What have we found on the World Wide Web today?

Do you remember fifty years ago, when the trade name “Muzak” stood for all that was soulless and intolerably commercial in music? Do you remember the experience of walking into every commercial establishment and finding yourself awash in violins? Do you remember the strangely jarring sensation of hearing a symphonic rendition of “Franklin D. Roosevelt Jones” followed by a sixty-piece orchestra playing “I Wanna Hold Your Hand”?

Do you wish you could relive those days?


The S. S. Kresge chain, including its superstore offspring Kmart, had its own officially approved background music, which was shipped to Kresge stores on vinyl records (“Note: Only records bearing this label are to be used for background music over PA system”), and to Kmart stores on open-reel tapes. And you can hear hour after hour of it, because of course it still exists in the Internet Archive.

You can have all the fun you had fifty years ago dismissing Muzak as soulless, artless musical wallpaper.

And then you can fall down and weep over what we have lost.

What we have lost is profitable careers for thousands of musicians who made good money keeping up with the demand for symphonic renditions of every popular song of the twentieth century.

What we have lost is a direct connection to the era of big jazz bands, some of whose best arrangers ended up with comfortable careers creating arrangements for improbably huge orchestras—and having fun with it, knowing that no one was going to pay attention to the music, so they could do what they wanted. Ray Noble’s “Cherokee” as a march? Sure! Why not?

Above all, what we have lost is music itself. We have lost the idea that there is such a thing as pure music, music without words, because music is a thing in itself and not just a vehicle for bad lyrics.

You never know how valuable your minor annoyances are until you can’t have them anymore.

But you can have this one, because some enterprising Internet Archive user has gathered dozens of these S. S. Kresge recordings, along with training films and other paraphernalia, in a collection called, perhaps inevitably, “Attention K-Mart Shoppers.”


  1. RepubAnon says:

    “Don’t it always seem to go – that you don’t know what you’ve lost ’til it’s gone…”
    Joni Mitchell

    On the other hand, I firmly believe hat the Muzak(r) version of “The Little Drummer Boy” should be banned by the Geneva Conventions as a war crime.

  2. KevinT says:

    I have hated Christmas music ever since, nearly 50 years ago, I worked in the toy department of a catalog store (I am certain Dr. B remembers Naum Bros. and Service Merchandise) during the summer and into the holiday season. In a 10-12 hour Saturday working, I would hear the same tape loop several times. I think the store had a single Christmas 8-track or loop tape of some sort. It was the Festive Caroling equivalent of the Ludwig Van sensitization scene in Clockwork Orange.

  3. GP says:

    “ We have lost the idea that there is such a thing as pure music, music without words, because music is a thing in itself and not just a vehicle for bad lyrics.”

    Dr. Boli apparently doesn’t listen to many video game OSTs.

  4. DSmolken says:

    Perhaps not all is lost. There is an entire scene of teenagers creating plunderphonics mixes full of 70s supermarket music. “Bloomer music” is, in general, resurrecting old stuff that even the old people think is too mellow.

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