It’s pretty common for most of us to have some kind of musical playlist for the daily activities that make up our lives. I’m listening to some smoother-than-smooth jazz right now as I type this. I’ll probably listen to something altogether different when I get back to my day job.

The point is, music can have all kinds of beneficial influences on our states of mind, our productivity, our sobriety, and even our physical well-being. Way back in World War II, music was used to calm wounded soldiers before and after complex surgeries, and to ease the effects of PTSD. These days, a fledgling branch of science even seeks to introduce music therapy into the recovery process for substance abusers.

If there’s one place you might not expect music to put in an appearance, it might just be the operating room. I know that if I were being put under for any kind of invasive surgery, I’d be a little alarmed if the last thing I saw just before my eyes closed was the surgeon walking over to his boom box to hit play on a speed metal album. Some types of music simply aren’t suited for particular activities or responsibilities.

Thankfully, science has finally weighed in on the usefulness of various types of music in different situations. A study by Cardiff University Hospital sought to discover which types of music would be most beneficial for surgeons involved in medical operations. Their findings are almost hilariously appropriate.

Topping the list of Cardiff University’s “recommended listening” for surgeons is Pink Floyd’s 1979 masterpiece “Comfortably Numb.” Next up: “Staying’ Alive” by the Bee Gees. But the eerily appropriate titles don’t end there: rounding out the list are “Smooth Operator” by Sade, “Wake me Up Before You Go-Go,” and “Fix You” by Coldplay.

comfortably numb

Aside from having simply perfect titles considering the circumstances, the researchers also indicated that music like this has the potential to “improve communication between staff, reduce anxiety, and improve efficiency.”

So which songs don’t you want to hear in the operating room? Here’s a few to avoid:

  • “Another One Bites the Dust” by Queen
  • “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” by Bob Dylan
  • “Everybody Hurts” by REM
  • “Scar Tissue” by Red Hot Chili Peppers
  • “Knives Out” by Radiohead

I don’t know about you, but I’m sensing a pattern there.

I think we’ve all observed at one time or another just how effective music can be in improving our mood. Generally, though, those observations are made during low-stakes activities. We’ve also likely noticed that certain types of music can actually worsen our mood, or otherwise distract us from the task at hand. This is particularly true of, say, rush hour traffic. Frustrated drivers can become even more hostile if the wrong song comes onto the radio at the wrong time. I’m definitely not speaking from experience.

This is part of the reason why I was surprised, at least at first, to find out that this Cardiff University study revealed that four-fifths of medical operations are accompanied by a musical soundtrack of one kind or another. There are already a dizzying number of reasons for lawsuits in the medical community, but I can only imagine the fallout if a particular doctor was found listening to the “wrong music” and slipped up during the operation. Will this kind of scientific inquiry lead to hospitals issuing a list of “approved” songs for use during surgeries? It’s certainly possible.

In any event, this is a great reminder of the power of music in a variety of daily activities. Even on those occasions when we tend to think of music as some kind of idle background noise, it’s pretty clear that our brains are still processing that noise and allowing it to influence what we do. Isn’t music amazing?