5 Unexpected Backstories Behind The Most Annoying Songs Ever

At some point, humans realized music could be used for evil. Thus did we invent "earworms" -- insidious riffs of annoying but catchy music that loops in one's head long after they've stopped actually playing. That's such a perfect term, too. You imagine a parasite chewing through your gray matter, hijacking your very thoughts. When you hear some of these irresistible, grating songs, you may wonder what kind of diabolical geniuses created them, and why. Well ...

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5
"It's A Small World (After All)" Was Engineered To Play On A Loop Without Driving People Nuts

Starting with their work for the Tiki (tiki tiki tiki tiki) Room at Disneyland, the Sherman brothers were Supercalifragilistic at writing earworms for Disney. But the ride Walt was creating for the 1964 World's Fair, filled with singing dolls modeled on the artwork of Disney colorist and children's author Mary Blair, would prove to be a ridiculously complicated songwriting challenge. And you don't dare disappoint Walt Disney, or someone in your family quietly disappears.

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The ride's "It's a small world" theme presented several logistical issues. First was coming up with a song that could be heard for nearly a quarter of an hour (the length of the ride) without the people in the boats wanting to drown themselves in the shallow canal. Next was keeping the song simple enough that it could be translated into many languages without losing the cadence and turning into a cacophonous mess. Doing either one sounds borderline impossible, but both?

That said, the song is a terrific drill bit for grinding away at the cavities of our brains. James J. Kellaris, a professor at the University of Cincinnati, says that part of why earworms resonate the way they do is simplicity and repetition. And a song like "It's A Small World (After All)," which repeats the words "small world" 10 times in 22 lines, has plenty of both.

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It's similar to children's songs, as repetition is why we can all remember that she'll be coming 'round the mountain when she comes despite not hearing it for roughly 20 years. Then you add the element of children actually singing it in the recording. (Children's singing has polled as some of the most hated music in the world. It's like bagpipes, but emitted by little germ goblins.) And with that, let's now enjoy a full recording of the entire 13-minute experience so that we can keep hearing it in our heads for the next decade or so:

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4
The Baby Back Ribs Jingle Took Five Minutes To Write

Since the goal of any advertisement is to take up residence in our brains rent-free, it makes sense that fast food chains would be all about earworms. Most of us can't go to, say, McDonald's without hearing doo-doo-doo doo-doo I'm lovin' it. That's even truer in the case of Chili's, whose entire business model (aside from their microwaved sampler plates and lukewarm beer specials) has become entwined with the "I want my babybackbabyback" Baby Back Ribs jingle. Guy Bommarito had never even eaten a Chili's rib when he tossed off those maddening notes and entered our collective subconscious.

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Bommarito, fresh off a campaign that went so shittily that he was afraid of getting fired, dashed off the song in five minutes. According to him, "Our department didn't even do [jingles], so I just did it myself so that no one would have to mess with it ... I presented it to the client, I just sang it to them, and they said, 'Yeah, that sounds fine.'" Yes, the story is exactly as inspiring as you'd expect.

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After he'd moved on from both from the jingle and the firm, Bommarito found out the song had been licensed for Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, in which Fat Bastard sang the famous lyrics. 'Nsync shot an ad. The song's been ranked ahead of "Who Let The Dogs Out?" and "Macarena" in terms of mind-maddening catchiness. And Bommarito hadn't been credited once since he signed away the rights to the song to the man who first recorded it for him, Tom Faulkner (a tale similar to the story behind the Nike logo).

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The good thing is that Bommarito has mostly moved on and doesn't particularly care, even if Chili's does. They brought the jingle back only three years after they stopped using it. The "I want my baby back" repetition will stay with you way longer than the stomach cramps you'll get after downing a plate of jalapeno poppers. Science tells us that one way to get over an earworm is to listen to the whole song from start to finish, and that would be great advice here if there was a rest of the song to listen to. It's just the torturous part!

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3
Kars4Kids Is The Ultimate Troll

One way earworms operate is like the old method of trying to not think of a big pink elephant after being told not to. The harder you try to resist, the more it invades your brain. So remember that when I tell you not to think of the jingle to Kars4Kids. If you're somehow not familiar, boy are you in for a treat:

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"1-877-Kars4Kids, K-A-R-S kars for kids." Welcome to the rest of your life. It turns out the Kars4Kids people, like a gaggle of low-rent TV villains, know exactly how terrible their song is, since they troll people through their YouTube account. It's full of videos of literal sock puppets singing responses to negative Tweets, all set to the infernal tune.

