Easy listening

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Easy Listening ( engl. "Easy listening") is music that can casually run and to perform different functions: distraction, distraction, relaxation (culinary) de-escalation ( Psychiatric Hospital ), sentiment ( retirement home ), but also motivation, activity, willingness to buy .

The term falls - along with the part synonymous terms "ambient music" (not to be confused with the genre Ambient from the electronic music ) and Muzak - as a subcategory in the collective name of popular music .

Basically, Easy Listening is instrumental music from the 1950s to 1970s, or even more typical of the genre, untexted vocalized music ("da-ba-dap!", "Shoo-bee-doo!" Etc.), often based on well-known songs ( Evergreens ), somewhat rarer instrumental works, with flowing string arrangements, mostly with an indirect sound character, large reverberations and possibly other psychedelic effects.

Precisely because the text is left out of already very catchy pop music (replaced by infantile sound formations, so to speak - “La-la-la!”), The function of (mental) relaxation comes to the fore.

Concept history

In an article about the performance of symphonies in the open air in the summer of 1910, the reviewer in the London Times came to the conclusion that promenade concerts had a reputation for being “undemanding and making only minimal intellectual demands on the audience”, but Franz , for example, was suitable Schubert's symphony in C major is good for promenade concerts, although it actually makes easy listening impossible.


Easy-listening concert for beach vacationers on Borkum (1921)

Even the divertimenti of the Rococo (literally: "distractions") fulfilled an "easy listening function".

The jazz music of the 1920s on luxury transatlantic steamers also served as easy listening for the dining and conversing guests.

Easy listening in today's common sense delimits a genre that is typical of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s with the new technical possibilities of the recording studios of that time. Easy Listening is mainly produced for electronic distribution, but it does not aim for chart successes, but is rather produced for subtle everyday use in the broadest sense (supermarkets, department stores, restaurants, background music on the radio), and it rarely brings success Original compositions and takes up already successful topics.

It was only through clever marketing that musicians like James Last succeeded in stepping into the consciousness of a group of buyers themselves as a person and product and achieving millions of successes, or even organizing targeted record sales and large-scale tours. The preferred form of administration as potpourri (“Carnival Agogo”, “Schlager Parade”, “Polonaise Blankenese” etc.) was already available in the function of permanent sound.

Easy listening is sometimes used synonymously with the term muzak , but the latter term tends to be used today as digitally produced music ( synthesizer and sample player ) (radio music from the 1980s, and above all computer game music 1980s and 1990s).

Easy listening should not, however, simply be synonymous with “ light music ” in the broadest sense (from divertimento to ringtone ), or with further developments such as electronic ambient music.

Easy listening is also used for targeted, but imperceptible influencing in certain environments such as hotel elevators (hence the derogatory term "elevator music"), department stores and shopping centers and has therefore received a negative reputation. The Hörstadt Linz project as part of the 2009 Capital of Culture dealt with this problem (“forced sound system”) .

Since the 1990s, the defining function of easy listening (unconscious or subconscious listening) has been taken up under new auspices (e.g. minimal music , drone , krautrock , reggae ) and has influenced musical genres such as ambient , lounge music , smooth jazz and Exotica . During this time, psychedelic elements of easy listening were also taken up by bands and artists such as Air , Röyksopp , Stereolab or Beck , often with an ironic undertone, but above all to give their sound aesthetics a certain "retro touch" in the style of psychedelic music 1960s lend.

The aspect of an “unconscious concentration” (trance-like effects) in contrast to the “dispersing” character of easy listening is significantly different in “ ambient music”. Ambient music therefore promotes “concentrated thinking” (listening while learning, thinking, discussing, consuming intoxicants), while easy listening is more aimed at “thoughtlessness” or “carelessness” (see James Last, Carnival ridicule pourries etc.) ). Easy Listening fills the social or psychological vacuum ("embarrassing silence", for example when traveling in an elevator or in public toilets) with simple motifs and maximum expected phrases and the effect of recognizing familiar topics. Typical ambient music, on the other hand, offers so little substance or context that the music practically immediately habituates , is faded out of consciousness ( habituation ) and makes room for one's own thoughts.



  • Joseph Lanza: Elevator Music: A Surreal History of Muzak, Easy-listening, and Other Moodsong . University of Michigan Press 2004, ISBN 0-472-08942-0 .
  • MusicHound Lounge , edited by Steve Knopper.

Individual evidence

  1. Literally: "Schubert's Symphony in C, for example, does not make easy listening even wihen it is given in the most ideal circumstances." The Times, August 13, 1910, p. 11.
  2. ^ Project Hörstadt Linz
  3. ^ "Reviews and Ratings of New Popular Albums" - Squeeze Play by The Billboard December 1, 1956 p. 22 (English)
  4. ^ The Cash Box review of the album, The Cash Box Publishing Co., New York, USA, December 8, 1956, p. 38 "Album Reviews - Squeeze Play" -, review of the album "Squeeze Play" in Cash Box Magazine from americanradiohistory.com (English)