Easy Listening, MOR, or "Grown-Up Music" (Zzzzz....)
by Pat Jacobs
"Rock and roll music was (and still is, to some degree) basically considered for kids and teens,"
recalled Pamela Foster. "And I think to the over-30 crowd, rock and roll was
still looked down upon, although there was SOME acceptance in small circles. There was a common phrase
during the late '60s, 'Never trust anyone over 30.' It seems rather quaint and ironic now, doesn't it? For
many, if not most of the executives, DJs, record company presidents, promoters, and
distributors, who WERE at least 30 or older, pretty much determined what the under-30 crowd listened to!"
"Now most older and elderly people that I know of listened to what was then called 'Beautiful Music
These were mostly instrumental music formats that were popular on American radio from this decade, the 1960s
through the 1980s. Other interchangeable terms for this format are "easy listening", "mood
music", "Muzak", and "elevator music". Beautiful music is also considered a category of MOR (Middle Of the Road).
Many of this genre's artists are also interchangeable within these formats.
Beautiful music was basically soft, soothing all instrumental background music for stores, with
commercial breaks consisting only of shopper announcements. This practice was known as
"storecasting" and was very common on the FM dial in the 1940s and 1950s.
In the early 1960s, the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) adopted a standard for transmitting and
receiving stereo signals on a single channel of the FM band. In addition to stereo sound, FM
broadcasting had a clearer sound and better resistance to interference
than AM, thus being ideal for the beautiful music format.
Perhaps the first true beautiful music station in the U.S. was KIKL in
Dallas, Texas. During the 1950s and '60s, the station was well known for seamlessly
blending one song into another using specially designed instrumental bridges, and for "Think It
Over", a popular feature in which the announcer softly and smoothly read a proverb or
word of wisdom, did a short pause, then said "Think it over."
Upon KIKL's success, Gordon McLendon (he of the "Top 40" format with Todd Storz ) started up his own
beautiful music station in San Francisco, KABL (pronounced "cable", as in "cable car". Get it?). In
1963, Martin Taylor created a custom-designed beautiful music station, WDVR-FM in Philadelphia. It
became not only a HUGE local success, but also the first big success in FM broadcasting. WDVR
became a refuge for mature listeners who were driven away by AM radio's rock and roll programming (the devil's
music!). This station perfected the beautiful music formula and set the standard.
Other pioneers of this genre included WPAT-AM/FM (Paterson, New Jersey, servving the New York market),
WJBR-FM (Wilmington, Delaware), and WQMR-AM/WGAY-FM (Wshington, DC).
Some group station owners created their own "in-house" format distribution system and several tape
syndicators offered easy listening music formats on reel-to-reel tape and other formats (until the 1980s;
industry consolidation and ratings decline reduced the audience).
Many programmers put together their own set, eventually adding vocal songs, generally one every 15
minutes. Many stations had a ratio of 80% instrumental-20% vocal mix, others did 90%
instrumentals, and some were entirely instrumental. Generally, beautiful music recordings were newly
orchestrated arrangements of songs of the time, available from the major record labels. When the
record companies cut back on releasing this material, the format syndicators had custom recordings produced
for them, performed by many different orchestras worldwide. These new custom recordings were usually
instrumental versions of current or recent rock or pop hit songs (This was to give more mass appeal without
"selling out". Some longtime listeners weren't happy
During the month of December, many of these stations played a marathon of Christmas songs, particularly on
Dec. 24th (Christmas Eve) and 25th (Christmas Day). This concept was later carried over to radio stations
of other genres.
Some beautiful music stations made a successful transition into adult contemporary formats, using more
vocals (into the 1980s); over time, the instrumentals were eliminated completely. Some stations changed their
former call letters to drop the identity of an "elevator music" station.
Today, there are only a few beautiful music stations still on the air; some non-commercial ones are around,
but there are also a few commercial stations that are doing well in areas with large retiree
populations. And of course, there's the Internet and satellite radio!
Some of this genre's biggest stars include:
The Instrumental Stars 101 Strings Orchestra (Isn't there always a string
orchestra on a beautiful music station?), Floyd Cramer, Percy Faith, Ferrante and
Teicher, Hollyridge Strings, Mantovani, Lawrence Welk, and Henry Mancini,
The Singers (Many, if not most of the following are often also played on easy listening, MOR, and adult
contemparary stations): Rosemary Clooney, The Ray Charles Singers (Not THAT Ray Charles), Nat King Cole,
Ray Conniff Singers, Johnny Mathis, Barbra Streisand, and Andy Williams are examples.
Lounge music is music played in the lounges and bars of hotels and
casinos, or at stand-alone piano bars. The performers generally include a singer and one or
two other musicians, who play or cover songs composed by others, especially Tin Pan Alley-era pop
standards. (Laid-back or down tempo electronic music can also be
called lounge. Did you know that The Beatles performed as a lounge act in Hamburg, Germany?)
Lounge music, as most people know it, commonly refers to a form of "hip" easy listening music that was
popular during the 1950s and '60s, yet was distinct from what was "pop rock" of that era. Pop rock was
more popular with younger folks and teens, and lounge music was more popular with their older siblings or
parents. But the phrase "lounge music" wasn't used at this time. The instrumentals of this
genre were called exotica; The vocals were simply called "pop". The term "lounge" emerged in the late 1980s as a label of
endearment by young adults whose parents had played this music.
Some of the lounge music during this time was slow easy listening, but a lot was also
up tempo. Lounge wasn't strictly country, rock, or blues, nor a mix of them.
A good part of lounge music was totally instrumental (There could be minor vocal parts). Sometime it would
be theme music from movies or TV shows.
