See, I've got this song in my head

A pretty good proportion of the population — meaning a lot maybe but I don’t know how many exactly — gets songs stuck in their heads once in awhile.

It can happen when you hear someone whistling some tune while they toil away at some task or another. You go to your kids’ school plays and the little ones sing something just darling and later that night while you try to sleep that song is still there. And then, there is background music as in music to shop by.

Now the grandpappy of background music, known as Muzak, has been around for years. As early as the 1950s — a time when the least little thing could get people wound up, a special congressional committee would be formed — there were charges Muzak was causing brainwashing.

I would imagine the subject of manipulation through background music would be research gold for a music-loving social psychologist. From what little scientific reading I have done I don’t know this to be one way or the other a fact. This piece suggests that playing classical music in a wine store made shoppers buy more expensive wine. Whether that would mean that playing Sousa marches in a gun store would cause customers to arm themselves to the teeth is something to think about, but I don’t know that to have been specifically studied and affirmed.

Nonetheless, it seems at the very least background music in grocery or department stores do seem to make songstuckus — my made-up word for a song being stuck in one’s head — more severe.

Since a great deal of my work is done in different stores, I listen to a lot of background music. I never really thought much about store music until I started visiting many different stores. Even when I go to stores now just to shop I am somewhat taken aback by the variety of background music in stores.

Go to the store just up the street, with a decidedly more working class black population, and you may hear Soul from the 60s and 70s. Before you know it, you’re walking out of the store with groceries in your arms and Eddie Kendricks and the Temptations in your head singing “The Way You Do the Things You Do.”

Sometimes the songs you hear will stick with you even though you may not have ever heard them or hadn’t listened to a particular song in years. Like at a drug store in Port Arthur awhile back while waiting to speak with a pharmacist. “Hmm, hmm, hmm.” Wow, what is this? And you remember from way back to “Toulouse Street” on which the Doobie Brothers quietly sing “I might just pass this way again.”

Today it was early Beatles I hear over and over. “If there’s anything that you want/If there’s anything I can do/Just call on me, and I’ll send it along/With love from me to you.” Such simple, melodic, pop music. You wonder what all the hubbub was about when the Beatles first appeared on the scene wearing identical suits and moptops? Nonetheless, the song got stuck in my head at a store this morning and now I can’t get it out!

I don’t really know why music from the store has such an impact. It is played at level in most cases where it is almost subliminal, which makes some sense. But if it’s meant to affect you, to buy more toilet paper and six-packs of Busch, then why does the lyrics and music get stuck in your head and not the products themselves?

It’s jus another one of life’s great mysteries, unsolved, with love from me to you.