Friday 1 January 2010

if it's not rough it isn't fun...

And so 2010 is upon us.  Before we can entirely consign 2009 to the dustbin of history though, there is one final task we must undertake: 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.

How often do you catch yourself humming a song that you can't recall hearing and actually don't really even like very much?  Yup.... that's an earworm. I don't think I'm any more susceptible to them than anyone else, but I do like to try and keep a track of these tunes as they float across my brain during the course of the year, and I'm always interested to hear what's been playing on other people's internal jukeboxes.....

But Earworms of the Year?  Well, as I said last year:

"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 2009 and with the help of your votes over the last couple of weeks, we can at least make an attempt to bottle that genie".

How about we tilt at some windmills then?

Ladies and Gentleworms, after literally hours of pointless labour over a giant spreadsheet with some 380(-ish) different songs by 300-odd different artists, it is my great pleasure to present for your Earworming pleasure......

Earworms of the Year 2009

24. "In My Life" - The Beatles 

I bought "Rubber Soul" when the newly digitally remastered Beatles albums were re-released.  It might be a statement of the obvious, but it's an absolutely superb album.  This song in particular stands out for me.  As I said when I picked this as an earworm back in September:

"Johnny Cash does a cover of "In My Life" on one of the American Recordings albums.... and having an 80-odd year old singing wistfully about the people and places he has known has an obvious resonance. But fucking hell, the Beatles were 24 years old when they wrote this. 24! How much did you know when you were 24?"

Just an amazing song.

24. "Everything in its Right Place" - Radiohead

Released in 2000, "Kid A" is being heralded by some critics as the album of the decade.  Well, it's not my album of the decade (which can be found here), but this is a pretty fine song.  For all the bleeps and electronic noodling on this record, you sometimes forget just what good songs Radiohead weren't quite able to hide.

24. "Between the Wars" - Billy Bragg

OK, so I'm sure not that many other people will have had this song stuck in their heads this year.... but they should have.  The man's a legend.  A very welcome earworm indeed.

23. "Marlon JD" - Manic Street Preachers

"Journal For Plague Lovers" was my album of 2009 by some distance.... a real return to the kind of form that the band were showing with the "Holy Bible" in 1994, released just before the disappearance of Richie Edwards.  Before he vanished, Richie left the band a cache of lyrics, and it's only now that the band have had the courage to put those words to music.  It was a brave decision, and one I think that has been entirely vindicated.  This is my favourite song off the album, although I could almost have picked any of them.  I have absolutely no idea what the song is about, but it hardly seems to matter.

22. "Make Your Own Kind of Music" - Mama Cass

Famously used in the fabulously disorientating opening sequence to the second series of Lost, my love of this song has far outlasted my ability to watch the tv show.

21. "So What" - Pink  

Is it just me, or has Pink got far less annoying and far more interesting as her career has progressed?  She was never a really major irritant, in spite of what "Get The Party Started" might have led us to believe, but dare I say that she's definitely gathering together a bit of credibility?  Still, she's got her rock moves.  She doesn't need us.

Do you see what I did there?

Oh, never mind.

20. "Halo" - Beyonce

My wife, so she informed us last night, is not in the least bit gay..... but if she was, then Beyonce is the one that would do it for her.  Something to do with the definition on her thigh in the video for "Single Ladies".  Well, I don't really know what to say about that. What I do know is that Observer Music Monthly decided that Beyonce Knowles was their artist of the decade.  Perhaps I've had my head in a bucket, but I'm not really familiar with this song, and neither do I find it as catchy as some of her other records that haven't made this list.  Still, several people voted that this was the one that had stuck in their heads this year, and that was good enough for this song to make the top twenty.

19. "King of the Road" - Roger Miller

As South Park said, you can blame Canada for this one.  We started singing it - for who knows what reason - in the car on the way down to the airport to fly out to Calgary last March, and we sang it for much of the following ten days.

Nope.  I've no idea why. Catchy though, innit?

18. "Wired for Sound" - Cliff Richard

My mum is a Cliff Richard fan, and I used to have to tolerate listening to some of his albums as we were driven around the place as kids.  Funnily enough, although I have strong memories of songs like "Devil Woman", I have absolutely no recollection of this song.  He's much maligned these days, and he was something of a laughing stock even back in the days we used to tease my mother about liking him,  but this is an absolutely corking record.  If you need a bit of perspective on the man, then Bob Stanley wrote an excellent piece in the Guardian back in September about how we'd got Cliff all wrong and that actually he was a genuine rock'n'roll pioneer.  He doesn't help himself, of course, and songs like "The Millennium Prayer" actively invite our scorn, but this record alone should serve as a reminder that the man had some talent.

....and, of course, the song's also got one hell of a video of the great man rollerskating through Milton Keynes shopping centre wearing a clunky old Sony Walkman....

