In 31 Songs, Nick Hornby writes about catchy songs that get stuck in our heads:
Dave Eggers has a theory that we play songs over and over, those of us who do, because we have to ‘solve’ them, and it’s true that in our early relationship with, and courtship of, a new song, there is a state which is akin to a sort of emotional puzzlement.
This is a nice analogy, and nicely stated. Still, I’m more inclined to think about this phenomenon of songs getting stuck in our head in sensationalized medical terms: the song is like a alien body that infects us (albeit pleasantly, though maddeningly at times) with curiosity. Over time, the mind develops a resistance or tolerance (boredom, basically) to the alien body as we become accustomed to it that eventually forces it out.
So what, then, to make of the situations where this comparison is more accurate than we’d like and the song that gets stuck in our head is really something unwanted and annoying, and how do we get rid of it? Until a few years ago, I would turn in desperation to the Meow Mix song (‘meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow’), confident that it would blot out anything that was running through my head. Of course, the Meow Mix song then has a strong chance of getting lodged in your head instead, which is basically like trading heroin for methadone. Then, a few years ago, someone introduced me to the magical properties of the Mennen deodorant tagline jingle, ‘Byyyyy …. MEN-NEN,’ which somehow acts as a palette cleanser: it manages to clear out whatever is stuck in your head without getting rooted there itself. In the medicine analogy, it’s like Ambien or one of those other wonder drugs that makes you sleepy but politely packs up and clears out of your brain when you want to be alert again.