Interesting article with all that sniffy “Things ADULTS do” and “Those audiophile dorks…”

Easy listening is fine, and I actually DO enjoy quite a lot of it, having grown up with a mother who spent her first adult paycheck from Ma Bell on a giant console stereo (my first “audiophile” inspiration) and quite a lot of my dad’s money on EVERY SINGLE Barbra Streisand album she ever recorded before, like, 1985, but I hate music lovers dismissing other music lovers.

The strange death of easy listening

by Matthew Walther · March 7, 2019

If, like me, you spent an unfortunate amount of your young adult life digging through the record stacks at thrift stores, you probably realized it at some point: Nobody actually listened to Jimi Hendrix in the 1960s. Setting a period picture montage of Vietnam protests and assassination to footage to “All Along the Watchtower” is Boomer Whig history. The crates don’t lie: Most people were listening to Andy Williams and Herb Alpert, not whatever San Francisco Blueshammer crap you just bought in a deluxe vinyl reissue.

What I didn’t realize until recently is that this was a good thing. Unlike most of the stuff on the pop charts, what used to be called “easy listening” was music for adults. This was true in any number of senses. One was simply that distorted guitars and one-note basslines and cheap cymbals only sounded okay on tiny integrated stereo units or car speakers. If you had the kind of halfway decent stereo equipment that an adult with a job could have afforded at the time, even the best engineered pop albums would come out sounding roughly as euphonious as a power drill demonstration video. Audiophile dorks who spend thousands of dollars obsessing over factory matrix numbers in the hope of finding a pressing of Rubber Soul that doesn’t give the impression that it was meant to be played back on a toy are wasting their time. If you want something that can actually take advantage of the twin Conrad-Johnson monoblock power amps and vintage speakers you blew an eighth of a mortgage on, try this instead.

Rock music was essentially adolescent. It was written and performed by very young people who had nothing of particular importance to say about a world they had very little experience of. All the songs were about premarital sex — wanting to have it soon, being sad because you can’t have it soon, being mad because someone else is having it, and even, occasionally, just about having it. Their response to these no-doubt very serious emotions was to scream about them over the same three or four chords — even their seemingly daring experiments with things like time signature were drug-abetted infinite-monkey theorem-type accidents. The AC/DC lads were only half right: Rock ‘n’ roll is noise pollution, but it has survived anyway.

You can argue that Barbra Streisand, whose voice Glen Gould once proclaimed “one of the natural wonders of the age,” is impossibly campy. What you can’t argue is that the remarkable (I would argue even unsurpassed) stretch of albums from her debut in 1963 until Guilty is anything but easy to listen to. That’s not because it’s not cool: It’s because it’s pleasant to the ears and enjoying it doesn’t require you to be either on drugs or jumping up and down like a child, which is the whole point.

What easy listening did in its heyday was fill the gap between classical music and jazz on the one hand and kiddie fare on the other. Not every day is a Bruno Walter Mahler No. 9 kind of day. Not every night of relaxing listening will last long enough for you to make it through four sides of your favorite Duke Ellington live release. This is why Doris Day existed — so grown-ups would have something to put on while they were doing grown-up things, like drinking cocktails and talking about how that idiot McNamara was losing the war in Vietnam. When Glen Campbell is singing a song by, say, Donovan he and his arrangers treat “Gentle on My Mind” with the respect that its composer never dreamed of affording it. A lot of the time the easy listening tracks didn’t even have vocals, something that was commercially viable in an age where the average person had a smattering of basic musical education.

Were easy listening releases sometimes cringe-inducingly lame? Sure, lots of them. I would rather have the first Bad Company record blasted straight into my eardrums 10,000 times in a row than hear the version of “What’s New Pussycat?” on Burt Bacharach Plays His Hits ever again, even though the latter is otherwise one of my all-time favorite records. But even at its most excessive, easy listening is never as bad as the average bad rock song: 101 Strings Present Their Golden Oldies is a bad listening experience because the arrangements are schmaltzy, not because its producers were tone-deaf.

Until very recently the ghost of easy listening still haunted FM radio. But Train and Savage Garden were just neutered and spayed version of the same adolescent product you could hear on the top 40 station in the late '90s, not an attempt to do something radically different, much less “adult.” The good news, though, is that nothing really stands in the way of an easy listening revival. (The only reason Cheek to Cheek didn’t work is that Tony Bennett no longer has the pipes and Lady Gaga never will.)

Spend a month alternating between old Angel pressings of Beethoven symphonies and Perry Como. I bet you will never want to hear an overdriven guitar again.


This guy sounds like my father in 1968 although he did like old-school country and western, as it was called then.

