Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Easy Listening and ---- Marcus Borg!!!

The other day I searched YouTube for a recording that my Father-in-law had, and which I listened to when visiting. I was fascinated with the arrangement of this orchestral version of a pop song. Couldn’t remember the song. What I did remember was that it was a Longines Symphonette LP, a best hits of ‘68 or some year around there.

I found the album on ebay. Greatest Hits of 1969. The first track was Soulful Strut. That was it! It isn’t on YouTube (I should buy the album and upload it!), but here is Billy May from the same year with a similar performance.

I don’t think Billy May was as good as the Longines Symphonette on this number. This judgment requires some explanation, because if it was one thing I (and all my cohort) hated in the ‘60's and ‘70's was this “Easy Listening” sort of usually mushy music. Remember Mitch Miller? OMG, he played oboe on the Charlie Parker with Strings album! Remember those Readers’ Digest LP’s? And the ever present Longines Symphonette and other collections? I remember riding in cars to Presbytery meetings with old men who listened to the local “Easy Listening” radio station. (I think those are gone and I haven’t even heard a “Smooth Jazz” station for a few years.)

I searched for info on this mystery orchestra with the name of a watch company. It’s identity was not given, nor the conductor. In recent years a few music lovers have said, “Hey, this was high quality arranging, performance, and recording. What was going on?” They uncovered the secret: It was Neil Richardson and the BBC music studios.

Neil was a great arranger who wrote and produced theme music for BBC radio and TV shows. The back of the albums often told great detail about the latest electronic technology used to produce the recordings while saying nothing about Neil or the musicians, many of whom were from the London Philharmonic. BTW, we could say the same about Mantovani, also recording in London. (If it's been a while, you need to hear Charmaine, the theme for distribution of meds in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.)

Here is my thought about all this: Easy Listening was a way for my parents’ generation to come to terms with the new rock and roll of the ‘50's and ‘60's, and all of the cultural change they were forced to live through. This was the soft landing for them. Soulful Strut was something they didn’t want to hear, but a dynamic arrangement played by a small symphony – they could handle that. It served the grand cultural purpose of helping people through disturbing and disruptive change.

When I first went to work for The Jesus Seminar, I was asked if I knew about Marcus Borg (who was a fellow, but mostly absent from the Seminar.) I replied, “Yes, I had read three of his books.” “Well,” I was told, “He is our soft landing specialist. People who can’t handle what we are doing can read Marc and learn to accept what we are doing.” And I am sure that some people learned to like jazz through popular songs and bebop from Charlie Parker with Strings.

I am not making it well through the current musical transition. Walmart today was not playing the old elevator music (which until recently was the softened hits of the ‘80's). This was screaming soul and heavy metal. I had to get out of there. When my generation is gone, the youngsters can move on, with music and with religion.