Lizards of Lounge - Part Two


tropics Every form of music has a purpose, whether it is to fire someone up through heart pounding rhythms or tranquilize them with flowery ripples - the range of music styles runs the gamut from punk to ambient. Although one may have a favorite genre, there is good music to be found within all areas if you are willing to open your mind and brave the experience, for even within the most reviled of musical forms treasures are to be found. This includes what has long been thought of as a sort of musical doormat - lounge music.

There is admittedly much to dislike about what has been called "Space Age Bachelor Pad Music" - much of it is cheesy, shallow, mindlessly happy, focused primarily on sensuality, and sometimes just plain oddball. The urge to bury all sadness and woe under a barrage of syrupy strings led in the 1960s to numerous low-grade "orchestras" churning out sugar layered versions of pop favorites. These however differed greatly in quality from the relatively decent Soulful Strings to the abysmal San Sebastian Strings, with the Living, 101, Hollyridge, Anita Kerr, and Knightsbridge Strings in between. Some of the arrangers of the day such as Andre Kostelanetz, and Mantovani came from prestigious classical backgrounds, yet sold out to produce (along with Ray Conniff and Percy Faith) some of the most God-awful, mind-numbing crap known to man. This is what most people associate as lounge music - the dregs of elevators, shopping centers, and offices everywhere - and should be avoided for fear of diabetic shock.

But there is another side to the aforementioned drivel. Hugo Montenegro worked for Kostelanetz, but went on to score some decent western and detective favorites, while experimenting with percussion. Lalo Schifrin gave us the "Mission Impossible Theme," but also wrote some serious jazz works. Fellini's films would not be the same without Nina Rota's loungey scores. Peter Nero, of "Summer of '42" fame, gave up pop work to focus exclusively on jazz and classical. Many talented descendents of the big band era found employment in writing arrangements for the lounge sound, albeit often with mixed results. Meanwhile, Al Hirt - a talented trumpeter - gave lounge a New Orleans spin.

The sixties being a time of experimentation, sound effects were big. Some releases, like Enoch Light's famous "Percussive Persuasion," (a huge bestseller) seemed more to show the exciting possibilities inherent in stereo through surprising uses of channel separation and effects. Others, often featuring the eerie Theremin, tapped into the outer space craze. Bongos and other percussion became popular too and this resulted in the exploration of other cultures foreshadowing World Beat music. Les Baxter and Martin Denny's started the "exotica" boom with their recordings that featured bird calls, Hawaiian guitars and inauthentic African and 3rd World percussion. Hal Aloma and his Hawaiians produced some unique blends of pop and native music. Strangely, even schlock-meister, dueling pianists Ferrante and Teicher's early albums are highly coveted due to their experimentation with "prepared" pianos - piano's experimentally enhanced by objects inserted in the strings - years before a fellow named Eno brought this method to the forefront.

The Latin phenomena brought about some enjoyable music in the 60s. Starting with the Bossa Nova craze that Stan Getz brought about with "Girl From Ipanema," the mid to late sixties saw two groups appear that shook the nation. The Tijuana Brass was formed by Herb Alpert who cleverly took a bit of pop and rock and mixed it with mariachi, adding a second slightly off key trumpet in tandem with his own, to come up with a signature sound that made him millions (and his own record company A&M). Though the Brass never veered from the middle of the road, Herb's protege, Sergio Mendes (with his group Brasil '66) took the Latin direction even further outside the mainstream on their earlier albums that presaged such artists as Gato Barbieri and Sly Stone. Rounding out the Latin group is the Mexican wild man Juan Garcia Esquivel, whose bizzaro, special effects filled compositions - called "Latin mayhem" by one critic, are currently making a comeback.

Of course no discussion of lounge music would be complete without mentioning two giants whose shadows fall over the decade; Burt Bacharach and Henry Mancini. I can hear groans from the audience, but ask any musician and they will speak lovingly of the subtlety and grace contained in these two's compositions. So "Raindrops are Falling on My Head" makes you want to gag, check out "Pacific Coast Highway." "Promises, Promises" too gay, try "Wanting Things." There's a reason why Diana Krall is selling records this very day by singing "The Look of Love:" there is a romantic longing that is timeless in the best of this music. As for Mancini, if you only know him for "The Pink Panther," you owe it to yourself to try the album cuts. I picked up a pristine copy of "Breakfast at Tiffany's" for a buck the other day and it is quite entertaining (even with the over-exposed "Moon River").

Music can be used transport you to another time and place, and lounge is no exception. And while no one can spend their life gleefully ignoring the problems of the world, while drinking cocktails, listening to cool music, flirting and relaxing in a tropical, space age bachelor pad, a few hours once in while...

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