The etiology of a self-inflicted earworm

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I am prone / prey to earworms.  Sometimes when I'm seriously affected / infected by one, it takes me weeks to get rid of the scourge, and I have to resort to all sorts of devices and deceptions to disinfect them from the space between my ears and the auditory cortex inside the lateral sulcus of the temporal lobe).  (N.B.:  I realize that there is at least one person on this list who detests slashes, but I find them useful for conveying a range of related meanings, among many other applications). 

Unfortunately, in certain cases all it takes is to hear the name of or a line from an infectious song to trigger the ear worm, e.g., "Karma Chameleon" by Culture Club (for about the first hundred times I heard this song, I thought Boy George was saying "cama-cama-cama chameleon" and I had no idea what it meant [I thought it was just ladi-ladi-ladi-da sounds like Janis Joplin in "Me and Bobby McGee"] (uh-oh, just entered a danger zone by saying that).  And now practically every time I turn on the radio, I hear Taylor Swift's "Karma", so I quickly get into double earworm territory.

Yesterday I was on a long trip in my Tacoma (usually I just say "in Tacoma", omitting the possessive), letting context clarify that it is my Toyota truck, not the city in Washington State.  I heard "Stayin' Alive" (1977) by the Bee Gees come on.  Catchy.  I was mesmerized by their uncannily close harmony, rich, sustained chords, and high male voices (falsetto? soprano?).

I made a mental note to myself:  These guys sound unreal.  Wonder what they look like, what's their background?  When I get back home, I want to google them to see who they are, how they can create such distinctive music.

There must be dozens of video versions of "Stayin' Alive", but this one will do to give an idea of their physical presence and awesome musical skills:

I also read their bios, how they were born on the Isle of Man to English parents, lived in Chorlton, Manchester, moved to Australia for awhile, then came back to England.  For such a monumentally talented and successful group. their improbable beginnings only add to the mystique.

So all I'm hearing now are these melodic lines (in close harmony and sustained chords to a loopy, disco beat):

Well, you can tell by the way I use my walkI'm a woman's man, no time to talkMusic loud and women warm, I've been kicked aroundSince I was bornAnd now it's alright, it's okayAnd you may look the other wayWe can try to understandThe New York Times' effect on man
Whether you're a brother or whether you're a motherYou're stayin' alive, stayin' aliveFeel the city breakin' and everybody shakin'And we're stayin' alive, stayin' aliveAh, ha, ha, ha, stayin' alive, stayin' aliveAh, ha, ha, ha, stayin' aliveOh, when you walk
Well now, I get low and I get highAnd if I can't get either, I really tryGot the wings of Heaven on my shoesI'm a dancin' man and I just can't loseYou know it's alright, it's okayI'll live to see another dayWe can try to understandThe New York Times' effect on man
Whether you're a brother or whether you're a motherYou're stayin' alive, stayin' aliveFeel the city breakin' and everybody shakin'And we're stayin' alive, stayin' aliveAh, ha, ha, ha, stayin' alive, stayin' alive (oh)Ah, ha, ha, ha, stayin' alive (oh)
Life goin' nowhere, somebody help meSomebody help me, yeahLife goin' nowhere, somebody help me, yeah I'm stayin' alive
Well, you can tell by the way I use my walkI'm a woman's man, no time to talkMusic loud and women warmI've been kicked around since I was bornAnd now it's all right, it's okayAnd you may look the other wayWe can try to understandThe New York Times' effect on man
Whether you're a brother or whether you're a motherYou're stayin' alive, stayin' aliveFeel the city breakin' and everybody shakin'And we're stayin' alive, stayin' aliveAh, ha, ha, ha, stayin' alive, stayin' aliveAh, ha, ha, ha, stayin' alive (hey)
Life goin' nowhere, somebody help meSomebody help me, yeahLife goin' nowhere, somebody help me, yeahI'm stayin' alive
Life goin' nowhere, somebody help meSomebody help me, yeah (ah, ah, ah)Life goin' nowhere, somebody help me, yeahI'm stayin' alive
Life goin' nowhere, somebody help meSomebody help me, yeah (ah, ah, ah, ay)Life goin' nowhere, somebody help me, yeahI'm stayin' alive
Life goin' nowhere, somebody help meSomebody help me, yeah (oh)Life goin' nowhere, somebody help me, yeahI'm stayin' alive
Source: LyricFind
Songwriters: Barry Alan Gibb / Maurice Ernest Gibb / Robin Hugh Gibb
Stayin' Alive lyrics © Songtrust Ave, Universal Music Publishing Group, Warner Chappell Music, Inc

