It’s Tuesday so that means at ilisteniwatch.com, it’s Tunesday! Every Tuesday, we will share a song with you that we love and hope you will too.
Today’s Tunesday is ostensibly about a three-minute-and-seventeen-second song by The Black Keys called “All Hands Against His Own,” but in truth this is only about five seconds of music.
Before I explain myself, let’s review some terminology. You probably already know what an earworm is, but here’s a quick refresher courtesy of Google Docs: “short for corn earworm.”
Whoops, sorry. I mean the second definition: “a catchy song or tune that runs continually through a person’s mind.” Most of us are very familiar with this phenomenon. Sometimes you’ll passively hear a pop song while walking through a department store, and catch yourself singing it under your breath later while cooking dinner. Or maybe you wake up and a favorite tune you haven’t listened to in a few months is jamming in your mind’s soundsystem, and you think, this is cool. Then several hours later the same song has repeated in your head for the 61st time, and you think, kill me now.
That’s all well and good (or maddening), but I’ve found that I also experience something slightly more specific, often enough that I’ve decided it needs its own name: the riffworm. It’s an earworm, but it’s just a riff. Most commonly it’s an opening guitar riff to a song. I get these stuck in my head for days, weeks, months, years, and I hum (or sing? is that the right term?) them absent-mindedly to fill silences in my head during a given day.
Back to The Black Keys, because as you’ve no doubt guessed by now, the opening guitar riff of “All Hands Against His Own” (from their incredible third album, Rubber Factory) is my current riffworm. I’m never consciously thinking about this song (in fact, I had to think through the rest of the song once to determine to which song the riff actually belonged), but at the most random moments, I find those blissful five seconds of guitar bursting into my head. To the point, in fact, that even my wife has gotten in on this particular riffworm. I may be walking through house and before I realize I’m doing it, I’m mouth-riffing, “Buh-nuh nuh, nuh-nuh NUH nuh-nuh…” and she responds in kind, “BUH nuh-nuh-nuh!” (We have the best marriage and I will fight you to the death if you disagree.)
This isn’t my first riffworm, of course. I’ve had several others, too many to recall them all. But if you’re curious, two that have been significant enough to keep recurring unprovoked throughout the years are Nirvana’s Unplugged in New York version of “The Man Who Sold the World” and Rage Against the Machine’s “Bullet in the Head,” which, yes, is actually a bass guitar riff, and yes, I occasionally also launch into the full song on that one.
Is the riffworm as ubiquitous in the minds of mankind as the regular earworm? Is this a term worth using? I don’t know; you tell me. Or at least just listen to Mr. Dan Auerbach: