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Don't Put The Bandleader on the Album Cover
June 16, 2011 9:43 AM   Subscribe

It was music to be heard, not listened to. It was the soundtrack to the relaxed, sophisticated, mature vision of the good life. It was music for lovers. It was upbeat, elaborately arranged, chart-toppingly popular, and yet has been almost written out of the popular music history books, dismissed as “elevator music”; soulless, toned-down, pre-chewed, limp cover-versions of popular songs for old people. So sit back, put aside the politics and angst, slip into something comfortable (preferably with someone of similar description), and allow yourself to experience The Joy of Easy Listening [2, 3, 4, 5, 6]
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey (42 comments total) 40 users marked this as a favorite

 
soulless, toned-down, pre-chewed, limp cover-versions of popular songs for old people.

Yup, that's how I remember it, growing-up in the 70's.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 9:47 AM on June 16, 2011


As a child I had a real dread of this kind of music. It didn't seem to come from any world that I could ever possibly relate to, and the idea of turning into a grownup who would find this palatable or even ROMANTIC chilled me to the core. So devoid of content and context, and yet so... earnest. Insidious!
posted by hermitosis at 9:54 AM on June 16, 2011 [8 favorites]


Wow, who would have though to make a documentary about easy-listening music? I suppose the answer is the BBC...
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 9:55 AM on June 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Percy Faith's version of the Enter The Dragon theme is pretty rockin'.
posted by The Card Cheat at 9:56 AM on June 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Remember that the same era that spawned easy listening also spawned George Clinton, proving once again that quantities of mojo in the universe remain, by and large, constant.

Easy Listening: music to not fuck to.
posted by seanmpuckett at 10:17 AM on June 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


DEVO has some easy listening offerings.
posted by kinnakeet at 10:31 AM on June 16, 2011


How is it possible to have nostalgia for something that was intended to be forgotten almost immediately?
posted by tommasz at 10:34 AM on June 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


soulless, toned-down, pre-chewed, limp cover-versions of popular songs for old people.

I worked in a shipping office in the early 1970s, sorting and filing documents all day long. There was a radio in the office. It was turned to WPAT, the easy-listening station out of New Jersey. That music saved my sanity. I used to scorn it like everyone else. Bu listening to it eight hours a day, changed my mind. It is not pap. It is not soulless. If you turn off your hipster status filter, you'll realize that "easy listening" music is 100 times hipper than you are. The arrangements are (more often than not) the creative product of highly skilled musicians and arrangers, who manage to make melodic chestnuts new with interesting instrumentation, time signatures, and aural textures. The musicians are -- to a man and woman -- virtuosos on their instruments. The rankest hack guitar player at a Muzak session was probably a thousand times better musician than Eric Clapton. The horn players were probably ex-big bandsmen who'd smoked pot with Cab Calloway and spied on Doris Day in her dressing room.

We could use a lot more easy listening music at places like Trader Joes. I adore Americana and roots music and hip stuff from all eras, but not while I'm shopping for frozen peas, thank you.

Since the 1950s, middlebrow would-be hispters have tried to signal their sophistication by putting down easy listening. But really, there is nothing unsophisticated about easy listening. Rock and pop are about sexual display. There's a place for that. But easy listening is about -- easy listening. And there's a place for that, too.
posted by Faze at 10:49 AM on June 16, 2011 [18 favorites]


As a kid my bedroom was next to my parents' and they fell asleep (SHUT YOUR MOUTH) to that music every night. So I did too. I would never listen to easy listening music purposely; my bedroom 8-track had Cat Scratch Fever sticking out of it at the time. But it's possible to have nostalgia for it.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 10:49 AM on June 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


My Texan Granny and her friends had their Buick Electra 255s tuned into EZ100 in Dallas for most of the '70s. Remember that some of this turned into the 'Exotica' craze of the '90s! I think smooth jazz is where it also ended up, unfortunately. I'd gladly listen to Kostelanetz any day!
posted by cherryflute at 10:50 AM on June 16, 2011


Bu listening to it eight hours a day, changedwarped my mind.