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This particular auditory death march began with a terrible radio jingle that became an even worse television commercial that looks like Tommy Wiseau's School Of Rock. It then evolved into a "charity" that's been plagued by the fact that didn't reveal it was religious (it funds youth camps for Orthodox Jewish children). It's been fined by Pennsylvania and Oregon, and Minnesota's attorney general really put them under the microscope, saying the company put only $12,000 into Minnesota charities in a year they took in $3 million from that state alone. Meanwhile, they apparently put $10 million toward sketchy real estate deals, while budgeting $17 million in 2015 to get those damn ads playing everywhere. Does the whole operation exist just to force us to listen to that song?

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Meanwhile, even the sitcom The Good Place recently declared the jingle the anthem of Hell. Like "It's A Small World," it's got the simplicity, repetition, and children singing, and the backing track sounds as if your nephew is punishing you with the very same Casio keyboard he begged you to get him for Christmas. We know for a fact that songs like Barney's "I Love You" have been used for torture, but this feels like a nationwide test. Maybe the worst aspect is that the damned thing works. After the TV version aired, the company's revenue increased by nearly 50%.

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2
The "Macarena" Is Way More Messed Up Than People Realize

The "Macarena" ranks with the accordion refrains of the "Chicken Dance" in terms of embarrassing things people will do at weddings, but is even more insidious as an earworm. Hear it randomly, and you'll find yourself remembering when to put your hands on your shoulders and then your hips, and then at 3 a.m., you'll be lying awake thinking nothing but Heeey Macarena, ay! And that'll happen even before you learn what it's really about.

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The goofy little dance number, remixed into the tune we know and tolerate by the Bayside Boys in the mid '90s, is about a woman named Macarena who loves doin' it. Which is fine, of course, but in this case she especially likes it when her boyfriend gets drafted into the army and she finds two dudes willing and waiting while he's away. That your best friend's middle-aged mom is out on the floor gyrating her support-hose-clad hips to it during your wedding reception is icing on the cake.

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Those lyrics can be found in the original Spanish version of the song by Los Del Rio, and I'm guessing that part got dropped in the first draft of the Americanized rewrite. It was, after all, destined to be a monster hit. Its beat and lyrics were honed with razor precision, and the creators of the video, Vincent Calet and Mia Frye, spent time cutting the number of dance moves in half from 16 so that even the least coordinated among us could do it. This also made the dance compact so they could cram as many people into the camera, and later onto a dance floor, as possible without getting the fire marshal involved.

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So now that you can hear the cursed tune in your head, you're probably wondering how to get it out of your thinkin' meat. Doctors who study these songs have suggested chewing gum, solving anagrams, and even listening to "God Save The Queen," which should help as long as you don't picture the queen doing the Macarena. If that happens, it's time for hands to go to hips.

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Related: 29 Secret Backstories You Don't Know To Hit Songs You Do

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1
No One Knows Who Really Let The Dogs Out

The late '90s and early 2000s were wild for pop music, and one of the most famous examples of the time barked its way up the billboard while asking the eternal question of the Sphinx: "Who let the dogs out?" As sung by the Baja Men, this series of woofs took over the charts, our hearts, and eventually signed a permanent lease in our heads. The question of who-who-who-who originally let the dogs out, though, is basically unanswerable.

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The song's extreme popularity explains why almost everybody will raise their hand when asked who wrote it. It's officially credited to Anslem Douglas, who says he learned the phrase from his brother-in-law, but that doesn't close the case on this aural human centipede. The brother-in-law claimed to have heard it in a jingle for a Canadian radio show. But another guy who claims credit is Ossie Gurley, who produced Anslem's album. Then there's the production group 20 Fingers, who wrote a song with the lyrics, "Who let them dogs loose/woof woof" in 1994. Oh, and a pair of Miami musicians say they wrote it back in 1992. And there's a recording of it at a Union High football game from Michigan in 1990 ...

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Regardless, it took a London hairdresser named Keith Wainwright sharing some of the music he'd brought back from his Caribbean vacation with a producer named Jonathan King, who recorded his own version (which you've never heard), which eventually got the attention of the Baja Men's producer Steve Greenburg, to get us the version that's embedded itself in pop culture history.

So it turns out a song that sounds like it was dashed off in 20 minutes is the result of a decade's worth of work by artists all over the world -- so many that we don't even know all of their names. It's as if the song willed itself into human consciousness like some kind of Lovecraftian god. "Who Let The Dogs Out?" exists because it was inevitable. It exists because we deserve it.

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Andrew McRae has books and eBooks available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble. He can also be found on Instagram and Facebook, as well as writing for Lewtonbus.

For more, check out 4 Famous Musicians (Who Stole Their Biggest Hits):

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