Elevator Music: A Surreal History of Muzak, Easy-Listening, and Other Moodsong; Revised and Expanded Edition

Overview


It's campy, it's cool, empty, intrusive, trite, and treacly. It's Big Brother singing. Call it what you will -- elevator music, Moodsong ® easy listening, or Muzak ®. For a musical genre that was supposed to offend no one, it has a lot of enemies.

Musical cognoscenti decry its insipid content; regular folk -- if they notice -- bemoan its pervasiveness; while hipsters and campsters celebrate its retro chic. Mindful of the many voices, Joseph Lanza's Elevator Music sings ...

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Overview


It's campy, it's cool, empty, intrusive, trite, and treacly. It's Big Brother singing. Call it what you will -- elevator music, Moodsong ® easy listening, or Muzak ®. For a musical genre that was supposed to offend no one, it has a lot of enemies.

Musical cognoscenti decry its insipid content; regular folk -- if they notice -- bemoan its pervasiveness; while hipsters and campsters celebrate its retro chic. Mindful of the many voices, Joseph Lanza's Elevator Music sings seriously, with tongue in cheek, the praises of this venerable American institution.

Lanza addresses the criticisms of elites who say that Muzak and its ilk are dehumanized, vapid, or cheesy. These reactions, he argues, are based more on cultural prejudices than honest musical appraisal.

Says Lanza, today's so-called mood music is the inheritor of a long tradition of mood-altering music stretching back to the ancients; Nero's fiddle and the sirens of Odysseus being two famous examples. Contemporary atmospheric music, Lanza argues, not only serves the same purpose, it is also the inevitable background for our media-dominated age.

One of Lanza's premises, to quote Mark Twain, is that this music is "better than it sounds." "This book will have succeeded in its purpose," he writes, "if I can help efface...the distinction between one person's elevator music and another's prized recording."

Joseph Lanza is an author, producer, and music historian. His most recent book is Russ Columbo and the Crooner Mystique.

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Editorial Reviews

Entertainment Weekly
"Lanza takes background music seriously as both music and social utility. In doing so, he's written one of the few pop-history books that won't put you to sleep - not to mention the only one that dares to probe the very real connections between shopping-mall music and Devo."
Entertainment Weekly
Wendy Carlos
"Snobby musicologists ignore this fascinating topic, but I learned a lot while being well-entertained by Lanza's delightful book."
—Wendy Carlos, composer, soundtracks for "A Clockwork Orange" and "The Shining"
Phil Patton
"A fascinating tour of a genuine piece of American surrealism, diligently researched, sparklingly presented, surprising at every turn. Hilarious and at times terrifying."
—Phil Patton, author of Made in the U.S.A.: The Secret Histories of the Things That Made America
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780472089420
  • Publisher: University of Michigan Press
  • Publication date: 1/26/2004
  • Edition description: Revised and Expanded
  • Pages: 344
  • Product dimensions: 5.52 (w) x 8.22 (h) x 0.84 (d)

Table of Contents

1 Probing the Jell-O 1
2 Lullabies from Heaven and Hell: Mood Music's Antiquity 6
3 The "Canned" Avant-Garde 14
4 Umbilical Cords: The Birth of Muzak 22
5 The Push-Button Ballroom: Mood Music and Early Radio 31
6 Ghosts in the Elevator 38
7 Emotional Archives: Background Music in the Movies 55
8 The Moodiest Years on Record 67
9 World Music Originals: The 101 Strings and the Mystic Moods Orchestra 133
10 Walls Talk! 148
11 "Beautiful Music": The Rise of Easy-Listening FM 167
12 Violins from Space 183
13 Metarock 194
14 Elevator Noir 208
15 Who's Hearing Things? 216
16 The New Sound of 1984 222
Afterword: Channeling the Phantom Band 230
Revised, Expanded, Annotated, and Selective Discography 243
Bibliography 305
Index 317
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