Let me think about karma for a while. Incredible video.  No Taylor Swift in it.

But I fancy that those radiating, sparkling, glittering lines are her pupils.  Viewing the galaxies, the universe.

And the lyrics will blow your mind.  Check 'em out:

You're talking shit for the hell of itAddicted to betrayal, but you're relevantYou're terrified to look down'Cause if you dare, you'll see the glareOf everyone you burned just to get thereIt's coming back around
And I keep my side of the street cleanYou wouldn't know what I mean
'Cause karma is my boyfriendKarma is a godKarma is the breeze in my hair on the weekendKarma's a relaxing thoughtAren't you envious that for you it's not?Sweet like honey, karma is a catPurring in my lap 'cause it loves meFlexing like a goddamn acrobatMe and karma vibe like that
Spider-boy, king of thievesWeave your little webs of opacityMy pennies made your crownTrick me once, trick me twiceDon't you know that cash ain't the only price?It's coming back around
And I keep my side of the street cleanYou wouldn't know what I mean
'Cause karma is my boyfriendKarma is a godKarma is the breeze in my hair on the weekendKarma's a relaxing thoughtAren't you envious that for you it's not?Sweet like honey, karma is a catPurring in my lap 'cause it loves meFlexing like a goddamn acrobatMe and karma vibe like that
Ask me what I learned from all those yearsAsk me what I earned from all those tearsAsk me why so many fade, but I'm still here(I'm still, I'm still here)
'Cause karma is the thunderRattling your groundKarma's on your scent like a bounty hunterKarma's gonna track you downStep by step from town to townSweet like justice, karma is a queenKarma takes all my friends to the summitKarma is the guy on the screenComing straight home to me
'Cause karma is my boyfriend (karma is my boyfriend)Karma is a godKarma is the breeze in my hair on the weekend (weekend)Karma's a relaxing thoughtAren't you envious that for you it's not?Sweet like honey, karma is a catPurring in my lap 'cause it loves meFlexing like a goddamn acrobatMe and karma vibe like that
Karma is my boyfriendKarma is a god
Karma's a relaxing thought
Source: Musixmatch
Songwriters: Kyle Taylor

Karma's a relaxing thought.

Karma's a relaxing

Karma's a




{{{Karma, karma, karma, karma, karma chameleon}}}


Selected readings


  1. cameron said,

    July 11, 2023 @ 1:25 pm

    I've never really given any attention to the lyrics to Stayin' Alive. I note that the line in the chorus has "Times" capitalized, as if "New York Times" refers to the newspaper. Other sources I find online have it the same way. I find it hard to believe that that line is really meant as a reference to the Gray Lady, but maybe it is . . .

  2. GeorgeW said,

    July 11, 2023 @ 1:51 pm

    @Cameron: Apparently the editors of the "Grey Lady" thought the reference was to them:

  3. Dan Romer said,

    July 11, 2023 @ 2:05 pm

    thanks for this, Victor! A nice thought for the afternoon and a great intro to Taylor!

  4. Chris Barts said,

    July 11, 2023 @ 2:53 pm

    A truly interesting phenomena.

