of the ones that I can), but they'll do me."

16. "And I Was A Boy From School" - Hot Chip

Ever since I first heard "Over and Over", I've sort of liked Hot Chip, but it wasn't until they blew me away with their set at Glastonbury that I really fell for them. The hips don't lie, after all.

You said:

"This song isn't exactly their most danceable, but predictably it's the general air of melancholy that has sunk in and stayed with me"

15. "Aggro" - The Enemy

Yeah, alright they are from Coventry and they do look like urchins, but they are not in the least bit like the Pigeon Detectives or the Hoosiers or any other landfill indie band.... this is a band that is more from the bloodline of Oasis and Kasabian, lifted up by a touch of the blast and energy of the Arctic Monkeys and the social conscience and urban landscapes of bands like Hard Fi and the Clash. Another band to put on a good show at Glastonbury in 2008.

You said:

"I loved this lot from the moment that the opening chords of the opening chords of the album kicked in --- with this song."

14. "The Fix" - Elbow

What a 2008 Elbow had. An all-conquering album, a series of triumphant live shows, and now an appearance in the Earworms of the Year list. Does it get any better than this?

You said:

"It's hard to resist making the link between Elbow and the characters in the song.... and after 18 years of struggling to make it, no one is going to postally pip them this time and the sand and the surf and the sin are theirs for the taking."

"Worth it just for the way Richard Hawley curls that mellifluous baritone around the word 'delicious', delicious."

13. "Ready For the Floor" - Hot Chip

Do it, do it, do it, do it, do it, do it, do it now. Say it, say it, say it, say it, say it, say it, say it now.

They're geeks, but they're irresistible geeks.

You said:

"No idea where I first picked this one up but I know I was singing it for weeks before I could get hold of copy. Really pleased to have been able to catch them at Glastonbury too."

12. "Let's Talk About It" - White Denim

A three-piece from Austin, Texas who make the most fantastic racket. They're good on record, sure enough, but live they transform into an unstoppable rock monster. You'll not see a better drummer anywhere else, either. They deserve to be massive, but selfishly I want to see them in small venues forever.

You said:

"Proper, honest-to-goodness rock music. YES! YES!"

11. "Human" - Killers

I'm not sure that they'll ever top the first song they ever wrote ("Mr. Brightside"), but they've got a real knack of producing lightweight but naggingly catchy tunes and this is another in that steadily lengthening line. Are we human or are we dancer? It's a good question. Sloppy grammar? Reference to Hunter S. Thompson? Does it really matter when you've got a hook that good?

You said:

"At least the moustache is gone, but oh Brandon! what is that jacket?"

"Another great song by Brandon Flowers, Dave Keuning Bruce and Rick"

10. "Viva La Vida" - Coldplay

Chris Martin has always had an ear for a melody, but his lyrics have sometimes left an awful lot to be desired, with an lots of abstract worrying and not a whole lot of subtlety or substance. One swallow does not a summer make, and he still drops a few clangers on the album, but this song's oddly uplifting tale of a deposed tyrant provided some of the best lyrics of the year and duly supplied the band with their first UK number one single. That incredibly nagging tune probably helped a touch, mind.....

You said:

"I like this song, and I HATE Coldplay"

"Bringing campanology back into rock music"

9. "Mercy" - Duffy

She seems like a nice, genuine girl, but there's surely no denying that she's been carefully packaged and managed by her record company to fill that "Amy Winehouse without the issues" shaped hole in the market. It's all a bit sub-Dusty if you ask me, but you lot seemed to like it, and it is catchy.... Biggest selling album in the UK in 2008, apparently.

You said:

"who can resist the yeah-yeah-yeah singalong?"

"Retro? Old fashioned? All been done before? Sure has, but it is still brilliant. I think it is the Booker T & the MG's style organ sound that gets me every time."

8. "Fascination" - Alphabeat

The word is on your lips. Say the word. Go on, you know you want to. Daft, but irresistible.

You said:

"Absurdly joyous, nonsensical scandinavian pop fun"

7. "Night Terror" - Laura Marling

The standout track from one of the best albums to be released this year. She's only a tiny little thing, but during the course of this song, she manages to both conjure up a vivid picture of a nightmare and also to just about convince that she could be your protector. Bless.

You said:

"First heard this on Guy Garvey's 6music show when he made a comment about his girlfriend always singing this...perhaps that's what subliminally stuck it in my head too. Not complaining, mind. A truly beautiful and haunting song, which she also gave a gorgeous rendition of at the Rescue Rooms."

6. "Robots" - Flight of the Conchords

How can you not love a song that contains:

-> two men in really rubbish robot costumes made out of cardboard boxes
-> a binary solo?

Come on sucker, lick my battery.....

You said:

"Our designated Glastonbury earworm - not sure that it counts when you've deliberately shoved it into your subconscious but this one hasn't left my head since June."

5. "White Winter Hymnal" - Fleet Foxes

The standout track from my album of the year. This song is so timeless that it could almost have been written at any point in the last five hundred years. It sounds as much like a medieval rondel as it does a contemporary rock song (and, to be honest, the band themselves look like they could have stepped out of the middle ages too). An absolutely brilliant record with a suitably creepy video.

