David Browne
March 11, 1994 AT 05:00 AM EST

Elevator Music: A Surreal History of Muzak, Easy-listening, And other Moodsong

Current Status
In Season
Joseph Lanza

We gave it an A

Who takes Mantovani and ”Lite FM” radio seriously? Joseph Lanza, for one, in Elevator Music, an unexpectedly fascinating history of background music, from its place in Greek mythology to New Age music. Armed with enough research to fill an elevator, Lanza chronicles the rise of the Muzak Corporation (founded in the 1920s by a U.S. Army brigadier general named George Owen Squier), details the orchestral techniques of the likes of Percy Faith and Andre Kostelanetz, and offers painstakingly precise explanations of the differences between those bandleaders’ soothing classical melodies and ”mood music” (those crass old Jackie Gleason LPs in your dad’s closet). Lanza has enough of a sense of humor about the topic to label the ambient instrumental rock of Brian Eno ”elevator noir.” Yet there is none of the mocking, smirky tone David Letterman exhibits when he plays mood-music albums during his show. Lanza takes background music seriously as both music and social utility. In doing so, he’s written one of the few pop-history books that won’t put you to sleep — not to mention the only one that dares to probe the very real connections between shopping-mall music and Devo. A

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