Anyone who’s spent time looking for vinyl in thrift stores knows the ratio of good to crap is pretty poor. For every James Brown or Queen record there seems to be hundreds of Burl Ives or Percy Faith or shitty Firestone Christmas albums. Any self respecting hip music lover knows this stuff is all garbage, right? Schmaltzy elevator music for the old fogies of the 60s and 70s, probably not all that popular even when it was released.
The BBC4 documentary The Joy of Easy Listening sets the record straight on this much maligned genre of music. Far from being disposable tossed-off crap recorded with disdain by hep cat musicians, Easy Listening music was the music of the post-war adult generation. These were the people who invested in the latest hi fi equipment, inviting their neighbors over for an evening of cocktails, bridge and music. You can’t very well put on that long hair yeah-yeah-yeah stuff from The Beatles or The Rolling Stones at a classy adult get-together. You needed something pleasing to the ear as background music, preferably without distracting lyrics or jarring guitars. Something easy to listen to.
Now I’m not going to argue that Easy Listening was full of gold, there was admitedley a lot of dreck. But The Joy of Easy Listening is a great way to expose yourself to the music and sample some of the best known composers. Knowing how the music was meant to be heard has helped me learn to appreciate it. Try this experiment: turn off the tv, put away the cellphone, pour yourself a cocktail and tune into the Pandora Bert Kaempfert channel. It’s great music for relaxing, for reading or for a cocktail party. “Peripheral listening”, as they say in the documentary. I can recommend the aforementioned Kaempfert, as well as James Last and instrumental Burt Bacharach. Give it a chance!