Please Stop the Music

Disclaimer: I have always been unable to study with music on if it had lyrics; I wanted to listen to the words. I may be genetically incapable of ignoring background music. 

The eighties are alive and well at Ralph’s (the pseudonym for the store where I work). Sometimes the music they play sounds like a Top 40’s list from 1984. (I guess that ages me since I don’t remember the last time I heard the phrase Top 40.) As hard as I have tried, I cannot find any type of research that says a constant stream of Billy Joel and Huey Lewis induces people to buy more lettuce and canned corn.

Don’t get me wrong. I really like some of the music. But I remember a business trip I took to Toledo one time. I only lived a couple of hours away, so I drove. I made the mistake of taking more than one album (age alert!) by the same artist with me. It was months before I could listen to some of the songs.

The first year I was there, I only noticed the Christmas music. There really are a limited number of songs a retail store can play at Christmas without offending someone. When you’re open 24/7 and start playing the music right after Thanksgiving, everyone’s teeth are on edge by December 24. So they decide to extend the “mood” by continuing to play it until January 1.

Then I noticed that we also have patriotic music on Independence Day (July 4th). There is a seriously limited supply of patriotic music. Once you get past the anthems for each branch of the military, the Sousa marches, and America the Beautiful, the pickings get slim. Stars and Stripes Forever and the Washington Post March start to sound an awful lot alike by the fourth or fifth repetition.

It was last fall that I started to realize that some of the songs were on heavy rotation (yes, another phrase from the 80’s). I know that stores pay a service to get a certain package of music, so I wasn’t really surprised by the repetition. I just started started wondering why they would choose what they did. Maybe it’s cheaper to get older music? I guess the 80’s were when music started splintering into so many genres, so maybe they were looking for something generic. I just wonder if they really know what they got.

For example, fairly regularly we get to hear Ballroom Blitz by Sweet (1973). I’ve loved the song since the first time I heard it, but as music to shop by?

What about My Sharona by The Knack (1979)? Has anyone listened to the lyrics? They’re a little suggestive.

Or Rock the Casbah by The Clash (1982)? For one thing, people really don’t hear that first word well. More than one has thought it was F*** the Casbah, which would really be in poor taste. But the rest of the lyrics are pretty iffy too, if you actually listen to them. And the video is worse:

I’m going to end with another song that we hear a lot, although it’s from the 60’s. I really like it, but right now it hits a little close to home.

On the other hand, any of it is better than the Muzak stores played in the 80’s.

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4 thoughts on “Please Stop the Music

  1. I remember the good old days when we called Muzak “elevator music:.
    I worked in a restaurant for a while with a muzak system. They sent as cassettes for their system every so often.
    I discovered if you tried to play a regular tape through it, it would play both sides.
    At the same time.

    Almost worth it to escape Linda Ronstadt and Huey Lewis.

  2. Interesting post, Cat. I actually prefer to shop at the local supermarket that plays 70s music, even though it’s several miles further from our house than a couple other choices. But that’s the decade that included my high school and college years, so I blame that for my rocking around the market, singing and dancing to my way back machine top 40 and some well-chosen deep cuts, too. My dear wife Karen keeps telling me to stop. That out of the way, I don’t think it makes us buy more groceries, just make more of a commotion.

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