    (Doo – Dooo – Doo – Doo – Doo)

  5. Eric TF Bat said,

    July 11, 2023 @ 4:12 pm

    I know of one relatively sure cure for an earworm: you write a filk (a parody) of the song. It seems to permit the brain to come unstuck, and either the worm decamps or else it latches on to the filk version, usually not for as long. See my link for many, many examples.

    "Filk" is a word you may enjoy researching. I note that its general meaning of "songs of SF fandom" is not as common in my circles, where it tends to only mean "songs parodying othe songs", in the style of Weird Al Yankovic (my hero!). I have many thoughts on this, but I hate "writing" on a phone so they can wait for another day.

  6. Viseguy said,

    July 11, 2023 @ 5:13 pm

    Fascinating topic. I tend to get them in clusters, like migraine headaches. Since I'm prone/prey to psychologizing (and since there doesn't seem to be any definitive research on the etiology), I tend towards the view that they're triggered by stress or anxiety. Lately I seem to have taken the earworm to a new level. During a recent, stressful home renovation, I listened to nothing but Beatles' albums while shuttling back and forth between a hotel and home. For a couple of weeks, I had multiple tracks alternating continually between my ears. I'd wake up in the middle of the night to pee and, boom, I'm Fixing a Hole Where the Rain Gets In, It Stops My Mind from Wandering Where It Will Go. Mildly annoying, but way better than a migraine.

    As for the slash/stroke/solidus/oblique/virgule, I'm a relatively recent convert to it/them, for the reason that Prof. Mair mentions. It's liberating in a way akin to the liberating feeling I associate with splitting infinitives. To boldly split where no nun has split before — POW! Take THAT, Sister Rose Frances!

  7. Coby said,

    July 11, 2023 @ 6:23 pm

    A note about the Bee Gees: At one time the Israeli rock star Arik Einstein sang with a group called the Churchills (haCherchilim), so named because the Bee Gees' name alluded to B.G. (Ben Gurion), and Israelis regarded Churchill as B.G.'s British counterpart.

  8. /df said,

    July 11, 2023 @ 6:25 pm

    With regard to "filks", a web search for "Meaningless Songs in Very High Voices" may be worthwhile as an antidote to BeeGee earworms, or if you are over-sensitive to cultural appropriation.

  9. Allen W. Thrasher said,

    July 11, 2023 @ 8:11 pm

    I always thought the lyrics said:

    “We can try to understand
    New York Times and disco man.”

    I.e., New York Times man and disco man.

    But the video linked to in the message confirms that was wrong, as do a careful listening to the opening scene of Saturday Night Fever, and pulling up the lyrics on several sites.

    I also long assumed The Bee Gees were a black women’s group, until I saw a picture of them and they were hirsute Brit-Aussie six footers.

  10. maidhc said,

    July 11, 2023 @ 8:13 pm

    There's a really interesting video on YouTube about the production on Stayin' Alive. It goes through track by track. Back when it was recorded, the number of tracks was limited. After watching that video, I had a new appreciation of the song. I think the first link is the one I watched all the way through. The second one looks good too. (48m) (34m)

    One interesting thing was that the drummer's father had just died and he couldn't be there for the session. So they took a track he had recorded for another song and made a tape loop of it, and that's the drums. I think that's the first time anyone had done something like that, at least on a pop record.

    The vocals are triple-tracked. That's why they sound so thick.

  11. Jerry Packard said,

    July 11, 2023 @ 8:14 pm

    The song Stayin' Alive is routinely used in med schools to teach students the proper ‘pulse frequency’ for performing chest compressions to revive patients.

  12. Allen W. Thrasher said,

    July 11, 2023 @ 8:17 pm

    More about it:

    “New York Times (man, I.e. man who reads the NYT)
    and disco man” would be appropriate in the context of the movie.

    I did not notice that for one section they slip down to the tenor, masculine, register.

    Falsetto is used a lot in rock. I read somewhere the lament of a singing coach who told a rock singer that he had a fine natural tenor, so why shouldn’t they work with that. But no, his student insisted on falsetto.