Proof: It is not pap. It is not soulless. ...The arrangements are (more often than not) the creative product of highly skilled musicians and arrangers, who manage to make melodic chestnuts new with interesting instrumentation, time signatures, and aural textures.

Also: If you turn off your hipster status filter, you'll realize that "easy listening" music is 100 times hipper than you are.

I hated easy listening when I was like 10 in the mid 80s. I was not a hipster then, nor did I think I was. It was just terrible music.
posted by DU at 10:54 AM on June 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


faze...in the time it took you to write that, i'm sure there must have been kids on yer lawn

cherryflute...those were buick 225's or, as they were called on the south side of chicago, the deuce and a quarter
posted by kitchenrat at 11:12 AM on June 16, 2011


There's good "easy listening" and bad, just like anything else.

Anecdatapoint: I grew up listening to classic rock leavened with hip hop. Got heavily into punk, hardcore, and reggae in my teens. Moved on to various sorts of "noise music," glitchy techno etc. Now? I find myself listening to more of this sort of thing, or library music, or 50s Latin-for-whitey, than most of those previously cited genres... there's some gold amidst the crap. Some people like to break out the glowsticks and throw shapes when they get irie, and some sync up Floyd records with Wizard of Oz; I would rather bust out Chuck Mangione's "Feels So Good" (the long-ass album version) and recommend this for people who like this sort of thing.

omg I actually agree with Faze more than the rest of y'all. DOGS AND CATS, LIVING TOGETHER. I'll be out back waiting for Wormwood to fall, listening to my 70s German porn soundtracks

posted by jtron at 11:26 AM on June 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


I give you the Paul Mauriat Orchestra.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 11:39 AM on June 16, 2011


But really, there is nothing unsophisticated about easy listening.

I guess now we know with absolute certainty that Faze is troll...

/easylisteningburger
posted by hermitosis at 11:52 AM on June 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


Don't confuse 'Easy Listening' (a very broad term) with 'Beautiful Music' (a commercial radio format) with Muzak® (a trademark for a 'service' of providing pre-programmed music-like sounds to workplaces, retail, and other public places intended to manipulate mood, energy, and productivity).

Apologies if this is covered in WTFL, but I can't do that where I am now. Will later.

soulless, toned-down, pre-chewed, limp cover-versions of popular songs for old people. . . worked in a shipping office in the early 1970s. . . radio in the office. . . turned to the easy-listening station. . . I used to scorn it like everyone else. . . buick 225 or deuce and a quarter. . . knew him only slightly. . . knew him. . . knew him. . .

OH WOW MAN. . . I. am. hav. ing. a. flash. back. During the period Faze is talking about, I similarly worked a series of menial jobs that often entailed inescapeable piped-in 'beautiful music' So one day I'm cranking the Hobart, trying to avoid amputation and/or laceration and it seeps into my consciousness that I am hearing Montovani or The 101 Strings or similar schlockmeister 'artists' playing Stairway to Heaven. Quite a shock at the time. Not that I particularly liked either the song or Led Zepplin. But this was when I knew that mainstream culture had begun to assimilate Rock and Roll -- which results we have since seen.

And -- This was also a period during which I sometimes gave my address as "225 Electra".
posted by Herodios at 12:11 PM on June 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Jackie Gleason put out a lot of music in this vein - i.e. the straightforwardly titled Music To Change Her Mind.
posted by Trurl at 12:16 PM on June 16, 2011


A bit of Easy Listening Music goes well with a nice mellow buzz.
posted by ovvl at 12:40 PM on June 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


I suspect that, deep down, easy listening is the reason I listen to prog.
posted by LordSludge at 12:51 PM on June 16, 2011


THIS:
Faze: "easy listening" ... arrangements are (more often than not) the creative product of highly skilled musicians and arrangers, who manage to make melodic chestnuts new with interesting instrumentation, time signatures, and aural textures. The musicians are -- to a man and woman -- virtuosos on their instruments. The rankest hack guitar player at a Muzak session was probably a thousand times better musician than Eric Clapton. The horn players were probably ex-big bandsmen who'd smoked pot with Cab Calloway and spied on Doris Day in her dressing room.

