Pamela Corkey’s indie feature Easy Listening unabashedly embraces one of the most unhip musical movements of the 20th century. It goes by many names, some less derogatory than others: lounge; mood music; muzak; elevator music. Critics dismissed it as the supermarket stepchild to jazz, an unworthy successor to its big band, swing and West Coast cool precursors. That’s certainly the mindset adopted by Burt (David Ian), a wannabe hipster trumpeter with the soul patch to match, stuck eking out a living in an easy listening orchestra. But along comes Linda (Traci Crouch), an upbeat floutist occupying a slot somewhere between Sandra Dee and Goldie Hawn in the chronology of ’60s perkiness. Linda turns Burt on to the joys of orchestral pop; Corkey does the same with her film, which features a couple of tongue-in-cheek montages of ’60s poster art set to the cheerfully square strains of the 60s waiting room stalwart 101 Strings.
Corkey’s film is charming enough to send one down an online rabbit hole in search of some of the best of the “beautiful music” of the ’60s. Herewith, some notable names and tunes:
Les Baxter. While this clip labels his music “The Sound of the Sixties,” Baxter made his name in the 1950s by pioneering the “exotica” sound, evoking images of jungles and outer space alike.
Percy Faith. Credited with launching the easy listening genre with this Grammy-winning smash, “Theme from A Summer Place.” It still holds the record for most weeks at #1 on the Billboard pop chart by an instrumental track.
Ray Conniff. Famous for creating the “wordless chorus” where a wall of singers hum and la-la to famous melodies, thus elevating the habits of ordinary people who can’t remember song lyrics to gold record status. Genius.
Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. Alpert’s boppy horn section gave his band an edgier sound to the standard string ensemble.
Paul Mauriat. His “Love is Blue” might be the last great hit of the space age lounge era.
101 Strings. A perennial ensemble of middle aged men on strings – graced by a single female harpist – they cranked out hundreds of albums over a thirty year span, covering everything under the sun. Here’s their version of “Strawberry Fields Forever,” which the Beatles happened to put out the same year that Easy Listening is set: 1967.