A sub-genre of lounge was swinging music (yeah, baby, yeah!), which was a schmaltzy continuation of the
swing jazz era of the 1930s and '40s, but with more emphasis on the singer. Jackie Gleason (Yes,
THE Jackie Gleason), Wayne Newton, Louis Prima, and the legendary Rat Pack are a prime example. They performed
mainly at featured lounges in Las Vegas casinos.
The Rat Pack was the epitome of grown-up 1960s "cool" and male bonding (Did you know that this was started
by Humphrey Bogart? He was the group's leader until his death), consisting of singers Frank
Sinatra, the undisputed leader, Dean Martin, his second-in-command,
Sammy Davis Jr., sometimes the comic foil, comedian Joey Bishop, and actor Peter Lawford. The main nucleus
were Frank, Dean, and Sammy, but the five sometimes appeared together or often worked as duos, trios, or
quartets in movies, TV shows, and of course, Vegas.
There were a few female mascots, such as actresses Shirley MacLaine (who also worked with them in several
movies) and Angie Dickinson (who did, too), but this was basically a guy's club (Swingin', smokin', boozin'
and broads! Ca-Ching Ca-Ching! Ring-A-Ding-Ding!). JFK (John F. Kennedy) was a Rat Pack wannabe, but had to
curtail his association, due to his political life (And advice from brother
Robert) and shall we say, a group member's other connections.
There would be later falling-outs within the group and a few reunions, but for a moment in time, these five
crazy cats ruled!
Exotica was another sub-genre of lounge; international instrumentals
were the main focus here (The Bossa Nova, Mambo, Cha-Cha-Cha, French, and Hawaiian, among
others, are examples). Many of these recordings were portrayed as originating in exotic
foreign lands, but actually were recorded in Hollywood studios by veteran
session musicians. Another sub-genre was space age pop music, which
attempted to give the feeling of zooming into outer space (There was high public interest in space
exploration at this time.)
Lounge music and musicians had a revival in the 1980s and '90s in popular culture. It was featured in the
first "Blues Brothers" movie, and was the focus of "The Fabulous Baker Boys" and "Swingers."
Comedians Andy Kaufman (as Tony Clifton), Bill Murray and the duo of Will Ferrell and Ana Gasteyer (the
latter three on "Saturday Night Live") have all parodied lounge acts or singers.
There are modern lounge acts today (such as Big Bad Voodoo Daddy) that are winning over new fans.
Easy Listening Music features simple, catchy melodies, soft, laid-back songs, and occasionally "dance
numbers". Some singers, such as Andy Williams, Jack Jones, Engelbert Humperdinck, and
Eydie Gorme were considered very compatible with this style, while some pop
vocalists such as Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Tom Jones, and Mel Torme were considered too "jazzy" or
swing-oriented for this format (Bing Crosby's too jazzy?).
Beautiful music is a sub-genre of easy listening; It's similar to lounge, but lounge is much more
jazz-oriented and dependent on musical improvisation. It's also almost always orchestrated and is more
analogous to classical. Easy listening is also known as "mood music", "MOR", and the derogatory terms
"Muzak" or "elevator music" (It's really not; it just seems that way). It's incorrectly used when
applied to soft rock, smooth jazz, or new age music.
Adult contemporary music is a form of easy listening. Some top artists of this genre include: Burt
Bacharach, The Boston Pops, Paul Mauriat, Billy Vaughn,, Earl Grant, Horst Jankowski, Peter Nero, The
Fleetwoods, Ed Ames, Perry Como, Robert Goulet, Al Martino, Glen Campbell, Vic Damone, Sammy Davis Jr.,
Dean Martin, Jerry Vale, and Bobby Vinton.
Most of these artists, among others, were interchangeable with the "beautiful music" playlist.
MOR (Middle Of the Road) is a general term covering a number of musical styles. It's not technically a
genre. It's not cutting edge; it's generally a strong melody and frequently used vocal harmony
techniques and arrangements involving orchestral instruments. This music is rarely aggressive or abrasive.
(Beautiful Music is a form of MOR.)
This was a format designed for almost "across the board" appeal; You'll often hear this format in
doctors' offices, stores, and other public places. And ironically, this has largely replaced what was once
referred to as "elevator music or muzak" only to now be considered muzak itself.
Some of the musical styles of MOR include: Easy Listening, traditional pre-rock and roll pop
music, orchestral ballads, Broadway and show tunes, light jazz, soft rock, and sometimes new music that
has a nostalgic sound
The term MOR has come to mean "sell-out" in some music circles; to them, this refers to those artists who
were originally innovative and cutting edge, but "progressed" to more tried and true pop or blandness
(For example, remember how Elton John was at the beginning of his career and through the '70s? Compare
his former songs to more recent work.)
Some MOR artists include:
Pat Boone, Bing Crosby (finally!), Frankie Laine, Patti Page, Dionne Warwick, and many of the already
abovementioned that would also fit into this format.
Elevator Music is the gentle, often bland instrumental arrangements of popular music designed for play for in
shopping malls, grocery stores, when you're "on hold" using the phone, cruise ships, airports, and
naturally, elevators. It's also known as "piped music", "muzak", "bland", or "lift music" (a U.K.
The Muzak Corporation is probably the best-known supplier of this music. (The name has become
synonymous with very bland music.)
"With the possible exception of lounge music, all of these formats will put you to sleep within 15-20
minutes", said Pamela Foster. "I recall trying to listen for an entire day to a 'beautiful music'
station. I didn't make it past 15 minutes before I zzzzzzzzzzzz!" I also tried to do an entire day of MOR
and Easy Listening. Bored stiff; At least I lasted for
a half hour before I became zzzzzzzzzzzz!" "Even discussing this subject...ZZZZZ!!!"
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