17. "Bulletproof" - La Roux

The sound of the 1980s is alive and well then.  Less shrill than their debut single, "In for the Kill", but at least as catchy.  I don't know which feckless fool Elly Jackson is singing about, but if I was them, I wouldn't try coming back.  She seems pretty formidable to me.

16. "Earth Song" - Michael Jackson

"Thriller", "Say, Say, Say" and "Don't Stop Till You Get Enough" all had their backers, but unfortunately for my poor ears, this song received more votes.  Damn you all.  Have you not got ears?  This record is absolutely bloody monstrous.  Michael Jackson may have died in 2009, but is that any excuse for inflicting this on me?  Of all the songs that we could pick to represent the man's career, why do we have to choose this one?  I heard Jackson had died when I was sitting outside my tent at the Glastonbury Festival, and almost immediately afterwards, I heard this song being played on someone's radio.  It's barely let up since. Where's Jarvis Cocker when you need him?

15. "Daniel" - Bat For Lashes

A song dedicated to the hero of the "Karate Kid" films.  Natasha Khan is most often described as sounding like Kate Bush, but here she sounds more like a kind of ethereal Stevie Nicks.  But in a good way.

14. "Fight for your Right" - Beastie Boys

Originally released in what?  1988?  And it's still popping up as an earworm?  Not bad work for a record that the band themselves were quickly tired of and keen to distance themselves from.  Still sounds pretty good to me.

13. "Bonkers" - Dizzee Rascal

I think the funniest thing that I saw in 2009 was whilst we were at the Glastonbury Festival standing at the Pyramid Stage watching Dizzee performing.  Just in front of us was a bunch of white teenagers, and there is surely nothing funnier in the world than watching white kids bobbing up and down, waving their hands around like gangtas and singing "woop woop dat's da sound of da police".  It's so, so wrong and yet so, so funny.  Dizzee himself was pretty good, although I have to say that I've never really been that impressed with this record.  Yeah, it's catchy, but it just seems to be a little bit too pleased with itself and a little too aware of it's mainstream appeal.  It's calculating rather than joyous.  Still, lots of people do seem to like it and Dizzee's gone overground.

12. "Crying Lightning" - Arctic Monkeys

Lead single from their "difficult" third album, I suppose this is fairly typical of the band's new material: it features Alex Turner's typically well-observed lyrics, but is set to a far less immediate tune than normal and takes some listening to before you can really say that you like it.  As it happens, although I'm still to be convinced by the album as a whole, I really do like this song.  It's worth it just for that sustained lyrical theme about a bag of pick n'mix.  You don't get that from Noel Gallagher, do you?

11. "The Fear" - Lily Allen

Well, well.  Who would have thought that Keith Allen's daughter would have been able to move away from sunny, derivative, disposable songs like "LDN" and "Smile" and produce something as good as this?  Initially I wasn't sure what to make of this song, thinking that perhaps it was entirely cynical and not half as clever as it thought it was.... but actually, after listening to it for a while, I conceded that perhaps it was actually as clever as it thought it was after all.  I'm still inclined to think of her as a bit of an idiot, but she's given me pause for thought on that too. 

10. "New Rose" - The Damned 

Released in 1976, this is the single that is popularly supposed to have launched punk..... so quite what it's doing in a list of Earworms in 2009 beats me.  It's a good song, but.... go figure.  That's the beauty of earworms for you.  How many other "best of" lists for 2009 feature this, eh?  You tell me that.

"Is she really going out with him?"


9. "Virginia State Epileptic Colony" - Manic Street Preachers 

Another song from "Journal for Plague Lovers"and another set of lyrics by Richie that might as well have been written in code.

"They sit around tables rendered dumb
Coloured sticks of chalk are passed around
Today the doctors allow the illusion of choice
Tomorrow the necks split, there is no voice

They clearly mean something, but perhaps the only person who could tell us exactly what is legally dead.  Hmm.  Hats off to James Dean Bradfield for -- as ever -- taking these absurdly dense lyrics and making them catchy.  No mean feat.

8. "Empire State of Mind" - Jay-Z feat Alicia Keys 

I'm not a massive fan of Jay-Z, and I found large portions of his set at Wembley in September very dull ("Bounce, bounce...."), but this love song to New York has been for me probably the song of the year.  It's joyous, uplifting and .... most importantly of all for an earworm.... it's insanely catchy.

7. "I'm Throwing My Arms Around Paris" - Morrissey 

 Morrissey is maddening.  After years in the wilderness, he's probably as commercially successful now as he's ever been, and yet for me "Years of Refusal" was enormously disappointing.  His voice sounds better than ever, but so many of the songs tread over old lyrical ground as Morrissey is apparently determined to leave no slight unremarked and is incapable of letting go of old grudges.  That said, this song illuminates the whole record and I can't get enough of it.  It's only 2 minutes and 31 seconds long, and it certainly doesn't outstay its welcome.  Beautiful record, beautifully sung. 

