The resident earworm: west on 27th

Much of it was cleaning windows, picking up sandwiches, and writing mailing labels. But it was the most impactful job I ever had.

I started working at that independent record store when I was 15 and arrived for a week of work experience. By the time I was finishing sixth form at 18, I’d been doing every Saturday and 1 or 2 weekdays too. Spending time at that place taught me an incredible amount.

Among the dozens, perhaps hundreds, of little things I picked up along the way, here are two that come to mind nearly 20 years later: the earworm, and the big soundsystem.

Heading out on a morning run this week around my neighborhood of Brooklyn, I knew I needed help to keep the legs moving and the inner voice quiet. I scrolled Soundcloud and surfaced an old Sasha Essential Mix.

As with any DJ set, some tracks stroll past smoothly, others chug and trudge. Yet a select few are addictive, irresistible earworms. The melodies, hooks, and basslines burrow in deep. Once they’re in, even the strongest tidal wave of fresh music makes them tough to dislodge. Hopefully you know the type.

This Tuesday morning’s earworm rumbled into view arrived as the mix reached an inevitable sweet spot [1]. If you’ve ever seen a morning jogger jacking their head like a caffeinated pigeon – ask them what’s on their headphones.

When I got in home I dug out the tracklist to find out the cut in question.

‘West on 27th’, by Killahertz [2]

It seemed familiar. When I saw the distinctive Hooj Choons label artwork listed on its Discogs page, I realized why.

I owned it. 

My deal back at the record store was a (very) small amount of cash each week, plus a haul of records. 

Sometimes I’d test out my shortlist on the shop’s main sound system, but usually I’d have to make do with the well-worn headphones at the back. After all, I was the rookie, and taking control of the mainframe with its elevated DJ setup was a role to be respected.

This made choosing more difficult. With ropey sound, everything – good or bad – clustered in towards average. Furthermore, if the main system was being pummeled with a new one from Dillinja or Defected, the chance of any kind of discernible definition disappeared.

“West on 27th” made it into that week’s bag, but at the time I couldn’t tell you why.

20 years later, audio technology has improved somewhat. The kettle drums clatter; the low-tuned didgeridoo rumbles. The sound is bright and wide. And it’s now locked into the digital record box – groove-ready, on-demand.


Which brings me back to those two learnings.

It used to be that earworms only made themselves known once we’d heard them in full force on a big soundsystem. But many times the soundsystems were inaccessible, out of reach, or just too damn hard to find.

This is true not just for music, but for admiring art; starting a business; maybe even finding that significant other.

Today though, it’s different.

The technology and connectivity we have today mean our span of consideration is depleted – the earworms can pass us by. But these evolutions also mean we no longer always need the expensive sound system, or to wait until those with more status have had their fill.

There’s more fidelity. More access. More opportunity.

Just gotta find the space to listen in. And let the earworm present itself.

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