I hear music

You know you are getting old when you start hearing some of the music of your youth that was considered edgy at the time wafting gently out of the speakers while you are at the grocery store. I swear I heard ‘White Rabbit’, ‘Let’s Spend the Night Together’, and ‘Dead Babies’ all in the course of a single shopping trip.

I don’t know if you have noticed, but elevators don’t actually have elevator music anymore. What you have now is the disembodied voice that tells you which direction you are going and what floor you have arrived at, and a video screen that makes it legitimate for everyone to look blankly at a spot on the wall and pretend to be very interested in the weather and traffic (even though they have already arrived at work and therefore neither subject is particularly relevant). But I digress. Today we are going to delve into the phenomenon of Muzak.

Apparently, the concept of piped in music was first invented in 1910 but it didn’t really start to catch on until a company called Muzak was acquired by Warner Brothers in 1937. Here are some fun facts about ‘elevator’ music.

1. The initial commercial use for Muzak was as a productivity aid, piped into offices and factories. The ‘music’ was programmed in 15 minute intervals that gradually increased in pace and volume. I’m guessing ‘Flight of the Bumblebee’ was one of the more popular tunes. Not surprisingly, once workers caught on to this productivity initiative it started to have the opposite effect.

2. Remember the soothing music piped into the space station in ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’? Well that was actually a real thing. In the 1960s, NASA used Muzak on space missions – although I think they probably kept to the soothing kind as opposed to the manic kind. Here is another U.S. government Muzak factoid: Dwight Eisenhower was the first president to pipe it into the West Wing. I’m guessing if it is still piped in today, it’s the manic kind, not the soothing kind. Just sayin’.

3. There is a difference between background elevator music and foreground elevator music. The background kind is the classic Muzak – instrumental only and mostly indistinguishable as specific tunes. The foreground kind has lyrics and is recognizable as a particular song. On a related note, one of the most outspoken non-fans of Muzak is Ted Nugent, so I guess we won’t hear either the background or foreground version of ‘Cat Scratch Fever’ in the mall any time soon. Nugent even tried to buy the company to put us all out of our misery, but alas his bid was refused.

4. However, maybe Ted was on to something when he said “Muzak’s been responsible for ruining some of the best minds of our generation”. Muzak was eventually acquired by a company called Mood Media. If that doesn’t sound subversive, I don’t know what does.

5. Perhaps the one consolation is that you can be pretty much guaranteed that rap will never be converted to Muzak because of course the main prerequisite is the music part.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *