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Home > Music

Songs that make you sick

Paul Garner gets to grips with the tunes that have him heaving.

18 July 2003

The curious thing about songs that make you feel sick is that they don't have to be by artists you dislike. I personally am quite fond of The Jam - but if you're planning on playing Going Underground anywhere near me, don't wear your best shirt.

There is a difference between a song you hate and a song that makes you sick. I hate Angels by Robbie Williams but it doesn’t make me feel sick. I hate Wake Up Boo by the Boo Radleys for being the most cynical piece of pop writing since Katrina and The Waves buggered off back to The Fens - but it doesn't make me want to vomit. However, I do like Peter Gabriel - but Games Without Frontiers makes me feel horribly ill.

So why do certain songs make you feel sick? Well, the small cupboard in my brain where I keep my scientific knowledge offers up something about 'the middle ear' and certain sound frequencies affecting balance and consequently causing feelings of nausea.

I'd buy this theory for Minnie Riperton’s Loving You, the high-pitched smulchiness of which invariably makes me feel sick and giddy. But if we accept that my ears are much like everyone else’s, how can some songs make *me* sick but not my friends, and vice versa? I have a friend who will reach for a bucket anytime he hears Lifted by The Lighthouse Family... awful song but it doesn't make me feel sick. Equally, he can happily play an entire '60s compilation album at his summer barbecue, but I'm hidden in the bushes stifling gut acid when 'Jimmy Mack' by Martha Reeves and The Vandellas comes on. (Incidentally, practically all Motown makes me feel sick).

No, I think it's far too personal and idiosyncratic to be explained away by O-Level biology. I have spent many long hours time trying to analyse what it is in a particular song that makes me feel sick, but my findings, though interesting, provide no discernible pattern. I thought I was onto something when I realised certain words in a song can trigger gastric contractions. The word "Nikita" in the song of the same name by Elton John makes me feel sick, the word "gladrags" in Chris Farlowe's Handbags and Gladrags makes me want to chuck. But then I realised there are songs that make me sick that have no words in them that bother me at all. Paul Young's Wherever I Lay My Hat is a prime example: I've been through the lyrics with a glass of water and a bucket ready but no problem at all. I then realised it was probably Pino Palladino's fretless bass line that did the damage, sliding through the song like an phlegmy oyster down a sicky throat pipe.

Theories aside, out of a strong list of contenders, I have compiled my own personal Top 10 Songs That Make Me Feel Sick.

10) Church Of The Poisoned Mind - Culture Club

9) Drop The Pilot - Joan Armatrading

8) Whole Of The Moon - The Waterboys (a song that is also sensationally average despite what everyone else thinks)

7) Your Love Is King - Sade

6) Nights In White Satin - Moody Blues

5) I’ll Find My Way Home - Jon and Vangellis (in fact, anything that Vangellis has had a hand in)

4) Clint Eastwood - Gorillaz

3) When Doves Cry - Prince

2) Stool Pigeon - Kid Creole And The Coconuts

1) Baker Street - Gerry Rafferty (especially the swirly opening bit before the sax comes in... just repulsive)

Note: 'Your Love Is King' is the only song on the list that I like enough to still play at home and put up with the inevitable loss of health.

Note also: ‘Crocodile Rock’ by Elton John occasionally features in my top ten. The naaaaaa-na-na-na-naaaa chorus alone can bring up blood.

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Comment on this article: letters@thefridaything.co.uk

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