Listening to music
can have either a primary
or a secondary
focus. The musical genre called easy listening clearly falls into the latter category. Its main function is usually as background music
; for example, it can provide a pleasant backdrop for dinner, a romantic evening, or just relaxing. While one can't deny the musical contributions of artists such as Miles Davis
, Jimi Hendrix
, or Bob Dylan
, they are not most people's idea of dinner music. In short, there is a time and place for everything
. Not all music is meant to challenge or stimulate.
Easy listening is comprised of two elements: 1) soft string-laden arrangements of old familiar standards with some newer pop tunes, and 2) the vocal stylings of such perennial favorites as Perry Como or Andy Williams and the lighter fare of artists such as Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, or Elvis Presley. Ironically, according to Joel Whitburn's Top Easy-Listening Records 1961-1974 -- which was compiled from Billboard's Easy Listening Charts -- the #1 artist on the chart during this period was Elvis Presley; however, you will not find Elvis listed in the Easy Listening section, for his main musical contributions lie elsewhere. Also, for the sake of conformity, vocalists will be found in the Vocal section. Basically, this section consists of albums that are primarily instrumental, with some including an occasional vocal. Some of the most famous artists here are Liberace, Percy Faith, Lawrence Welk, and Mantovani, whose name is almost synonymous with the term easy listening. If there is one common denominator for most of the artists in this section, it is that they have not created a body of work readily identified with them but have relied mostly on interpreting songs that were proven hits. Two notable exceptions to this are Henry Mancini and Leroy Anderson.
Newer artists in this field, such as Zamfir and Richard Clayderman, have relied heavily on TV advertising and mail-orders to sell their records and establish an identity. The two most likely reasons for this are: 1) most easy listening stations do not announce what they play, and 2) many fans of this music feel uncomfortable walking into the average record store, which clearly caters to the youth market.
The audience for easy listening can perhaps best be described as the parents of the baby-boomers, for they were the main buyers of the music when it was a much more dominant force in the marketplace, and they continue to support it today. But the times are changing. In 1979, Billboard changed the name of its Easy Listening Chart to Adult Contemporary, acknowledging the shift in musical tastes of the baby-boomers themselves. Adult contemporary, or soft-rock as it is sometimes called, features the familiar soft-rock hits of the last 30 years, and some stations sprinkle new age instrumentals into the mix. It's a different name but the same concept for a younger generation. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Published before on allmusic.com. Placed with permission.