Y'a d'la joie

ME    What’s that from?
DONNY   What?
ME    That tune you just whistled?
DONNY   Why, do you know it?
ME    Yes, it’s from an advert isn’t it? Wait a minute, it’ll come to me…

And so began a 6 year search for an earworm, a tune vivid in my mind, clear in the mind of my fellow PhD student, Donny, but apparently unknown to the rest of humanity.

The song, so far as I could remember it, was a cheerful, old-fashioned piece. There was no singer, but I remember a small band or orchestra backing a lead wind instrument, perhaps a clarinet or an oboe. To my ears it sounded like some light entertainment music from the 1930s or 1940s; of a style and age where the composer and performers would almost certainly be unknown to me.

After racking our brains thinking of when we’d first heard it (mid to late nineties we reckoned) and which TV commercial it might be from, we resorted to the web. This proved an impossible task. With only the vaguest of search terms to get things going and almost no way of working out whether a song title was correct we couldn’t get any purchase on the problem.

We tried humming and whistling the tune to people we knew, our curiosity getting the better of any embarrassment. Nothing. Even the various music-finding apps like Soundhound and Shazam drew a blank.

Eventually we wondered if our vocal performances were not quite up to scratch so one afternoon in our office in the psychology department at the University of Sheffield, we pecked out the short key sequence on a keyboard - no doubt in our minds that it was correct, so clear was our recollection - and Donny played and recorded it to much sniggering. The final performance sounded like a good representation. We shared the file with our friends and Twitter followers and could soon hear the little tune being played from offices down the corridor. Donny and I smugly sat back knowing that someone would be able to point us to the original piece or to the TV commercial they had heard it on. But nothing came back - nobody even recognised the tune.

For the next few years, Donny and I would occasionally hum the tune to each other, chuckling at what now seemed like a shared hallucination. We were resigned to the likelihood that we’d never discover its name. Now that we no longer work together, it seldom even sprang to mind.

Which is why a coffee break in July 2017 came as such a shock. One of my colleagues treated the office to some pastries and as we drank coffee and nibbled croissants I put on some some French café music for fun. Halfway through one of the songs I remarked ‘I know this… I’m sure it’s a cover of something.’ My colleague clearly didn’t recognise the song so I tried to recall the original but drew a blank. And then it hit me. Holy shit, this is it! I hadn’t realised as this song had a singer - it sounded different, but the tune was the same. I had found it. I quickly fumbled for my phone and paused the song before it had finished - the album was on shuffle and I was desperate not to lose it.

I texted Donny immediately and he was amazed. We were vindicated. This was an exorcism of the mother of all ear worms. Finally we were at peace. And ultimately, more importantly, it was an excuse to catch up with my friend.

We also managed to work out how this earworm had imbedded itself in our brains in the first place. The song had been used in an Superdrug advert in 1997, and YouTube being YouTube of course has a recording. Enjoy!


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