Things adults do…? Well I can tell ya what I don’t do (anymore)…! :rofl:

I drink cocktails at night, which is an adult thing I suppose. I have spoken with my wife about McNamara after watching the “Fog of War” documentary and particularly fraught days at work dealing with his PPPBS construct that we still use to build defense budgets. My wife has a couple Doris Day CDs, because

  1. She’s awesome, and
  2. “Black Hills of Dakota”

But whatever. I’m not going to worry about what other people think I should or should not listen to. Too much music TO listen to to worry about that.


I must admit @umiami91 that it took me some Googling but I see what you mean now… Cheers…!

As someone who actually listened to Jimi Hendrix in the 1960s, both live and on vinyl, my response to Matthew Walther is "GET OFF MY CASE, YOU DAMN KID! And of course Walther is still a “kid” in his 20s, who is a self-proclaimed conservative who enjoys being provocative and “pushing buttons” on both the right and the left. His prior writings include columns ranging from arguing that police don’t need to carry guns because whistles worked fine years ago to stating that “…my highest ambition is to have no grandchildren” in a piece in the Catholic Herald titled “My dreams for my kids: celibacy.” Clearly this is not a case of practicing what you preach.

Within that context, the column on easy listening for adults is fun to read and react to. I’m realizing that easy listening for me is James Taylor rather Perry Como because music for adults is whatever YOU want to listen to - not what your parents wanted to listen to. And right now, I have some overdriven guitar that demands my attention.

Well done, @SDL. The article screams “hipster”. But as for me, I’ll enjoy what I’ve got, hug my seven kids, and talk to the youngest of them about the latest “My Little Pony” episode, because knowing that Pinky Pie is all about cupcakes, Derpy about muffins, and Apple Jack hard work, is ALSO something adults talk about. But I’m the only one having the cocktails at that point. Usually.

The “hipster” label is perfect!

Enjoy your kids and your cocktails - with 7 kids, you may need more than one cocktail!!!

How about I throw my millennial cap in the ring for this one.

This article sounds like the ramblings of a high school student trying to reach the minimum page limit on a term paper. It felt like he just kept sticking random statements in, until it was long enough to be published.

In all seriousness though, I feel the authors definition of “easy listening” is the biggest problem this article faces. He has defined “easy listening” as a very set in stone genre, made up of artist such as Andy Williams, Herb Alpert, and Barbara Streisand. Personally, I define “easy listening” as music that is easy to listen to, fun to consume. It’s Jerry Garcia vs Tchaikovsky for instance. I see “easy listening” as an abstract phrase that each person has to define for themselves based on their own personal taste in music. The author of this article gives us a perfect example when he say’s he would rather listen to Bad Company than Burt Bacharach.

As for the things he said about audiophiles.

I see being an audiophile and a music lover as two very different things. Audiophiles are in a constant pursuit of sonic quality while music lovers enjoy artists, the music, and the creative craft. There is a lot of overlap that happens as an audiophile. For instance, when I buy an album on bandcamp; I can download the mp3 version of the file or the aiff version. Both are the same album but I’m always going to download the aiff version because I want to have the best possible experience when listening to music. From what I gathered while reading this article, it doesn’t sound like the author is an audiophile so him saying anything intelligent on the topic of our passion is almost impossible.

As for the article as a whole.

It was a waste of my time. It didn’t offer any new ideas or thoughts. It instead rehashes ideas and stereotypes we’ve heard so many times, it almost feels cliche at this point.

PS> I would be curious to hear @Paul thoughts on this article.

My middle son is a budding audiophile. He’s 19, and spends a great deal of time and energy making music sound good. If I implied that “all millennials are argy-bargy blah blah blah,” that wasn’t my intention and I apologize. I just thought it was an interesting, yet super-pretentious article.

EDIT: But I stand by the use of “hipster” ;^)

“One almost never sees voluntary self-restraint. Everybody operates at the extreme limit of the legal frames.” - Alexander Solzhenitsyn

No apology necessary.

The article caused us to share our thoughts and listen to each others ideas. That’s always a win in my book.

That openness is a rarity among you millennials.

Oops. I did it again, didn’t I? :wink:


The 60’s was my teenage decade. Wasn’t I lucky? Dozens of really great groups. No subsequent decade ever quite matched it from my admittedly biased standpoint.

A few years ago I took a cold look at the music of the 60’s. I read through the UK Top Twenty lists for the entire decade. It was an eye-opener. All the great songs I remembered were there, but they were occasional stars in a mass of dross. There was a lot more that was MOR, novelty, and easy listening. Mr Walther’s first paragraph had a lot of resonance for me.