Documentary telling the story of the easy listening genre, with contributions from Richard Carpenter, Herb Alpert, Richard Clayderman, Engelbert Humperdinck, Jimmy Webb and others.
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Tonight's the night for something sophisticated,
something suggestive, not explicit.
Something relaxing, not demanding.
Something that won't divert your attention away from more pressing matters.
You need something that doesn't make trouble
that complements the furnishings and doesn't have too much to say for itself.
You don't need troublesome lyrics or choppy guitar chords.
So just lean back, banish the blues,
relinquish rock and roll and give disco the heave-ho.
Tonight, you need something that has all of that...
and none of it.
What you need tonight is easy.
# Time to get ready... #
CORK POPS # Time to get ready for... #
If rock and roll was born out of the greyness, stuffiness and ration book mentality
that followed the Second World War, so too was a music that became known as easy listening.
Its architects, and they looked just like that,
were a group of men who were trapped between two worlds -
just a little too old and square for the teenage revolution of the late '50s,
but too modern and groovy for the old world.
They were supreme melodicists on the run from jazz and big bands
in search of a music to call their own,
a music for the new consumer age.
An age of reconstruction,
of gliding along freeways and autobahns in sleek cars.
A modern, comfortable age full of hope
and most importantly, love, in what had been a very cold climate.
These men were not looking for the heartbreak hotel.
They wanted to be kings of the road with their own brand of can-do music.
Composers and arrangers like Percy Faith, Ray Conniff and Bert Kaempfert were a quiet band of men
who didn't stand out in the crowd, but they were dedicated
to decorating the air with a soundtrack for what they thought should be the good life.
You can really trace
this popular, light orchestral, at least in America,
to a gentleman named Paul Weston who came out of the big band era.
And in the mid-'40s, he was coming out with what initially he called "mood music".
It was a euphemism for being in the mood for love
because most of the music was very slow and sleek.
And so he came out with albums like Music For Dreaming,
Music For Romancing, Music For Two People Alone.
And he claimed that one of his fans said, "This music is very easy listening."
The man who first took this new kind of music
to international acclaim in the late '50s and early '60s
was ex-swing musician Percy Faith.
He championed the "sweet strings" approach
and used instruments to replace any troublesome lyrics.
He once said, "I want to satisfy the millions of devotees of that pleasant American institution
"known as the quiet evening at home,
"whose idea of perfect relaxation is the easy chair, slippers and good music."
In adapting popular songs and film themes,
Faith proved that the most important element of easy listening was the arrangement.
Arrangers are the unsung heroes of the business.
Percy Faith, I mean...
Just about all my life, he was terrific.
In 1963, Percy Faith came out with this pioneering album called Music For Young Lovers.
Instead of somebody singing the lyrics, you would have pizzicato strings. You might have some horns.
Each arranger had a different system
of making it so that it wasn't too overwhelming or obtrusive,
but at the same time if you listen to the arrangements, there was an art to them.
What a lot of the great arrangers do in easy listening
is they get to the truth of what a pop song is and the pop song is this bit,
so let's keep putting this bit in again and again and again.
Classical snobs and jazz snobs would say, "Melody, that's for little kids, that's sing-songy."
No-one understood the importance of a good tune better than Ray Conniff,
the easy listening maestro of the American Cold War landscape.
He played with Artie Shaw in the '40s, but tired of being a struggling, penniless jazzer,
he began studying popular music.
He really was focusing on what are the biggest songs of the day
and how can I arrange them
to have them have an even broader impact.
And he included in that research air play, sheet music sales, you know, everything,
and would go to the Billboard offices once a week and read the charts.
One of the things he discovered about songs at that point was the value of a hook
and how a hook can transform a song into a hit.
Meanwhile, in Germany, easy listening music was bound to fall on keen ears.
The influx of American big band and jazz music, suppressed during the war,
was the soundtrack that became synonymous with the country's reconstruction.
A young musician called Bert Kaempfert was already working
on his own European blueprint for easy listening,
a music that could combine traditional German folk tunes and modern American style arrangements
with more exotic world music rhythms
and perhaps even the beats and instrumentation of something called rock and roll.
We had a lot of visitors at the house. In the evening,
there was a group of people who always came and brought records along and played music for each other.
I think he got inspired by all that.
He loved these sounds from other countries
and I think he sort of incorporated it in his own music.
Then Ray Conniff was of course very famous
and who my father really admired and studied was Henry Mancini.
I remember that we would listen to records
and we would stop the record and listen again and listen again
and we would talk about how he did it.
Many years later, my father was told that Henry Mancini actually made a note in one of his own scores,
with the drummer, the drum part says, "Brushes a la Kaempfert."
MUSIC: "Afrikaan Beat" - Bert Kaempfert
And when he was told that, he was so pleased.
He was actually proud.
Easy listening arrangers were an important asset to record companies as in-house orchestrators.
With the development of high fidelity and stereophonic sound in the late '50s,
part of the job of the in-house arranger was to record the kind of music
that would best showcase these new technologies.
Stu Phillips was resident arranger at Capitol Records.
That was the whole point
of this orchestral setting of all these pop songs
because it was a good way of showing off stereo.
It gave a broader, a much bigger palette for sound
than a couple of guitars and a bass and a drum.
Rock music was intended to be played on a Dansette or to come out of a transistor radio.
It's mixed in a way to sound punchy and vibrant for those mediums...
..whereas there's something about light music,
I guess because it's appealing to an older demographic who have got slightly more money,
they might invest in the latest amazing stereo equipment rather than a Dansette.
It says something about the way the music was intended
to be played or listened to.
Yeah, here we've got the Super Stereo Sensation.
You know, the "Super Stereo" emphasising the sort of dynamic range of the...
I suppose some of them were almost done just to demonstrate hi-fis
and while you were in the shop buying your stereo, you might buy an album or two to go with it.
You've got the technology. You'd better use it.
But it didn't stop there.
High fidelity sound needed its own furniture.
The stereophonic radiogram was far too big for the average teenage bedroom.
It was designed for the new middle-class living rooms of the parents relaxing downstairs.
With emerging technologies and dedicated furniture at their disposal,
easy listening masters set about creating sophisticated textures and soundscapes
for the new connoisseur of the 33rpm long-playing record.
