hilarious article on bad music you can’t get away from

peter jon lindberg on “bad music in public spaces” [pop matters]

It would be revealing to compile an alternative history of Western music, focused solely on Songs Played in Hotel Lobbies and Cruise-Ship Corridors Through the Ages. You’d document a bizarro parallel universe, one where Michael McDonald is more popular than Led Zeppelin and Vivaldi’s Four Seasons trumps everything by Mozart. The Eagles would be more revered than Dylan; Jamiroquai bigger than Springsteen. And at the top of the pyramid, with her Nagel-print cheekbones, would sit Sade.

The quintessential background record of any era, Sade’s “Smooth Operator” (1984) was also the perfect theme for its time: languid, sexy, and reeking of money. This explains why it’s been playing in yacht clubs and business-class lounges since the Reagan administration, despite being a patently ridiculous song (not least for the sax solo). Its popularity highlights a key ingredient of the genre: If you’re going to make sultry, anodyne lounge music, it helps to sing with an accent. Sade’s own inflections—she rhymes Key Lah-go with Chicago—were indeterminate (French? Latin? Nigerian? Who could tell?), yet indisputably cosmopolitan.

An even better tactic for background success? Don’t sing in English at all. Whether it’s Serge Gainsbourg wooing Jane Birkin or Cesaria Evora lamenting her saudade, foreign-language songs are believed to lend any venue an air of sophistication. They’re easy to listen to and easy not to listen to, since the lyrics make no sense. Where would your neighborhood tapas bar be without the worldly stylings of the Gipsy Kings, the Buena Vista Social Club (the Gipsy Kings of the 90’s), and Amadou & Mariam (the Gipsy Kings of the 00’s)?

of course, i actually liked sade when they arrived on the scene, but that was the mid-80s and we all did things we’d rather forget back then. what an awful decade.

but whether you agree with his taste or not, i bet you can relate to the spirit of the piece.


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