June 23, 2015

The evolution of background music

Filed under: Modern artifacts — acagle @ 9:02 am

The Rise and Fall of Easy Listening

Easy-listening music and its maestros never had to worry about screaming teenage fans or long stadium tours. Ridiculed in the 1960s and since as “elevator music,” the gentle genre was marketed then as music for frazzled adults run ragged by the decade’s social upheavals, argumentative kids and rock’s blare. Unlike other forms of music, easy listening wasn’t meant to be analyzed or even heard. Instead, albums typically featured lush orchestras playing pop melodies at a slow tempo that subliminally freed minds from the clutches of anxiety and distraction.

Back in the 1960s and ’70s, easy-listening orchestras led by Mantovani, Bert Kaempfert, Ray Conniff and Percy Faith, among others, accomplished this with yawning violins, wandering trumpets and moody pianos playing in a style free of jarring moments or aesthetic calories. Today, given the music’s calming, reflective powers, many aging baby boomers are rediscovering the soothing sounds they once derided in their parents’ dens and station wagons.

My parents had some Ray Conniff albums which I remembered kind of liking. I admit that I got into adult contemporary in the early 1980s when I was an undergrad, partially because the two other rock radio stations in town turned sucky (WIBA and WMAD, the former playing Bob Seeger three times every hour and the latter. . .I don’t remember, but I didn’t care for it; I was a WAPL fanatic) and partially from being a lovesick 20-something for a time. Mostly in that genre I listened to Magic 98, still do when I’m there. Otherwise, at the time the only radio I listened to was that and the local public radio classical music times.

Otherwise, new age stuff kinda of filled the background music vacuum after I moved. We had, briefly, a new age station in Seattle, but these days I just subscribe to Pandora, earlier Rhapsody.

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