Muzak was an American brand of background music played in retail stores and other public establishments. The name has been in use since 1934 and has been owned by various companies. The soothing, full orchestral arrangements of popular songs were heard in supermarkets, shopping malls and–somewhat infamously–elevators, leading to the genre being identified by the disparaging term ‘elevator music’. Though this genre of piped-in background music was often loudly criticized (including a number of idiotic charges of ‘brainwashing’), it never seemed to attract any positive attention or impassioned rebuttals to the doubters. One didn’t ‘like’ Muzak–one either hated it or co-existed with it. That is, with one notable exception: me. As a kid growing up in suburban Los Angeles in the 1970s, I heard plenty of Muzak all around me and loved it. I was fascinated by the lush string arrangements, the rich horn parts and the general air of smooth and luscious luxury that pervaded it. Muzak felt to me like good air-conditioning on a hot day. I learned popular tunes of the era from Muzak and was quick to defend it when people professed annoyance with having it accompany them on simple errands like shopping or riding the elevator to see the doctor. (I don’t recall if banks piped the stuff in, largely because I didn’t spend any time in banks as a kid). In elementary school I actually suggested to a teacher that they add it to the school hallways. (It didn’t happen). For a very thorough history of Muzak, click on this Wikipedia entry. The above video is a full hour of the stuff and I suggest putting it on in the background and seeing how it affects your day. My guess is that it will sound better to you now than it did then–and if you’ve never experienced it you may wonder why on earth people didn’t all adore it. Or you’ll think you’re being brainwashed…but into what? Feeling soothed and happy? With all the noise around us, why not allow some music that was designed to smooth things over do its job and smooth things over? Turn off the 24 hour news and chillax with some lovely stuff that deserves (in my opinion) a serious re-evaluation.


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One Response

  1. Mike Pearl, a well regarded Executive Producer of major TV sporting events (5 networks, 17 Emmys) was an heir to the MUZAK fortune through family ties. Interestingly, his personality was extremely pleasant and soft spoken, always reminded me of the product. The link was equivalent to being stuck in an elevator for an hour in the 70s 🙂

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