Skip to main content Accessibility help
  • Print publication year: 2004
  • Online publication date: March 2008

12 - Other mainstreams: light music and easy listening, 1920–70


Problems and definitions

It should be stated at the outset that light music and easy listening are not diluted forms of heavy music and difficult listening prepared for those with delicate musical digestions. The music discussed in this chapter produces effects and valorizes moods, identities, and ideas that no other music does. When, for example, the crew of HMS Amethyst sailed down the Yangtse under fire from Chinese guns during the Second World War, they chose to demonstrate British composure by singing ‘Cruising Down the River’ (Beadell/Tollerton, 1945). Three types of easy listening need to be distinguished, and in none of these cases does that necessarily entail the meaning ‘facile’, nor imply that it is appropriate to describe the music as easy technically. First, there is the type that is often tightly controlled but perceived as cool, sophisticated, relaxed, and classy, which ranges from the crooners to the more varied song stylists like Frank Sinatra. Second, there is the type that evokes a nostalgic mood and whose present reception therefore differs from its original meaning (it is usually categorized as nostalgia or, in France, as rétro); an example would be a song like ‘The Trail of the Lonesome Pine’ (MacDonald/Carroll, 1913) sung by Laurel and Hardy, the corny and sentimental quality of which may now be valued as offering an experience of something vulnerable and human that high art generally guards against. Third, there is the apparently easy listening that proves emotionally difficult listening, as often occurs in the French chanson réaliste.