I think easy listening is a pursuit of sound itself
without worrying about its greater meaning.
When you're a kid, you don't know what instruments are on a record.
You just hear a noise.
EASY LISTENING ORCHESTRAL MUSIC
When I was a kid, I was obsessed with the music on the test card.
I used to like having BBC Two on in the background
when children's programmes were on the other side, which drove my sister nuts.
It sounded otherworldly because there were no vocals.
There were no signposts as to what it was meant to be.
A lot of it would have been easy listening.
I used to record these things off the TV. I had to think of titles. I didn't know what they were called.
You'd find that once you start arranging something for larger forces,
it takes the edges off sonically.
It softens things with all those multiple voices. You can play the exact same harmonic material,
but the different timbre will make it sound "easy".
In 1961, Billboard announced the official arrival of something called easy listening music
by giving it its own chart.
This was made up of anything that wasn't rock and roll,
but many artists who found themselves on the chart were distinctly UNEASY with the term.
Billboard needed to know which chart to put it in.
Radio needed to know which format to put it in, so they can attract a certain kind of advertiser.
And easy listening was probably... It always kind of...
You know, it wasn't my father's favourite term.
I don't think it says much to be honest.
What it says is it is not disturbing.
It is music that is pleasant to hear, pleasant to listen to,
but it's by no means easy music, not at all.
I mean, the skills you have to have to write that kind of music
and also to perform it are significant.
I think the problem with the moniker "easy listening" is that it implies sterility.
But I think when you listen to my father's arrangements, there's nothing sterile about them.
In the early '60s,
Bert Kaempfert, now also a talent scout for Polydor Records,
was prowling Hamburg, looking for interesting musicians to sign.
The Top Ten and Star Clubs were now the home of rock and roll
and Kaempfert was impressed by a British band who called themselves The Beat Brothers...
in those days.
Yes, my father signed The Beatles.
As a producer. It was a personal contract.
He was very modern
and he could feel the music and the drive and the passion that was in there.
He was too much of a music lover himself.
Kaempfert recorded four singles with The Beat Brothers backing the singer Tony Sheridan.
But Polydor weren't interested and the group returned to the UK where they met Brian Epstein.
Paul or John rang my father and said, "Look, there's someone here who can do something with us.
"Would you let us go?" And my father said, "Of course."
Kaempfert released The Beatles from their contract and Epstein moved in.
Later, an executive from Polydor was sacked
and Brian Epstein declared, allegedly, that he had never heard of Bert Kaempfert.
If early easy listening had provided a refuge for older audiences
wishing to avoid the jungle drums and harsh sounds of rock and roll,
it was faced with a new challenge in 1963.
# She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah
# She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah With a love like that... #
What would it do when The Beat Brothers became The Beatles
and a new kind of popular teenage music was born?
Big band member James Last had been in Hamburg when they first performed and was inspired
by the early recordings of what was about to become a worldwide phenomenon.
INSTRUMENTAL ARRANGEMENT: "Hey Jude" - The Beatles
Most instrumental arrangements of British and American pop music,
often performed in nonstop medleys with an emphasis on dancing and having a good time,
would become hugely popular with older audiences not comfortable with the originals.
This was the beginning of a strange, shadow world
in which easy listening would deliver an alternative, more middle-aged pop culture.
There was a kind of truth to it. It was like they were the avant-garde.
When we look back on this peculiar history of popular music between 1950 and 2000,
you'll probably learn more about it by listening to some James Last compilations than in any other way
because you're getting to the technical essence of why it pleases people.
Unlike a lot of American rock and roll,
The Beatles seemed ready-made for easy listening treatment.
Capitol Records arranger Stu Phillips was formulating a plan for a Beatles song book
with the company's orchestra The Hollyridge Strings.
We had very smart, sophisticated melodies on some of these songs.
And I played around with them and I said,
"If I do them a little different, they really are pleasant music."
I said, "OK, what I need to know now is what songs are going to be in their first album."
So we wired George Martin in England
and asked him if he could help us out and tell us what he figured the first Beatle album was going to be.
Phillips' easy listening versions of The Beatles' songs were an instant hit.
Stripped of their vocals, incessant drumbeats and jangling guitars,
Lennon and McCartney's melodies were given full rein with his lush string arrangements.
Some people say it takes the soul out.
It just is a different aspect of the same soul.
I feel inspired when I listen to it. I feel invigorated. It cleanses the musical palette in a lot of ways.
INSTRUMENTAL ARRANGEMENT: "A Hard Day's Night" - The Beatles
This alternative shadow version of pop music was tailored for an older audience
that in 1963 thought that The Beatles just made an unpleasant racket.
We have in recent years raised them to such a totemic status that it's almost impossible for us to imagine
that people didn't like them in the '60s. We think everybody liked them.
It brings the song
to an older audience. You hear it on the elevator.
You hear it in the shopping centres.
And you realise that the melodies were timeless
and not just pop records of the time.
Easy listening was now being played everywhere without offending anyone
or demanding their attention.
It was music to be heard, but not listened to while at work or at play.
Some called it elevator music.
Oddly enough, for something that was inoffensive, it became incredibly offensive, didn't it?
It was for your parents, it was square, it was unthreatening.
It was too soft, it was too sweet.
It seemed to be a complete betrayal of the energy that was creating rock, you know.
EASY LISTENING, MELODIC MUSIC
I call all of it elevator music because it's going by the same principles.
It's using certain instruments,
under-arranging it in a certain manner to make you listen actively if you want,
but also facilitating what you might call peripheral listening.
American FM radio would come to be dominated by easy listening stations,
all playing an easily digested diet of music that many music lovers regarded as inauthentic.
But if it wasn't the real thing, what was it?
MUSIC: "Magic Moments"
There'd be an easy listening, beautiful music channel I would listen to,
so in the daytime on Top 40 AM radio I would hear Neil Sedaka sing Laughter In The Rain,
then there'd be a ghostly version of it by Lenny Dee and his organ.
# Oh, I hear laughter in the rain... #
I see no problem.
A song can take different directions, different styles, done beautifully with strings.
