Episode Information

CMS: Bad Music in Public Places
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In this episode:

From Chris de Burgh's "Lady in Red" to the Mantovani Orchestra, "muzak" is everywhere.


Episode Audio

49:30 minutes (23.76 MB)
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When you hear a song on this show, chances are, I picked it out, maybe tracked it down on iTunes. There's at least one catchy song about every topic. We're talking about Seahorses Wednesday. There's one really good seahorse song.

But today's show is about bad music in public spaces and I found that, when I looked for the music, my personality started to change.  The more I chased bad music down the twisting corridors of iTunes, the more I found even worse music, and after I pushed through my initial wall of resistance, I discovered a kind of sadism lurking inside me.

I don't even know most of the guests on the show, but I suddenly wanted to hurt them with music. Because I could. The power to injure them lay in my hands. I started picking really agonizing songs. I stopped when I found Roger Williams playing "I Honestly Love you," the Olivia Newton John classic. They try you in the Hague for stuff like that.

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Listener E-mail from Karl

The first received wisdom of canned music: If the music starts again, and you didn't notice that it had stopped playing, then the music has done its job.

This is a chain-link situation in which every step has to be done properly.

To contrast, I once worked off-hours in a 24-hour semi-public facility which played holiday music on the PA almost all over. In one area that I spent a lot of time, it was the only time they piped in music.

This area was not carpeted or insulated, just a professionally designed functional place. However, the decibel level of music was set in mid-November and not changed for 8 weeks. The level chosen was great for the daytime when the space was occupied by people making their own sounds moving around and holding regular conversation. When the area was empty, its design resembled an echo chamber, and the music sounded like it was coming out at 110 dB. It made my ears bleed.

Karl in Bloomfield

PS Don't forget the difference between ambient music, which has all the highs and lows sanded off it (and radio stations which do this, such as Snooze 100), versus the boombox-on-a-shelf, or generic sporting anthemry, which are meant to be listened to, and recorded and played back on systems as such.

Listener E-mail from Karen

I hate it when I go to a restaurant, like a Chinese or an Indian restaurant and they are playing American pop music like Britney Spears.  I’d rather hear music from the culture the food represents.

Listener E-mail from Diane

My issue is that the music makes me feel old.
I could handle music from the 80s being played during an 'oldies  weekend' when I was in my thirties but the day I heard the orchestra version of Elvis Costello's 'Allison' while riding in an elevator made me sob.

Listener E-mail from Conrad

Kenny G walks into an elevator and says, "Man, this place is rockin'!"
PS. Some elevator music can be transcendant: Sounds Orchestral did an amazing and sublime version of "Louie Louie" in 1970, found on the anthology Love That Louie.