In case you didn't know, Muzak is the innocuous-sounding stuff you hear in elevators, grocery stores and sometimes offices. It doesn't have a good reputation, certainly not with John Lennon, who once insulted Paul McCartney with the following lyric from his song How Do You Sleep?: "The sound you make is Muzak to my ears."
However, unlike just about everyone else I know, I do not object to Muzak. I wouldn't ever confuse it with serious music, but it's kind of fun as novelty music. For me, there is no such thing as "background music" - if something is playing and I can hear it, I'm listening to it. "Beautiful music" (the radio industry name for Muzak) was what my parents listened to all the time, recalls memories of my adolescence for me. The orchestrations are often just plain weird - featuring goofy things like cascading strings that no classical composer would ever orchestrate - and this makes listening to Muzak fun.
Believe it or not, I have a couple of Muzak demo LP's in my collection. One I got from my wife Cari, who got it from her dad in the late 60's. Cari, by the way, used to work at the Los Angeles radio station K-BIG, back when they were the city's #1 rated station (circa 1979); they played "beautiful music" format. The other I found at a yard sale. They are truly weird. They have this bizarre "stimulus progression" graph on the back cover that I can't figure out for the life of me - and I have an engineering degree. Apparently the idea is that they progressively hype you up during the course of the day with peppier and more quick tempo arrangements until, nearing quitting time, you're musically frenetic. Nowadays they call it "audio architecture." No, I do not often listen to this particular LP. (Although I sometimes use excerpts from it when I make a gag cassette or presentation.)
I remember driving somewhere with Dad once in our 1972 LTD; K-BIG was on, as it often was. (It was usually either that or KFAC, the classical station.) After one harrowing, drawn-out cascading string passage I made a sound like a bomb exploding and we both laughed ourselves to tears. The other beautiful music format radio station we listened to in those days was KOST. The neat thing about this was that they had a whispered male voice doing the station identification: "KOST." The LTD's stereo had this weird phase effect with this that made the voice sound like it started by the back seats and moved up into the speakers on the dashboard, like a ghost. We called it the "KOST ghost."
My father had a lot of Ray Conniff, Jackie Gleason, Martin Denny, Esquivel and Percy Faith LP's, and generally enjoyed the kind of music we nowadays call lounge and exotica. Hearing it played now, it's a lot of fun. (We seem to have gotten away from the fun element when music became "relevant" and burdened with having to say something.)
In 1972 I discovered classical music. Then in 1974 I found Alice Cooper and David Bowie. Dad complained about my playing it so much that in 1977 I made a cassette to play for him when he was in the pool, floating on his search for the perfect tan. I titled it, "Play Something I Like." I still have it. Some Burt Bacharach, some Sinatra ("I've Got You Under My Skin," which was Dad's theme song if he had one), some big band instrumentals and my personal favorite: "Slaughter on Tenth Avenue."
Dad had a really cool LP of Slaughter that I recall, the Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops version that is something of the definitive version. (I have it on another LP.) Anyway, the original cover art depicted a street sign, with the title in bloody letters. Intrigued by this I asked Dad what happened on Tenth Avenue. He replied, seeking not to upset my six or seven year old sensibilities, "There's a slaughterhouse there in New York City where they make ham and pork products."
Yeah, right. I didn't believe him - I knew it had to be some ultra cool and adult film noirish thing. So, thirty years or so later I saw a CD of the 1980's revival of the original 1935 Richard Rogers musical "On Your Toes" (from whence the music is drawn) at the library and checked it out. What a disappointment. The musical is about people making a Broadway production (called "Slaughter on Tenth Avenue"), and only has some gangsters at the end, when the music plays. Anyway, this is one piece that works a lot better for me out of context.
My ultimate source of lounge music nowadays is the Gardemann's across the street, to whom all of our LP's went when Mom moved out of Burbank in 1986. Every time I go back to Burbank I pay them a visit to gather up some of Dad's LP's. The old man died in 1983 but becomes smarter and hipper every year.