When you heard the elevator version of the song,
you're listening to the original at the same time in your head,
so there's this kind of what you would call a depth of field,
an aural depth of field going on.
We know the original songs, but yet... "Oh, my God, there's a version of Mellow Yellow,
"but I can hear Donovan singing it while I'm hearing this orchestral group playing it."
But these were times when ideological battle lines in music were being drawn.
Rock and roll and pop had come to stand for something hard, uncompromising and young.
Stu Phillips' easy listening versions attempted in vain to heal a generational rift
that had already happened.
The kids didn't buy 'em. The kids didn't buy that.
That was sacrilege, what I was doing to their songs. No, they didn't buy 'em.
I just admired what they were doing and felt I could do something with what they had,
so that the parents of the kids that love it might find it interesting. And they did.
I really felt that by the time people like Stu Phillips
and The Hollywood Strings were doing covers of The Beatles
and Elvis Presley and The Four Seasons and Simon And Garfunkel, that was a peaceful co-existence.
It wasn't anti-pop. It was appreciation of the melodies.
SHOUTS OF "Ole!"
Easy listening found a much needed ambassador
when in 1965, an attractive young man took the scene by storm.
Herb Alpert, a classically trained trumpet player with a liking for jazz,
had originally been inspired by the sights and sounds of the Tijuana bullfight
to create an entirely new sound.
The trumpet section in the stands
would do this series of... # Da-da, ba-da-ba-da-bay... #
you know, drinking some wine from a bota bag, it was a great experience
and I translated that into a sound.
I'm thinking, "This easy listening is not like something you have to sit down and hash out
"and what the heck they're trying to do..."
It had that commercial ring to it and it was not threatening, so it was easy to listen to.
Herb's music ignored the angst, frustration and heartache
associated with chart-topping rock and roll and pop.
It was light, happy and easy to listen to and to make.
I think it was easy because I had nothing in my head.
I'd go into the studio with musicians that I liked, in the studio that I liked
and I would just form this sound that was real easy for me to make.
I recorded some songs in 20 minutes.
So there was a humanness to it.
Herb was the acceptable pop face of easy listening -
the handsome front man of The Tijuana Brass.
But easy listening music was usually created by shadowy arrangers,
waving their batons, and anonymous session musicians.
In Hollywood, Capitol Records agonised about what to put on the album covers
for Stu Phillips and The Hollyridge Strings to help sell the music.
They came up with all these crazy ideas for an album cover
and one of them was myself and a bunch of little children ages four to seven.
That was The Hollyridge Strings because we couldn't just photograph the musicians. It meant nothing.
So the other idea is they went and got a whole bunch of secretaries
and boy runners and everything else under the sun
and they dressed them all up and we shot that.
And then they had the lettering version.
And by the time they got done, everyone decided they liked the lettering version.
I guess they felt the names of the songs were going to sell that more than any crazy little picture.
If audiences were familiar with the music of the famous easy listening arrangers,
they could be forgiven for not knowing what they actually looked like.
These were modest older men who often avoided the limelight.
Despite writing easy listening classics like Spanish Eyes and Strangers In The Night,
Bert Kaempfert didn't appear on stage until the early '70s.
My father was not really interested in appearing in public.
He was not very good at presenting the orchestra, fronting the band,
going out to be the band leader, seen and filmed.
He was interested in studio work. He loved his work at home.
He did his arrangements, went to the studio and recorded his LPs.
Then when they became famous and he was asked, "Would you mind coming and promoting the record,"
he normally shied away from that.
Kaempfert wasn't alone.
The kings of easy listening were often eerily absent
both from public life and from the sleeves of their albums.
This was because they tended to look more like bank managers than pop stars,
men who weren't pretty boys born to pout or strike a pose for the camera.
This is a fairly early Ray Conniff,
very sort of Mad Man look... or Mad Men, isn't it, look.
There's an awful lot of girls on easy listening covers.
The band leaders don't look great.
The composers look even worse and the lyricists... Don't go there.
Sammy Cahn said that Burt Bacharach was the only composer who didn't look like a dentist.
So I suppose if you're going to have someone who isn't the band leader on the cover, have a pretty girl.
Here's another Ray Conniff.
This is slightly later, I think.
Oh, there's Ray. You don't want him on the front, really, do you, in full colour?
There's another one. A bit later, I think.
A bit more sultry.
Actually, this might be a bit earlier.
Lots of beautiful girls.
He was usually on the back.
But he liked the mood that the covers set
because they were usually quirky and stylised.
Remember, they're band leaders and in the performances because it's kind of faceless musicians,
it removes the emphasis on the individual and the individual artist
who is expressing their angst or something that happened to them.
It's not like someone there nagging, telling you about themselves all the time,
like a Joni Mitchell album.
Once you've removed the lead singer singing his own songs about himself or herself,
then once you've got that out of the way,
you can concentrate on the timbre and the different textures
and the more interesting subtleties within the music and the sound.
Musically, the big news of the early '60s was the rapid spread of British and American pop music.
But as it developed and became more ambitious,
pop would occasionally fuse with an easy listening aesthetic
to produce a new kind of hybrid composition and sound.
In the household of Henry Mancini,
you could hear everything.
MUSIC: "The Pink Panther Theme" - Henry Mancini
The British invasion had descended upon my home.
# I'm in pieces, bits and pieces... #
I was a Dave Clark Five crazy person. Beatles, forget about it. All of it I was listening to.
# All I do is sit and cry... #
We played music and we played it loud and we played it all day.
You know, my dad was a real huge Beach Boys fan.
When we played Beach Boys records, he would really love it.
I think it had to do with the harmonies and the melodies. They had such a unique sound.
It wasn't his music that was playing. It was ours, so he was forced to listen to it.
The Beach Boys, Brian Wilson is another easy listening master.
I'm using "easy listening" here as a complement
because what easy listening at its very best involves...
You think of people like Jimmy Webb.
It involves something that ultimately is deeply strange and mysterious.
Well, I loved the rock palette mixed in with strings
and I loved crashing those disparate elements together.
I just used instruments.
I used all kinds of instruments in different ways.
# Would you like to ride in my beautiful balloon...? #
Jimmy Webb's compositions sometimes provide the perfect ground for rock and easy listening to do battle.
