One factor that may have encouraged me to run screaming from respectable music was the time I spent working in a large office in my early twenties. We had the misfortune of having an office manager who insisted that, instead of the glorious cacophony of fifty radios all tuned to different stations playing at the same time, only one radio station should be allowed. She chose the one with the format which at the time was known as Easy-listening.
Back then, the purveyors of Easy Listening music were people like Percy Faith and Mantovani, whose job it was to do lame versions of the recent hits of the day. They could always be counted on to re-make a good record in the worst possible way. Anything that had a beat was rendered beatless (that extra “s” makes all the difference, doesn’t it?), anything with a brain was lobotomized. Forget about anything with genitals.
It was painful to listen to, but it was only when I heard their version of John Lennon’s “Love” (from “Plastic Ono Band”) that I knew that I was my own customized circle of hell. You’d think that such a song would be right up their alley, but alas it’s so fragile and beautiful that it must be handled with care. They, of all people should have known this, but what did they do? They sped it up and made it…snappy. In other words, they tarted it up. It was like finding out that the lovely, shy girl you had a crush on snapped her gum and loved “Three’s Company”.
When enough of us got fed up with this (I’ll admit it’s not a major chapter in labor history), management took the bold step of changing the station to the one with the then-new “Lite” format. Although the decision was universally applauded, it proved to be of only momentary relief to me. The main difference between Easy Listening and Lite was that the former was comprised of lousy versions of decent songs, while the latter was made up of the original versions of awful songs.
It’s hard to remember now, but besides the power ballads and dance music of the day, there existed another genre of which most dare not speak. Remember “Mellow”? Oh, sure you do. It was the early eighties version of Easy Listening. Melissa Manchester, Peabo Bryson, Heinrich Himmler. Okay, maybe not him, but you get the idea. In a way, it was even worse than Easy Listening, which you could at least share a good laugh over. When I ridiculed Lite FM, everyone looked at me like I was nuts. For once, unjustly.
And then there was the time back before we had a car and had to get a ride home from a weekend at the beach. The driver was the friend of a friend, and although my girlfriend and I appreciated the ride, the two hours it took seemed much longer because of the radio station he had on. He seemed to prefer ‘70s top-40 to 60s. There was an awful, late-period Grass Roots song he sang along with to his girlfriend. For her part, she liked, and felt she needed to explain the moral of the ditty about the woman who had a wild life and then settled down. This seemed like the normal order of events to me, so I didn't know what the big deal was. I think the singer was trying to persuade the listener to skip the wild part. Not bloody likely. (Some basic survival instinct has blocked out the memory of the song titles. Please don’t feel obligated to remind me.) My girlfriend and I spent most of the drive with our eyes thoroughly rolled, which made me almost lose a contact lens. If I wasn’t such a cheapskate, on top of the gas money, I would have given him a few extra bucks to change the station.