What Is Easy Listening Music? 9 Top Examples and History
You might not realize this, but easy listening music has been around for almost a century. It is pleasing to the ears and very relaxing, so we often play it in the lobbies of businesses and elevators where we don’t give it a second thought. It is music that crosses genre lines and purposely hides in the background while making an impact without the listener knowing.
But first, if it's your aim to do music professionally, you'll want to check out our free ebook while it's still available:
Free eBook: Discover how real independent musicians like you are making $4,077 - $22,573+ monthly via Youtube, let me know where to send the details:
Definition: What Is Easy Listening Music?
So, what exactly is the definition of easy listening music? It is defined as music arranged with light solo or full chorus vocals, full orchestral instrumentals, and melodies that are easy to listen to in the background, no matter what the listener is doing.
Composers often took popular hits of the time from genres like pop, rock, or folk and turned them into full-blown orchestral hits. They did this to win over different generations of listeners. It is sometimes called elevator music or adult contemporary, depending on the era and source.
Easy Listening Music Characteristics
Foremost, the fundamental characteristic of easy listening music is that it is easy and pleasant on the ears. Its entire goal is to relax by not making you pay attention to any parts of its arrangement. This is where it differs from genres like jazz or rock. Easy listening music is often called throwaway music because it slips into the background unnoticed by its listeners.
Nine Examples of Easy Listening Music
We have provided nine easy listening music songs that best define the genre. We have also provided links to its YouTube videos and some fun tidbits about the song.
“Nadia’s Theme” by Henry Mancini
Henry Mancini originally wrote “Nadia’s Theme” as incidental music, which is music played in the background of a movie or television show to enhance the atmosphere of a scene, for the 1971 movie Bless the Beats and Children. It became the theme song of the popular soap opera The Young and the Restless in 1973. The song features a melancholic but relaxing piano with multiple violins playing in the background.
“Theme From A Summer Place” by Percy Faith
This easy listening orchestral version, recorded by Percy Faith, was number one on the Billboard Hot 100 charts in 1960 for an astounding nine weeks. It was also the first theme song to win the Record of the Year Grammy award. A piano and violins are used to sway your heart and transport you to the memory of when you first fell in love.
“Fly Me To The Moon” by Frank Sinatra
“Fly Me To The Moon” is one of Frank Sinatra’s most popular songs. The lyrics are about the narrator’s love, who feels like he is out of this world. Along with Frank’s smooth voice, the song features a walking bass line, fun piano, and full orchestral sound that makes you feel in love, even if you don’t know who it is with.
“The Moment” by Kenny G
“The Moment” is one of Kenny G’s most popular songs. He plays the saxophone and flute throughout the song, creating a relaxing experience. The combination of his playing makes you feel one with nature and wants you to take a moment to cherish the important things in your life.
“Spanish Flea” by Herb Alpert
Herb Alpert had many easy listening hits in the 1960s, but none were more famous than the Spanish Flea. It was most famously used in The Dating Game but has also been used by others as podcast intros. Herb’s trumpet will have you tapping your foot or humming along without even realizing it.
“Moon River” by Henry Mancini
Henry Mancini initially composed “Moon River” for the movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s. The lyrics discuss the journey of two lovers through life’s good and bad experiences. You’ll find this orchestral version of “Moon River” getting you in the mood for romance.
“Oh, Pretty Woman” by The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra And The Orbison Brothers)
The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra is known for its orchestral versions of famous hits from the 1930s to the present. One of their most famous hits is their arrangement of Roy Orbison’s “Pretty Woman” with the Orbison brothers.
This song version has the original vocals from Roy Orbison, instrumentals from the Orbinson Brothers, and orchestral instruments from the Philharmonic Orchestra. All of this culminates in the best version of the song to date.
“Quando Quando Quando” by Engelbert Humperdinck
“Quando, Quando, Quando” is a famous Italian pop song by Engelbert Humperdinck. The song’s narrator asks a woman when she will give him her love because he is ready for it. “Quando” means “when,” which fits the narrator’s desire to know when he will finally get to experience love. The song’s arrangement is very similar to that of a Frank Sinatra song. It mixes many orchestral instruments, which culminate into a very light-hearted experience.
“Yellow Bird” by Arthur Lyman
“Yellow Bird,” originally a Haitian song, was covered by Arthur Lyman in 1961. This version would be his most famous song, reaching number four on the Billboard Hot 100 charts. In it, the narrator discusses the loss of his lover with a yellow bird, and the narrator wishes he could fly away like that bird to avoid the following heartache. What sounds like the making of a depressing song is an enjoyable experience that transports you to a tropical vacation through its use of exotic instruments.
5 Top Easy Listening Musicians
Here are the five top easy listening musicians from this genre’s inception to the present day and a few fun facts about them.
Percy Faith was a Canadian-American composer with popular pop, big band, and Christmas standards from the 1940s through the 1960s. He is known as the father of easy listening music due to popularizing this genre with hits like “Theme From A Summer Place.” He was the first artist to win a Grammy Award for an instrumental or theme song.
Frank Sinatra has appeared as the top artist on easy listening music charts for decades. His fantastic voice and full orchestral music perfectly fit any occasion. His music transcended the decades, no matter what was popular. He won 11 Grammy awards for his music.
Henry Mancini is one of the most influential films and television composers. He won 20 Grammy Awards, four Academy Awards, and one Golden Globe. We often find his arrangements on top of easy listening lists, with his most famous songs being “Moon River” and the “Pink Panther” theme song.
Herb Alpert is a trumpeter who has 14 platinum albums and 15 gold albums. He is also the only artist to have two number one songs on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart as both an instrumentalist and a vocalist. “Spanish Flea” is his most popular easy listening song that people recognize but don’t know the name of. Its most recognized use was in the popular game show The Dating Game. He is also the co-founder of A&M records.
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra is a London-based orchestra that produces and performs a wide range of music. They started in 1946 and have had many notable musicians in their ranks since then. Their inclusion on this list is because they often take popular hits of musicians and arrange full orchestral versions of them, which was very popular during easy listening’s heyday to win over different generations of listeners.
The History Of Easy Listening Music
Easy listening started at the end of World War II when Paul Weston released Music for Dreaming in 1945. The music industry was already crossing into easy listening music with big band orchestras. The U.S. Government began looking into how music could influence emotions and the behavior of its listeners to relax the soldiers coming home from the war.
This genre became popular in the 1960s when easy listening radio stations appeared on FM radios. These stations would play easy listening music with minimal interruptions for the entire day. Popular genres like big bands, theme songs, and remakes of popular hits would define this decade.
Easy listening music declined in popularity during the 1970s with the use of symphonic strings and the rise of smooth jazz. Easy listening FM stations soon became smooth jazz stations in response. This is the decade many historians consider the end of the easy listening music period.
It has regained a recent resurgence by baby boomers, who want to listen to the music of their childhoods through playlists on satellite radio and streaming services. Easy listening music is often considered adult contemporary today and has a broader definition of what music classifies for this genre.
What Is Easy Listening Music? Final Thoughts
Easy listening music is one of those genres we may not even realize we are listening to, which is its entire purpose. It’s relaxing and disappears in the listeners’ background, so they may not even realize its impact on their mood or behavior. It has been around for almost a century and will continue to stick around with the rest of the other popular genres of music.
P.S. Remember though, none of what you've learned will matter if you don't know how to get your music out there and earn from it. Want to learn how to do that? Then get our free ‘5 Steps To Profitable Youtube Music Career' ebook emailed directly to you!