# We could float among the stars together, you and I... #
Despite being part of the generation that was preparing to turn on, tune in and drop out,
Webb's songs were massively popular with the parents of his generation,
as performed by artists from Frank Sinatra to Glen Campbell.
His composition Up, Up And Away, originally sung by The Fifth Dimension,
became an instant easy listening hit.
He's not an easy listening composer.
When he's composing, he's not writing for the easy listening market,
but his songs were performed by other people,
so Up, Up And Away was performed many, many times facelessly, so it became easy listening.
# Up, up and away
# In my beautiful, my beautiful balloon... #
It's kind of a "whistle while you work" song.
It's the only one I ever wrote like that.
It was completely mindless and today, when I do Up, Up And Away,
I'm very sentimental about it.
It's like, "Were we ever that...
"..you know, goosebump crazy that we loved life so much,
"that we just wanted to get in a balloon and float away and that was OK?"
Because that song's not about drugs. It's about balloons.
You would see Up, Up And Away as a title much more on an album that wasn't Jimmy Webb's
than was Jimmy Webb's.
This album is The Billy Vaughn Singers,
the title Up, Up And Away, again a very popular piece,
one of the most popular pieces in terms of being covered.
So the arrangers and producers of these kinds of albums, Jimmy Webb's material is very musical,
so there's a lot of interesting musicality within the piece,
so probably the arranger thought, "I'll do that one, rather than Louie Louie."
And then... This is great, actually. This is a great record.
"The Bright, Bouncy, Beaty Sound of Ray Martin, His Orchestra And Chorus."
"Up, Up And Away". I don't know how many albums there were with hot air balloons on, but there was a lot.
The fact that it has no meaning says everything about us and who we were and what we thought about
and what we did and where we went with our lives
because we really didn't care.
Webb proved that easy listening didn't have to be easy, happy or wishy-washy.
It could be melancholic, even existential.
I like this one. # I am a lineman for the county... #
# And I drive the mainroad
# I'm searching in the sun
# For another overload
# And I hear you singing in the wire... #
A lot of the best easy listening music is really quite specific.
Wichita Lineman is about a subject that nobody else has written about.
# And the Wichita Lineman
# Oh, he's still on the line... #
I don't think to write a really good easy listening song, it has to be an easy subject.
But they almost always tend to be love songs.
Music journalists were confused by Webb's use of string arrangements and classic songwriting,
by the audiences he attracted and by the old guard artists who clambered to perform his songs.
They took a few swings at me
for being a middle-of-the-road guy.
"Jimmy Webb and His Orchestra or whatever you call it, they're in town tonight!"
They'd prep my picture in a white suit in People Magazine
and they'd say, "Who is this guy? Who cares?"
As the '60s progressed, easy listening came to be more and more associated
with a certain kind of sophisticated lifestyle -
an aspiring, moneyed, adult existence
in which music was merely the add-on,
something that played in the background while you got on with more important things,
something that didn't get in the way.
You're creating a mood for people's lives, how they live, where they live,
the furniture that they have, the cars that they drive...
..the roads that they drive along,
the sea in the middle distance.
It's basically creating a soundtrack to a wonderful lifestyle.
We see it linked to this kind of groovy '60s notion of futurism
or '50s notion of futurism
and that notion of Space Age bachelor pad music.
And there's something kitschily appealing about the circumstances
in which it was supposed to be listened to.
It would have been either for a romantic dinner
or a seduction scene.
Whether that was going to happen or not, it made you feel that that was a possibility in your life.
It would've been a lifestyle thing and it wouldn't have just been about the music.
It's made a lot of the time as a means of showing off your stereo equipment possibly to a young lady,
possibly as a prelude to getting your leg over.
The theory that these records can be used for seduction is implied, I think, by this cover here.
I don't know who's on this, actually. They might be brother and sister.
It could be The White Stripes of their time. Who knows their relationship?
He looks a bit bookish. He's not really interested.
He's showing off his hi-fi. She's wishing he had other things on his mind
and wasn't just into showing off his super-stereo sound.
It's got further developed.
It's getting a bit more intimate. This could be later in the evening.
Another Pepe Jaramillo. Quite racy for a Pepe cover.
He's usually more "sun and cactuses".
And then here, this is a kind of voyeuristic thing going on here as well
because this is Only Love by The Brass Ring.
You've got a little peephole to see that this is...
It suggests that's what listening to this...
This is where it could get you.
With a sore lip.
Here we've got Aimi MacDonald here and Ronnie Carroll.
This is a musical that Bacharach and David wrote - Promises, Promises,
from the film The Apartment, I think it was. It was based on that.
Fantastic kinky boots here. Nice slip-ons and white socks.
Some Sta-Prest trousers.
So it's kind of about swinging, those mid-'60s...
Well, not swinging.
It was about, um...
Extra-marital sex. That's right(!)
There's a difference!
So, yes, I like this record, particularly the recording because it's very British.
It's a very British version of a very American product.
Despite the social unrest and political upheavals of the '60s
or perhaps because of them,
easy listening music resolutely avoided politics of any kind.
It seemed disengaged
with the world in which it was being made.
Like the Strings of Mantovani playing in a world shocked to the core by a recent war,
it seemed convinced that all was well.
It doesn't appear to have any context, it doesn't appear to have any content.
Lyrically, it's un-hip.
It's always quite positive, quite cheery. It's not necessarily going to be dark.
Those people that followed easy listening, whatever kind of easy listening it was,
they didn't get Bob Dylan.
And so, therefore, if you aligned yourself with those people, that was a naff thing to do.
It's the mentality that you have to be either one thing or another thing.
And I don't have it. I don't have that mentality.
But I know that I've run into it and people have said, "Are you with us or against us?"
And I said, "Well, I'm with you!"
"Well, you know, but you can't play in Las Vegas. If you play in Las Vegas, you're against us."
"Well, why is that? What does that have to do with it? That's just a venue where people go to hear..."
"Yeah, but you can't play Las Vegas because that's 'the man'. That's working for 'the man', you know?"
And this was real. This was real.
It's not written anywhere that pop music, rock music, any kind of music, has to engage with current events.