6. "Carol Brown" - Flight of the Conchords  

Yeah, so it's only a comedy song; a pastiche of Paul Simon's "50 Ways to Leave your Lover".... but just as they did with "Robots" last year, Bret and Jermaine have once again produced a record that I simply can't shake out of my head. It's funny; it's charming.... it's bloody catchy.

5. "Remedy" - Little Boots 

Tipped last January by the BBC ahead of acts like White Lies and Florence and the Machine as the Sound of 2009, Victoria Hesketh has gone some way towards fulfilling that promise with a very successful year: the album reached number 5 in the charts and this single peaked at 6 in the UK singles charts.....And now a song in the top 5 of the Earworms of the Year?  It really doesn't get much better than this.  This song has been nagging away at me for months... I'm not sure I would ever say it was one of my favourite songs of the year, but it's been a pretty constant earworm since it was released in August.  Apparently I'm not the only one - no one voted this as their top choice, but plenty of people listed this in their top 5.

4. "Paparazzi" - Lady Gaga 

Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta is many things, but she is certainly pretty hard to ignore, as I think the rest of this poll is about to prove.....  Of all her songs, I think that this one is my favourite.  It wasn't the biggest hit, peaking at number 4 in the UK chart, but for me it's been the most persistent earworm.  For a song that's ostensibly about a stalker, there's a distinctly wistful, melancholic air to it that - for me - lifts this song far out of the ordinary.  This is not just pop music, it's not just a big dumb chorus, this is something that I think is aspiring to something more than that.   Or perhaps I'm overthinking it and it is just about a big, dumb chorus?

3. "Bad Romance" - Lady Gaga

Into the top three, and it's Gaga again... this time with a UK number one single and featuring a video showing Gaga apparently being drugged, kidnapped and sold into sexual slavery (what else?).  I personally don't think the song as a whole is up to much, but the chorus is a weapons grade earworm of epic proportions:

"Ra Ra-ah-ah-ah
Roma Roma-ma
Oh la-la
Want your bad romance

She's an evil genius and I salute her.

2. "Killing in the Name" - Rage Against the Machine 

Not for the first time, Rage Against the Machine were our only hope against evil chart domination... only this time we didn't need them to save us from Joe McElderry (who didn't receive a single vote in this poll, as it happens).... we needed them to help hold off Lady Gaga from a remarkable 1-2-3.  As it happens, it was a ridiculously close run thing, with positions 2,3 and 4 only separated by a mere 1.5 points.  But, just as they did in Christmas week, Rage did it.  You might think that their vote was a byproduct of the campaign that saw them reach the Number One slot in the Christmas singles chart, but actually this is a low level background earworm for me all of the time, and made its first appearance in an earworms list in 2009 as early as April, making another appearance in August, long before the rush of airplay in December that brought in the votes for this poll.  Lest we forget though, this is a brilliant record.  Originally released in 1992 but sounding as fresh today as it did then.... Zack de la Rocha spits out those sixteen 'fucks' and one 'motherfucker' with a real passion that's missing from far too much music.  Best number one single ever!

1. "Poker Face" - Lady Gaga


In spite of having her vote split across no fewer than five different songs, this came top by an absolute country mile, with nearly twice as many points as Rage Against the Machine, and more points in total than last year's runaway winning song too.  I think it's the highest scoring song we've ever had in these lists..... all of the points coming from voters as -- amazingly -- I didn't include this song in any of my own Earworm lists in 2009.  A fitting winner, actually, as Gaga has been my guilty pleasure all year.  She's brilliant, even if -- or perhaps because -- she does produce atomically powerful earworms.

I give you the Earworm of 2009.... Lady Gaga.  The year was undoubtedly hers.

As ever, thanks for all your votes over the last few weeks -- more than ever before --  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 2010.

The Earworms of the Year Roll of honour.

2005 Coldplay - "Speed of Sound"

2006 Gnarls Barkley - "Crazy"

Rihanna - "Umbrella"

2008 Elbow - "One Day Like This"

Here's to earworms and to earwormers everywhere.

2009? That was the earworm that was.

Happy New Year everyone.


  1. 2009 pretty much passed me by as far as new music was concerned (except for Gaga - you'd have to have been on the moon to have missed her), lots of other stuff going on, but I must say that this is a great list. Thanks so much for all of the effort you put in on this, its fantastic! What are we going to do when you are travelling - or are you going to be blogging from your netbook from around the world? When we did Australia recently, wifi coverage was a bit sketchy.

  2. Hey, Happy new year to you too! I hope this coming year is very fulfilling for you. I'm looking forward to hearing all of your new life experences, as always.

    AS for Lady Gaga? She's on the radio at Casa Bueno constantly, and to make her even more inescapable Guitar Hero has her new CD. I like it. I think she has some staying power. We'll see.


  3. Po-Po-Po-Po-Po-Po-Po-Po-Poker Face!

  4. I dare not speak the names of any of my plethora of verminous earworms.
    However I can divulge my Earworm-Annihilator:
    Layla by Eric Clapton.

    Good for most of what-ails-you.
    I HATE earworms!!!