"Muzak, Monstro, Please!"


I don’t know exactly when the background-music suppliers switched from bland orchestral covers of pop music to the original recordings, but it does have a decidedly different effect for me. Back in the Golden Age of Muzak, I would distract myself from the more tedious shopping trips by playing “Name That Tune” with the homogenized melodies and was once put into a state of shock when I recognized a song playing in a Mervyns store as an obscure pre-“Pina Colada” piece by Rupert Holmes that was on an album that sold maybe 20 copies (and I had one of them). Sadly, the best part of Holmes’ early musical output were his wry, often sharply cynical lyrics while his melodies – well, they fit well into the Muzak. From then on, I imagined that every unrecognizable tune I heard in the background had some wonderfully subversive lyrics… somewhere.

Once the sounds of shopping were changed to the original hits by the original artists, it became a totally ‘nother thing. I could no longer control the distraction value of the music; either it faded into the background of the soundtrack of my life, or some association of the song to a past memory or feeling would totally disrupt the process of selecting a dress shirt or breakfast cereal.

It happened a couple of times during a recent shopping excursion. First, hearing Billy Joel singing “Keeping the Faith” broke through the noise, if only because I had not heard it for so long and when I first heard it, well, I pretty much lost all faith I ever had in Billy Joel. Then, immediately afterward, I heard Paul McCartney and whatever-he-called-his-backup-band-in-1982-but-who-cares with “Take It Away”, another prime example of the decline and fall of a former pop legend. What warped mind decided that those two songs should be played back-to-back?

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