And I don't think it's necessarily a flaw in light music that it doesn't engage with the times
because that's clearly the exact opposite of what it's intended to do.
Its purpose is to disengage you from the times.
Perhaps part of easy listening's apparent indifference to what was happening in the real world
was the temperament and attitudes of its creators,
men who thought that music and politics should be kept apart.
My father was not a very political person,
but he was a person with a strong desire for peace, you know.
He had lived through the war and they were...
They wanted things to be good and to become better.
He wanted to make music to make people happy
and he kept his own political views, which he had many, out of his music...
"You know it's going on" was kind of my dad's attitude,
especially when I kind of was saying how the Everyman listened to my dad's music.
Everyman probably had a son dying in Vietnam.
Does he then want to go home and listen to music about dying in Vietnam?
No, maybe he just wants to listen to something that makes him happy and want to dance with his wife.
You know, my dad, he was not a tumultuous kind of guy. He was very easy-going.
He would much sooner write something pleasing than something erratic and crazy,
but if he had to, if someone did a film on the Vietnam War and wanted his music,
he'd be right there.
But in terms of his own style and how he liked to project himself,
he was an easygoing, peaceful guy.
MUSIC: "Windmills of your Mind"
Since Apocalypse Now, it's been assumed that the soundtrack to the Vietnam War was provided
by the likes of The Doors, Jefferson Airplane, Jimi Hendrix and even Wagner.
But easy listening was there, too.
I have one wonderful thing somebody sent me of a soldier
and he's in his little cubby-hole thing there and he's got a little table.
And on that table is the Hollywood Strings.
He actually carried that whole thing with him
through from America to Vietnam and it was something that he played.
MUSIC: "Good Vibrations"
The second half of the '60s was the heyday of easy listening
since it offered a pleasant refuge from many other musical forms
that were straying into the danger zone of "difficult" music.
Pop music develops in this insane way between the end of 1964 and the end of 1967.
It's never changed as much since.
Fuelled largely by drugs, it moves in this completely different direction.
But at the same time classical music had changed and become a rather austere
and foreboding place.
Jazz had changed and become a lot more experimental.
So unless you were prepared to put the work in, there isn't a lot for you other than light music.
Ironically, it was also the heyday of easy listening because it WAS the late '60s
when all musics were beginning to co-exist in an atmosphere of shared sonic experimentation.
There was no exclusion. It wasn't like, "We're not gonna play this."
There was this melange on the radio
that created social progress.
It created... "Oh, these people are OK because listen to this song.
"I dig it."
The fact that Jimi Hendrix might put on a Mantovani record just to get away from that damn acid rock
that everybody was playing around him.
MUSIC: "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes"
Jimi Hendrix gave a great interview in a London paper about one day all music would be
coalesced, all the different musics would be coalesced into one thing.
And I was reading this interview and crying because I said, "This guy, he's a messenger.
"He's telling us about the future of music."
The only thing is that he was wrong!
MUSIC: "A Swinging Safari" BY BERT KAEMPFERT
as part of the Swinging Sixties, easy listening jumped on the same bandwagon as rock
when it came to the imagery of the sexual revolution.
Album covers were increasingly colonised by pseudo-psychedelic imagery and scantily-clad chicks.
Apparently, easy now also meant available.
But if it played its own part in the hippy project to unite all musics,
the easy listening solution was very different from the result envisaged by the lofty quest
that now dominated the experiments of progressive rock.
It is indeed pre-rock,
but it feels the pull of rock and the pull of all music.
Easy listening has a lot of sources.
So it will be aware of Latin rhythms, be aware of big bands,
it'll be aware of country music, if you like.
It picks and chooses from wherever, with no great respect from where.
MUSIC: "I Am The Walrus" BY THE BEATLES
Respectful or not, easy listening was now benefiting from a middle-aged backlash
against the seemingly drug-obsessed youth culture and from rock's slide into the obscure.
# I am he as you are he As you are me
# And we are all together... #
A lot of people are turned off by that, baffled by it. Older people in particular.
Even if they were into The Beatles a little bit to start off with.
And that's because if you were 40 in 1965, they were in their 20s.
Of course you don't want to listen to I Am The Walrus.
If you look at the charts in 1967... Again, you think 1967, the Summer of Love, Jimi Hendrix.
The most prevalent trend in the singles chart in Britain in 1967 is
sort of very mawkish easy listening.
The bestselling records were Ken Dodd or Engelbert Humperdinck, Val Doonican.
They sold huge amounts of records.
# Tears for souvenirs
# Are all you left me... #
If you look at the bestselling lists in the '60s, most of the Top Tens are people like that,
not The Who or The Kinks.
People talk about Engelbert Humperdinck keeping The Beatles off the top of the charts
as though that's an anomaly. That's a trend.
# Please release me
# Let me go... #
I didn't go for, "Ah don't love you any mowah!" You know, all that.
# I don't love you any more... #
His version of Please Release Me was a slower, lusher, more romantic version of a country song
that had already been a hit for Dolly Parton in the States.
She's two very good friends of mine.
Dolly Parton. She's a lovely lady. You just got it, didn't you?
-Just got it.
-A bit slow!
# That I will always
# Want her near... #
It seemed shocking that the record prevented The Beatles from having their 13th number one hit
with a double A side of Penny Lane and Strawberry Fields.
-It was shocking, yeah.
-Was it a bit like, "Yes!"?
I said, "Yes!"
But I just went, "Yeah.
"I hope they're not mad at me."
# Let me go! #
There had been a period without many singers like that, but only briefly.
It wasn't really a throwback. It was more a continuation of what had gone before.
Country Joe and the Fish didn't mean as much in 1967 as Tom Jones did.
Listening to the chart, you get a good idea of what it was like to live in Worcester in 1967,
rather than hanging round Soho.
It was a release valve for all that stuff that was going on at the time.
And when this ballad came along, people went, "Wow!"
They listened to all the rock and roll stuff going on, which I loved.
Then all of a sudden this ballad surprised people. It took them by surprise, more than anything else.
Jimmy Webb's MacArthur Park, composed as part of an intended cantata, was a more surprising hit.
Originally sung by the actor Richard Harris, it was elaborately orchestrated, lasted over 7 minutes
and had a weird lyric about a melting cake.