ignorance = hate
posted by ohshenandoah at 1:07 PM on June 16, 2011


You know , I was thinking of WPAT as well, when I was a wee lad, I loved going food shopping with the family down the street, they had an awesome 70s van, we would drive on the Belt Parkway till we got to the Pathmark way out by Nellie Bly, rocking WPAT the whole way. That shit was great.
posted by Ad hominem at 1:36 PM on June 16, 2011


I give you the Paul Mauriat Orchestra.

For some reason I cant open that but if it is Love Is Blue that is awesome.

I also loved Music Box Dancer by Frank Mills, don't know if this is considered Easy Listening, but if it is , then Easy Listening is the best.
posted by Ad hominem at 1:50 PM on June 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Change to abstract electronic instrumentation. Call it "ambient". Add a subgenre that nobody has heard of. True Art.
posted by LogicalDash at 2:36 PM on June 16, 2011


This is Han Solo and I'm gonna be keeping you company for the next few hours right here on the midnight shift.
posted by adamdschneider at 2:51 PM on June 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Philosopher Dirtbike: Wow, who would have though to make a documentary about easy-listening music? I suppose the answer is the BBC...

The BBC was once a major pusher of easy listening in the UK - but in an unexpected way. Until the 80s the device which was capable of making the best sound in most people's houses was the TV tucked away in the corner - but films and TV programs were expensive and hence rare. So "viewers" were faced with hours of the Test Card instead. I guess somebody was given the task of working out how to fill the audio channel while the test card was on. The really cheap solution was the 440Hz test tone - but that hardly set the world alight. Hence the commissioning of the totally anonymous, not commercially available - but very well recorded and performed (and known) -Test Card Classics.

Steps to re-create the experience:
1. Pick a rainy afternoon.
2. Turn off all other media.
3. Maximise the simulator and have a cup of tea or iron a shirt.
posted by rongorongo at 4:26 PM on June 16, 2011 [6 favorites]


Wow, rongorongo, I remember CBC here in Canada doing the same thing! Except I remember they played Eric Satie...
posted by LN at 5:29 PM on June 16, 2011


Since the 1950s, middlebrow would-be hispters have tried to signal their sophistication by putting down easy listening. But really, there is nothing unsophisticated about easy listening. Rock and pop are about sexual display. There's a place for that. But easy listening is about -- easy listening. And there's a place for that, too.

Seems to me that there is a canonical hipster move involved in embracing formerly middlebrow culture. I can totally see hipster muzak.

Your musical points were interesting. But the thing is, all that talent went into making music intended not to be attended to closely, not to be remembered, not to distract you, and meant to organize your labor more efficiently.

I'll take James Brown.
posted by fourcheesemac at 5:30 PM on June 16, 2011


Seems to me that there is a canonical hipster move involved in embracing formerly middlebrow culture. I can totally see hipster muzak.


Or as the groop called it, Space Age Bachelor Pad Music.
posted by arto at 6:12 PM on June 16, 2011


For some reason I cant open that but if it is Love Is Blue that is awesome.

Man, Millennium permanently fucked that song up for me.
posted by echolalia67 at 6:30 PM on June 16, 2011


I have a Pandora station seeded with Player's "Baby Come Back" and it drives my wife absolutely nuts whenever I listen to it. But there are some nights where, after the kids finally Go The F* To Sleep, that some easy listening is genuinely enjoyable.
posted by bpm140 at 6:50 PM on June 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Easy listening" isn't a genre, it's a bin category that record shops used to put stuff that didn't really fit other places. You'd often find Sinatra in easy listening. The whole extraordinary category that we now call exotica was easy listening.

Your rush to show contempt for a plethora of very different artists, many quite remarkable, does you no credit.
posted by Astro Zombie at 7:23 PM on June 16, 2011


On the other hand, Spyrogyra....
posted by jenkinsEar at 8:26 PM on June 16, 2011


soulless, toned-down, pre-chewed, limp cover-versions of popular songs for old people.