  13. martin schwartz said,

    July 11, 2023 @ 8:22 pm

    Sanskrit kāma-karma-karNa-kRmi- (N = retroflex n, R = syllabic r)
    'love/lust-karma-earworm'. It twists one's tongue while it worms one's ear.
    @Coby: A memorable cross-lingual cross-cultural artifactoid.
    @Viseguy: I like your prone/prey. It also invites a word *prøy~,
    with ~ indicating nasalization.
    Martin Schwartz

  14. Victor Mair said,

    July 11, 2023 @ 8:53 pm

    From a friend:

    I nominate Kokomo by the Beach Boys as a genuine earworm song. When I want to distract Gayle for a few days I'll play it, and she's occupied for at least a few hours, sometimes a few days.

  15. Victor Mair said,

    July 11, 2023 @ 8:56 pm

    From the same friend:

    Most of the BeeGees died young. When I was in England for 6 weeks (in late 2009-early 2010, I think) Robin still lived on the Isle of Wight. I read an interview with him. I believe he was dying of cancer at the time. The interviewer asked him how he was spending his time. Robin said he felt immense gratitude to the young men who flew Spitfires in the air battle. He would take the ferry across and spend days locating memorial sites where pilots crashed and died. I believe in England it's possible to visit every crash site.

    There is one surviving BeeGee. The one who sings the falsetto songs lives a normal life in a big old barn of a house with his wife in Miami. They both look like very unglamorous grandparents.

  16. Anthony said,

    July 11, 2023 @ 9:10 pm

    I rarely get an earworm from listening to recorded music. Live music is something else. After hearing the Chicago Symphony Orchestra play the Saint-Saëns Organ Symphony recently I couldn't get it out of my head. And yet more recently, when Maestro Muti led the orchestra in the Missa Solemnis (Beethoven), same thing. As earworm, I wasn't remembering the words (in Latin, but quite familiar) but the music.

  17. Viseguy said,

    July 11, 2023 @ 9:52 pm

    @martin schwartz: Credit Prof. Mair for prone/prey. I was merely paying homage.

  18. Wanda said,

    July 11, 2023 @ 10:01 pm

    Taylor Swift is a brave person to brag about her good karma. I don't think the universe rewards that.

    I'm a little surprised that Victor hasn't heard "Stayin' Alive" before . It was a #1 hit song at the time it came out, which I believe was in his lifetime.

    I was much more prone to earworms when I was younger. I wonder what changed.

  19. Chas Belov said,

    July 12, 2023 @ 12:33 am

    I regularly get earworms. Fortunately, I love them.

    Pressing the crossing request button and hearing "Wait" sets off Please Mister Postman. Street names will set them off as well, although no examples come to mind.

    Because I regularly listen to music in many languages, sometimes I get earwormed by them and then I have to figure out what they are so I can play them. If I'm lucky, I can identify what group or at least what language.

    I regularly get earwormed by 失去 (Lose) by 張震嶽 (Ayal Komod) (Mandarin rock) and then have to seek out what it is among my Ayal Komod likes if I want to listen to it because my Chinese knowledge is microscopic. It's all I can do to remember the title is two characters, let alone what those two characters are.

    I also regularly get earwormed by 自我毀滅 (Self-Destruction) by 林強 (Lim Giong) (Hoklo hiphop), 口下 (Mouth) by 黃秋生 (Anthony Wong) (Chinese rockabilly), and 細い線 (Thin Line) by Buck-Tick (J-Rock).

    But if I'm earworming a song by 猴子飛行員 (Monkey Pilot) (Mandarin rock), I'm really in trouble because I've liked all of their songs so have to listen to all of them to figure out which one I was earworming. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

    Same goes for Kazakh pop group Orda, if I've earwormed Жауап Бер (Answer). I don't know Cyrillic, so it's gibberish to me.

