Elevator Music

A Surreal History of Muzak, Easy-Listening, and Other Moodsong; Revised and Expanded Edition
Joseph Lanza
Noted music historian Joseph Lanza seriously appraises an American musical tradition


For a sound intended to be comforting, unobtrusive, and inoffensive, "elevator music"—i.e., easy listening, mood music, "Beautiful Music," and "Music by Muzak®"—has ignited strong and often heated opinions.

With an arsenal of historical anecdotes and facts, Joseph Lanza sings seriously, with healthy doses of humor and wit, the praises of this misunderstood musical genre. Lanza traces mood music's mystifying presence from the mind-altering sirens who lured Odysseus to the harp David played to soothe King Saul, but the tale gets more intriguing in the early twentieth century, with Erik Satie's "furniture music" experiments, the birth of the Muzak® Corporation, and various science fiction stories that featured mood music as a futuristic staple.

Lanza also chronicles the parallel development of the "easy listening" instrumental, discussing such "mood maestros" as Ray Conniff, Percy Faith, Andre Kostelanetz, and Mantovani. More recent "ambient" soundscapers like Brian Eno and practitioners of what some still call New Age also enter the picture. Along the way, Lanza addresses mood music's social and even governmental uses, raising questions about music's role in modern life while challenging aesthetic assumptions.

This revised and expanded edition delves deeper into the surreal phenomenon of "metarock"—the art of reinterpreting rock songs into dreamlike, string-laden, easy-listening alternatives. The author also adds an afterword about some of the actual musicians who arranged and conducted Muzak® sessions—respected names like Nelson Riddle.

Elevator Music confronts the criticisms of elites who say that elevator music is "dehumanizing" or less than music. These reactions, Lanza argues, are based more on cultural prejudices than honest musical appraisal. In a current climate where the noises are louder, and the background beats are ever more aggressive, this history of music intended as a pleasing background makes for a captivating read.

Joseph Lanza is currently writing an impressionistic history of romantic pop ballads. He has served as an independent consultant for Time Life Music and was executive producer for the two-disc collection Music for TV Dinners (Caroline Records). His most recent book is about the legendary crooner Russ Columbo.

Praise / Awards

  • "Not until Joseph Lanza's Elevator Music have I been privileged to read what I consider the definitive history of twentieth-century music. This is it."
    —Errol Morris, director of "The Thin Blue Line"

  • "Elevator Music is a fascinating tour of the sonic inferno we all unconsciously inhabit."
    —J. G. Ballard, author of "Crash" and "Empire of the Sun"

  • "Snobby musicologists ignore this fascinating topic, but I learned a lot while being well-entertained by Lanza's delightful book."
    —Wendy Carlos, composer, soundtracks for "A Clockwork Orange" and "The Shining"

  • ". . . a valuable addition to collections supporting music and culture."

  • "It's still a surreal world, after all, and Lanza's neat tome is a great way to reflect on some of the aural factors that make it so."
    Washington Post

  • "Lanza takes background music seriously as both music and social utility. In doing so, he's written one of the few pop-history books that won't put you to sleep - not to mention the only one that dares to probe the very real connections between shopping-mall music and Devo."
    Entertainment Weekly

  • "A fascinating tour of a genuine piece of American surrealism, diligently researched, sparklingly presented, surprising at every turn. Hilarious and at times terrifying."
    —Phil Patton, author of Made in the U.S.A.: The Secret Histories of the Things That Made America

Look Inside

Copyright © 2004, Joseph Lanza. All rights reserved.

News, Reviews, Interviews

Listen: Interview with Joseph Lanza | The Takeaway | 2/6/13

Product Details

  • 5.5 x 8.25.
  • 344pp.
  • photograph section 12 B&W.
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Sales Restrictions

Our edition is unavailable in Australia, Bahamas, Bangladesh, Belize, Bermuda, Botswana, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Cyprus, Egypt, Gambia, Ghana, Hong Kong, India, Iraq, Israel, Jamaica, Japan, Jordan, Kenya, Kuwait, Lesotho, Malawi, Malaysia, Malta, Myanmar, New Zealand, Nigeria, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Somalia, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, United Republic Of, Tonga, Trinidad And Tobago, Uganda, United Kingdom, Yemen, Zambia, Zimbabwe


  • Paper
  • 2004
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-08942-0

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  • $27.95 U.S.