I hated "easy listening" as a kid in the 70s too. But now I DESPISE hearing pop music in every imaginable retail establishment, because those hooks are carefully engineered to be earworms, but I don't fucking want to have some random Shania Twain song inserted into my head by Lowes every time I buy mousetraps or neem or caulk or a switchplate.
posted by desuetude at 9:30 PM on June 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


When I was small, and the only thing on TV during the day was the test card,* I used to put the TV on for the music, and so library music is among the first music I ever became fascinated with.

(Library music is actually quite distinct from the music that was created for the easy listening market that the programme covers, but never mind - the programme strays from its subject enough to include all sorts of things that ought not to have been there.)

I mean, library music, and light music and TV themes are my folk music - it's almost all the music I heard when I was small, and Britain seems to have been one of the prime sources of library / light music (I downloaded some archives of music that had been used in Ren & Stimpy a few years ago - hours and hours of it - and it was almost all British).

Tracks from the DeWolfe and KPM libraries that crossed over to the public consciousness and lodged there firmly include Left Bank 2, Comedy Close Up No 2, Puffin' Billy, Marguerite, Chicken Man, The Zodiac, Las Vegas, Sleepy Shores, Heavy Action and Approaching Menace. And many, many more, as they used to say when they were advertising K-Tel compilations.

Weirdly, when I was a teenager it seemed like if I even approached the section in W.H. Smith marked Easy Listening (most record shops didn't bother) I would be reported to the hipness police or something. Literally afraid. The first record I actually bought from that section was a Les Paul compilation (Peel's producer John Walters had just played How High The Moon on his own show, and it was one of the most extraordinary records I'd ever heard), and I was trembling. I suppose I took it all too seriously. I do wish that I'd realised that all that stuff about Street Credibility and the NME scale of values were complete bollocks. I'd have been a lot happier, and would have listened to many fewer records that frankly I didn't like very much.

(The strange thing is that a lot of the music I liked wasn't very cool, but as it was uncool in a much louder way, and could be found in the main section of the record shop, rather than the Easy Listening ghetto, it was somehow unacceptable in an acceptable way. I honestly don't understand what I was thinking.)

*There were the test trade transmissions as well, of course, but that's a different subject.
posted by Grangousier at 1:30 AM on June 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


Your rush to show contempt for a plethora of very different artists, many quite remarkable, does you no credit.


Who? Where?
posted by Herodios at 5:51 AM on June 17, 2011


I have to admit, I hesitated posting in this thread.

See, the thing is, when I was very small, and Mom was at home looking after my sister and me, easy listening was pretty much all Mom had on the radio. By the 70s, the radio mix played everything from Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra and all the crooners of the 50s, right through to contemporary artists like Crystal Gayle and the Carpenters. I worked out how to use the record player when I was five, and all we had to listen to was the Carpenters, John Denver, Mama Cass's greatest hits, early Neil Sedaka, Frank Mills, Herp Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, etc. I listened to that stuff so much, I wasn't really exposed to pop or rock music until I moved when I was nine. Given how young I was, I imagine Mom thought it was the most "appropriate", non-kiddie contemporary music a five-year-old could listen to, and not have me asking awkward questions about the lyrics. Once I got older, the soundtracks to Grease, Fame and Saturday Night Fever suddenly appeared in the album stack, and the Beatles records came out of hiding. I played the SHIT out of the red and blue compilation albums.

But the other thing was, see, I was always a singer, even as a little kid. I sang pretty much all the time. Mom couldn't afford singing lessons in those years, but somehow, she made sure I had fantastic singers to listen to. Placido Domingo found his way into the album stack, for example. However crass or commercial you think Mama Cass and Karen Carpenter were, both women had incredible control over their voices. Pretty much everything the Beatles did was singable. Of course, I sang along to everything. By the time I was seven, I was experimenting with singing in harmony, at first to the records, then with my sister and mother in the kitchen.