    Speaking of gibberish, I even occasionally get earwormed by Prisencolinensinainciusol by Adriano Celentano, Mina Celentano, or Sophie Serafino.

  20. Chas Belov said,

    July 12, 2023 @ 12:34 am

    Rather odd for a language message board that I can't add <span lang="zh"&gt and so on for the text in other languages.

  21. Chas Belov said,

    July 12, 2023 @ 12:36 am


    Rather odd for a language message board that I can't add <span lang="zh">…</span> and so on for the text in other languages.

  22. AntC said,

    July 12, 2023 @ 12:40 am

    I seem to suffer the opposite effect with Taylor Swift: she's getting a lot of air-time recently, what with re-recording all her hits. I must have heard 'Karma' before, but playing it just now it seems both unfamiliar and very samey. And after a few minutes I can't recall any of it. Same with that Ed Sheeran — except for his tunes/grooves that sound too closely like somebody else's (allegedly). I see Taylor and Ed have collaborated. Are they in fact the same songwriter?

    I don't think I'm lacking in ability to memorise tunes: I can reel off by the yard any amount of Borodin's lovely string quartets, Baubles Bangles and Bells, This is my Beloved.

    If Prof Mair wants Fascinatin' Rhythm with witty wordplay, he can Mortgage all his castles in the air, send an air-mail special too (the answer was goodbye and there was even postage due) with The Great American Songbook.

    For an earworm I suggest taking a single note repeated 35 times. And Sinatra delivers each of those notes differently.

    Like @Wanda, I'm surprised Victor hasn't heard "Stayin' Alive" before. I remember it well (though not very fondly). The Bee Gees are on Youtube (talking with Parky, 2001) there's an echo with the story about a long trip in Tacoma: they were driving along a bridge (tchuk-tchuk across the concrete sections) and got an inspiration that turned out to be "Jive Talkin'". (Better avoid that one if you're prone to earworms.)

  23. maidhc said,

    July 12, 2023 @ 3:16 am

    A few years ago we went to see Abel Gance's silent epic Napoleon with the Oakland Symphony. My wife was marching around the house singing "La Marseillaise" for weeks afterward.

  24. maidhc said,

    July 12, 2023 @ 4:25 am

    More about Stayin Alive:

    There is so much more.

  25. Victor Mair said,

    July 12, 2023 @ 6:23 am


    I most certainly did hear "Stayin' Alive" before, but didn't pay much attention to it, because:

    1. having spent most of that period of my life in remote parts of the earth and living a monkish kind of existence, I didn't hear it often

    2. other than the title, I could barely understand a word of it

    3. didn't have good sound equipment


    The reason it hit me so hard this time is that I heard it in the stereophonic, hi-fidelity concert hall of Tacoma as I was travelling through the natural splendor of the Hudson Valley. Then, as I said in the o.p., I went back home, did some research on the song and the singers, read the lyrics, and watched the video. All of that blew me away into a vortex of vertiginous cochlear overstimulation and autorepetition.

  26. Benjamin Orsatti said,

    July 12, 2023 @ 7:21 am


    (1) I used to tell people that I had "eclectic" musical tastes, but I guess I can't anymore; you've won. Congratulations, your medal should be arriving in 3-5 business days.

    (2) Prisencolinensinainciusol by Adriano Celentano — whilst the worm is burrowing into your cochlea, is it whispering the _lyrics_ too? If so, you've got some ear, man!

  27. KeithB said,

    July 12, 2023 @ 8:13 am

    Of course, it gave name to one of the least critically acclaimed movies of all time:

    (0% on rotten tomatoes!)

  28. Stephen Goranson said,

    July 12, 2023 @ 8:49 am

    Sometimes I enjoy hearing good music over and over. (More than once annoying my daughter.) And remembering it without external hearing.

