Nadia’s Theme (2:33)
Isn’t She Lovely? (2:13)
When Love Is New (2:48)
Beautiful Noise (2:41)
Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word (2:44)
Slow Dancing (3:01)
You Stepped Out of a Dream (2:17)
Moody Blue (2:02)
Baby, You Look Good to Me (2:21)
Cherokee (Disco Style) (3:05)
Loathed. Reviled. Parodied with a ruthlessness that is today reserved for the likes of Hanson and “The Macarena.” MUZAK may be the most hated music company of the 20th century. It’s a reputation their product ill deserves.
MUZAK was not alone in its desire to make the airport, office, or waiting on hold experience powerful and motivational, but they were the most successful. From skyscraper elevators to supermarkets, dentist lobbies to department stores, MUZAK infused the background of two generations. Older folks didn’t notice it that much, but for the younger crowd—whether in long hair and Zeppelin T-shirts or blue Mohawks and spikes—MUZAK was the declared enemy of everything cool. We cringed in horror, imagining that someday our favorite Sex Pistols and Talking Heads songs would be given the easy treatment and beamed at us down telephone lines. Any new band that failed to rock was dubbed “Elevator Music” and ignored.
Today, MUZAK gets played for the occasional joke—think Homer Simpson listening to “Spanish Flea” while he’s waiting to get new tires, or the elevator scene in the remake of DAWN OF THE DEAD, where it provides a soft interlude as the survivors flee zombies—but is otherwise forgotten. Time for a fresh listen, my friends.
Although MUZAK was stored on massive reel-to-reel tape players, the company put out a series of highlight albums so potential clients could hear it. Most of them carry the name Stimulus Progression and a number and sell in the vicinity of $10 on eBay. These albums are uncommon. They weren’t ever meant to be sold, and any father clueless enough to try and pass one off to a child likely found it in the trash by the end of the week. In terms of rarity, I’d put MUZAK albums second only to radio transcriptions in terms of rarity. I know some collectors who’ve been gathering albums for years and never owned one, but they’re still easier to find than a complete broadcast of American Top 40.
This 1976 album is simply called STIMULUS PROGRESSION. The cover art, with its heavy black frame and silvered MUZAK logo, is a radical departure from the earlier album covers. MUZAK is selling prestige and modernism, and that’s reflected in the song selection.
I’m going to encourage you to download all of these and feel the stimulus progression work its magic. Listen to a little bit of the first six or second six tracks and tell me you don’t feel more motivated. If you must cherry pick, start with “Nadia’s Theme” and remember that we couldn’t escape that tune in ’76. Or ’78. Or ’79.
If you’ve got a very definite idea of how MUZAK should sound, you’ll find that on “Evergreen,” but prepare to be surprised by the funky bass and disco strings of “When Love Is New,” which sounds like it’s straight from the soundtrack of THE LOVE BOAT.
The gem on this album is “Cherokee,” which we’re told is played “Disco Style.” In this case, that means a muzzled trumpet and some heavy Hammond organ (I think it’s a Hammond, as I’m not aware of MUZAK ever employing a Moog). This could have come straight from the shopping mall montage of Romero’s DAWN OF THE DEAD.