So, call easy-listening all the names you want. So what if I'm the biggest square since they invented right angles. I learned a *lot* about singing, about music, about melody and harmony, and about what works and what doesn't in performance from listening to those albums as a little kid.

It has it's place in the world.
posted by LN at 6:28 AM on June 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


soulless, toned-down, pre-chewed, limp cover-versions of popular songs

This reminds me of a phrase from a book about The Beatles which I loved to absolute death at age twelve -- it was a series of reviews of all of the Beatles discography and each of their solo outputs, and one of the reviews of a Wings album described it as "Sta-prest, ready-to-wear music to be listened to in a room with plaster ducks on the wall." I was only twelve and somehow knew exactly what that meant.

So one day I'm cranking the Hobart, trying to avoid amputation and/or laceration and it seeps into my consciousness that I am hearing Montovani or The 101 Strings or similar schlockmeister 'artists' playing Stairway to Heaven.

My senior prom was kind of a lackluster event, and at some point my best friend Sue and I hit a low point where we retreated to the lobby of the venue and were playing "Name That Tune" with the easy-listening/Muzak/whatever it was. Then an all-string version of "American Pie" came on and we were both so horrified we abandoned that and went to go make our own fun by taking blackmail photos of everyone.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:58 AM on June 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


FPP title fail for my not calling this "Take A Walk On The Mild Side".
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 8:14 AM on June 17, 2011


Wow. We watched all 6 parts last night and that was an AWESOME documentary. Super interesting and informative and funny and really connected all the dots from 40s Big Band through to 90s Chill-out music. Our favorite quote was from Jimmy Webb in reference to his song "Up, Up, and Away" and the pleasant no-subtext genre: "It wasn't a song about drugs. It was a song about.....balloons."
posted by otherwordlyglow at 8:36 AM on June 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Watching the documentary last night inspired me to create an Easy Listening station on Pandora (seeded with The Carpenters.) Right now I'm swaying to Summer Breeze by Seals and Croft.

Sometimes I would come home from school and find my mom blasting KARA (our local easy listening station) so for me, the 70s/early 80s easy listening is good times for me.
posted by vespabelle at 12:26 PM on June 17, 2011


Wow, what an excellent documentary. Thanks so much for posting this. I really enjoyed watching.

I have such an odd mix of easy listening music in my brain, apparently. Herb Albert & The Tijuana Brass and The Carpenters are two groups which I will carry with me all my life. I had never really thought of either of them as easy listening before. I'd always thought of The Carpenters as just a really soft rock group, and HA&TTB was, well, pretty much sui generis.

And Jimmy Webb! Holy shit -- is there a better song writer alive today? And the whole Bacharach/David catalog... I'd really only ever thought of them as being sort of old fashioned, but now they will be in this Easy Listening umbrella.

I hesitate to favorite Faze's comment because I never know when s/he's being a troll or being serious, but damn, that comment really sums up the entire easy listening genre. It's truly masterful music and brilliant arrangements.

Some of it is terrible. The 101 Strings... I can remember more than once as a kid having a birthday or christmas ruined by being given a 101 Strings album of whatever it was I really asked for. But for every 101 Strings, there is a Ferrante & Teicher, whose astounding dueling pianos brought a new life and insight to any song they approached.

I think there are probably two streams outside of my parents' record collection feeding into my enduring love for quality Easy Listening music. One is my background as a piano player and my love of the complicated and excellent arrangements of Dan Coates. The other is having grown up as a kid in the 1970s when "AM Easy Rock" was pretty much a dominant music format competing with FM album-oriented stations.

Anyway, this has me inspired to pull out my quad recordings of Carpenters and Herb Alpert and not to feel quite so ashamed by my love of so much of this music.

Again, thanks for posting. Such an eye-opening documentary to have watched. It's not often my world is shifted by something I see on MetaFilter, but this has done it for me. Bravo!
posted by hippybear at 5:09 AM on June 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Seeing this docu made something dawn on me: The virtually the entire Ultra-Lounge catalog wold probably be filed under "Easy Listening" when those songs were first released.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 9:02 AM on June 18, 2011


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