    Other times, less so, for example, say, with the purpose-built (?) ear catcher:
    "My mommy said not to put beans in my ears
    Beans in my ears, beans in my ears
    My mommy said not to put beans in my ears
    Beans in my ears………"

  29. cameron said,

    July 12, 2023 @ 10:56 am

    @ maidhc, the use of tape loops was common in avant garde music circles by the early 60s, but the first use of a tape loop percussion track in a hit pop song was probably "He's Gonna Step on You Again", by South African born musician John Kongos. (I say "probably" because in music there's really not ever a true first anything.)

    "He's Gonna Step on You Again" is based on a tape loop of African tribal drumming. It came out in 1971 and peaked at #4 on the UK charts, but only made #70 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the US.

  30. S. Norman said,

    July 12, 2023 @ 11:01 am

    I hope during the course of your Googling you came across this early clip of them. Most people are unaware of this early phase in their career:

  31. Taylor, Philip said,

    July 12, 2023 @ 11:23 am

    ""My mommy said not to put beans in my ears […]". As a child, I never thought to put a bean in my ear, but I certainly enjoyed putting one up my nose and pulling it out again (bean kindly supplied by maternal grandfather, who had no idea to what use I would later put it).

    I don't suffer from earworms, but do find it odd how clearly I can recall fragments of conversations and of written material 60 years after the event — example, almost perfect recall of an explanation written to my maths teacher, Mr Horrocks, when he looked out of the window and saw me in what he thought to be a physical altercation with another boy : "… idly swinging my leg, when you, Sir, looked out of the window …".

  32. Victor Mair said,

    July 12, 2023 @ 1:33 pm

    @S. Norman:

    Thanks for the precious video.

    They already sang in close harmony. Had a similar hairstyle as later, though not so extravagant / long. All three had a pronounced gap between the two center teeth at the top. Barry was a foot taller than his twin brothers, Robin and Maurice, who were three years younger, and maintained that height difference throughout their career. All three kept their adorable smiles and delightful mannerisms.

  33. Taylor, Philip said,

    July 12, 2023 @ 1:54 pm

    Coby — when you say "the Bee Gees' name alluded to B.G. (Ben Gurion)", was this allusion intentional on their part, or was it merely inferred by הצ'רצ'ילים ? I ask because I have a vague memory that it might have been a contraction of [the] Brothers Gibb.

  34. Michael Carasik said,

    July 12, 2023 @ 3:07 pm

    Not sure whether "I'm a Milwaukeean" will get Karma C. out of your head or more into it.

  35. KeithB said,

    July 12, 2023 @ 3:11 pm

    "They already sang in close harmony. "
    When Ricky Skaggs was talking about The Whites – A family based country/bluegrass group – he would refer to is as "blood harmony".

  36. Philip Anderson said,

    July 12, 2023 @ 5:13 pm

    @Philip Taylor
    Neither apparently:

  37. JPL said,

    July 12, 2023 @ 9:11 pm

    Chas Belov:

    Great song! We need to refresh your memory for your experiences at the street crossing, so here's the real thing.
    (Yes, that's the Supremes looking on.)

  38. Chas Belov said,

    July 13, 2023 @ 2:26 am

    @JPL, thank you for the link.

    @Benjamin Orsatti, thank you for your kind words. Wikipedia and Lonely Planet's Armchair Traveler, together with a robust streaming service, are great for discovering new work in various languages.

    My memory of lyrics tends to be garbled, with bits and pieces accurate and inaccurate, even for English-language songs. It's called Mondegreen for a reason.

    My current favorite song is the Thai rock number อีกไม่ช้า (Soon), by Potato featuring Slot Machine (Thai rock bands often have English names although the songs are mostly in Thai). Content warning for flashing lights shortly after the 3 and 4 minute marks.

    There is a robust Hoklo and indigenous language music scene in Taiwan, although Mandarin does seem to predominate. I have several albums in Hoklo that I've collected over the years. There used to be a CD store in San Francisco Chinatown with a rock section, but it is alas long gone.

