Although liked music is known to improve performance through boosting one's mood and arousal, both liked music and disliked music impair serial recall performance. Given that the key acoustical feature of this impairment is the acoustical variation, it is possible that some music may contain less acoustical variation and so produce less impairment. In this situation, unliked, unfamiliar music could be better for performance than liked, familiar music. This study tested this by asking participants to serially recall eight-item lists in either quiet, liked or disliked music conditions. Results showed that performance was significantly poorer in both music conditions compared with quiet. More importantly, performance in the liked music condition was significantly poorer than in the disliked music condition. These findings provide further illustration of the irrelevant sound effect and limitations of the impact of liked music on cognition. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.