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Easy Facts 
Genres > Easy
Easy Analysis

About Easy
Easy listening is a modern label, to describe classic song-standards, exotica and lounge music, which perhaps doesn't do justice to the musical sophistication of its biggest stars – giants of 20th-century entertainment like Frank and Bing and Dean and Tony.

What we now know as easy listening evolved from the rhythmic syncopation of jazz, combined with the helpful invention of the electric microphone and demographic changes in the United States which led to a new middle-class affluence and increase in leisure time.

Middle Americans lived in sprawling suburbs and enjoyed a disposable income which they spent on new-fangled hi-fi stereos. With the new Long Playing records and better recording quality, music could be put on the stereo and left to bubble up in the background while you did other things – relaxing with a pipe, taking up a pair of slacks, watching I Love Lucy, or entertaining friends at a cocktail party.

The epicentre of easy is the crooner- and where crooners are concerned, Bing Crosby is The Daddy. A case of dreaded throat nodules forced Bing to sing in his mid-range but aided by the new electric microphone Bing and his contemporaries could reach the back of the auditorium without busting a gut.

Also, the timely arrival of better recording technologies meant that Bing's lower frequencies were aptly reproduced, revealing to the listener at home his velveteen voice in all its glory. Bing's voice could hold it own against the wide range of orchestrated music accompanying it.

All the sounds on the earth are like music.
Oscar Hammerstein

Following in Bing's footsteps were some of the superstars of the last century – Nat King Cole, Tony Bennett, Dean Martin and, of course, Frank Sinatra, the Godfather of Easy, whose Capitol Recordings are regarded as some of the finest ever laid on vinyl.

Other premium vocalists followed: Julie London (see "Cry Me A River"), Peggy Lee, Bobby Darin, Keely Smith, Louis Prima, Nancy Wilson, Mel Torme and Andy Williams. Legendary songwriters like Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern, George and Ira Gershwin, Jimmy Van Heusen and Sammy Cahn, and arrangers like Billy May and Nelson Riddle supplied music, words and arrangements.

Instrumentally, nearly all recordings used a combination of a full orchestra integrated with a modern rhythm section – drums, bass, guitar, piano. The strings were lush and syrupy, the brass gently rhythmic, and backing vocals ghostly.

And at the other, defiantly kitsch, end of the easy spectrum, artists were influenced by the sonic philosophies of muzak, where specially-designed music calmed the nerves of agitated elevator passengers. For these artists, the new engineering possibilities offered in modern studios meant arrangers could experiment with audio gimmicks such as reverb and sound effects, as well as using offbeat instruments such as vibes, marimba, ethnic drums, theremin and a variety of organs.

In the 60s easy began to merge with pop and rock, as new writers and producers such as Burt Bacharach and Hal David reached out to a new generation. Just as it seemed there was no place in the modern age for the defiantly retro sound of easy listening, the genre was revived in the 90s, helped by performers like Robbie Williams and Elvis Costello, who appreciated the skill and craftsmanship of these songwriters, arrangers and performers of a bygone age.

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