You said:

"Such an addictive melody".

"Haunting, and a touch frightening too somehow."

4. "Oxford Comma" - Vampire Weekend

Grammar pedantry? Check.

Upper-West Side Soweto hooks? Check.

One of the catchiest songs ever written? Check.

You said:

"...this song is ALL hook! "why would you lie about how much coal you have?" Well, why would you??? This year's great unanswered question....."

"Do I give a f----?, about the tune - yes, about the subject - not really unless I was being properly pedantic."

3. "That's Not My Name" - Ting Tings

The Ting Tings were picked out by loads of people as being a band to watch in 2008, but I'm sure no one expected them to be this successful, with this record reaching the top of the singles chart and being completely unavoidable for months. It's a killer earworm in its own right, of course, but it has now morphed into my head into the "That's not my train" parody and is still totally unescapable. GET OUT OF MY HEAD!

You said:

"this particular playground chant is absolutely unavoidable. Mary-Jo Lisa!"

"Falling into the novelty category of my list (yes - even above Flight of the Conchords) - this is a killer earworm, also the only one of my five that I don't actually have a copy of. "They call me irritating...""

2. "I Kissed A Girl" - Katy Perry

For someone who has released a single called "UR So Gay" to put out a song like this is, at best, an act of breathtaking cynicism and opportunism. Does the fact that it's so damn catchy make up for that? I'm not sure. Sadly the only criterion for an earworm is that it sinks into your head, and this song has that particular quality in spades. DAMN HER.

You said:

"Big, loud and commercial. I should hate it. I don't. I love it."

"No excuses. This is such a cynical, manipulative song: it could've been written after consultation with a focus group, maybe it was, but I had "the taste of her cherry chapstick" in my head many, many times ... and I didn't really mind..."it felt so wrong, it felt so right"..."

"Again, no escape from this one. I overheard someone singing "I kissed a cat, and I liked it - it tasted of tinned tuna" at work, which apparently he'd read in a magazine and couldn't get rid of. That kind of replaced the real lyrics in my head. Thanks for that."

1. "One Day Like This" - Elbow

As if their year couldn't get any better....

Elbow songs are usually real slow-burners, maturing like a fine wine and getting better with every play. Perhaps for the first time in their career though, the band have produced here a song that is instantly and effortlessly uplifting and anthemic. For a while there back in the summer, this song was completely unavoidable, being used to soundtrack everything from the BBCs coverage of Euro 2008 through to the rally coverage on Dave. Remarkably, this didn't spoil it for me, and the crowd singalong to this as the sun went down on the Other Stage at Glastonbury will stay with me for some time, as will their gigs at Rock City and De Montfort Hall. In spite of some of the more obvious songs in this listing, I'm pleased to say that this song topped this poll by an absolute country mile (without a single vote from me - "Grounds for Divorce" was my Elbow earworm of choice), and it's a real pleasure to declare this the Earworm of the Year 2008.

You said:

"Throw those curtains wide, one day like this a year would see me right..." Surely everyone in the land has been singing this all year?? If not why not?? There's also an element of smugness, as the first time I heard the album I said 'ODLT' had Glastonbury written all over it. Who can resist being proved right?

"Has been in my head since we were first instructed to sing along at the gig in Rock City earlier this year...the constant use by tv producers has served to keep its memory refreshed - and is no doubt a nice little money spinner for the band. Can't begrudge them that though. Still a favourite song - though, fortunately not my favourite from the album."

"Soundtracked all the triumphs of the year – and thankfully there were a decent number of triumphs to be soundtracked!"

"Feelgood song of the 21st Century"


Thanks for all your votes over the last few weeks, and a special thanks to all my Guest Editors over the last twelve months. If you're interested in guesting in an earworm slot this year, then drop your name in the comments box below or send me an email to the address in my profile and we'll get something scheduled. It's all very well me listing the contents of my head here every week, but it's your contributions that really make this interesting, and I'm endlessly fascinated to know what's trapped in anybody's head at any given time. I don't care who you are, if you've had a go in the past or if this your first time here... all are welcome to have a go in 2009.

The Earworms of the Year Roll of honour.

2005 Coldplay - "Speed of Sound"

2006 Gnarls Barkley - "Crazy"

Rihanna - "Umbrella"

Here's to earworms and to earwormers everywhere.

2008? That was the earworm that was.


  1. 'Pointless labour'?
    Time well spent I say. Your efforts are appreciated.

  2. Can I be the first to nominate for 2009? Kanye West, Love Lockdown. Earworming for 42 hours and counting.

  3. Pleased to see Elbow at the top, and also to see that my earworms are in synch with the rest of your readers!

    And happy new year. May 2009 be good to you.

  4. Having a good proportion of these songs stuck in my head would be the stuff of nightmares...

    I've always been rather bored by Elbow, but perhaps The Seldom Seen Kid is the album that would change that. Think it was 'One Day Like This' that I saw on 'Later...', and that was pretty decent.

    'White Winter Hymnal' was definitely my first earworm of the Fleet Foxes album, though it was soon vying with 'He Doesn't Know Why' and 'Oliver James'.