I must confess to a growing weakness for Easy Listening lately. (I’m stretching that genre-name a bit for what I want to write about, but it’s the schmaltzy, big or small band, standards and such. Days of Wine and Roses. Moon River done a thousand different ways. The Three Suns, Mancini, that sort of thing).
Why in the name of God, You probably ask. Yes, I know. Allow me. First, they are one of the last types of old records still in abundance. They’re everywhere, yard sales, rummage bins, levered under the legs of wobbly dinner tables. In short; nobody wants these goddam things. So you can still find a sealed fifty-year old record for a buck. Sure, it’s some old fruit plinking out standards on a hammond organ, or a wannabe Lawrence Welk with a shitty orchestra he paid in heroin and foodstamps to back him up, but still…a buck. It has to be pretty horrid in for me to pass up in that case.
Also, there are some amazing tunes hidden on these records, by some interesting, talented people who went largely unsung. These are also relics of a bygone time. A perspective of culture in the 50′s and 60′s that is fairly unexplored. Many other types of music come to mind when we think of these periods, but your regular folks with those enormous hi-fis the size of a chiffarobe weren’t playing Elvis Presley records after a dinner party. They played this medication-time wallpaper background cheese. And I’m digging it lately.
I just look for anything that says “So-and-So and His Orchestra”. The “…and his orchestra” is the key. It’s actually just a short step from the Martin Denny and Les Baxter stuff to this. I mean, that’s basically what those guys were. And I listen to this stuff the same way I listen to Lyman, Baxter, Korla Pandit and the rest: with a chuckle in my heart and nostalgia for something I never experienced in the first place. I don’t want to hear this stuff in my car. I only want that big, fat, cheap-ass record on my turntable, in my house, with it’s crappy cheesecake art and moldy old sleeve. So yeah, it’s a whole, other thing.
There’s something inherently sad about it all too. I start to see the struggle when I track these musicians and their careers. There’s a desperation evident when you see so many of the “…and His Orchestra” records out there. It’s like a signing frenzy that went on for a couple decades. Sometimes the struggle I detect might be for fame, but more often it’s just for work. Just to make a living. Most of them probably did OK as long as they dog-paddled, but have you ever heard of Carl Stevens, Lenny Niehaus or George Feyer? They probably paid the rent way back when, but I’ll bet things weren’t so great when they finally had to slow down. Imagine how big their dreams got when someone said we want to pay you to make a record for us. Then imagine the crushing disappointment a year later when they’re back to doing roadhouse or dinner theater in the Adirondacks. There were also the successful ones, the Bert Kaempferts, Felix Slatkins, and so on. And I’ll be writing about those too.
So yeah. I will be writing about Easy Listening records. I apologize in advance. If you’ve never read my blog before, this might be a good time to never come back.