Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Old and Busted: Little Spanish Flea. New Hotness: London Calling

For as long as I can remember, I have been fascinated by background music.

This sounds strange, I know, as background music is meant to be barely perceived by the listener. But I always hear it and can't help but analyze it.

From the days of actual elevator music to the current state of affairs at my local WaWa (more on that in a second), I hear this stuff and it sticks with me. And scenes like the one in Blues Brothers when Jake and Elwood are riding up to the Office of the Assessor of Cook County to pay the orphanage's back taxes while listening to The Girl from Impanema resonate with me for some reason.

As a young lad I worked at a deli in a farmer's market and was subjected to a boss who would only allow the local easy-listening station to be played. How convenient that she had a radio that was literally just a speaker that received "Eazy-101" ONLY. (For those of you not familiar with this phenomenon, it was a radio station in Philly that would rock out by playing Fernando by ABBA or Baker Street by Gerry Rafferty.)

Imagine this stuck to a radio that is nothing but a speaker and a volume knob. And it only plays Easy Listening. It's as bad as you imagine.

There is a diner in South Jersey that used to (or still does for all I know) play actual Muzak, the old-timey easy listening instrumental kind, not the newfangled satellite kind. The first time I heard Watching the Detectives by Elvis Costello in this format I nearly peed my pants laughing.

I guess it's that I am fascinated by the fact that in just about every social situation we need, or have been led to believe we need, a soundtrack running in the background. Most of the time I notice that the lack of this musical accompaniment can be louder than its actual volume.

And this new fangled Muzak is what brings me to my local WaWa (a convenience store without peer in the world). Every morning I shake my head at what I hear. And not in a bad way. In a way that makes me wonder who programs this stuff today. For example, this morning I entered to the end of Party Out of Bounds by the B-52s and left near the end of Twistin' the Night Away by Sam Cooke. Last week it was Town Called Malice by The Jam into If This Is It by Huey Lewis and the News. I walked in one morning to catch the final notes of Pretty in Pink by the Psychedelic Furs and waited in line for my 20 oz and paper singing under my breath to Stir It Up by Bob Marley.

Now, before you get the idea that some hipster doofus cashier has a radio and picks the songs, forget it. WaWa is a non-franchised, chain of stores all run the same way by the head offices in WaWa, Pa. I've visited their corporate offices and there is no way that they would allow individual musical background choices.

So, every morning I enter with a little spring in my step wondering what I'll hear. Perhaps some Rob Base, or perhaps some Ace of Base. Maybe some Hall and Oates, maybe some Bone Thugs 'N Harmony. Who knows? Whatever it is, I'll surely notice it. And let you know about it.

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