It's totally eccentric,
but yet contains elements
of mass appeal. That, to me, is another trick of easy listening.
# Someone left the cake out in the rain
# I don't think that I can take it
# Cos it took so long to make it
# And I'll never have that recipe again... #
Superficially, a lot of that extreme '60s LA pop easy listening
seemed to, you know, avoid some of the rules of making it palatable to the mass audience,
yet still made it palatable to them.
MUSIC: "This Guy's In Love With You"
Herb Alpert didn't have any mass appeal problems.
Even when he turned his hand to singing in 1968, it was, as ever,
all very easy and very successful.
This Guy's In Love was very easy because I have a friend by the name of Burt Bacharach!
Who writes a good song with Hal David.
# Yes, I'm in love... #
"Who looks at you the way I do?" Hello.
# If not I'll just die... #
As the '60s closed out with guitars in overdrive,
The Carpenters appeared, like an aberration.
A smiling, clean-cut, brother and sister act that was soft, smooth and easy on the ear.
They seemed to come from another time, or another history,
but Herb Alpert signed them to his own easy listening star label, A&M Records.
They were thought of as old-fashioned and a little corny.
It wasn't music I normally listen to, but I recognised something in her voice.
# I think I'm gonna be sad
# I think it's today Yeah... #
I was born a throwback
with a love not only for music, different types, but for records
as well and sound. And radio.
So my arrangements, my songs and all, have a little bit of this and a little bit of that,
and have their own sound to them.
There was a year there that records did not sell.
It was like they tanked and the feedback I was getting from my own company was,
"Why did you sign these turkeys?"
Herb decided to give them one more chance and handed Richard Carpenter
a little-known Burt Bacharach composition previously recorded by Dionne Warwick.
PIANO INTRO TO "Close To You"
I looked at the song and the melody.
And I came up with my arrangement, which is a slow shuffle.
Chunk-a, chunk-a, chunk-a.
# Why do birds... suddenly appear...chunk-a... #
# Every time you are near
# Just like me
# They long to be
# Close to you... #
The version that Burt had done with Dionne, it's straight eight.
# ..suddenly appear... #
It's the bom ka-dunk...
# Every time... # For me, it just needed that little bit.
# Just like me
# They long to be
# Close to you
# On the day that you were born the angels got together
# And decided to create a dream come true... #
..it made... it just made a hell of a difference. It made a hell of a difference.
# Waa-aa-aah Close to you... #
The Carpenters had breathed new life into the art of vocal easy listening
but by the early '70s the orchestral music of arrangers like Ray Conniff, Percy Faith and Bert Kaempfert
had quietly slipped from view.
# Close to you... #
One theory I have is that certain people took over management of record companies
and they didn't want to hear it any more. It was baby boomers taking power
and wanting new stuff.
My father was massively popular in the United States until about the early '70s.
The '60s were really his heyday.
The charts were Ray Conniff, Elvis Presley and The Beatles. They were the three biggest artists.
There are a lot of, you know, pop and rock music...
..zealots out there
who really think that all of that other music was...ugh.
Despite the fall from grace of its orchestral originators,
easy listening was gliding through the century, taking many different, sometimes surprising forms.
It would even enjoy a revival.
The good life still needed a soundtrack.
# Not a cloud in the sky Got the sun in my eyes
# And I won't be surprised if it's a dream... #
Easy listening would also provide a safety net for some pioneering rock and roll and pop artists
who were, inevitably, getting older.
-# Down dooby-doo down down... #
-In 1975, Neil Sedaka showed how a maturing rock and roll performer
could drift into the world of easy listening with exactly the same material.
# Breaking up is hard to do... #
Breaking Up Is Hard To Do, I wrote it in 1962 as a rock and roll song.
The tune originally was a sad lyric with a happy tune.
# Down dooby-doo down down...
# Breaking up is hard to do
# Don't take your love... #
A sad...sentiment with a happy tune.
it again was a number one song 15 years later
as a slow, romantic ballad.
# Don't take your love
# Away from me
# Don't you leave my heart
# In misery... #
My songs are right in the middle of the pop, of the rock...
# Breaking up is hard to do... #
They kind of span in-between those
and the easy listening.
The easy listening stations started playing maybe James Taylor, certainly us.
And all of a sudden we kind of created a whole new...
..category, which was adult contemporary.
-What does that mean?
It means it's a different name for easy listening!
# My love must be a kind of blind love... #
Baby boomers were getting older and started wanting to relax.
They found music with vocalists that... The Eagles could very easily segue into easy listening.
And I think some of those performers did do some easy listening stuff.
# Take it easy
# Take it easy
# Don't let the sound of your own wheels drive you crazy... #
The charts now throbbed with the biorhythms of middle-aged America,
mixing country and western stars with ageing folk hipsters.
Having recovered from a period of career success overload, Herb Alpert was back,
minus the Tijuana Brass, with his own smooth, easy jazz.
But through it all there was always Richard and Karen Carpenter,
working their way towards worldwide album sales of over 100 million.
Their global success now guaranteed the survival of Herb's record label,
but to some executives at A&M, easy listening music was still a middle-aged embarrassment.
That kills me. I...
There were a whole lot of people at the label
who really... begrudged us our success, which in turn was THEIR success!
# Long ago
# And oh so far away... #
They got to keep their jobs!
I suppose they're aimed at...
Yeah, a kind of audience
that had grown out of pop music.
I imagine the Carpenters were for people who grew up with Herman's Hermits rather than The Who.
And this is their adult music.
# Talking to myself and feeling old
# Sometimes I'd like to quit
# Nothing ever seems to fit
# Hanging around
# Nothing to do but frown... #
If you listen to Rainy Days and Mondays, that's like a record
that sounds like it's really delving into the soul of a woman doing the ironing while on Valium.
# Rainy days and Mondays
# Always get me down... #
A song like Goodbye To Love is about as emotionally intense a four minutes of music
as has ever been recorded.
# No-one ever cared if I should live or die
# Time and time again the chance for love has passed me by
# And all I know of love... #
There's something not quite right. It is quite unsettling.
It always felt a little bit like that. It was too good to be true.
Obviously, with hindsight, we know there were problems.