    I'm curating a playlist, called Infectious, on YouTube, with popular music in as many languages as I can find (it's also about half English). I don't keep track, and lyrics aren't always available, so I don't always know what language a random song is in when listening. In my personal (owned) collection, I have popular music in about a hundred languages.

  39. Chas Belov said,

    July 13, 2023 @ 2:27 am

    Forgot to mention the website Every Noise at Once, also a great resource.

  40. Taylor, Philip said,

    July 13, 2023 @ 3:33 am

    May I ask, Chas, roughly what fraction of your waking hours you spend listening to music ? I ask because I estimate that I personally spend somewhere between 0.01% and 0.1% (probably closer to the former) and wonder whether, in this respect at least, I am something of an outlier in the population. My taste is primarily early music (Byrd, Tallis, Palestrina et al.> and Gregorian chant, but I also enjoy folk, especially early Joan Baez and the Dubliners.

  41. Benjamin Orsatti said,

    July 13, 2023 @ 7:37 am


    I just checked out "Every Noise at Once" (Here you go, Philip: What a fantastic idea! Wonder how "quran" ended up next to "cabaret", though.

  42. bks said,

    July 13, 2023 @ 8:24 am

    "Lauren Elkin begins her book about bodily art with a charming ode to the punctuation mark that she in American English calls a ‘slash’ and we in British English call a ‘stroke’. She likes the way it expresses ‘division yet relation’. Brings disparate things together. Makes space for ambiguity. Blends and blurs. And/or. She writes:

    'The slash is the first person tipped over: the first person joining me to the person beside me, or me to you. Across the slash we can find each other. Across the slash I think we can do some work.'"

  43. Taylor, Philip said,

    July 13, 2023 @ 10:41 am

    Thank you Benjamin — truly sublime. Tomás Luis de Victoria "Responsories for Maundy Thursday Nocturn 2: I. Amicus meus osculi me tradidit signa"

  44. Jerry Packard said,

    July 13, 2023 @ 5:15 pm

    Barry Gibb has the most wonderful voice, both in falsetto and normal range. Their most beautiful song (both lyrically and musically)? ‘How Deep is your Love?’

  45. JPL said,

    July 13, 2023 @ 6:23 pm

    Chas Belov:

    I checked out your You Tube playlist and channel; it's really quite impressive. If you want to extend your Africa coverage you'll find a wide variety of excellent and interesting music from the different areas of the continent. (I didn't go through the whole list, but I noticed a few, e.g., Nigeria's Femi Kuti, Yung Sal, singing in Sierra Leone Krio.) I'm sorry, I can't resist sending you this sublime song from one of the many musical hot spots in Africa, namely Congo, by the long-running group Zaiko Langa Langa, singing mostly in Lingala with a little French code switching.

    South Africa has a thriving jazz scene, e.g., among many, pianist/vocalist Thandi Ntuli.

  46. JPL said,

    July 13, 2023 @ 6:45 pm

    Correction: Zaiko usually sing in Lingala, but on this one I notice it's not Lingala, but apparently Kiluba.

  47. Chas Belov said,

    July 13, 2023 @ 11:50 pm

    @Taylor, Philip I'd guess I average about 2 hours a day listening to music, split between my Infectious and Incubator (pre-Infectious) playlists; quiet jazz or reggae before bedtime; exploring to find new music; or re-listening to favorite albums (Amantes Sunt Amentes by Mexican group Panda; Jsem by Czech pop singer Aneta Langerova; My Guitar by Taiwan supergroup Monkey Pilot; among others). That said, I usually listen in background as I surf the web, eat, do meal prep or the dishes, so it's not pure listening blocking out other activity.

    @JPL, thank you! Yes, I definitely would love to increase the African presence in my playlists. So many languages and so much great music. I will definitely check out your recs. Fun fact: I am two degrees of separation from Angelique Kidjo (via my aunt and her grandson), although I was listening to her music for years before I discovered that connection. (Also two degrees from Carlos Santana by two completely different paths and three degrees from the late Leslie Cheung.)

