In the days when cars had cassette players, a friend once recorded his favourite song 10 times on one side of a tape so that he could listen to it continuously. I still remember that song—All Night Long by Lionel Richie (it was early 1980s); for hours after the drive it echoed in my head.
Whether I was in a café, in a shop or sitting on a bench in the park, I would hear the words in my head: “We’re going to party, karamu, fiesta, forever, come on and sing along… all night long…” Not a bad line to get stuck in one’s head.
But there are times when a song you don’t particularly like gets stuck in your head and you simply cannot turn it off. There’s a word for it: “earworm” (from the German word ohrwurm). You don’t know how the song got there, or what triggered it, but do what you may, you simply cannot get rid of it.
It’s quite a common phenomenon, and there are websites that list “top ten earworms” and “ten worst earworms” (I can understand why Who Let the Dogs Out ? is on many such lists, but why The Lion Sleeps Tonight from The Lion King?). There are sites that suggest ways you can get rid of sticky songs, but I think the best way is to try and replace it with a song that you like.
There are also times when you feel like listening to a song over and over; you want it to play infinitely. If you are my age, you probably get this feeling every time you listen to The Beatles’ Hey Jude. You start humming when you come to “Na na na, na-na-na na, na-na-na na, Hey Jude,” and are quite happy if it carries on.
There’s a new Web app called The Infinite Jukebox (tag line: “For when your favourite song just isn’t long enough”) where you can upload a track and create a never-ending version. They say it works best with songs that have a lot of repetition, and Hey Jude is a perfect fit. Try it out at: labs.echonest.com/Uploader/index.html .
Launched in November, The Infinite Jukebox converts an MP3 track into seamless loops and creates a “chord diagram”—a kind of circular barcode—where you can “see” the beats. Unless you want to tweak the song further, you don’t have to be a techie to play a track. Click on it, sit back, and enjoy the music.
The site has an interesting—though not extensive—list of songs. I clicked on Take Five, and just when I thought it’s about to end, the saxophone started again—all quite seamless.
Increasingly, I rely on Internet streaming radio for my music. I’ve bought only one CD in the last year; I don’t even listen much to the collection on my computer. Depending on what I am doing—working, reading a book, or with friends—I choose a station from iTunes radio (the advantage is you get everything under one roof), go to the US’ National Public Radio or NPR, or visit a website like Grooveshark or 8tracks.
I have created a small list of favourites on Grooveshark, mostly songs that I do not have in my collection and like to listen to repeatedly (The Departed movie version of Comfortably Numb, for example). If I don’t find what I am looking for I go to 8tracks, where you can choose music from a list of categories (chill, study, rock, jazz, folk, classical and so on). Pick a category and it creates a playlist of eight or more tracks for you.
Even if you don’t find what you are looking for, you get a nice variation of the theme. They call their site “handcrafted Internet radio” because these lists are made by individuals and not generated by an algorithm. If I find something nice, I play it day after day.
But the advantage with The Infinite Jukebox is you don’t have to press any replay button. I clicked on Hey Jude when I started writing this column, and it’s still going “Na na na, na-na-na na, na-na-na na.” Nice. I like it.
Shekhar Bhatia is a former editor, Hindustan Times, a science buff and a geek at heart.