They shouldn't have toured nearly, nearly as much
and I should have spent... Well, taking everything into consideration,
Karen passing on at 32 years of age and everything else,
but... just shouldn't have done all that.
We should have concentrated more on...just making records.
And me writing some more songs.
We get so obsessed with the idea of how things turned out and it became Woodstock and Altamont
that the idea that many millions didn't agree with that or like that
and found rock music extraordinarily repetitive and rough and peculiar,
in their heads something like The Carpenters was natural.
It wasn't just... once Heartbreak Hotel came out,
that that was it and everything was rock and roll and pink and black.
It wasn't like that at all.
It was a mixture.
And all one has to do is look at the pop charts
and see that...at the same time that Heartbreak Hotel was a number one record,
so was Hot Diggity by Perry Como.
And the same thing is happening in the '60s on satellite radio.
To them, the '60s doesn't start until The Beatles hit.
In late '63 or early '64.
So forget nineteen-sixty-one, two and three!
And it's starting to happen now to the '70s.
If they're doing the '70s,
you bet your bottom dollar it's going to be disco.
Period. Like nothing else existed in the '70s.
Rock historians weren't very interested in telling the story of Nelson Riddle,
but more Frank Sinatra.
They weren't interested in telling the story of Burt Bacharach, but Bob Dylan
because, you know, this story over here is more ethereal in a way.
It's doing interesting things, but not leaving great cultural traces like Dylan and Hendrix.
# So many nights
# I'd sit by my window... #
You Light Up My Life was number one for umpteen weeks.
It was inspirational.
You had to stop your car...
and, and weep when you heard that.
MacArthur Park was another...
It was a magnificent, innovative Jimmy Webb piece
that was so above the throng, you had to stop your car.
People say, "I don't listen to that kind of music."
What is that?
We never even thought about that.
It was like, "Oh, yeah, did you hear that crazy Three Dog Night song about Jeremiah was a bullfrog?"
Anything goes. Flo and Eddie, Frank Zappa, whatever. Let's play some music here.
# I'll find the place to rest my spirit if I can
# Perhaps I may become a highwayman again
# Or I may simply be a single drop of rain
# But something will remain... #
Now we do know that our music... that we are what we hear.
We're not what we eat. We are what we hear.
# Nobody does it better... #
In 1979, Billboard's Easy Listening chart was officially rechristened the Adult Contemporary chart,
where '60s acts grow old gracefully alongside new easy listening and middle of the road performers.
# ..half as good as you
# Baby, you're the best... #
I was a ghost from the '50s.
People asked, "Didn't you used to be Neil Sedaka?" I was favoured on the Adult Contemporary
because of my age. Things that went to number 15 on the Pop went to number one in Adult Contemporary.
Adult Contemporary, I thought, was an attempt for the baby boomers
to have their own version of easy listening music.
You listen to stars that were cutting edge.
The ones that survived went on to do very middle of the road stuff. Imagine if Jim Morrison was alive.
He'd be crooning Sinatra songs. It would be very frightening.
Not at all frightening was a young, good-looking Frenchman called Philippe Pages,
who had trained as a concert pianist but was attracted to the melodies of British and American pop music.
In 1976, he changed his name to Richard Clayderman
and became the reigning champion and pretty face of instrumental easy listening and light music.
TRANSLATED FROM FRENCH:
It was the music that I liked to interpret.
Everything I listened to by The Beatles or other groups I wanted to transcribe for piano.
I really enjoyed them more than classical music. Was I gifted enough to be a classical pianist?
I don't think so.
It's the melodies that I try to feel the most when I play them.
It's a music that is half-classical because of the arrangements and half popular music
because it is much simpler than classical music.
When I met him he was 23. He was OK, good-looking, but not exceptionally good-looking.
But he was good-looking.
But every month after I have met him, he was looking better.
He was looking at people while playing. This is one of the keys of his super, super success.
He was not a piano player watching his keyboard.
He was a piano player watching the audience.
Songwriter, producer and manager Olivier Toussaint chose Clayderman
to perform his song Ballad for Adeline, which became an instant easy listening classic.
In fact, Ballade pour Adeline seems to be simple, but it's not so simple, you know.
But it's not complicated. It's a combination of something not complicated, but sophisticated,
simple, but without being...
You've got to add something with the orchestra to make it pleasant, to make it easy to listen
while making the piano sounding like a star.
Always...not always, but most of the time, bring drums.
Drums, bass, guitars. Like a pop recording, you know?
But if you listen to it, it's not disturbing. And that's the key.
As for easy listening music, it's a music we can listen to in different situations.
At home, in the car, at a restaurant.
It's a music we can listen to with pleasure everywhere.
So I think that easy listening fits me well.
It's grand. It's good.
# I'm easy like Sunday morning
# That's why I'm easy
# I'm easy like Sunday mo-o-orning... #
Easy listening is fine, it's fine
because there are times when you want to sit back and just, you know,
just relax and listen to music that is going to be soothing to the mind and to the heart.
And...I got into that category.
MUSIC: "Casino Royale"
For a '60s easy listening singer like Engelbert Humperdinck, you could do a lot worse
than take that well-trodden trail to where the old kings of easy, like Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin,
and the odd rock and roll legend like Elvis Presley, found a home.
The city of inauthenticity, where the crap tables jumped and the easy cabaret went on forever.
Actually, it was very exciting in the early days of Las Vegas.
The first hotel I ever played at, the Riviera Hotel, Dean had a piece of it.
He had a piece of the hotel and he'd make cracks onstage.
"You know, I got a piece of this hotel. I've been here two weeks now
"and I've checked every room. I can't find her."
# When the moon hits your eye Like a big pizza pie That's amore... #
He took a shine to me, so he put his name up on the marquee.
"Dean Martin presents Engelbert Humperdinck."
He never called me Engelbert or Enge.
"Humpy Bumpy Lumpy Dumpy, sit over here, pal." He'd do that.
And I had great times with that magnificent person.
# That's amore. #
Las Vegas could have witnessed the end of the easy listening story.
The music might have withered and died there in the desert heat, but that didn't happen.
By the late '80s, its emphasis on the delights of simply absorbing some pleasant sounds
found contemporary expression in some of the most unlikely situations.