  48. Taylor, Philip said,

    July 14, 2023 @ 3:37 am

    Wow, two hours a day — I doubt I listen for more than two hours a year, which I am intrigued to see would be very close to my earlier estimate of 0.01%. I am clearly at one end of the spectrum, but I wonder whether by some people's standards, even two hours a day might seen as rather little …

  49. Jarek Weckwerth said,

    July 14, 2023 @ 5:01 am

    I was surprised to see that "Staying Alive" only had 717 million views on YouTube, but it turns out that's the views on the original video posted by Victor Mair. There is a remastered version that has another 322 million views ( which makes the song one of the elite club of songs with more than a billion views. I would thus venture to say it's one of the fundamental musical creations of modern Western civilization ;)

  50. Chas Belov said,

    July 14, 2023 @ 3:06 pm

    Talks of billion views caused my to earworm Gangnam Style, which I think was the first YouTube video to hit a billion views.

    @JPL thank you again for the African recs, which led to other songs as well. I've added about 90-120 minutes to my Incubator playlist for sequencing and preparation for moving to Infectious. I also see (or hear) that I need to do a lot more African exploration; there's such a variety of music and I have a tropism for eclecticism.

  51. Chas Belov said,

    July 14, 2023 @ 4:32 pm

    @JPL Just so you know, there is already quite a bit of African content in the existing playlist. I acknowledge the representation pales in comparison to other continents. Thank you for contributing to my improving the diversity of my playlist and spurring me to do more work on that.

  52. Bloix said,

    July 16, 2023 @ 8:02 am

    Boy George is non-rhotic, so he does say cama for karma.

  53. Bloix said,

    July 16, 2023 @ 8:15 am

    PS- you have got to see Saturday Night Fever (1977). The BeeGees are all over that movie. The opening credit sequence has Stayin' Alive as the background track, and IMHO the way the music gives you insight into the John Travolta character is just brilliant.

  54. Bloix said,

    July 16, 2023 @ 8:30 am

    PPS- since we seem to be sharing African pop songs, this is my favorite – Mapenzi Kzunguzungu (Dizzy Love, in Swahili), by the Tanzanian artist Saida Karoli:

  55. Garrett Riggs said,

    July 16, 2023 @ 3:45 pm

    Thanks Victor! I, too, am prone to earworms, often with only the slightest provocation (e.g., just hearing the title of a song). Don’t know if this is true for everyone, but for me, earworms are usually of music I would rather *not* hear…perhaps 9 times out of 10.

    Not to be a killjoy, but your auditory cortex is probably not the main culprit, but rather, higher order association cortex. :-). Not that it matters…they seem comparably inaccessible to scrubbing!

  56. JPL said,

    July 16, 2023 @ 4:11 pm

    @Bloix 7.16.2023 8:30 am:

    @Chas Belov:
    Just happy to be able to contribute to another music lover's exploration of new musical vistas! Cheers, and enjoy! (You've given me the idea that I should make a playlist of my own of African music.)

  57. Bloix said,

    July 18, 2023 @ 9:35 pm

    JPL- I'm so happy you like it. To be honest, I know nothing about African pop. Twelve years ago, I spent a couple of weeks in Tanzania (the only time I've been in sub-Saharan Africa), and I found that every commercial establishment down to the smallest corner market had a TV that played music videos continuously. This song was in the rotation and it was far and away the best of them.
    Since this is Language Log, I'll add that it's in a genre of music known delightfully as bongo flava. Bongo, I've read, is a form of ubongo, which is Kiswahili for brains, and can mean either intelligent, clever, or deranged, insane. It's an intentionally ambiguous nickname for Dar es Salaam, where the music originated. And Flava is just flavor – so bongo flava is one or all of "Dar style," "smart style," and "crazy style."

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