Easy listening was alive and well. It was just chilled out on Ecstasy.
At the time,
both of us were in clubs in Newcastle that were like the Hacienda.
When you came home, you listened to another kind of music, which didn't really have a name.
You'd put on something to relax to.
It might be Penguin Cafe Orchestra or William Orbit or a bit A Man Called Adam,
those kinds of things. That later became what people called chill out,
which is not really something I'd...
I don't really like the word. I don't like the word.
But it was a very... There was a lot of different kinds of sort of down tempo music.
If you were looking for the happy impulses of a kind of easy listening music in the pop charts of the '90s,
Lighthouse Family had it all -
a posy-Ecstasy journey to the heart of a music designed to celebrate the good life.
# Lifted, lifted
# We could be lifted from the shadows
# Lifted... #
I think we did actually have our roots in happy, uplifting house music
of the late '80s, early '90s.
We just created the sort of sounds that made us feel good.
And that was what we set out to do,
to create those sort of songs that did that, for us.
-# We could be
It's like you create this little world, this mood.
And I think... Ocean Drive is a blueprint of that.
I think it is that. It's this kind of...blue sky,
feel good sunshine coming out of the speakers.
Cos we hear what people say about Lighthouse Family.
It's like they're saying it doesn't mean anything. Well, it does.
You might not like it, or get it,
but it does actually mean something.
And it isn't just there to make the room look pretty.
# So blue
# The sun's gonna shine on everything you do... #
Only somebody who doesn't understand the whole purpose of what it's about would say,
"This type of music makes you feel good so it is not music."
Ultimately, it's about trying to get the best out of life.
That's the fundamental of it. Trying to get the best out of life.
# The boys watch the girls while the girls watch the boys who watch the girls go by
# Eye to eye, they solemnly convene to make the scene
# Making music to watch girls by. #
Maybe the best of life had already happened. Who could tell
in a culture now dominated by post-modernism, post-feminism and post-everything?
In a world in which recycling, appropriation and nostalgia were everywhere,
that old enemy of everything that was supposed to be authentic in music enjoyed a revival.
Austin Powers was unfrozen and Burt Bacharach was rediscovered.
Easy listening was back, relaxing us into the 21st century.
MUSIC: "Soul Bossa Nova"
This was obscure music. This was music that no-one really knew and people still crave that.
The paradox was they were craving music dismissed originally as unhip.
They were finding that to be hip.
All this cool and uncool business. I... You know, really.
I'm just sick to death of hearing it.
These sounds that suddenly, freed of the rift that there was in the '60s between one and the other,
I think the young generation now likes that music. They chill out with that kind of music.
They say it's great to chill out to.
Music that is exciting enough not to be boring.
You have enough to listen for, but you can also just have it play on the side while you do something.
Easy listening might have become interesting as a retro experience,
but we rarely heard about its life as a hugely successful music that was still happening.
Contemporary easy listening was, as ever,
ignored by music journalists or dismissed as totally unhip.
Press people do not like that kind of music and they do not like people having such a big success
with that kind of music. What can I do? Imagine, for example, Richard Clayderman is beloved
by two critics in the world, but hated by millions of people.
I really would prefer the opposite side of my story.
PLAYS "Ebony and Ivory"
Richard Clayderman now has 350 gold and platinum albums to his name
and has recorded more than 1,200 songs.
He's performed 2,000 concerts and has received more than 50,000 bouquets of flowers from his fans.
According to the Guinness Book of Records, he is the most successful pianist in the world
and has spent 20 of the last 30 years away from home, playing his music across the globe.
When I'm in China, I interpret some Chinese melodies and the public is really touched.
When I'm in South America, I'll interpret some melodies that are well-known there.
My repertoire is different, but the way I interpret things is the same.
Very often, I play pieces by Billy Joel, Elton John or Stevie Wonder.
Onstage I do a medley of Stevie Wonder songs,
but again I do it in my own style with my piano. I try to bring something different to them.
When I think of easy listening, I think of an alternate history of pop
where the blues and jazz sort of only happened in a white way, if you like.
I think of the sting of rock and roll not happening in easy listening.
Incredibly tuneful, so it's deeply, deeply enjoyable, to an extent.
In America, when they evoke Richard's music,
they say elevator music
because they try to find a way to do something which would be like...
..to hurt you.
I said easy listening because we don't know how to... how to describe this music.
Easy listening can always be new because it always has someone else's new music,
however spiky, sexy or subversive, to inspire it to new heights of mildness, joyousness
and mass acceptability.
James Last, who in the '70s was pumping out two albums every month,
refuses to grow old and intolerant of pop music.
He's still determined to elevate the latest thing.
# Can't read my, can't read my No, he can't read my poker face
-She's got to love nobody
# Can't read my, can't read my No, he can't read my poker face
-She's got to love nobody...
If it's done well,
certain people just make whatever it is look easy.
So Bing Crosby...
There are more men, I guarantee you, in the shower especially,
thinking, "I sound just like him! He's just a lucky stiff!"
We think it lacks all the fibre and the dirt and the rebellion,
but in another sort of way it's got its own mystery and its own quality
as the production of musicians who didn't follow the party line of what was important to follow.
Quite a brave, radical decision!
MUSIC: "A Swinging Safari" BY BERT KAEMPFERT
Hello? Can someone let me out the booth?
In-depth documentary investigation into the story of a popular music genre that is often said to be made to be heard but not listened to. The film looks at easy listening's architects and practitioners, its dangers and delights, and the mark it has left on modern life.
From its emergence in the 50s to its heyday in the 60s, through its survival in the 70s and 80s and its revival in the 90s and beyond, the film traces the hidden history of a music that has reflected society every bit as much as pop and rock - just in a more relaxed way.
Invented at the dawn of rock 'n' roll, easy listening has shadowed pop music and the emerging teenage market since the mid-50s. It is a genre that equally soundtracks our modern age, but perhaps for a rather more 'mature' generation and therefore with its own distinct purpose and aesthetic.
Contributors include Richard Carpenter, Herb Alpert, Richard Clayderman, Engelbert Humperdinck, Jimmy Webb, Mike Flowers, James Last and others.